A Gram Panchayat or a village governing body in rural India facilitates the formation of the Makkala Samiti or Children’s Committee – a children’s body elected by the children themselves. The committee acts as a pressure group to intervene in various social and civic issues that they think are important. Guided by a sympathetic school teacher, the children’s honesty and persistency ruffles many a feather amongst the adults, some of whom have been using the Makkala Samiti to their own ends. What follows is a subtle cat-and-mouse game, by the end of which the children hope to get their voices heard…
My cameraman was from Delhi; his two assistants from Orissa and Maharashtra. Both, my editor and my art director, were Bengalis. The sound designer was from Jharkhand and out of the two line producers; one was a Gujrathi and the other, a Rajasthani. And it was a Kannada film that we were making!
Well, it is true filmmaking has a universal language – we all know that. But making a Kannada film based out of Mumbai with non Kannada speaking unit meant that one’s communication had to be right. For starters, the script had to be in two languages – in Kannada for the actors and in English for the crew members. It increased my clerical job for my chief assistant could just understand and speak Kannada, but not read or write it. His assistant fleetingly grasped Kannada, but could not read, write or speak it well.
My earlier film was in Tulu language, in the digital format and was in a much smaller scale. Though the key crew members were non Tulu speaking, they were few in number. Therefore the execution of the film was simpler. But this film was being shot on celluloid, that too in the cinemascope format. The number of actors too was large. The increase in the scale brought with it, its own production logistics. The film was to be shot in a village near Dharwad in Karnataka, South India. The budget was limited and therefore hiring out Kannada language speaking crew and the cast from the Kannada language film Industry in Bangalore was out of the question.
The two screen tests in Dharwad in which more than hundred local artists were auditioned; and a three day workshop with the short listed kids set up the tone. By the third day of the shoot, the kids had become one take artists and by the tenth day they had begun to pester my chocolate carrying chief assistant, “Do we really need rehearsals? Why don’t we go for a take?”
I found that the handling of the adult actors was tougher than handling the children. It was easy to set free mental blocks of the younger ones. Maybe a workshop with the adults too would have helped, not that they are any bad in the film – but it would have certainly made my life easier if I had spent some extra time with them before the shoot.
An auto rickshaw driver, an ambulance driver, a grocery shop owner, a’paan’ vendor, a bill-board painter, a radio newsreader, a computer graphic artist, an environmental activist, a teacher, a traditional healer, a liquor shop manager – these were my actors. Most of them were amateur theater artists, but were nervous because they were facing the camera for the first time in their lives, but it is to their credit that they did not let this reflect on the screen.
In fact, if there was anyone who was nervous during the shoot, it was me. I was shooting a feature film on ‘celluloid’ for the first time in my life. At the film school (FTII), we were ground with the process of making a ‘celluloid’ feature film. After eighteen years of graduation, I was re-living the nuances of these processes and I should confess that some of these processes looked brand new to me. So, along with my actors, I too was a first timer in many ways – like I was the executive producer for a feature film the first time in my life.
Fortunately for me, I had two line producers lined up to take over the nitty-gritty’s of the deals made, the budget and the other daily basis production logistics. So, I was not really counting the number of cooks we had replaced in our eighteen days of shoot, or finding out how many unit members fell sick and at what interval, or enquiring how much diesel the light generator had gulped or getting concerned about crew members getting their bed tea at five in the morning. But I do wish that I had the necessary skills to simultaneously handle both the production details as well as the creative aspects of the making of a feature film. There would be a first time, maybe the next time. The learning process never ends. To treat every film you make as your ‘diploma film’ or your first film – is what is exciting.
Creatively, this film is treated differently from that of my earlier film Suddha (The Cleansing Rites). The pace and the mood are different. The cinemascope format has made me do away with the close up. If we can include another character with a slight track in, a slight track out, a small pan or a tiny tilt, so be it. Then why need excessive cuts? The subject of the film is that the children have a conversation with the adults regarding issues around their village that they think are important to them. So, obviously there are dialogues all over the place. Initially, there was a certain amount of nervousness among the script approvers in the production organization as well some others in my own unit about a film loosing its cinematic values if it has many dialogues in it. I am sure, after seeing the married print the opinion must have changed – for I don’t believe that a film would be ‘more cinematic’ if there are less dialogues in it. I trusted that everyone connected with the film would eventually be enrolled to this point of view.
Trust was the key word. The making of this film for me was an exercise in building up my trust. Will the actors that I have selected, deliver? Is the money that has been handed to the money handlers safe? Is the amount of time allotted to the setting up of a particular shot worthwhile? Can the production limitations be converted into creative solutions? However hard it might seem, it does at times pay to trust oneself to trust others – even under extreme provocative conditions or situations that apparently look to be in the no trust zone.
The film that has finally shaped up is more or less similar to what I had in my mind when I had first conceived it and this is a pleasant rarity for me!