Chapter 41 | Love For Miracles

I’ve always known that the journey towards making a movie won’t be easy for me. Specifically, because I’m not from a film-family/background. Neither from a business family with money and connections. Nor am I heartland-Indian. I’m not very pushy. I can’t sell myself. And worse, I want to do something different.

I want to make global films with Indian stories – like a Slumdog or a Life of Pi. Something Ritesh Batra has already done with his sweet ‘Lunchbox’. But I don’t know how he did it.

I have been told by a number of filmy people that there is no business model to support my dream – Indian studios cannot buy global films. On top of that, last few years have been very bad for business. Economies are down and people are sceptical and safe.

I know that there have been many Indian authors who have written internationally best-selling English language fiction pieces. Their concept and craft is top-notch. But movie-making requires concept, craft and budget for executing that craft. It’s not a talent issue. If you want to make a Life of Pi, you need the budgets for a Life of Pi.

Which, can never be justified if you’re making movies for the domestic market. The Indian film industry does not make movies for the global market – it is for Indians in India and in other parts of the world.

So my making a movie would be a miracle, and I’ve always loved that. I love the idea of a ‘miracle’.

There is ‘boring’, ‘mundane’, ‘nice’, ‘interesting’, ‘exciting’, ‘out of this world’ … and then on the far end of the spectrum is a ‘miracle’.

Once in a lifetime. Life changing. Reality altering. Miracle.

Now, I’ve also always known that the road will be bloody hard and it will test every bit of my perseverence and belief. I’ve known that it will only get harder and and harder till it gets better.

Like everyone else in this journey, I have heard stories of great filmmakers and actors who have had 4, 5, 15 years of struggle before they got their big break. I have read many inspirational quotes.

But what happened to me was something I was not prepared for.

I was prepared for lots of rejection, humiliation, poverty, boredom, anguish, disenchantment, loneliness, depression etc etc… But I was not prepared for a few added burdens along the way.

My mother’s health has been a concern for some years now and its Alzheimers and Cognitive Dementia. Which means that I actually had to spend a lot of time with her. To top it all, she had two cerebral strokes in the past 3 years. I’m not getting into the details but this was a huge burden on not just finances (she lives in Kolkata and I live in Mumbai so I had to travel every month or so. Which meant, other than the expenses, I wasn’t as ‘available’ to take on projects to earn money) but the caregiving took a heavy toll on my health.

It’s like having a 1 year old child who keeps you up all night being completely chaotic. Just that unlike a 1 year old, this one’s an adult and weighs 80 kgs; so you can’t really pick her up and put her in a cot. Alzheimers and Cognitive Dementia is a new-age desease with very less precedence in our regular families. So we were all learning how to handle her. Her brain would trick her into believing she’s in 1996 and all hell would break lose. Imagine if your brain tricked you into believing something that’s not true. You’d go mad just by thinking why everyone thinks you’re wrong. And now imagine when such a patient has a cerebral stroke then the things you have to do keep her calm because a day post the hospital release, she has forgotten everything about the hospital and she’s wondering why she can’t continue with her daily routine of 1996!

So the last stroke was a month back. And after spending two weeks with her I had to come back to Mumbai to get back to earning some money.

And then last week this happened:

I woke up with an overwhelming sense of despair. It was as if someone really close had died. Or as if I had died and I was still here; I felt absolutely hopeless.

“I will die like this”, I thought “with 105 fever and a bad congestion.” I had been very weak the past two days and last night I didn’t get sleep because I was just couldn’t breathe properly. I needed to rest and that’s what I couldn’t get. And now, it’s peak summer in India and its almost 40 degrees outside. And I’m burning. And I can’t breathe. I’m thirsty but I’m too weak to get up.

I screamed at the Universe, “How much more!??” I was livid.

I don’t get livid. Or angry. In general not with anyone unless they are really close and smart.

I certainly never get angry with the Universe because I believe that the Universe is not “someone with a strange sense of humour.” The Universe is not the equivalent of mythological God. The Cosmos is a system or arrangement meant to work in a certain way. Like our body which produces fighter cells to aid our survival. Or the good bacteria that gets produced in our tummy to strengthen our immunity.

It has no sense. It is just an unending stimulus and response cycle.

There is no point getting angry on the Higher Power you believe in because trust me it is trying to give you things you have asked for. Sometimes you keep changing what you want and you confuse the shit out of the Universe.

If you ask for something the Universe works towards getting it towards you. And pushing you towards it. It’s actually about self improvement, sacrifices, focus and discipline. It’s about learning new skills. Sometimes it takes time because you need to learn some new skills to learn the actual skills that you can use. Say you need to learn C++ to learn Java. It totally depends on the complexity of what you want.

In that sense the Universe is your Mentor. And you don’t get angry at your mentor who has no self interest (no ‘self’, no self interest). You should be thankful and continue to learn the things you need to learn.

In short, you need to be a good pupil – shut up and finish your course.

I’ve never questioned the Universe and to this date I have never snapped back. I’ve felt despair, but I’ve never gotten angry and I’ve never cried out.

So I screamed and then I cried like a guy.

I had 105 fever and this was my breaking point.

Right then a thought entered my head – when we speak to our own selves inside our heads do we actually speak to the Universe? It’s not just some empty ramble inside a crowded head, is it?

I felt a slight “ting!”. As if someone, somewhere, approved my thought. I felt some kind of a presence. Suddenly it wasn’t like a one way street. (I know this feeling because I’ve felt this presence in the past a few times). “So someone was listening… Alright…!”

I got up and headed straight for a bath to bring the temperature down. I had had enough. I decided to disregard the fever and just have a normal day.

The bath helped. Then I ate some porridge and came to the TV room.

I switched on the TV.

Generally I have some preset channels – movies, cricket, news and I surf within that list. But I decided to be curious about – exactly how many and what kind of channels are there on Indian Television?

I started from Channel no. 0001.

I must have spent about 45 minutes flipping through some absolute garbage when I stopped at Morgan Freeman.

“Hey! God!” I smiled.

I love Mr. Freeman from all his movies but I remember him fondly as God from Bruce Almighty.

I dwelled on.

“NatGeo. This show is called The Story of God with Morgan Freeman. Hmm. Good casting!”

This episode was about ‘Miracles’. I watched on and got a handful on the power of faith. Some guy fell from the 35th floor and survived. Some guy prayed with his friends in church and got rid of tumor. It was clearly about faith that could move mountains.

“Ummm… Okay.”

And then he went to Bodh Gaya and met some Monks. The monks told him what faith really was and what is a real miracle – “What we need is for the world to come together with love and compassion… Reconciliation … We don’t need levitating 3 inches off their butts while meditating. That’s not miracle. That’s stupid. Lets stick to the real miracle which is transforming the human mind.”

“This Head Monk is a dude!” I thought.

And then Mr. Freeman turned to me and said, “I used to struggle to make sense of miracle stories – how oceans could be parting. How was it possible to walk on water. But I think I was missing the point. To believe in miracles is to believe there is more to life than meets the eye. To accept there could be something that connects us, unites us.

So many souls pass through this world. And as our paths cross, miraculous things can and do happen. People get the breaks they always wanted. People inspire one another. People fall in love. And whether these events are orchestrated by the hand of God or power of the mind or just one in a million chance, I believe we should believe in miracles. Because miracles, however you define them, give us hope. They drive us to create reality, out of possibility.”

“Hmm. The Universe is talking to me.” I could sense the Universe feeling a bit bad about what it was making me go through. The lessons have been unrelenting and now my health was taking a serious toll (my health has been taking a toll for a while now; the usually healthy me was by now very low on energy levels and immunity). I could sense a ‘correction’ coming.

The phone rang. It was my cousin. He was just calling to ask me about something. But then he heard my voice and knew something was wrong. And when he heard about the fever, he immediately demanded that I get myself in a cab and move to his place.

His place was a better option and I was too unwell to say no. I will get food and assistance at his place. But I was too weak to move.

So that night I had two small malts and slept the fever off. The malt help me get some sleep and the next day I woke up a little better. Enough to put myself in an Uber and head to my cousin’s place.

Just as I woke up I started worrying about food – “What am I going to eat now? What am I going to make? I can’t have junk. And I have no taste in my mouth!”

The bell rang and it was my neighbour standing with some pancakes. Home food. Good on my flu-toungue.

My cousin’s place was a TLC paradise. Great food, great care, good television. What else does a sick man need?

Black plums.

There’s a black plum tree in the garden and the plums would fall and get smashed on the ground. They had put out a bedsheet so that some would get collected on it.

Some fell the day before I came and were collected. They were served to me with rock salt.

As I relished those ‘kaala jamuns’ from the most natural and organic source possible (own garden, unplucked, in a space-deprived modern city like Mumbai), I wondered about the miracle each plum was.

They grew and fell for me. Nature. Our strongest connection with the Universe. Through the sweetness of the plums what was being communicated to me was a message from the Universe.

“Don’t worry. No matter how hard it gets, you’re always going to be taken care of.”

 

 

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Happy New Year 2016

My father was an engineer. And in many ways he was like a classic small-town-America dad. Always obsessing about the need to fix everything in the house, all by himself, especially the electricals. (This was a man who did not just own a tool-kit, he fathered multiple ‘tool cabinets’.)

I think he felt incomplete if he didn’t give the machines a wrench every now and then.

In those days television sets needed to install external ‘antennae’ – sticky-wiry-metal things on top of the roof. Every roof in Calcutta had multiple antennas and they were much cared for because the picture quality would depend on the wind, playing truant with the antenna. Sometimes it would be a kite. Or a pigeon, or a crow. The thundering monsoons would be terrible for the health of these delicate darlings.

So antennas needed fixing all the time. And TV electricians would make a killing climbing up to the roof (sometimes these were risky business) and then fixing the antenna. It would be a minor tweak but it would be made to look like the scaling of Mt. Everest. (the more difficult a job is made to look, the easier it is for clients to shell money).

These TV electricians hated my father. Because he would be the only one in the neighbourhood who would climb up to the roof and fix the antenna.

He often tried to teach me. He was an engineer and wanted me to be one. So he wanted me to get into the groove from an early age.

“But I don’t like doing it.”

“Oh come on be a man!”

“Eh.”

“What you don’t understand is that every time you fix the antenna yourself, you save fifty rupees. You do it twice and you save hundred rupees.”

“So I’ll do something to earn hundred rupees when I grow up.”

“Don’t be silly, it’s not about earning hundred rupees. These electricians fleece you. They spend ten minutes and they take fifty rupees. Imagine how much money you’ll save in the future.”

“So I’ll just make sure that the worth of my ten minutes is more than fifty rupees. So that I can call an electrician and don’t mind paying him.”

I’m not proud of my cocky retort as a kid. Neither do I think my father was wrong. He was very, very, very right and he was an ideal father trying to teach something to his kid.

He meant the best and I was the petulant child. But somehow I was right about MY future. I knew what I liked and what I didn’t. Despite being branded a failure for most of my growing years, I always did what I liked.

I was right in rejecting all that was not my path and embracing all that was. Which has worked out for me. That’s probably me being lucky.

But what’s fascinating is that my father gave me advice about the future. And like many of our parents, he did not see what kind of future was coming. He did not see that when his son grows up and owns a TV, it would be a complex microchip-based unit, which, even my father, a civil engineer, wouldn’t be able to make much sense of. In a few years there’ll be no TV set. The wall or any other surface will be the TV.

He wasn’t a well-frog; in fact he was a well-versed man of science. Why didn’t he see this coming? I don’t know. Maybe this is what we call ‘middle class trappings’ – looking at life with the lens of problems to solve and not opportunities to create.

It’s 2016. I know between 2013 and 2015 I’ve not written much here. Not that nothing much happened. A lot happened and I couldn’t make sense of anything. I was consumed by the mindfuck.

But all that’s behind. And I don’t want to base anything on the past.

It’s a new year and I want to look forward again.

Look forward to a magical year:)

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Chapter 36 | Love and Effort – Part III: Lovechildren

I drafted this piece two years back but never published it. Because I was a helpless parent who could not feed the child. The child is 2 now. And, though late, he has started to walk:)

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The birth of a child is the highest expression of life. It’s not just the emotions, it’s a miracle.

A part of me and a part of you came together and we created love. The elements of nature fed our love. Made it grow into a whole different expression of life. Moving, talking, smiling, crying… with a mind, body and soul of its own…

If a child be the highest expression of life, what could be the highest expression of love?

For me it’s a newborn love offspring.

A lovechild.

Not ‘accidental babies’.

But a child whose parents are madly in love with each other, making love with their minds, bodies and souls. Two forces of life so entwined that they don’t know where one ends and where the other one begins.

Two abstract cosmic forces, separated for most of their lives, coming together in a divine union.

To procreate parts of each other in the shape of another cosmic force.

Not for any compulsion or as a requirement in marriage.

A child born out of love.

Just for love.

And for no other reason but love.

That’s how I want to make cinema.

That’s how I want to create Art.

That’s why I’m getting into business, that’s why I’m starting my own film production house – Lovechildren Films, to be able to do that.

To make cinema like children born out of love.

LCF Poster

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p.s.: this definition of a lovechild is my own. And it’s not about accidental babies. It’s not about in or out of the wedlock. It’s not about straight or gay couples. It’s not about single or multiple parents. It’s not even about our own or adopted. It’s just about love – that a child should only be born (or reborn) for love and not some pressing need.

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Chapter 40 | Love for the New Order Part 2 | Creating the Future (Or “What it takes to make a sci-fi short in India”)

I am sitting at the balcony of my studio apartment by the French Riviera, 300 meters from the Palais des Festivals at the 68th Cannes Film Festival. I’m looking at the ‘Californié Hills’, sipping on a black Columbian roast that lay stood for exactly four minutes. That’s how I like it.

It’s the month of May, exactly 5 years from the time I started this blog with a very similar opening sequence:

I am sitting by the pool at the Ritz Carlton Kuala Lumpur, sipping a black Columbian roast that lay stood for exactly four minutes. That’s how I like it.

https://samratdasgupta.wordpress.com/2010/05/29/step-zero-recognizing-the-‘good-life’-trap/

But today is different. Today the point has moved to, what I think is, probably the half way mark towards my Dream Life. So yes, there is a sense of arrival, knowing that it’s probably just a ‘check-in’ and not a settlement.

I am here with my new short film QX2026 – a science fiction that just attempts to nudge you into considering an alternate future for our planet and not buy into the prophecies of natural doom or alien annihilation or, worse, human greed.

This is a film that has been festering inside me for 15 years now, right from the time my very dear friend S.A. and I started talking about the premise, when we used to get bored from waiting for our clients to revert on our work, at the French Advertising Agency we used to work for (funny, the French connection!)

It was the mad coconut Sal who used to say, “Have you ever wondered that maybe we are being led by the filmmakers’ and artistes’ vision of what the future could be? Who knows whether the future will be about gigantic glass buildings? But someone is imagining the future like that and they are planting their thoughts and conditioning our minds.”

I conjectured, “Futuristic is just pre-conditioning.”

I’ve lived with that thought for many years now. I drafted the script for QX2026 (then called The Café) in 2005. But of course I couldn’t make it then and this wasn’t even the film I had written back then. This kind of a film was and still is so difficult to make in India. No one makes science fiction stuff in a country that is known for science and technology.

The point about a sci-fi is that since the story is going to be unbelievable, you need the execution to be on the ball; you need actors who can make it look believable. You need the man from the future to behave like he knows a lot more. It’s not a character you can get into by observing or method acting, it’s a projection of a certain mindset of an extremely intelligent human being.

So when I found my actors A.H. and S.B. I knew the time has come for me to figure out ways to mount this.

A.H. He is a myth. He is a most common-man-legend that you’ll ever meet. He’s one of those guys – if you meet him in a football stadium hosting the world cup finals, you’ll stop watching the game and chat him up.

Shaped by an extraordinary life and time, he is what you can never become even if you try to. He is unique. And when I met him during a voice recording, Last June, I knew I had found my QX2026. Uncle A., as he is fondly called, is the one man who makes QX2026 possible.

Because the other person who makes QX2026 possible, is a lovely woman (girl actually) – S.B. She was the most perfect Indian girl for this role that I could have asked for. And if you see the film you’ll notice how natural her performance is. This was her first acting stint, and that rawness is what makes her performance so special. The script needed someone like her and I met her just 2 days before I met A.H.

Now with the casting sorted, I had to re-develop the script because this was going to be a ‘talkie’ and that would be really boring unless the writing took you places. I did not want to make a one-dimensional talkie and bore people to death. So I added what I generally don’t – complexity. The conversation meanders and there is something new every minute. I guarantee, that you will not be able to predict what’s coming next – this film has NO clichés.

I spoke to my producer friend, A.J., and he was on board with his outfit UnCommonSense Films. I, myself, have started my own outfit – Lovechildren Films (more on that later). QX2026 is a co-production between these two companies.

Once we had the casting sorted, we had to place the film in a location that is mystical. Actually in a time-travel sci-fi, time is always one of the most important characters. So what would add more width to time?

Introducing Hauz Khas Village in New Delhi, a bustling rendition of modern, cool India, filled with arty, graffiti-laden by lanes, right by a sprawling 13th century Mughal Empire tomb. I loved the idea of talking about the future, from right next to ancient past.

The other reason for choosing that location was the café – Café Social HKV. It just fits the mood of the film. Considering it’s probably the most popular night-spot in the posh Hauz Khas Village (certainly the coolest), the guys at Social did their loveliest best to accommodate Indie fare. Post closing.

Now, what that meant, turned out to be the only problem with the film – we got the place at 1. For setup. And we had to leave by morning. We had to wrap by 6 actually because the story unfolds post sundown and we didn’t have funds to black-cloth the entire place. Sunrise meant countdown to ‘wrap’ had begun.

It’s not ideal shooting 12 minutes of your film in 3 hours. (2 hours for setup and then 3 hours of shooting time). We managed what we managed. The choice was to go somewhere else and I stuck to taking my chances with the ‘best’ vs doing it easy with ‘any other’.

The next bit of magic came from D.V.

Uncle A, introduced me to DV, a soulful Indie Musician from New Delhi.

DV gave me a track, which, when I placed on the film, seemed to make sweet love to it. So much so, that the visual and the track climaxed together at the end. With words that seemed to be written just for this part of the film, this track was composed by DV sometime back, without any knowledge that this would be the crown on QX2026’s head.

I’m quite happy with the film. I think we’ve made a cinematic counterpoint on mainstream Hollywood’s doom-mongering and apocalyptic approach towards the box office (though I must say that I love most of that).

We become what we think. And we should not think one particular way. Art opens our mind and makes us think about things in a new light. I hope the new light is going to be about, as QX says in the film, “… the future is not a long walk towards doom … it’s about technology … and love…”

Please watch the trailer and like our FB page. It’s free and it’s for our future:)

See you in the future Poster Banner

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Chapter 40 | Love for the New Order – The Breakaway Part

You’re not a stone. You’re a piece of the mountain that carved it’s freedom with the help of wind and water.

Maybe your destiny was not to stay in that exact same spot for millions of years. Maybe your desire was not to climb up to the loneliness, but dance down with each avalanche to meet other free stones and boulders and reach the river one day.

Maybe you’ll get there. Maybe you won’t. But know wherever the wind and the rain takes you, is your rightful place.

And that journey is life.

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Chapter 40 | Love for the New Order – Part I

2013 ended with a sense of hope.

I think for a lot of people, 2013 was a really hard year to get by. 2013 was clearly the dividing line between how it has been and how it’s going to be.

And because this is true for a overwhelming number of people (seriously, NO ONE told me 2013 was fun for them), I started thinking about the possibility of a cosmic change. Something somewhere in the universe is changing and 2013 marked the beginning of that change.

It’s like the year when a lot of people were born again in some significant way.

When we are born, we come crying. We are yanked out of the comfort zone of our mother’s womb and the light and the people and the unfamiliarity makes us really, really nervous.

We cry because we don’t know what the fuck is happening. In reality it’s too much of a shock, to be yanked out of our pre-natal ecosystem and put into another.

Ecosystem.

The Oxford Dictionary describes it as: a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment:

If you want a further probe: An ecosystem is a complex set of relationships among the living resources, habitats and residents of an area. It includes plants, trees, animals, fish, birds, micro-organisms, water, soil and people. Everything that lives in a ecosystem is dependent on the other species and elements that are also part of that ecological community.

It’s completely biological and rather homogenous in nature. Every species, every living being thrives in a particular ecosystem. And it perishes if there’s a change in it cannot handle.

Which has happened in the past – ecosystems have changed and that have led to the extinction of species. Some species have been fitter in their battle for survival and have migrated.

Migration or not, we could assume that the species who have reacted to the change and initiated another ‘system’ to make up for change have survived.

There was a process to it and the process helped them live.

In the case of mankind, that process was always more complex. As human beings evolved they became more and more different from other species in way they conducted their lives.

As mankind evolved further, they not only became very different from the other terrestrial animal species, but they became different from each other as well.

The Greeks were different from the Huns and the Oriental though we were all from the same forefathers.

Through centuries of evolution we stand at a juncture when your neighbor could be very different from you in the way he conducts his or her life. Right from his food habits to his ethnicity, his religious beliefs, his job, his taste in things, his orientation, everything could be different.

How did this happen? How did the atoms of the same cluster start behaving so differently?

My answer lies in one word – individuality.

Yes I am a part of an ecosystem or a social system that shapes me. But does not define me.

It shapes me, yes, for I’m a product of an Indian system, I’m a part of it but that’s not my complete identity. If you meet me and then you meet another fellow Indian, you may not find similarities.

In fact if you meet all the 1.2 billion people in India and then you meet me, you may still find me different.

You may find many others who also are very, very different. So different that they will not remind you of anyone else you’ve ever met in any part of this planet.

Something about them will leap out and make you happy that you met someone who’s not like anyone else.

An individual.

Now, there are certain places in the world where individuality thrives – like New York. Or London. Or in suburbs like Bandra in Mumbai – free agents floating in this universe, dancing to their own songs.

But there are places where individuality is taken as a sign of revolt – like (and I may be wrong in naming these places, I beg for forgiveness if my examples go against your view) China, Pakistan, some other Arab countries …

In some places having your own individual point of view on things can mean treason – if you’re not in compliance with the system of the State then you’re dead.

India, as always (and that’s what I love about my country) is bang in the middle. Certain small pockets India welcomes individuality, certain parts are tolerant about it and large parts are going to pass a verdict basis what you’re being individualistic about.

A large part of the society still goes by tradition – funnily though all the traditions are quite recent: like sex is taboo in the land of Kamasutra (200 BC).

Sometimes we’re allowed to behave like an individual. Sometimes we sense trouble and we keep quiet about it.

There are times when your personal thoughts and beliefs may make you disagree with your ‘system’ but it’s best not to voice your disagreement (unless you anticipate some great collective harm).

Truth is, it’s 2014 and many of us on the planet are pretty comfortable with our biological ecosystems. It is the other kinds of ‘systems’ that we are at cross with.

Social system, judicial system, political system, the system that doesn’t have legitimacy but are thriving – like the system of human greed and corruption.

We hate some of these systems.

But we are a part of it and can’t function without it.

80% of us don’t love our jobs and we hate the system that’s making us do what we don’t like doing. But if, tomorrow morning, we found out that our companies no longer exist, we’ll populate our hospitals.

We are too dependent on things that are sucking our lives out, day in and day out, systematically killing the great life force we once were, dumbing our human potentials down, instead of helping us evolve.

In 2013, I feel, many of us realized that. And looked to break out. Some of us actually broke out.

That led to a very tough year.

Getting out of a system is a near-impossibility. And if you’ve achieved it, you’re already part of something special.

Before you think I’m flattering you and I’m flattering myself in the process, just consider the cosmic dimensions of what you’ve come out of.

The entire universe follows a system.

Orbital force creates a system by which stars and planets and satellites and asteroids are bound in space that is otherwise a big vacuum. Things have been going round and round around something and that entire cluster has been going round and round around something bigger. And it goes on that way, unchanged.

The Moon goes around the Earth that goes around the Sun that is definitely going around something (we don’t know yet, but it’s definitely moving in a larger orbit).

The current of the oceans, they go in the same elliptical motion around the planet.

Our governments, policies, corporations, religions, fashion, cinema, all things are a ‘system’ that makes the rest of us go round and round around something larger and more powerful. And it’s called a ‘system’. And we’re ALL a part of it, knowingly or unknowingly.

The overwhelming truth is that there’s a particular pattern of movement in everything the universe holds – smaller bodies orbiting larger bodies for their survival.

And in 2013, you, you have realized that you’ve had enough of going around something else and you’ve made an attempt to stop and change your personal orbit.

That’s h-u-g-e. That, by itself, is path-breaking.

But that is also quite scary. By establishing your individuality you’ve rebuked the system and it will no longer feed you or reward you.

It would definitely give you a window of time to go back in. Say sorry and get plugged in again. It will take you in and make you pay, by testing your dignity and patience more than it tested before.

Do it then, if you don’t have a choice.

Till then, give yourself all you’ve got.

Be your own Sun. Create your own system.

It’s not going to be easy. Like it hasn’t been.

But the Universe is our true Father; as long as we are in his karmic good books, He will take care of us.

Something about 2014 tells me that we are going to be shown a new way, a new Order.

A very different kind of Order that will make us caterpillars, fly.

We just have to go through it to go to it.

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Chapter 39 | Love and Light

For once she expected some emotion from him; and an emotion would be the equivalent of seeing him broken. She did not know what it was about him that had always made her want to see him broken.

-x-

She was the princess and he was the shepherd boy. And their story was a once a fairytale in one magical land. There was no one prettier than her. Or lovelier. Whenever she came to meet him, she would bring a rainbow.

She was the kind of princess who made the shepherd boy feel like a prince.

There was no evil minister or pompous king, it was really the magical land. But one day, there was war. The kind that brewed inside the shepherd boy’s head – a part of him was at war with the other part and despite many efforts, peace could not be made.

The shepherd boy was called upon by a higher power and though he tried to answer it from the meadows, his voice got lost in the valley.

A time came when he had to leave the meadows.

On the day they were supposed to say goodbye and make promises, the princess arrived with a resolve that changed everything for the boy.

“I want you to be Him.”

“Who?”

“I want you to be like him. I think you’ll be like Him.”

“I have to read first.”

“Promise me you’ll be like Him.”

-x-

I kept the book down and I smiled. Yes, fourteen years later, I finally understood what it is to be like him.

I remember reading it in the train from Kolkata to Delhi, perched on the top berth of a train compartment.

I remember, carrying it with me and reading a few pages at a time whenever I had to wait outside somebody’s office.

I remember reading it in the kitchen of the tiny one room apartment my cousin had, hours into the night.

The book was like a Bible for me that set me off on my journey. And yes, I liked him enough to want to be like him.

I got a job with an ad agency in Delhi and I lost her.

But her parting words were going to shape my life for years to come and I’d be forever grateful to have someone like her come into my life.

To realize – the most beautiful relationships are the ones with people who come into your life and make you better. (And not your life better)

As the years passed by I moved on, from her memories and from being ‘him’. A lot happened and then suddenly, in the last year, nothing happened.

Almost nothing.

2013, the year that went by, was, without a doubt the most difficult year of my life.

I could look at it as a year where I laid all the foundations for my future years, or that I actually learnt a lot.

I could take it as a year when I stepped away from being a cog in the large corporate machinery to being a lonely cog trying to build my own machine.

But the truth is, it was a year of failures.

2013 I tried every possible thing and I failed at every possible thing. Sometimes I got things wrong, sometimes other people got it wrong, and sometimes everything was just perfect but the timing was wrong.

Sometimes it felt so right for the longest time, but in the end it went wrong.

Every time things went wrong, I tried harder. Things went wrong faster.

I fell down and found myself at the bottom of a Well (well, S, who’s seen my struggle closely says it IS like the old and broken Batman, rising. As much as this glamourises my hardships, it is also a reflection of the depth in writing we see in Christopher Nolan movies).

And there was nothing down there. Absolutely nothing and no one to tell me how to get out.

I panicked.

I tried to reach out to whoever I thought could lend me a hand. Some of them tried but the rope fell short. Some of them wanted my soul. Some weren’t ready enough.

Many were in their own wells.

The spring finally completed its recoil.*

And then I saw a rope of illumination spiral down in the midst of all that darkness. Just as it reached me, the light blended into the darkness.

Why is light hope and darkness despair? Aren’t some nights more beautiful and days more tiring? Why should we always try to run away from things we don’t like?

Sitting at the bottom and being with my own self for a while, I realized that coming out of this Well is not about escaping darkness and stepping into light.

Sometimes illumination comes in the form of darkness.

The Well is a creation of my own will; the Well of my choices. And I have to honour it.

I have to love and respect the darkness it offered and make friends with it. I have to make the Well feel that I don’t hate it; being in the Well is not captivity and getting out is not freedom.

That the Well is just another space I’m in. That it is not my cage, it is my Bodhi Tree.

I have to make the Well believe that I’m going to listen to all that it has to say, and then once it feels I’ve been a friend, it should honour my friendship and let me out.

So that I can go out with a resolve and make my movie.

And I can’t make the Well believe anything if I’m not patient and honest about it.

So I waited for the Well to open up and speak to me. Once it understood that I’m not resisting and actually enjoying its company it told me a lot of things.

Things that are going to stay with me, forever. One day I’ll write a book about it.

On the forward I will write:

“There are no demons in life. Things that bother you, bother you because they know you hate them. And there are no answers in hate.”

2013 ended well. I am so happy to say that the most difficult year of my life was also the most meaningful year of my life.

After the Well finished what it had to say, it handed me the book.

14 years back it was a story I read. 14 years later it was a story I realized I lived through.

All the people in that book came into my life. One person in that book gave me my religion.

Probably only one person in this world will understand this.

Then that’s how special that person is for lighting up my path.

At times, He could have been swept away, but He couldn’t be broken.

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Chapter 38 | Love for Bollywood

Why do people behave the way they behave? Why do they like certain things over other things?

What’s the reason behind brand preferences?

What has cinema got to do with it?

Everything, probably.

Cinema need funds. And funds are available to people who do justice to the economics.

I was watching a Future of Indian Cinema conclave – talks hosted by a large media house. And on the panel were people behind commercial cinema, indi-commercial cinema, parallel cinema and art house light bearers.

Basically people who hated the idea of mainstream Bollywood and their key concern was how to divert the funds that go to mainstream Bollywood and make it available for them.

There were mainstream Bollywood people who want to make meaningful cinema but are aware of the fact that they are a part of the larger system and market dynamics. And there were the radicals.

The mainstream guys understood the country better and the radicals refused to acknowledge the Indian truth. They wanted to be successful mavericks; do what Andy Warhol did in the sixties; it seemed to me that they wanted to live in another country (not China, Europe maybe)

The big truth in today’s world emerged – they were, like everybody else in every other discipline, talking about the ‘system’. It worked for some, some hated it.

I think there’s no point hating the system; you have to understand it well enough to make it work for you, unless of course, you want nothing out of it.

(Understanding the system is like knowing about the weather conditions in this new place you’re going to; it’ll help you pack wisely.)

To understand the system you must have an understanding of what the majority wants, or is silently validating it. And there isn’t a more conclusive way of validation than to put your money on it.

The majority of India puts their money across a counter that sells tickets for a mainstream Bollywood film. It’s not the best cinema, it’s probably something you’ll find stupid.

But it’s the truth.

Our politicians and the cinema we endorse tell a great deal about how we are as people, collectively.

And let me preface the rest of this piece by saying that I don’t hate either of them. I don’t blame our politicians and I don’t blame the mainstream mindlessness of Bollywood or hold them responsible for who we are. Without our support, they can’t do what they do.

The world is a marketplace and we are all selling something – some stuff sells more. All I can do, as an aspiring feature filmmaker in India, is to understand the market realities and find a way to make my product more sellable.

Thankfully my growing years and my formative years spent in marketing and advertising helps me understand one thing with greater clarity – what is it that people like.

It’s not going to help me write my story but it’ll surely help me sell it.

So why do the majority of Indians like mainstream Bollywood?

The answer actually is simple – anything ‘main’stream will always be the main stream.

But why do we like “heroism led modest-good-guy-beating-the-crap-out-of-the-powerful-bad-guy” stories?

The answer to that lies in the Indian reality. Almost 70 years into independence, 60 million people are under the 50 cents day-wage-earning poverty level.

The richest Indians are one the top richest people in the world.

And it’s true that while the rich get richer, the poor are getting poorer. Not because the rich are directly taking advantage of the poorer (though in some cases, that also, is a reality), but because the poor are living in darkness burdened by the perils of castism, sexism, puritanism, reliogionism etc.

For ninety-five percent of our people, every day is a constant battle for dignity.

They blame the people in power for that. And deep in their hearts they all know that there is not a thing in the world, they, in their individual human capacity, can do to change that.

But they still wish for a miracle and a messiah.

Mainstream Bollywood gives them a messiah for two and a half hours. The good-guy-hero (who is always a representation of the working class) fighting the powers of biased evil (almost always a representative of the State or the State-Corporate nexus). When that is all they see, inside a dark theatre, they forget their own identities for those 2.5 hours and they live on dignity borrowed from the figure of absolute heroism on screen.

That’s what Amitabh Bachchan gave them in the 80s. That’s what Salman Khan gives them now. Through them, on borrowed mindspace, a struggling nation kills the evil and gets the girl.

That’s what mainstream Bollywood and a poster of the next blockbuster film guarantees them – borrowed dignity in relatable circumstances.

That’s the most important element in the Bollywood success mix – relatability. When a story has elements that could be from the life of any Indian, it’s a product good for the market. The more, more people can relate to the story and see themselves in it, the bigger the box office collections.

And that’s true even for the romantic films, relatable scenarios (even if they are placed in other exotic countries) where the protagonists are relatably Indian. Fantasy, yes, but very, very relatable.

That’s the reason why people flock to see Shahrukh Khan – he is the most relatable but impossibly fantastic lover an Indian girl will ever find. That’s why they love him and that’s why he needs to play almost that same role film after film.

Coming from a very middle-class family, I myself can relate to that. When I saw these same storylines being played out film after film, I would find myself jumping with joy when the hero knocked the daylights of the villain and his team, with his bare hands, despite the fact that the villains team may have had weapons.

I used to jump with joy emulating the punches and the sound effects of ‘dhishoom dhishoom’ because, that, for me, was all I could do to counter the forces of strict adult supervision that always told me how I cannot do what I wanted to do.

I knew it was impossible for me to do what that hero is doing but I could relate to his need to break out of his limitations.

I feel most of my fellow Indians who flock the theatre to see this happening are still children at heart and interestingly most of these Bollywood blockbuster heroes play their roles with the innocence of a child – very basic, uncomplicated people who resolve the relatable crisis with an impossible fight.

Somewhere between that child and the adult that I am now, is the living reality of over one billion people. If that reality changes, Bollywood will.

Till then there’ll be products that will be manufactured for the same show to go on, albeit with more and more flamboyance.

Mainstream Bollywood will be the only solver of the existential crisis faced by us Indians.

And we must love Bollywood for that.

When we are miserable, don’t we all love the person who tells us how we are right and how the person who caused us the misery should be punched in the face?

 ———————————————————————————————————————————–

P.S.: I also see a new wave of cinema coming to us because I already feel a new wave of consciousness amongst us. There are some great statesmen who are doing some great work. And there are some fantastic filmmakers who are giving us great new stories. Because cinema is so big in India, some of these movies are actually managing to help us evolve as richer human beings – watch the films made by Raju Hirani. They are masterpieces in societal evolution. The old is fading and the new is being inked. Someday we won’t need to find hope in seeing our realities being played out on the screen with unrealistic outcomes. I will buy you an ice cream that day:)

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Chapter 37 | Test of Love

My friend B is getting married to her true love R.

And it’s a big deal after years of fighting religion in India.

B is from a Muslim family that held interfaith marriages as blasphemy.

He’d be failing his duties as a father if B married outside the religion. And he’s that kind of a man – progressive about most things, except this little thing about his own daughter.

For years B sat through the test of getting the doting but rigid father to turn a corner.

Some days she’d think of giving up. Some days she’d decide to give up on the father and walk out. Some days she’d decide to give up on her relationship and stay home.

But most days she drove her car to the office hoping that when she gets home she’ll magically find her father and her boyfriend sitting together having a beer and watching football.

Her father lined up an international spread of eligible Muslim bachelor boys and B, respectful to her father, met all of them.

After meeting them she would go and meet R and they’d probably joke about it.

B did everything her father asked of her except actually saying yes to any of those boys.

What B knew is that this is a test. Life is testing her patience and her integrity.

Her true love towards her father and her boyfriend were put to a test and it was a test of willpower – she wanted something impossible – “I will marry him with my father’s blessings.”

It took her 8 years and a divine intervention for her childhood superman to pass on the cape to her future one.

Years of walking the tightrope B knew two things – one, the rope would end someday and she would step on the grass on the other side, holding two hands. Two, she couldn’t fall.

What if she met some charming Muslim boy and told herself, “Hey, this is much easier”?

What if after a lovers’ tiff with R she decided, “OK enough, this is too hard”?

What if R weren’t understanding enough to respect her father’s views?

Thankfully, after B was sure that this is the guy she was going to marry, there were no what ifs in her life.

That’s what a test does to you. It just shows you the truth about the choices we make. It makes us go through a process of understanding why we made that choice and why there cannot be any other.

True love always tests. And in a way, the tests reveal the truth about the love.

Sometimes it’s a test of integrity. Sometimes honesty, sometimes faith, and sometimes, patience.

I chose to love cinema. And the past years I’ve been through countless tests that question the same thing – how pure is my love for cinema?

“Are you into me for how sexy I am?”

“Umm … I don’t want to hurt your self-esteem if you base them on those parameters…”

“If you had to give up your fancy life will you still love me?”

“Yes.”

“If you had to touch the rock bottom of insecurity will you still love me?”

“Yes.”

“If you had to walk away from everything you’ve built so far, will you still want me?”

“Yes.”

“If you spend all your money and can’t make rent will you still love me?”

Hang on. That’s a financial question.

Actually that’s the toughest test – the money test.

Most people fail the money test while chasing their dreams. Either before they start the journey with a “Oh no, how am I going to survive if I give up what I’m doing right now to earn that good money.”

Or, “My dreams are shrouded in EMIs.”

Or, they take a leap of faith and then backtrack somewhere down the line because they don’t have enough savings; they have a cut off mark.”

Or, worse, history is witness to people dying penniless following their dreams (and worth millions, posthumous).

Since most of the dead guys have had some or the other ‘dependency’ issues that I don’t have, I may be safe.

Plus I’m allergic to EMIs.

But still, the possibility of pulling the plug becomes scarily real each passing month.

I have some money in the bank. That money is my tightrope.

And you know what’s worse than walking that tightrope? Knowing that there’s a live band with a salad, buffet and bar counter running parallel to that tightrope.

With all your friends waving at you, “Hey you crazy one, come down, join us, there’s going to be a Lido Show!”

You just have to pick that phone and you’ll get your past life back – the money, the security, the job, the respect that the world gives you because of that money, security and job.

Instead I’m just being stupid and blind in love. Seeking some divine form of light within that blindness.

Within my blindness I see drifting fireflies.

Sometimes it’s getting the email id of a high profile movie star’s agent.

Sometimes it’s getting through to someone important on a phone call.

Sometimes it’s finding an address and landing up only to discover that people really don’t care about stories; they don’t even listen to them.

Sometimes it’s a meeting on something that involves making films but of a totally different kind.

Sometimes it’s getting a freak FB message from a stranger working for big shot at one of the biggest motion picture companies in India.

Go, meet, hear some great compliments. Talk about my stories. Log in screenplays. And wait for them to get back.

If this happened a couple of years back, I would have written a post just to share my excitement about this – that one of the heads of a big motion picture company chanced upon Un.kahi, loved it and expressed an interest in my cinema.

We had the most wonderful cinematic connection and she is reading my screenplays. It could be divine intervention leading up to my big break.

But having become wiser, I know that the irony about things of utmost passion is that you have to learn to harness it.

You have to learn to understand and respect other people’s choices and not take rejections as personal or professional. Just circumstantial.

At the end of the day everyone’s a businessperson and every decision is a business decision. And what ultimately matters is whether or not what you have fits into the scheme of things of the people with the funds.

If this works out, it will make for a magical story of how finally a movie was made. (That will be awesome – making of my story will have a story).

If it doesn’t, I’ll have to understand – just as my story does not fit into their scheme of things, they also don’t fit into my story’s scheme of things. The right people will come and stay (Will Smith – “Don’t chase people”).

Honestly, I don’t know about the external elements. I don’t know whether to go with “if it’s meant to be” or with “I can make it happen.”

I don’t know if I could make it happen because it’s meant to be.

I just know that I have to keep walking the tightrope till I get to the other side.

I know that all I can ever be is a sum total of my choices and some of those choices are responses to the tests the universe is throwing my way.

Our choices are a function of our intent. And in the end it is the absolute purity of that intent that shines through.

What I’m going through is the only way I would have ever gotten to know how much making cinema means to me – to come to a point where I am taking absolutely all life-decisions around being able to make cinema.

Maybe it’ll get harder in the days to come. Maybe the rope will begin to wear out.

It’ll scare me at times but it won’t snap.

Because life is like cinema, my friends.

There’s always some drama before the happy ending.

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Chapter 36 | Love and Effort – Part II: Business Plan

“Once upon a time there was a little snowball with a lovely song in its heart. When it rolled, every bit of snow in the mountain wanted to be a part of it.”

What starts a business?

Is it an idea? A skill set? A product?

A void? An opportunity?

The market needs?

A monetary motivation? A status proposition?

Historically, businesses have been started to fulfill self-interests.

First it was about one person. Then it became about a family. Then it became about family, friends, acquaintances. The Corporation came about. Corporations started borrowing money. So it became about family, friends, acquaintances and investors. Then businesses started borrowing money from the public. And that’s the latest – businesses modeled in a way that fulfills the interests of its stakeholders/shareholders.

Can there be a business that benefits people?

My friend HM who shares the same belief, told me about Toms Shoes. That’s such a wonderful business model that is actually good for everybody. Not just for the stakeholders but even for people around the world who have nothing to do with the business.

Can my business aim to do that?

It’s a film production house; it’ll only be audio-visual content.

Ok.

So how can my business do that?

How can I run a film production business that’s beneficial for me and other stakeholders and at the same time be beneficial for a child in Brussels, or a man in Rio, or a woman in Syria?

That’s when it occurred to me – the beauty of cinema. Films that are made from the heart and made with love have the power to run through geographies and cut through social classes.

I just have to make sure that there is enough love. And in a sense that’s just the most wonderful business model with timeless possibilities because there can never be such a thing as ‘enough love’.

No matter how much love there is, we’ll always want more.

There can never be too much love, love is such a thing; it can just keep growing.

It feels right.

Maybe it’s wrong in 2013 for businesses to exist or to be formed only to fulfill the personal interests of a select few.

Maybe larger business, global businesses should be modeled around larger things – things that everyone would want to be part of.

Not functions that people appropriate, but emotions.

Emotions people can share and grow.

Positive emotions.

Like love.

Love that leaps out of one heart, spreads to the second. And then the third and the fourth.

Like a little snowball rolling; so delicate, yet made so powerful by every bit of snow it picks on the way.

On and on, till one day the little snowball becomes as big as the planet we call home.

And that day, in the years to come, we suddenly realize, “My god! This planet is such a lovely world!”

I know some may not believe in this.

But I do.

I’m starting a production company. And this is what my business will be modeled around: “snowballing love through cinema”.

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