Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Republic Day Special

Watching the republic day parade and looking at those cultural promotions a thought crossed my mind. Since every government comes for a term of five years – the ministers and bureaucrats, by the end of the fifth year must be tired watching the same parade for all these years. Isn’t it time that we should give a break to the entire culture cavalcade and the army procession that just goes on till the end of time on the television and that too on a holiday? Instead at the end of every fifth year – the Republic Day parade should be a kind of check on the various government strategies and programs that they had implemented throughout their term.

Delhi’s Rajpath should have the same demonstration of different kinds of people from different regions but with a little twist. The parade should consist of people who need all the attention, which they have been denied for all that four years when the government had been ruling. Even the spectators comprising of our cabinet ministers and their bureaucrats should make space for corporate leaders and business honchos, and if they don’t come drag them, tax them. Thus instead of the regular traditional dancers and the Indian Defense stage show there should be a kind of reality check. So the setting and the commentary for that day would be something like this:

“From the far end of the Presidential palace I can see the Bhopal Gas tragedy victims coming. After all these years – they still continue to come with their deformed bodies, their severe blood problems, and their affected nervous systems. They are the first ones in today’s ceremony as they are one of the most highly affected and also happen to be the most experienced of the lot that is going to come in this parade. Look what a defining picture they create…!”

The camera turns to corporate honchos sitting over there and the officials of Health Ministry and the state government employees of Madhya Pradesh. They all are nodding in agreement. Infact I can see the Madhya Pradesh CM telling his colleagues that there are more to come from his state. This is just the beginning.

The commentary continues:

“The next contingent is of fully naked women covering themselves with only a long white cloth – they have been shouting slogans for the abolishment or the change in the Armed Forces Act in Manipur. Well, well, well…they have some unique ideas to garner attention”

The camera turns to the Army Chief, the Defense Minister and the officials of North-East India. They are posing with a fake smile. How ruthless. But the show must go on.

“Up next are the farmers and residents of a Kerala village, Plachimada - who have been opposing the establishment of the Coca Cola plant in their village. They have banners with them and are shouting in their language – to which our officials in Delhi are not able to neither read nor listen. They will just pass through this Rajpath as they have been doing every year”

The camera now turns to the Environment Minister who is shown sipping a Cola, before we make out what brand it is – the switcher switches back to the camera on the group on Rajpath – a few moments later – the Environment Minister is shown now standing and showing his “Thumbs Up” to these farmers from Plachimada. I guess what he means is that he supports their “Movement”. Now they have moved out of their way.

“And here we have the spectacularly looking victims from Godhra, Ahmedabad and other smaller towns of Gujarat. Look at those beautiful permanent wounds – oh I guess the physical wounds are healed but if you see closely – (camera goes closer) they are bleeding internally. What a pretty sight of our democracy. All of them are saluting to the Prime Minister”
The camera now shows the crowd cheering them. The CM of Gujarat is whispering something into the ears of the corporate leaders and they are smiling. Everyone’s happy. It s such a beautiful atmosphere here at India Gate, Delhi. There are many more groups coming.

The commentator continues:

“Ladies and Gentleman, You have to be here to experience the Real India. The Incredible India! Up next are the miners, the minorities, the farmers of Orissa, they are here to demand their labour rights, their religion and their land back respectively. Orissa has been one of the most interesting states of India. It has had a tradition of giving up their lands and making itself feel proud. On the States poll – it has ranked number one in the “Most Plundered” category. Whatever that means – I am sure – it’s a great sacrifice in the development of the country. We salute them today”

The camera pans to the Governor of Orissa, who is sitting inside a bullet proof cabinet and he is waving to his people. I guess he has recognized a few faces. His bodyguards with their machine guns are also smiling towards them.

“And now next…Oh my god! This is unbelievable! Our audience will be amazed to see this. On the roads of Rajpath, Delhi we are watching a Mumbai local train coming in. Although it is slower than its normal speed, as it is brought for the show but I can see there are at least 7000 people inside this local train, which has a capacity of around 1500. People are pouring out from every door, a few of them are risking their lives by sitting on the rooftop, we can see the bags hanging on the windows as there is no space for humans inside the compartment, leave the bags aside. I can even see the Handicapped Coach also full. Well, Well – I can see our foreign delegates clapping in awe. As the train picks up some speed, a few of them fall out of the door, the audience cheers them. It’s all a circus out here. I tell you India is a land of magicians. People inside the train resemble the Rooster Coup as described by Arvinda Adiga in his latest Man Booker Winner book – The White Tiger. I hope the audience knows that he too is an Indian to win this coveted prize.”

The commentator now concludes.

So this was our wonderful parade this year Live from New Delhi. Hope you all enjoyed the show and will get back to your regular lives from tomorrow. We will be back with our regular parade from next year. Good bye and needless to say in times like these my last two words should be “ Jai ho!”. This is your dear commentator Hardik Mehta signing off!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

a conversation with a "Mumbaikar" auto rickshawaala

the conversation starts when the auto is in middle of a traffic jam and the driver has been spitting incessantly throughout the small journey - so much so that the red stain almost makes you feel like someone s blood is splattered on the roads due to an accident. you will feel this if u hate seeing people spitting on roads.

hero: (irritated) "why do u spit so much?"

driver: "hello boss...what?"

hero: "i said why the hell are you spitting so much..?"

driver: (now arrogant) "you think you own the auto with that ten rupees you have paid to me?"

hero: "hello mister, if you want i will get down here - and take this ten rupees"

driver: (now calmer, doesnt want to loose the customer) "sir, we drivers cant do without spitting" have you seen how much stress, how much traffic we face daily?"

hero: "so does that give you license to spit carelessly like this?"

driver: "arrey sir, we cant do without it, it is better you understand"

the auto comes to a stop. the destination has arrived, the other passengers respectively pay and move on. a fellow auto driver looks towards the auto and asks his fellow mate:

Fellow driver: "hey what happened? whats the heated argument about?"

Driver: (points the red mass of liquid floating on the middle of road, the sun shining on it) "now look at that, everyone spits..."

hero: (cuts him in between) "so what everyone does, has to be right is it?" tell me are you a maharashtrain? "

driver: (proudly) "yes"

hero: "so why do you dirty your own city? you all collectively blame the outsiders (bhaiyyas) for dirtying the city, but look at yourself..."

Chancing an opportunity, the fellow auto driver jumps in between.

fellow driver:(to his mate) "hey why do u spit in the middle of the road? do it on the sides."

hero: "arrey hello..mister please mind your business"

the fellow driver sulks.

hero: (continuing): "if we dont clean our city, then at least dont dirty it"

there is silence for a while. each of them now know, that this is the last nail.

another customer from the busy street asks the driver for a particular destination. the driver readily agrees. the hero leaves but noth without one more kick-ass lines:

hero: "aur phir apne aap ko mumbaikar bolte hai...huh..."

my question to myself was what do you do to stop these people from spitting. making a documentary is hardly going to make an impact - those who see documentaries are hardly going to spit and those who spit do not watch documentaries. or maybe i am just wrong? but i am still groping for a solution.

the incident described above is based on a real life account.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lessons on filmmaking : from the office peon

Now we all know how in most cases a student fiction film turns out to be – it’s almost an exercise in testing a viewer’s patience – (except a few rare student films or filmmakers who have genuinely dished out brilliant stuff.) The rest of us learn the hard way. Thus, the first cut of my final graduation student film was no different – it had some really bad editing, wrong choices of camera lens & angles, pretty ordinary framing, wrong lighting, continuity errors and if that was not enough – there were the wonderful amateur actors!

Agreed the thrill of working with a Super 16mm ARRI camera, the different kinds of lights, the AVID editing machine etc is something you wont get to do daily in life, even when you are into the film industry - but at the helm of everything lies the story – even with all the blunders you make while making a film – it is important that you are able to tell a story. The normal audience is not going to react to your ordinary lighting or the one odd bad cut. If the protagonist or the characters are not going to appeal to the audience – then it can be termed as a failure. Even the best of the equipments/filmmaking tools are not going to save it. Thus with all of this in mind, when I watched my final film made a year back, I thought it just doesn’t work for me now – along with the technical errors, which I cant undo now, the film was just way too long and dragging at times (which I think is a recipe for disaster for a short film) thus I thought its time to re-cut and trying seeing it in a new light. Probably adding a few aspects, which I have learnt by being in the film industry since last 7 months. With these thoughts in my mind – I started re-editing the film – thanks to the availability of an editing machine (read: FCP on Mac Pro) from a friend. Now when you have had made the cuts for the day, as a principle I never watch it then and there before retiring. I always prefer watching the next day – and see whether I can still stand those cuts. Its something I picked up from copywriting – if you have written a tagline or a copy for any product – if you read there itself, its always going to look great. But if you come the next morning and read it and even if then it appeals to you – then that line will be a winner, if not – its time to re-work. So with that thought in mind, when I was doing the re-edit of this film at a friend’s office place – the only person who came early morning there was the peon of the office. Now he used to see me working in early morning hours – but he kept himself busy in his daily chores but obviously if a film is being cut who can resist their eyes and observations. One day when I came and started watching the film, the peon joined me and I told him, am yet to cut so please don’t see and he said its ok, he wont give any reviews on it. After we finished the screening (read:15 mins) he was smiling, I looked towards him from the corner of my eye and as I was just going towards the computer, he said.
“itna achcha toh hai, badal kyon rahe ho?”.

How could I make him understand all those technical errors, which I just mentioned above and my desperate attempts to try and restructure the film – but as I started conversing with him, I realized probably for him as an audience this is working. He loved the fact that the Boy in the film is running and is tensed because his mother may get angry with him. What we call “empathize” – he could do with that character. I agreed to his points and didn’t touch the film then.

Agreed, this doesn’t make the film the way it had to be. It doesn’t make the film a good one. But what I learnt is as they say, “you never know how an audience will react”. I couldn’t judge how a normal film viewer may like it. I was always under the impression that if you have to show it to your contemporaries then what are the faults they are going to see in the film rather than watching the film. Have heard stories of how filmmakers say that “you should always make what you like to see” – and that’s why I was trying to modify but in the end I modified it a little and left the rest as for some particular individual it was working. And this aint an excuse to make a perfect film with all the technical finesse and the right tools to use while telling a particular story – but it is just one of the observations that I would like to share with the future filmmakers. Hope you like the film.

The film is called “The Homecoming”.

Part 1


Part 2


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

the journey of a lifetime

on staring at this picture for a while, something just struck me. it was this

"dairy technology - a road less travelled".

an amalgamation of my average copy-writing skills and an absurd career choice in graduation.