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.
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…”