The Barter

Once upon a time, many years back, I had made a short film that was budgeted to around three hundred rupees – the then cost of a digital video tape. The shooting location was my ex-180 square foot house and my camera assistant was a crumpled Sony PD 150 manual.  

There was a struggling actor living close by, who was constantly pestering me for a role in any of my projects. He was earning his livelihood by giving tuitions to neighboring school children. His family back home thought that he was working in a decent ‘blue collared’ company in Mumbai. His ambitions were high; his punch line being – ‘If all and sundry can make it, so can we’.  

He was the sole actor of my short film. And I didn’t pay him anything, except for a cup of tea on the shooting day and later, when the film got completed, a DVD copy of it. Not that he expected anything; nor did I have anything if he had asked for it. It was as much a show reel for him, as it was for me.  

Over the years, we kept meeting off and on. Every once in a while he had a story, a poem or a film proposal that he wanted to narrate to me. He probably hoped that I would eventually use one of them in any of my projects. He called me the other day – he had a meeting with a prospective producer and he needed some urgent advice.  

When I met him, he was straight and simple. ‘Please familiarise me with some key words about camera and direction; so that I can use them during the meeting with the producer’, he said.  He had convinced the producer, a builder by profession, to shell out a small amount of money to shoot a thirty minute digital film.  

In the meeting that was to happen, some of the builder’s trusted friends too would be there. These friends knew a little bit of the film industry; solely on the basis of having acted in a couple of films, albeit in small roles. ‘They are the ones who have half baked knowledge about the film industry; the ones who would scuttle my chances with the producer’, he complained. He wanted to guard himself against this eventuality.  

With age catching up, over the years he had taken a fancy to film and video direction; although I really do not know if he has directed anything till date. I do remember that about a year back when he wanted to buy a small camera, I had forwarded him the notes that I had written about basic digital video cameras – the technicalities of it.  

He had completely forgotten about the email till the day the meeting with the producer got fixed. Since he wanted to brush up with his cinematic knowledge, he had opened the attachment and read the stuff. But there still was some confusion and therefore the meeting with me.   

I explained to him about aperture, about shutter speed, lensing and all that stuff. He cleared his doubts about white balance, depth of field, Stanislavski, method acting and about OS (Over the Shoulder) shots. As a favoured tip, I asked him to use the word ‘Cut To’, when he narrates his story to the producer – just for the impact. 

I was obliged to advice; remember I had not paid him for the short film.  

He did not disclose the story that he was going to narrate to the producer except to state that it was a fantastic subject matter. ‘You should be behind me in this one. If this small thing clicks, then the producer is the kind of guy for whom eighty to ninety lakhs of rupees is nothing. Since I can’t handle that big a film, who else would I come to, but you?’ he said, hanging the carrot in front of me.  

I wished him all the luck; made it clear that I would not be coming to his set if his project takes off and supplied him with a few more words to play with – like low and high angles, zoom lens, track shots, pull back, two shot, Russian angle and stuff like that. He thanked me profusely and with a glow on his face, went off.  

This morning he called me again. He had a small confusion. He had heard from one of his friends about the word ‘inter-cutting’. He wanted to know what it was. As always, I was obliged to advice. I gave him a ten minute lecture on inter-cutting and I found myself using the word ‘inter-city’ trains to make things simple. He once again thanked me profusely and hung up. Apparently, he had to rush for the meeting with the producer. 

My guess was that he was getting late for his tuition classes.

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  1. 🙂 Ram.

    During a masterclass with Shekhar Kapur I heard him say that it was one night before the first day of shoot for Masoom,that he was sat down by Aruna Raje and his cameraman, and they explained to him what the ‘imaginary line’ actually means.

  2. Ram: Loved the special ‘Cut to’ tip! Wish I was a fly on the wall in these cinema-made-easy tuition classes of yours 🙂

  3. Apparently when Nutan’s husband became director (after all he had the star with him!), when he was told all was set for the first shot of the first day’s shooting, he turned to Nutan and said what do I do next and she said you say Roll Sound!… 😀

  4. Ram, have you come across this Hollywood concept that they are taking across the world- and are coming to Mumbai also I think later this year- LEARN FILMMAKING IN 2 DAYS- OR A 2 DAY FILM SCHOOL…something like that. They could use your advice in Indian conditions and pay you for the same! What all do we have to do in this line!. Very amusing .

  5. @ Anil -, heard about the concept. Would rather leave such advicing to professional film academicians. But isn’t it the 20-20 format these days? Even heard that there is a 10-10 format available!
    Gosh! Its taken a life time for one to realise that learning is an ongoing process. Maybe three years or three evenings a week for six months or even two days is just the starting point. That might be another way of looking at it… 🙂

  6. I sometimes feel the need to learn it all over again… the industry is such an experience in un-learning. Tuition required 🙂

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