Posts tagged ‘Ram Gopal Verma’

August 16, 2012

Making A Short Film

We recently took on the challenge of making a film in 48 hours for the 48 Hour Film Project, Delhi chapter. We have made a couple of films before, but nothing too worthy or too up-to-the-mark. This was an opportunity to pressure ourselves and come up with something novel, and interesting, in just two days. Two days is a very short time, even for a short film, and the lack of experience intoxicated with sleep deprivation took its toll on each and every member of the team. Needless to say, we lost the challenge. The film couldn’t be completed in the allotted time. But the film was shot, edited and is in the process of being made, for ourselves (and other festivals) more than anything else. On such a tight schedule and low budgets (which translates to everyone-does-everything), we learned more than we were hoping to, or even imagined. The best thing to do is to put these learnings down for future reference as well as for the benefit of the readers who are interested in making films their own way.

If you are a filmmaker who subscribes to the Godardian school of thought that a film is not a story then initiating a film becomes very difficult. Having been brought up on Bollywood, it is extremely difficult to see the story (plot) from the outside, from the point of view of a cinematic art form. The story becomes redundant after a while and the form of the film takes over. This, to many, may sound farcical and even incorrect but it is the truest representation of the story. If a woman is waiting for someone then the film must demand that same wait from the viewer (Mani Kaul’s Uski Roti), or if a killer is terrorizing the living daylights out of its adversaries  then the blood and gore must reflect that terror, even if it seems unnatural (Tarantino’s Kill Bill). So, the form of the film must go hand-in-hand with the story, right from the start. There is no way out of this.

Locations are an important part of any film and more so for short films because they impart character instantly, without much effort by the camera or the actors. So, choosing a location that fits well with the story and the form of the film is crucial. When the camera moves around in the alleys of a suburb then the alley, with its shops, houses, clothes hanging from the balconies and kids playing, becomes a new character of the film (Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers). On the other hand there might be films that downplay the locations because giving the setting a character might be too specific for the storyline (Dibakar’s Shanghai). So, choosing a location that gives a helping hand to the narrative must be a priority.

The actors must rehearse before the filming starts. For a short film, many tend to ignore the fact that the most prominent visual element is still the actor. And by rehearsal I don’t mean an extensive workshop with a theatre group to get into the skin of the character; just a familiarity with the lines and the co-actors would do. In a film, unlike theatre, an actor might have to repeat lines for the benefit of camera angles. And many a times these repetitions are devoid of context. All the more reason for rehearsals as the actors will be familiar with emotions, movements and voice modulation for a given sentence.

One of the more technical aspects of shooting is to maintain a TC for all shots being taken. TC is nothing but a system of time coding your shots, so as to identify the OK shots quickly while on the edit table. Short film crews are usually small and assigning one person with the task of maintaining the TC is not practical. He might miss noting down some shots as he is too engrossed in watching whether the actors are doing right, the frame is looking correct or he might be busy running an errand, or holding the reflector. So, another way of doing this is to have a clap board kind of a device which can be written upon and erased. All that needs to be done is to write the scene number, take number and the audio take number (if using sync sound) and place the board in front of the camera after rolling. This will make sure that every video file starts from a slate with numbers to identify the scene and the take. And the cameraman can easily do this himself. There are many novel methods to make sure that the editing goes smoothly, and each filmmaker might conform to what suits him best. But the key is to maintain a TC.

Film is an audio-visual medium. While focusing on the visuals, it is easy to forget about the audio and in the end the camera audio capture is used. This takes away from the film. It adds unnecessary noise and may even be distracting in case of an outdoor shoot. While thinking about the camera movements and scene transitions, it is very important to write down the corresponding audio. An intense conversation in the bedroom that demands attention of the viewers will be ruined if the external sounds of the traffic, people moving up and down the stairs etc. are allowed to interfere. But the same scene might get infused with more tension if the sound of flowing water is maintained (Anurag’s Dev D). Many Iranian films use 360 degree sounds. Even these are recorded separately and mixed. Short filmmakers might not have the equipment or the resources but they can certainly have the right intent. A simple Dictaphone works wonders as far as capturing sound is concerned.

Editing is something that is very technical and precise in nature. It is lining up of the shot sequences in a pre-determined order. This sounds easy but requires an understanding of the software, as well as the film. Lining up the scenes must not be perceived as a mechanical task. The editor must also realize that there is a certain feel that needs to be imparted to the whole film. So, the transitions from one scene to the other might be an abrupt cut or a fade-out/fade-in, depending on the flow of the film. A montage of abrupt cuts highlights the timelessness and the fast paced lives of people in the film (Ram Gopal Verma’s Company), or a 5 minute long sequence slowly dissolving into black shows the mundane routine lives (Bela Tarr’s Satantango). Many say that the edit makes the film. This might be true if the edit is in sync with the rhythm of the film. If cinema is an art form, then the editor needs to be an artist too, and not just an operator.

Apart from these elaborate themes, some small but important paraphernalia of filmmaking are: measuring tape to maintain frame size by noting positions of actors/objects with respect to the camera, duct tape to mark the position of actors and camera and a reflector (thermocol sheet would do) to ensure that the actor’s face is not in shadow.

Needless to say, this is nowhere near to being exhaustive. But every new film is a learning in itself and as newbie short filmmakers, we hope to incorporate as many creative and procedural aspects of filmmaking with every subsequent film we make. Let’s keep making films and hope that we get a hold of our own way of filmmaking as soon as possible.

June 1, 2012

Indian cinema is celebrating its 100 years.

Part 2: Cinema Unlimited

Critics and film buffs across India term the past few years as the new Indian New Wave, a kind of resurgence of Indian cinema. A novelty that one probably never saw apart from the parallel cinema movement of the 50’s and 60’s, a few NFDC gimmicks dispersed throughout the last century and masterpieces by the great Indian filmmakers who are not limited by classifications – Ray and Ghatak in Bengali cinema, Adoor in Malayalam cinema and Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani with their revolutionary ideas in Hindi cinema. It would be very unfair not to mention names like Chetan Anand, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and Mrinal Sen in this context. But all these movements, experiments and geniuses were then. Now is the age for commercial blockbusters and market savvy films. In this environment of mass consumption and commoditized cinema, when people say that Indian cinema is seeing a creative spurt, then filmmakers must be creating something that is worth a keen look.

I think this reinvention started with Mani Ratnam, a Tamil, Telegu, Kannad and Malayalam filmmaker who was as poetic in his screenplay on paper, as he was on shot direction with a camera. Some of his films not only garnered critical acclaim but were huge commercial successes as well. This might be one of the primary inspirations for other filmmakers to be bold and venture into the long forgotten territory of conscious cinema that also makes some dough. Mani’s Nayagan is one of my favourite films and the credit must be shared with Kamal Haasan the actor. His venture into Hindi cinema with the dubbed Roja and Bombay still have the ability to give you goose bumps with their beautiful, almost picture perfect frames and hardcore-to-the-point-of-disturbing subjects. This terror trail was bracketed at the end by Dil Se, a Hindi film that was so stylishly European that it was a huge dud at the Indian box office (but a hit overseas). And in any case, it is hard to make a hit out of a love story destined to end tragically from the very first shots of the film.


fires and barbed wires

The stylization was also evident in the amazing cinematography and lighting used by the duo of Mani Ratnam and Santosh Sivan. The dilemma of staying put or walking away was a constant throughout the movie and never better established than through the following scene of a radio studio where the door constantly shuts and opens, leaving the actors in an uncertain light.


These films were followed by one of the most exciting Indian film in recent years. I am talking about the ingenious direction of Ram Gopal Verma (exec producer of Dil Se), to a maverick screenplay by Anurag Kashyap, for a seminal film that Mumbai loves, Satya. The underworld had always been in a love tango with Indian cinema. Despite having a primarily Bomaby-centric focus, films across most Indian languages did not shy away from these goons. The style, overbearing persona and the rise and fall storyline was always a hit with the crowds and formed a plot base for many Indian films. But Satya was different. RGV was so assured and knew what he wanted from every frame. The scene where Bhiku proclaims himself the king of Bombay is so ironically structured against the vastness of the sea with the high rises in the background, and a small Bhiku standing like a spec of dirt on this beautiful landscape. Ominous.

The joke will be on him!

Satya also had a protagonist who was not stylish at all. Kashyap must have been in a fix while presenting his script because his hero (villain) was so human. In fact this representation of a pathetic hero is still a prominent feature in all of Kashyap’s films.

This brings us to the prince of the new Indian cinema, Anurag Kashyap. His struggles to reach where he is today (in Cannes, to be precise) have already become legends in screen writers’ and directors’ folklore. The defiant young man who got inspired by The Bicycle Thieves has made several films, written numerous ones and been a producer to many new talents. With two banned films, many box office flops, one hit and a 5+ hour long opus to be released soon, Kashyap seems to have been juggling around with a lot ideas and creative outbursts. Being a little more international in his approach to cinema as a business, he is giving TED talks and attending various festivals across the globe. The idea is novel, and Indian cinema needs to be exposed to the foreign lands, but what about the Indian audiences? Taking films abroad is different than bringing films to India. A new wave is not only about going to Cannes. It is as much about appreciating one’s own Cannes.

Khosla Ka Ghosla. Oye Lucky Lucky Oye. Love Sex Aur Dokha. If you have seen these films then you know the genius the man behind them is. Dibakar is a true artist when it comes to film making. His style is not permanent and his idea of cinema comes from life itself. The characters in his films are unique, real and funny. Even in LSD, the element of funny was never let go off. West Delhi is his playground and he has proven that with the perfect OLLO. Watching it in a theatre was strangely exhilarating for me. As the three roles of Paresh Rawal unfolded, the film started making sense. It was not just a story of a petty robber making it big; it was a personal journey of a young man searching for his father. Dibakar makes certain that each character has a part to play, and no one is a mere spectator. It is almost Chekovian. His next is Shanghai, an adaptation of the novel Z. It will be a great film.

In all this talk of the new kind of cinema that India is seeing, there has to be a mention of a certain screenplay writer who has shown the potential that Indian cinema can tap from classic resources which have been done to death in the first world. Vishal Bhardwaj has adapted two of Shakespeare’s plays for screen, and both the films are mouth watering to say the least. While Maqbool was dark and minimal, Omkara was loud and gory. The bard would have been proud.

Being an Indian native, I am really sorry not to have mentioned some of the Tamil and Marathi cinema that has also contributed a great deal towards this cinema explosion off late. I have seen the reputed and National award winning stuff coming out of regional centres but I cannot boast of being in the know about these cinemas. Films like Shwaas, Harishchandrachi Factory and Deool are good films that need to be seen by India. When film buffs have to wait for a film to be recognized by a national award before knowing its name, then there is definitely something limiting about this new wave of Indian cinema. But, I hope, like all art movements, this one will spread and reach every region of the country. Time is not a constraint. It can happen tomorrow or two decades down the line. What is important is to strive for a complete, unlimited Indian cinema.

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