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.
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?
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.”