(This appeared in Life Positive,December,2011.Small snippet of filmmaking life n learnings)
“Six,” he said with forceful precision.
“Six what?” I asked with a confused expression.
He sat back in his large red sofa, crossed his arms around the stomach almost squashed by the sofa arms and looked at me as if I had an IQ lesser than six.
“Bullets,”he said and paused. “ But that is silent,” he added.
A long silence followed as I tried to summon an expression that was just right. Raise the eyebrows, open the mouth and gasp, “oh, that’s brilliant. What a title! Of course, the story is a thriller, there is always a gun, a gun has a six bullets. Brilliant…sir.” I managed.
My director laughed in delight, a cross between a rasp and a boy with a puberty voice. I knew I deserved an Oscar in acting then. I waited for him to ask me to show him my story I had developed based on his concept. I had burnt the midnight oil for a week and was eager to narrate it to him.
“So I have sent a presentation to the producers. The film starts with a factory making guns and a voiceover describing how fatal a gun is,” he continued.
He quickly fished out his I pad and showed me a 2 minute video with deafening sound effects and some MTV style visuals. The title ‘Six’ kept sliding on the screen every few seconds.
I opened my mouth to give what was by now a mastered gasp of appreciation but found my jaw clamped beyond my control. I managed a limp chin movement.
“Khalid Khan ke saath meeting hai. I will give him a narration. The producer wants more emotion. So now our hero is both dumb and deaf.”
Yes, yes. Now he will express everything to the heroine through love letters. But he won’t give the letter to her.
“Sir, is this a love story or a thriller?
“Both. Theek hai na. You mail me the synopsis.”
His peon walks in with a try full of Marie biscuits and two cups of tea as if on cue.
The director waves the biscuit plate at me and starts chomping on them, apparently happy with our meeting.
This isn’t the first time I come across a director who pays me to write scripts but is a closet writer himself. They live in the divine belief of dictation since they cannot type. Since I have recently left a lucrative job to follow my dreams as a film writer, I am willing to be a secretary taking down notes, hoping this would change soon.
However, only the director changes. The scene is the same. Meetings begin with him narrating and me nodding. I go back the next day with a 10 page script as discussed in the meeting. A dialogue writer has been invited to hear the story. The script is narrated to him. The dialogue writer talks in shuddh Hindi and succeeds in impressing director saab suitably. We meet again in a few days with the script fleshed out with dialogues. The story’s climax has changed. I ask him about it. He says he discussed it with the director on the phone. Since the climax has changed, the director asks me to rewrite the beginning and the middle. Basically the whole story . The meetings continue. So do the rewrites, every time someone gives a different feedback to the director. Every meeting, the story would change.
By this time, I have begun to pride myself on coming up with complete scripts every time someone gives a different concept. Along with the pride, comes a disturbing unacknowledged discomfort that compromise of creativity brings. One such afternoon, I get a call from another director. The moment he starts talking about how grand his project is, something snaps within me. Politely refusing, I pick up all the DVDs and dispatch them back to my director’s office. There is no worry about the future, no anxiety. No regrets, no plans. Nothing. Perhaps I am numb. Too drained to think by now, I simply allow my body to dictate me. I put on my favourite Nike shoes and go for a long walk. Perhaps sleepwalking feels like this. I spend many days in this ever so comfortable no mind zone. One day, I come across a small article in a newspaper announcing an upcoming contest for a Hollywood director. I glance at it briefly but don’t give it a second thought. Until I walk into a nearby mall.
The mall was buzzing with an event called “cutathon”. Several celebrity hairstylists were busy giving haircuts and makeovers to men and women, almost free of charge for a charity cause. I went to the second floor and stood looking down at various heads being transformed, hair being snipped with scissors with the dedication of artists painting their best work of art. The sight kept me enthralled for some unfathomable reason. I wanted only one thing. A camera. I just wanted to capture the sight. Quickly, I found a cameraman covering the event and paid him extra bucks to shoot separately, just as I visualized each frame. I didn’t realize until next day, how crucial that spontaneous decision was.
Next day, I had woken up with a vague idea in my head based on the visuals. I take out a few blank sheets and simply follow what I now know as something Julia Cameron suggests in her book “The Artist’s Way”. She advises every artist to pour down random thoughts on three pages every morning. That’s exactIy what I did. I felt I was having the best conversation with myself. The next few hours, I simply sat and wrote ,the visuals at the mall whirling in my head. The moment I was done, I knew I had a good script for a short film. And this time, I wanted to direct it myself. I knew that newspaper article was a sign. I spoke to a cameraman to arrive at the budget for shooting it. The cost was coming to Rs 30,000, something I was not ready to spend at the time. I dropped the idea. The same evening I got a call from my mother that she wanted to send me some money. I knew then this was no coincidence. My story was based on a childhood experience. My mother had no clue I had written a story on it. Another sign. Within two weeks, I had a short film ready, titled “Bad Hair Day”. Within two months, the film was selected in a major competition telecast on national network. The next month I went on to make more short films on the show. By now, I had realized a new untapped potential beyond writing--that of a filmmaker. A potential that again had its seeds in my childhood. My father was a photographer and I had spent all my growing days playing with his film rolls as he developed them in his little studio dark room. The images have apparently stayed. Flashback circa 1970s.
Ever since, I have learnt that nothing is a waste of time, be it playing or becoming a secretary. Everything comes together eventually like a beautiful symphony. I have learnt to take new risks and let go of writing assignments that don’t really involve my writing skills. I have no regrets though of going through the typical Bollywood experience. After all, I ended up writing complete scripts for myself while the directors continue to give presentations, hoping to cast a Khalid Khan without a story.
Following my dreams with total conviction has become second nature. This journey has made me realize the power of synchronicity, spontaneity and self belief. The heart always knows the best. I have learnt to take the risk of listening to it.