FTII, Law College Road, 2006:
Splatter of mist and icy cold morning felt like a chimera conspiring with forces to unwrap a perfect adventure this January as the wind fluttered in ruffling burst dripping the long, unkempt hair off the straight head into a mound. Cold seeped through the pained legs thrust on its own and plodding heavily at a stretch from FC Road to finally land right in front of India’s premier film institute, FTII. I strode past the gate with a triumphant air like an image flash pan on the face. I was broke. I didn’t stand a chance to hail a rickshaw but passion drove me on the feet for three consecutive days. The perks of turning into an Assistant Director for a diploma film shoot overrode all money consideration. I swayed to the tune of breaking bones, broke, tired but passionate.
A couple of days back, a magic sms landed in my inbox and Gyanesh, now a sound engineer in the film industry, asked me to come to the institute to discuss a diploma project. Films was my life and aspirations. I walked inside to meet Gyanesh and was introduced to Shailesh Sir, the short film’s director. The dreams almost went for a toss when asked if I hail from communications background. Clearly, I wasn’t but made the cut for being friends with Gyanesh, with whom I worked on a diploma project a year earlier.
I was elated to be part of the crew. Early morning, we hopped on the bus straight to the hospital in Warje. Life has strange way to throw you in the high tide sea to swim and turning into an early bird that felt like a miraculous lullaby. I remember tottering with the huge film equipments from the van towards the spacious hospital’s floor upstairs. Convinced that I have to make it as an Assistant Director whose job is to ensure crew and equipments are in place, I wouldn’t give a tinker’s curse. Shailesh Sir handed the continuity sheet in my hand and briefed me on ticks and notes to be penned once a shot is canned for the next schedule, actors’ lines and the follow up. I was living a dream and couldn’t believe everything craved for was becoming true. Three days of awesomeness, waking up to the lark , to push myself to the edge and almost spending an exhaustive journey till the wee hours at the hospital surrounded by actors and medical students scampering their way for the shoot to look the part.
There was tiredness in my soles and knees but the inner determination made me sail through when I realized that if one has passion in the belly, the sky is the limit to make work fun. Days when we wrapped the shoot past midnight and crashing at FTII made the last year in college bliss. We couldn’t afford being bored or amused on Day One for I remember some kids storming towards me asking, “Hero kaun hai (who is the hero?) I smiled and said, it’s a short diploma project but they were adamant and convinced that some big star will come. To get rid of them, I vaguely remembering telling them SRK and Aishwarya Rai will soon join before sneaking away.
Of course, some very cute girls and medical students wearing the white coat traipsed their way to look the authentic part. I remember some FTII crew asking their friends about my identity since I was never seen at the institute and hearing Assistant for AD made me almost leap with joy and marveled in silence. During the break, I remember overhearing someone-he must have been below 17 and with the look of a kid telling in hushed tone how I don’t have it in me to become an actor. It was amusing and irked me at the same time. But, now as I hark back, I smile at the incident for he was right and yours truly never made it due to the dearth of initiatives. I remember A who is a Marathi film actor once urged me during our chai conversation in Savera to try for more diploma projects to create a platform for myself.
Day one was also the time I met and made a good friend in Anuya Bhagwat who was a student of acting at FTII and who essayed the role of a doctor in the short film. I remember the first thing she asked me was whether I had tea or something to eat. It’s another thing that we spoke only a few words at the shoot but became friends at Savera for I didn’t realize we had common friends outside the world of films. Today, I look with pride when I see her going great guns as a leading lady in Tamil cinema and she also appeared in the Big Boss regional version.One thing which I enjoyed doing as an AD was to stroll among the crew and offering tea to everyone, traipsing at length of the hospital’s sprawling surface.
The best thing about the three days was dabbling into so many things, doing the running around, following instructions by standing behind my director, smoke break, sitting in a corner on the stairs to relieve the feet and turning into the boom operator panning the equipment to hover precisely above the actor’s head. It was a hospital sequence. The actor was Anurag Singh whom you may have seen acting opposite Anil Kapoor as the main lead in Subhash Ghai’s Black and White. During the short film and diploma project, Anurag played a terminally ill patient. Over the few days, we became good friends bonding over one love, cinema. The scene vividly struck the mind. Anurag was lying on the bed and opposite to him was a child playing a blind girl. I placed some yummy apples on the bed as part of the scene. The dialogue read in Hindi, ‘Walk slowly, make three to four steps, stop and sit,” Anurag mouthed in a gentle and emphatic manner to the child. There is a genuineness in the dude and one could see it in the subtle scene which reflects on the soul doing it for acting is a medium that brings you closer to divinity and humanity. I remember Anurag offering me an apple to munch and we were in the middle of the shoot. The arm was paining and was chided by my director for the lack of concentration that pushed me to make an excruciating effort to raise and hunch the boom above Anurag’s head with flash and sound panning towards his mouth.
I realized how the innocence in kids equips them with the flair to deliver a natural performance and unfazed by camera or flashes. The child obeyed the director’s instruction and responded to Anurag’s dialogue interaction but was never intimidated. It’s sheer beauty and divinity. The first time I came close to the nitty-gritty, the film process of the director wielding the megaphone to shout, ‘Lights! Camera! Action!’ and to get the scene right with, ‘Repetition’ to assuage voices and whispers with, ‘Silence.’ Yes, the timid guy in me got to shout at people outside the room who disturbed the scene. It was the last day of shoot or one day before.
Probably, on the last day of the shoot, I was able to observe more closely a doyen of acting and a genius who contributed immensely to Marathi television and films, the late Smita Talwalkar. Ma’am played the mother of Anurag. I remember the scene and the day right now. A Monday. It was the last scene where actors donning the white dress as doctors and rushing in the middle of herky-jerky camera movements. Smita-ji effortlessly played the role of a mother who lost her son, succumbing to cancer in the last shot. It was pure education watching her perform, the subtlety and intensity in her eyes expressing grief and tears dropping. I had a very brief chat with the lady and remember on the first day of shoot, she returned my greeting with a genuine and affable smile. I was too afraid to strike a conversation with the TV csar, perhaps because of the star aura and the respect she commanded as an artist.
There was one guy I remember at the shoot with whom I became friends with and we would wade out, walk at length to smoke since it wasn’t allowed inside the hospital premise. We spoke about cinema and the future of acting, genre and how a door was blown open for us at FTII. The bus trip back to the institute after the scenes were canned turned out to be long, caught in the traffic swirl but made smooth with singing and jokes inside the bus, which flitted past a wedding and me in enthusiastic mood told Shailesh Sir that we could have gone there for food. In jolly mood, he said that they will ask who are you. I was like, ‘A star matlab banne wala hai cineme ka bohot bade star (I will become a huge superstar). The silly banter ended with him telling me we won’t be let in and the marriage folks will tell, “Pehle star bana tab aana (First you become a star and then you come.”
It took us to the last day of the shoot on Monday past the graveyard shift and we packed up beyond 2 a.m. Tired like hell. I could never imagine to sustain throughout the full stretch but did. It showed that passion can take us through the thick and thin, beating all thoughts of boredom. During one of those shoots past might, there was one senior person called Mama and with whom we would hang around after shoot time in the bus and at FTII. Mama was talkative, high and a jolly good fellow who could sense the potential in me. We are speaking in a circle with smoke in hand and he told everyone that I have it in me to become an actor and a director. He was truthful and saw the passion through my eyes. But, you know the story, right. Kuch nahin hua! The best was another guy who was already sloshed, a student at the institute and constantly cussing in Hindi to bitch at everyone person who wasn’t there. Someone remarked that something is wrong with this dude, spouting venoms, finding fault with everyone and seems there is no good human on earth. I remarked in a jolly spirit, “Usko mandir leke jao, acha insaan milega (He should visit a temple to meet a good soul).
The starry night ended in style like the climax of a heart-pounding film. A tall shadow sashayed in front of us and the towering persona blessed with a baritone voice tightly shook the hands. I almost fainted and couldn’t believe it was true. The late Tom Alter who was one of FTII’s patron inquired about our film shoot in the blink-of-an-eye appearance and speaking in pure, shuddh Hindi before disappearing not before telling he will go back to Mumbai tomorrow but will be around. The night and shoot ended in style. I crashed at FTII in Gyanesh’s room on the night and surrounded by huge trees sprawling over the windows blown wide open.
The shoot remains one of my most prized memory in Pune which I fondly remember. Mama-ji and Shailesh Sir wanted to shoot a video of mine, mouthing the dialogues of Amitabh Bachchan but never happened. Neither did the party post the film shoot. I became busy with college and stuff. Once, I remember meeting Anurag on his bike at Deccan and he called me out, asking to visit the institute sometimes. I could have built up on that but shall not mull over things that never happened. Regret is the antidote to hope and passion. Cinema lives forever in my veins. Never say never for I shall never hang out my boots. I am forever acting in my mind. Grateful to the world and friends in Pune is one thing that shall stay forever.