Das-Capital: Memories Of An Actor, An Assistant Director & A Son

As a child, I knew that my father was a cinematographer. When friends/relatives/acquaintances would ask me, “What exactly does your father do in films?” I would say that he’s the one who records the scenes you see. On the occasional visits to his film sets, I’d look around and wonder what a strange world it was. They first put up huge lights. And then they cut the lights. If they cut the lights, then why do they put them? And if they put them up, then why do they cut them?

I, however, never had the courage to ask my father this question. For at home, he was just a normal man. Someone, who always dressed in oversized clothes with very understated colors. Someone, who would cringe at the idea of having ‘fast food’. He kept himself away from the ‘glamour’ one associates with Bollywood and was a man of few words, who never brought his work or profession home. To be honest, we, his family, never came to know the regards his peers held him in.

It is only after he passed away eight years ago on September 26th, 2012 that I actually began to discover him. And I continue to do so even today. When I happen to bump into his peers, colleagues or his students, they always have such fond recollections of him. Once, while I was at the Film Bazaar in Goa, I remember a gentleman walking upto me out of nowhere and telling me how Mr Rajen Kothari had personally encouraged him, which went a long, long way in him becoming a film producer. This was in 2014.

Rajen C Kothari and Pratik Rajen Kothari on the sets of Das-Capital.

I was extremely fortunate – I have to say –  to work with him closely during the making of his last directed film – Das Capital (co-directed with Dayal Nihalani. During the making of this film, we shared quite a volatile love-hate relationship on set. As a matter of fact, we shared many relationships in that film – Actor -Director, Director – Assistant Director (AD), Co Producer – AD and above all, the most difficult of all, Father-Son.

Admittedly, there were times when I took his silence for granted. As an AD, I would nudge him to make sure all the scenes planned for the day were completed. I still vividly remember a conversation as the unit was shifting from one location to another, I told him that we may need one extra day to finish the shoot of the film. But he was adamant that the one day of extension was not possible. The Budget simply didn’t allow it. He knew that he didn’t have that luxury of an additional day and deep down, was silently confident that he would finish the shoot on time. Which he did.

Das Capital was a dream my father saw back in the early ’90s when he stepped upon a short story – Arth Tantra by veteran writer Shaiwal while the two of them were working on the script of my father’s earlier film, Purush (1994). Sadly, Purush didn’t do well and this one then went on the back burner. In 2010, Shaiwal introduced my father to Mr Muktinath Upadhyaya, who was keen on producing the film. He was insistent that if he were to make a film, it would be Das Capital.

Das Capital was shot in 18 days. 18 days is a rather short time to finish filming a feature length film as filmmakers and cine technicians would know. We shot the film on a  bulky super 16 camera and not a DSLR which was far more portable. My father however, had no qualms of shooting the film on a Canon 5D. Yes, a DoP who was well-known for his work on ‘film,’ actually undertook a technical recce with a 5D. It took a lot of convincing from a lot of team members for him to give in and stick to celluloid. Let me tell you this that I appreciate these nuances now with eight years of more experience behind me.

Rajen C Kothari and Pratik Rajen Kothari on the sets of Das-Capital.

I can never forget one particular incident during the making of the film. And I have to admit, I still live with this guilt. This was towards the end of the shooting schedule when he had almost lost his voice. And here I was, acting in a film for the first time. Now generally, he was not a director who would instruct the actors from behind the camera. In my case, however, he came next to the camera and started cueing me. Even with his voice lost. This made me rather uncomfortable and in the spur and heat of the moment, I yelled at him to stop feeding me in. The entire set was shocked and taken aback. However, he just silently went back to the monitor and continued doing his job from there. That, incidentally, was the last shot for the day. As soon as we packed up, I immediately ran over to him and apologised. True to nature, he didn’t react much. He just gently said, “I was trying to help you perform better.” Another incident gives me goosebumps till today. This concerns a scene where my character is supposed to cry over the dead body of my screen father. While we were rehearsing the scene, to help me connect better, he himself lay down and became the dead body…

Recently, when I looked at the film, be it the subtitling or making its promos, all these episodes and more all came rushing back. The way we shot the Launda Naach song in 15 minutes flat, how he proudly burst into tears when he got a call from the laboratory that the rushes looked very nice and when we celebrated his birthday, 15th November 2011, during the lunch break with a quick cake-cutting with almost all the actors and the crew present. Little did we know then that would have been his last birthday.

We have had quite a long and difficult journey to get the film into theatres. Some studios were willing to release it but at exorbitant costs, which were simply unaffordable. Thanks to the OTT platforms and initiatives like Cinemapreneur, the film shall finally reach its audiences. At this time, naturally, I am more than grateful to each and everyone, who stood by my father’s vision and I am glad that I, too, could be a small part of this incredible journey. Today, years later, my father’s voice will finally find an outlet as we begin the pre-bookings for Das Capital, which will stream on Cinemapreneur from 20th of November. To say that I am overwhelmed is an understatement.

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