Chapter 42 Love God Separation Encore – Part 5

You’re an independent filmmaker. With some sort of a vision, but not the resources. What is that one thing every ‘arrived’ filmmaker will tell you?

“If you want to make a film, just go out and make it. Today you can shoot a film on your mobile phone!”

Yes, that’s true, feature films are being made on the iPhone. And we can all agree that if the story and the actors and their performances look good (as they were in many of the black and white films which we still watch), the film looks good. In fact, great acting can compensate for every other shortcoming of a film; it would still be worth the watch. (The reason I’m not saying great story + great acting is because great acting is not possible without a great story.)

My unique problem was that my two lead actors were two porcelain figurines. But my real problem was that I actually did not have much resources.

So I didn’t really have an option but to look at my iPhone and decide to shoot with it. And I’m glad that technological democratisation has come this far, at least it is allowing someone like me to tell a story.

I also realized that I’d have to shoot the indoor parts in my own house, because that’s the only location where I can just park myself and wait for the right kind of rain.

My equipment, my location, my actors; it was quite clear to me that I’d have to shoot this film myself as well. I have a decent visual sense but I still had to learn how to use the equipment – the iPhone, the videogrpahy app and the lenses.

So for the next few days, I took a sleeping bag and went inside the Internet. I knew everything that there was to know about iPhone videography. I can safely tell you that there is a lot one can do if you think of it as a phone camera. But there’s a lot you can’t do if you think of it as a movie camera. If one keeps the shots simple, it’s manageable.

Unfortunately I was shooting a dialogueless, completely visual love story starring a Salt Shaker and a Pepper Shaker. This kind of a visual narrative demands aesthetically high-quality imaging.

The iPhone camera had a huge limitation for this particular project – the main subject matter was porcelain, no matter which lens I used, there would be a focus issue when I get closer to the subject. Unless, of course, I get really close with a macro lens.

Sometimes slightly-out-of-focus looks nice and aesthetic with the colours softly bleeding into each other just a bit. But this wasn’t one of those.

I’ve tried to work around this problem but I don’t think I fully succeeded. There are bits which could have been better had I been more trained. But I’m happy about the few times when I turned this focus-problem on its head by going completely off focus in key moments and making it add to the drama of the shot.

What I lacked in knowledge, I tried to compensate with hard work. I’ve shot this film over 3 months. And I shot every day. Each day, trying to be better than yesterday.

It’s quite difficult for the same person to be the director as well as the cinematographer. Because you can either focus on the communication of the shot or the aesthetics of it. How do you split one mind into two different thinking channels, at the same time?

As a director I was already dealing with the limitation of  my actors’ expressions – they just had just one. Happy, sad, angry, melancholic, romantic, excited – same expression.

 

Expressions.001

 

These were porcelain figurines. And I was attempting a live action film. No VFX. No tricks.

(That’s why now I realise that as a cinematographer I must have done a sub-optimal job. And that’s why cinema is best made with creative collaboration – it’s definitely about the exact professional skill set another talented person brings to the table, but it is also one more intelligent mind as a sounding board; one person cannot see all of it while making. Or at least I can’t.)

While doing the test shots, I realized that it may not be a bad idea to shoot the indoor shots in my apartment, with the way things are. This automatically made me realise that I cannot collaborate with another Production Designer. And that meant that I’d have to be the Production Designer myself, and source everything else that were to be needed, myself.

I’m not a big fan of shopping. But I managed.

I also found the perfect outdoor locations – the best greens that beautiful Mumbai monsoon had to offer.

This being a love story that I was shooting in the monsoon, inspired by the rains in Goa, I had incorporated Rain as a character in the screenplay (Rain has a big role to play in the narrative). And I didn’t have the luxury of controlled environment and equipment. I had to shoot with natural rain, whenever it happened.

Most parts of this shooting was actually about waiting. Just for the right kind of rain, at the right times. There was a time when there were 10 days of heavy night rain and two-minute day drizzles. Just giving me just the time to be hopeful and rush to set up my equipment, only to be let down once ready.

Remember the iPhone camera focus limitations? Sometimes I’d get the best rain-shots and they would look fabolous on phone. But later when I would transfer the files and project them on my TV screen, I’d see focus problems in the foreground or light jumps. (When you’re shooting with an iPhone there’s no focus puller.)

When I was shooting outdoors, in the middle of heavy rain, wearing raincoat and guarding my equipment with an umbrella, I would keep shooting the same thing for hours, again and again. I had no way to check footage quality on a larger screen.

Sometimes I’d make mistakes that I wouldn’t notice on the phone screen. Like Exposure Control. And I wouldn’t be able to use those shots.

I’m not dramatizing when I say this, the shots I got were quite literally what God allowed me to have.

For my part, I just showed up. I was always on standby mode.

Between July and October I was continuously shooting, plugging in my iPhone, checking what I shot, figuring most shots were unusable, finding some good, getting greedy and shooting again.

A month down the line I saw the results and decided to change the Production Design. Reshoot. Again.

The location for the outdoor Rain sequences was 23 kilometres away in Mumbai monsoon traffic. And I could go only during the weekends because that’d be when my friends would be available. I would go every weekend and wait for rain. It wouldn’t rain. Or it wouldn’t rain as much. Or worse, it would rain as much all through the night.

I remember when I got almost all the outdoor rain sequence shots as per my shoot plan, i realised that I needed a filler shot. And I had to travel for 2 weeks for that one 5 second shot because of rain-continuity. I needed puddles. And the area where I was shooting, is next to the forest. The ground soaks up the water very fast. Puddles would only happen after hours of rain. I had to go up and down and wait for 2 weeks to just match the puddle.

Along with the shooting was the editing – I needed to know what my shots meant in the construct of the narrative. And it’s not about ‘it’s working’. When you’re shooting a film with a camera that’s not a film camera in a location that’s not the world’s best and with two actors who look exactly the same stoic self in each shot, you can’t go with ‘it’s working’. You have to go the distance and reach ‘looks beautiful’ in each shot, unless, of course, the shot/sequence demands a mundane approach.

So now I also applied for the post of the editor. I taught myself FCP X and I really had fun stitching the pieces together. That moment when you’re playing with the shots and something is coming to shape, that’s just priceless for any filmmaker.

Encore is a love story, but it’s also quite spiritual in its texture. So the music needed to capture this. In fact, the music needed to be the life of this wordless narrative. Fortunately I found an excellent duo to do the music. They are spiritual and they are also highly technical, they play with their sound and they have already arrived. Without a doubt I can tell you that R&A are going to go places with their sound. While everyone has ProTools, they have something special – a Divinity Encoder.

I owe them a serious debt of gratitude.

After a moody-monsoon grading and sound mix when I did the onlne and titles I saw the entire thing coming together, just quite the way I had imagined. Whoever saw the film in the studios connected with the figurines and cared for them.

I am really happy to tell you that I’ve been able to make two inanimate porcelain figurines come to life through cinema.

It’s called Encore. It’s an example of D.I.Y. Filmmaking.

And it looks like this:

 

Encore Poster Square

 

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Chapter 42 Love God Separation Encore – Part 4

The Producer Me began by politely asking the Director Me to fuck off.

The Red Balloon. Not possible. Shouldn’t even be attempted.

It’s an Oscar winning film, made by a close-knit team of french artists, in the sunny, gorgeous Paris of 1956. A decade after the end of the second world war. It was a period of peace and hope and loveliness.

The city of love, art and cinema was at its optimistic best. (Not like now with army folks in every street corner). The Red Balloon was born out of That Life, that simplicity. That joy!

That film is on a pedestal, let it be there. From this point onwards this is about This Film we plan to make.

In fact, even This Film cannot be made in the ways any decent movie is made; we can’t shoot this damn film the way we shoot the other films.

By now I had the screenplay ready and I had complicated the shooting process by adding Rain to the narrative. That moment in Goa was so transcendental that I just had to put all that divinity into This film.

Rain would be a key character.

And I had big rain sequences, almost the entire film had to be drenched.

Now, for a short film, this one had far too many sequences – the narrative was spread over a passage of months. There were many outdoor shots, shots that needed controlled enviornment. Especially controlled rain-intensity.

How does one control real rain?

I quickly decided on a shooting approach that would keep my costs to a fixed minimum – no matter how many months I take to get my shots, the equipment cost won’t go up.

Also the equipment had to be absolutely inconspicuous; indie filmmakers in India face a lot of problems and one big problem is that you can’t shoot anywhere without paying for it – either to obtain necessary permissions or to pay money to the cops.

With Rain being a variable, I did not know how many days I’d need to shoot. So I decided to have absolute control over my equipment and space.

Thus faded out the ‘Indie Approach’ and what faded in can only be called D.I.Y. Filmmaking. (Such a pity that is, cinema is supposed to be a collaborative craft.)

The Red Balloon was certainly not a D.I.Y. film.

The only thing that I took from The Red Balloon was its narrative essence – that it was live-action narrative which made an inanimate object come alive.

Yes, animation films manage that all the time, but getting emotions out of a ‘thing’ that doesn’t even move on its own? Not with the help of digital trickery but through pure cinematic techniques?

(The other thing that is common developed quite organically – the family of actors I used in the backdrop are the real-life family. My cousin’s. So, yes, like Red Balloon, I got talent from within the family. In more ways than one this has been a ‘Homemade Film’!)

Lamorisse made a balloon come to life through cinema. No talking balloon, no animation, no VFX. Just plain actions captured in camera where the craft and the visual medium itself becomes the language and you witness magic!

A piece of cinema in which, the camera, what it captures, how it moves, the spaces, the sound, the music and the rain were the principal characters.

I wanted to create that magic, I wanted to use cinema to infuse life into these ‘people’:

 

Version 2

 

A porcelain tale of love, God, separation and coming together again.

I called it – Encore.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 12.38.23 PM

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Chapter 42 Love God Separation Encore – Part 3

My father loved cinema. And later after he had passed on, I came to know that while he was an engineer making Ropeways across India and holding out as a rare earning member of a large immigrant family, he studied cinematography on his own and he was a fantastic lensman. The use of light and emotions in some of my father’s black and white clicks speaks of a man who had a fantastic visual sense. He would dissect most movies we saw and honestly at that time we would get irritated by his eager interruptions. (I didn’t understand him then, I was a late child so there was this ‘gap’. )

In 1982 when colour televisions came out in India, we were one of the first houses in our neighbourhood to get one. He was a gadget man of that generation – TV, phone, music system with great speakers and VCR later; he had to have the gadgets.

I vaguely remember the Asian Games in 1982. That’s when the brand new EC Colour TV came to our house. To watch the games in colour.

During those days India had only one state-run television channel called Doordarshan. It wasn’t 24×7. And at times they would lose tramsmission feed. If the glitch lasted for a short while, they’d put up something like this:

 

Doordarshan-3

 

At times, especially during the telecast of live events, the glitch would be longer. And then they would just play something else from their archives. One day, just like that, while watching the Olympic games, cinema drifted into my life.

I was 7. And I was watching the games with my father. Suddenly the feed went blank and the Sorry for The Interruption sign came on. We waited for a few minutes and then suddenly a movie started. Little did I know then that the next 30 minutes would change my life.

It was a film called The Red Balloon.

 

20130512-123846

 

The Red Balloon (FrenchLe Ballon Rouge) is a 1956 French fantasy comedy-drama featurette, written, produced, and directed by Albert Lamorisse. The 35-minute short, which has a music score but almost no dialogue, tells of a little boy, who, on his way to school one morning, discovers a large helium-filled, extremely spherical, red balloon.

As The Boy plays with his new found toy, he realizes it has a mind and will of its own.

Lamorisse used his children as actors in the film. His son, Pascal, plays himself in the main role of The Little Boy, and his daughter, Sabine, portrays a little girl.

(What I did not know till the time I visited The Red Balloon Wikipedia page, that the film released on October 19, 1956. I was born on October 19. 1975.)

Those next 30 minutes are vivid in my memory. I had never been so immersed into anything ever. I was The Boy. I travelled the streets with that Red Balloon. It came into my life, became my friend, we experienced many things and we loved each other. And then we encountered a gang of big boys, who were envious of me, stole my balloon. I got it back but following a chase through the narrow alleys, they throw stones at my balloon, and they soon killed it with slingshots.

And then the Olympic Games transmission resumed.

I was just plain sad. There was no Internet. I didn’t even know the name of the film. It didn’t have any language. I had no way to know the end.

I did not know what happened in the end until a few years back when I found it on Youtube. Now when I look back, that film, The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse and the incompleteness of not knowing how it ended, formed the core of my cinematic desires.

Two things that stayed with me. One, the red balloon. I have always believed that everything has life, yes, even things that are just things can establish an emotional bond with us. Some of us love our cars more than we love our friends.

I was taken by the way the red balloon made me become the little boy.

Two – how the film said so much without saying a word. It was just visual and music. Yet, there was no problem in understanding the narrative and fall in love with it.

(Now I understand that my Calvinesque fascination for finding life in apparently non-living things must have started with The Red Balloon – this wonderful film spoke to a 8-year old and formed the core of who I was to become. Inception.)

As a filmmaker, you always want to do that one film that’s like that one film that made you fall in love with cinema. And when I used to live in Bangkok, I found the principal characters of my own The Red Balloon.

These two:

 

Salt and pepper shaker-lightgreen and white-500x500

 

Two hugging salt and pepper shaker figurines, born to be One. If one breaks, the other one’s existence is futile. They only came as a set, no shop would sell you just one figurine.

I often wondered about that kind of love – two lovers who exist as One. What happens if they get separated? Will the other one be as sad as The Little Boy when his Red Balloon burst?

I wanted to explore that story.

 

 

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Chapter 42 Love God Separation Encore – Part 2

Last July I had a very big dissappointment.

Yet again, months of hope was clubbed in the face with rejection. This time, I thought, was really different. (Now that I think about it, I don’t know why I thought it was different. Maybe that is nature of hope – the most unrealistically positive emotion known to mankind.)

My emotions were boiling and I just didn’t know how to simmer them down. SM insisted that I take a trip. At least to Goa. She bought me my stay. And I ran off.

Now, I’ve been to Goa hundreds of times. There was a time I used to go to Goa once a month, sometimes twice a month. I know almost all of Goa. But I had never visited Panjim and the famous Goan churches.

2016 was a strangely spiritual year for me. Earlier in the year I had gone to Chikmagaloor with my cousins and that trip turned out to be an extended excursion in the rains to some very old and famous temples, famous for their architectural splendour.

Like this one: A 900 year Chennakeshava Temple in Belur made during the Hoysala Empire.

IMG_9949

 

So this time in Goa I felt like visiting the churches. I hired a bike and rode around in the rain (July is peak monsoon). Goa was green and the churches were majestic. In that rain, and outside this church a moment happened to me.

 

IMG_0244

 

It wasn’t a story or an idea. It was just rain, God and me.

A feeling of Oneness.

I had never felt anything like this before. It wasn’t a feeling that makes you want to take any action, it’s a feeling that makes you feel, There. Right There. In the most fantastic of all spaces in the cosmos – beyond the realm of physicality.

I got a moment in this place.

A moment in the rain that washed away all the bitterness and anger I was feeling. And I left Goa carrying that moment. On my flight back I decided to make another short film. My third.

I had attempted to make this film in 2015. But after months of groundwork, it fell through because the DoP backed out as the commitment was quite a bit for a pro-bono job. Plus, the way he was looking at it, it would have been quite out of my budget.

The story was there. It was a concept I had wonderd about when I lived in Bangkok; I would see these characters all the time on the streets.

The question the Director Me was asking the Producer Me was – “How can you pull it off?”

The Producer Me replied, “I don’t know how it will end. But let’s begin.”

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Chapter 42 – Love God Separation Encore – Part 1

“How’s it shaping up?”

“Let’s just say, after this, I can die.”

“What are you saying, you’ve got to live and make more films!” SD was quite alarmed with the mention of the D-word.

“It’s not a scary statement, let me explain.”

For most of us, death is a scary thought – the idea of mortality is something human beings have been obsessed with for centuries. And I know many people who have never had to deal with the death of a close one, be it even a pet dog or cat.

But since this is my blog, let me tell you how comfortable I have been with the idea of death. I belong to a large extended family and I’ve been going to the crematorium since I was 10. In fact, by high-school, my cousin T and I had complete knowledge of the various procedures; we must have been to the crematoriums more than 25 times!

My father passed away when I was in college. And now I’m 41 and in this last year alone, four of my friends died. Some were a little older than me, some a lot younger. A very close friend, AM, is somehow staying strong with husband’s advanced stage cancer. And she has a little daughter. When I asked her how she is handling it, she said, “How I conduct myself now will become my daughter’s idea of dealing with hardships.”

A very dear fried died in the Singapore Botanical Garden when a 270 year old tree fell on her. And she had just become a mother of twins. Life is that fragile.

So lets not pretend that death is a tabboo subject and that if I’m talking about death there is something wrong with me.

There, actually, is nothing wrong with me. It’s not all right. But it definitely isn’t all wrong. It’s just in-between and as people, we simply get rattled by nothingness of the in-betweens.

I’m writing after a year and this past year has been about a lot of good things, albeit not on paper or FB post.

So I explained to SD, what I meant by “… after this, I can die …” Let me also explain this to you:

I’m an artist. Which means that I do something, basis my inate desire to do so, which no one may need. I can continue to create art and depending on how the society around me responds, I will make money or starve to death. And this does not scare me.

Before I discovered art inside me, I had discovered other artists and I’ve always been aware of the fact that artistes and thinkers can be ahead of their times, they can be not understood, misunderstood and even penalized for flouting conformity. Van Gogh died a poor man, aged 37.

Franz Schubert, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde and countless others died in poverty.

I personally know supremely talented artistes who have withered away.

The fact that uncommisioned Art is completely unncessary to this world, is a thought every artist should be aware of.

They should know that rejection isn’t just emotional, it’s not like a job where your work gets rejected by your boss but you still get paid next month. When I get rejected, it actually means I don’t earn any money for my work.

That’s quite literally, is, existential.

So, “The poor guy tried, but he died” is one of the possibilities. And it rhymes.

It, most certainly, is a red flag in my head. Especially because in the last few years I’ve had two very miraculuos near-death experiences.

The first one happened a couple of years back when my auto-rickshaw’s front wheel came off and I flew from one side of the road, crossed the divider and landed on the other side of the road. The driver had mutiple fractures and cuts. I was scratch free. But those few seconds when I was flying, with a sense of impending doom, I actually had the ‘death feeling’. Not the ‘dead’ feeling but the ‘death’ feeling. My whole life didn’t flash past me. It was, at first, “What an idiot, how can he not see such a big pothole…” And then “Oh no, there’s that wheel and I’m flying inside an auto!” Followed by “Shit, shit shitshit… my film! My Film! If I die how will I make my film!!!”

Since that day, this has been my worst nightmare – to die before being able to leave behind my cinema, or at least, one piece of work which could say who this filmmaker was and what was the kind of work he was trying to do.

I’m not a painter or musician or novelist. The work that I do cannot be done just by using my talent. Filmmaking needs a lot of resources and it needs these resources to fall in place.

There’s first the story and the screenplay but then post that it totally is about other things and other people which cost money. How much, depends on the story. (I know there are many great filmmakers who work backwards to be able to tell a story within a certain budget that they can manage. And they think on their feet and they make it happen. And it’s so good that later when you see the film you don’t even realise that it was done in such a small budget. But I can’t do that. For me, first, the story comes. And then I am obligated to find the best possible way to tell it.)

For me cinema is not a director’s medium but a producer’s medium – the most important person in cinema is the person who is making someone’s dream, real. With his money, clout, power. Yes, in some cases the director is big enough to command resources, but in most cases he is also the producer. Cinema today, is about the economics.

You give Steven Spielberg a certain set of resources that isn’t right for his projects and he will make a very bad film, if at all. You give an average director the best resources – a great story, the best actors, music directors, cinematographer, editor, fantastic locations and he will make a film most defintely watchable. At least by your cousins.

I still don’t have that – I still haven’t found a feature producer who believes in my work. So I’ve never been able to do the kind of work which I can be truly satisfied with.

My first film wasn’t my story. My second film had to be shot in one night and the lead actor ran fever. Imagine a cute old uncle-type man who has been a school teacher for most parts of his life, leading a very disciplined life, thrown in the Delhi winters from 11 in the night to 7 in the morning. On viral fever medication. We didn’t have any money to shoot another day.

My advertising commercials are not written by me; it’s not my voice, I’m just a part of the chorus.

I was constantly getting judged by what was essentially not Me. And therein lay my worst nightmare – that life is fragile and I could die. And if I die no one will know what I was capable of. No one will ever know.

“He tried. And died.”

Fuck. That’s the scariest thought I’ve ever had to live with.

That ‘This Struggle’ will not amount to anything. No one will ever know what I was trying to say. And then someday someone will get my laptop and they will simply reformat the hard disk.

No one will ever know who I really was.

Thankfully, I’m past that.

Something really disappointing happened mid last year. And in a fit of rage, I decided to approach the only producer who could put his faith in me.

Me.

 

 

 

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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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