Shanker Raman, Director
Sometime in the year 2000, a bunch of us got together to come with an idea for a short film that could be realized with the minimum of funds and fuss. Most of 'us' were people who were totally disillusioned with what TV had to offer as opportunity for creative pursuits other than game shows, countdown shows, and 'the wedding song blues', that run forever.
Digital video was an exciting new proposition as a medium at the time, simply because we felt that, a film can be generated purely from the confines of our home.
The challenge then was not so much in generating the minimum funds required to shoot a film or deal with distribution. It was to be able to generate a decent idea. Initially there was a lot of difficulty in arriving at an idea, complete in itself, keeping in mind the existing recourses or better still the lack of recourses one was used to as a professional. Plug n Play emerged out of one of these sessions. But it never got written…until sometime September this year.
Sarthak Dasgupta of white lotus films, and I were coming back from a recce in Goa, regarding a DV feature. I happened to tell him the story out of the blue. He was very interested in developing it further and with some persuasion, I wrote the script. Perhaps one of the few things I have written in my life that had a beginning, a middle and an end. The sense of having something complete and ready for production was enough for all of us to start thinking in terms of execution.
The story is about these three friends, played by Amit, Aamir and Sorab, who one fine morning take a ride to the Mumbai central station to drop someone. As Amit and Aamir are waiting for Sorab to get back, they have an idea for making a film. It's all about everything and nothing in particular improvising as they move along, playing jazz and speaking a language that is conventionally unmelodious. The texture of their conversation and the resultant pictures leads us to certain events and experiences that describe their lazy, harmless, and dreamy lives.
Amit Arroz an actor friend based in London was in town and he was the first out of the actor lot who read the script and agreed that this film must be done 'here and now.' Something that Aamir seconded. We got a final draft going and started planning the schedule. But there was a minor hitch…We did not have the money to do it. Even the bare minimum that was required. So in came Kirti and with a little help from our friends we had put together a shooting budget of about Rs 35,000. And we shot it. I found Amjad somewhere in the circle of angels who had a soft corner for first time film makers. He handled the production single handed with his assistant Gullu. Savita and Harshad, the hair 'stylist' and 'make up' personnel came on a last minute notice, with no more an incentive than the 'crew' making a film for the first time. They were a treat. Tanmay and Vinod were priceless in their contribution, not only in the creative aspects but also holding ground when at any given point in time it seemed, that the lopsided scheduling I had insisted upon, making us look like a bunch of amateurs. I met Malaika on the afternoon before the first day of shoot. She agreed to do it.
We finished shooting the film in four days. It was shot with a Sony PD 150 camera on mini DV format, location sound recorded on a Fostex DAT. The editing was done on a Powerbook G3 with FCP 3. The sound edit and design was done on Nuendo.
One major realization I had during shooting was that some things should only be read and not filmed. And if those very things have to be filmed then 'this was not the way.' There were bits and pieces of the dialogue I had to cut out of the final film because they were not really contributing as a cinematic experience. Those dialogues are better read and not filmed. Another dilemma I faced was the length of the film. Our intention of keeping it within 15 min was definitely a gross miscalculation. The film turned out to be much longer than we thought and a lot of grey areas started becoming more and more visible. It seemed at one point after the first cut that we had a disaster in hand, not even close to being a flick that we had imagined it to be. Boring, tedious. The indulgence that was the charm had crept in all over the film, totally out of control. The second and third cut was a lot easier where the actual deleting started from the timeline. The crew and I had to agree that in this film one could leave out scenes without it affecting the essence. One had to make that call though, eventually. By the time the fine cut was ready we had started to have fun with the material all over again without having to hide under the covers, half disowning our own efforts. Overall I would say, things turned out fine.
There are huge lessons to be learnt about all aspects of filmmaking. Especially learning to respect the role of a director and editor, not only for others but also about oneself. Being a cameraman and having shot for so long for others, making my first film has actually made me realize the nuances of filmmaking, 'the unintentional' and to deal with the transformation from script to film and then to resurrect the dead material on the edit. No miracles, only wonder, at how much one is capable of if only one tried!! Each time someone watched the film in my house, I avidly noticed their reactions. Hardly anyone laughed. But they all smiled …
The film is now to be screened at the forthcoming Wisdom Tree Film Festival, 2003 and MIFF, 2004.