It's been almost a year since I ran out of excuses for not making a film. When I arrived in Bombay nine years ago, fresh from the Film Institute, things looked pretty easy. All I had to do was get together a script, speak to a star and soon I could call myself a bona fide filmmaker. As we all know, for some reason things don't quite work out that way. And then there is the very real and frightening question of making a living. Buying a flat. Buying a car. Then the summer comes and you need an air-conditioner. Soon it's time for you to get married. Have a child. There is no dearth of excuses for not making a film. And even when you run out of these petty excuses that have left you feeling terribly guilty, you have the satisfaction of knowing that there is no way you can get a star. That's one excuse you can always bank on. And if you want to make a film with no star, a film that you `really want to make', it's easy to find an excuse for that: you don't even have the money to buy raw stock!
And then comes the digital revolution and suddenly you are cornered. You actually see looming large in front of you the unnerving possibility of making a film with virtually no budget. And so, one year ago, I ran out of excuses.
The biggest challenge with Clever & Lonely was writing a script that I could afford to shoot. While the temptation to make the next Blair Witch Project was substantial, I managed to shake it off and decided to make something that I `really wanted to make'. I chose a familiar subject - the man-woman relationship - and as I got more and more into the writing, it became more and more a study of the male psyche. The film had to be in English in keeping with the characters' backgrounds and I felt that the film would not need any music (it doesn't have any). I wrote five drafts of the script over five months with long periods of inactivity between drafts and finally my screenplay was complete. Looking at it from the budgetary point of view, I was relieved to see that it didn't require millions. It had two lead characters and a couple of one-scene appearances. It had a lot of something that doesn't cost the earth - dialogue.
In the meantime, my cameraman Jatinder Sharma had already given me the good news that he wouldn't use any artificial lights. No cutter stands, no thermocol sheets, no black paper, no black cloth. He would use available light even for the long night sequences. And what's more, he wouldn't even need an assistant!
Casting, I had thought would be the toughest part, but in fact proved the easiest. My friend Mekhela suggested Aamir Bashir. I gave him the script and soon he was on. He didn't even bother to discuss money. He put us on to Nilanjana and after reading the script she was on as well. She too was very considerate regarding the money. Working out the dates took a little juggling and once we had the perfectionist Mohandas V. P. to do the sound, we were well on our way. A reading with Aamir and Nilanjana, followed by a rehearsal on-location (my parents' apartment, my brother-in-law's apartment and my sister's car were the locations!) and before we knew it, we were in the middle of shooting my first feature film.
The shooting happened in three spurts of three, two and three days so that in eight days we had wrapped it up. Peaceful (in comparison to all my television shoots) is the word I would use to describe the shooting process. The unit was usually just six of us - the actors, cameraman, sound recordist, my wife Irene, who also tripled as editor, AD and production controller, myself and on occasion my cameraman friend Arun Varma who makes the best tea in the world and who, miraculously, was always there to shoot the film whenever an overworked Jatinder was indisposed. The food was ordered over the phone, no one ate too much and no one cribbed at all. Not even Mohandas who had every reason to, but who sportingly lugged around all his sound equipment and held the boom as well in the absence of an assistant. One emotional lesson I learnt is that you can make a film if you have friends supporting you all the way. The performances were great and I can't thank Nilanjana and Aamir enough for getting into character and staying that way.
The editing was as nerve-wracking as editing usually is. You think something is working and then you know it isn't and then you feel maybe it is and so on. My wife (the editor) took our fights into the editing room and I hope it was all worth it.
The first person to see the film was my Film Institute friend Sankalp Meshram (at whose place we edited and where we enjoyed countless home-cooked meals with him and his wife Ruchika, another FTII alumnus) and that was the most nervous couple of hours I have spent in my life. After he saw the film, he got up and hugged me and I couldn't help feeling that maybe we have done something right.
The feeling of exhilaration after completing the film has now been replaced by fear and uncertainty. I can call myself a filmmaker (or can I? After all my `film' has been shot on digital video) but will I ever be able to make a living as a filmmaker? Will I make another film? The excuses have started flowing all over again, my car is old and tired, the air conditioner threatens to quit, my daughter will need an independent room soon…