Category Archives: My Creation

Confessions of a free bird

People pity the caged bird. People think that the caged bird has limited options to spend his days. People think that all of his days are the same. They are spent in admiring his owner, expecting a small reward in return. And let me tell you, the people are not wrong.

Let me introduce myself. I am a nobody and I am a somebody. I am a free bird. Free Bird. That’s right. It might seem an ordinary thing, but today, in the chaos of a world, it is difficult to spot one of my kind. I fly with my flock but I am not bound to it. I take flight whenever I want and I rest when my wings need to refuel.

It has not been like this always. Flying is not easy. There are so many things that can go wrong. And the world is a big big place for a small bird like me. When I flapped my wings for the first time, I never thought that I would fly an inch above the ground. Of course there were a few old birds who led me to believe that I was no good. And for a split second, I believed them. But I didn’t let that anchor me to the dust. I soared and I soared high. And I see those old birds from up here. I bet it hurts their neck to see how high I am. But the view from here, is beautiful.

The caged bird is pathetic. And he remains so, until I see that shiny sugarcube he gets once a month. Boy that’s looks delicious. The caged bird is not alone. He has a small family too. All of them, happy with the sugarcube they share. Now, even if I roam a thousand miles a day, I can’t find that one by myself.

When I think about it, getting that sugarcube is not that difficult. It involves a simple exchange. I have to give up my freedom and accept the cage for the rest of my life. And in return I get the sugarcube. Once. Every month.

Well, it’s an offer every bird gets. Truly. Each bird gets this choice once. Right after the bird learns to fly. To fly or not to fly. Why do we fly? In simple terms, for food, yes? A caged bird gets his food three times a day. A sugarcube a month. And that too, for not flying. Of course he has to sing and chirp all day long to prove his worthiness. But when I think about it, it’s not bad job actually.

There are some days when I feast on the best delicacies in the world. And on some days even a peanut is hard to come by. On such days, when I look at the caged bird with his family, I can’t help but smile at the irony. I wonder if it would be a wise move to look for a cage for myself. After everything is settled, the sugarcube must taste good.

Oh, I know one thing for sure. Sunsets are beautiful. And the view is different from each place I go. I don’t know if I can commit to the same sunset for the rest of my life. Flying, more than anything reminds me of who I am. There is no joy and there is no sorrow. Flying is a simple reminder of the fact that I am doing what I am supposed to do.

Maybe someday, I will have to settle down for a cage. For now, I am happy with my little empty stomach and this stellar view. There is no better feeling in the world knowing that you can stretch your wings and just fly to find out how far the horizon is stretched. Nothing but stars to cover your head and cold breeze to support your wings. There may or may not be glory in it, but there is freedom.

Let me introduce myself. I am a nobody and I am a somebody. I am a free bird.

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Net Effect

They say experience is the worst kind of teacher. The test comes first and you learn the lesson later. But you remember it for the longest of times. Such scars teach you a lot. And more importantly they keep reminding you of how strong you are.

I recently had a bad experience. Something related to the work I do. I had high expectations from the project and it did not work out the right way. Which made me doubt my abilities and my future a little.

It is foolish to expect each and every experience to be awesome. Nobody likes to have sweets all the time. We need something spicy from time to time. Life is not alway sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes covered in grey clouds of doubt. And thank God for that! It makes us appreciate the good parts. It helps us form memories. It helps us grow.

It is not possible to take everything positively. Some things hurt you at that particular time. And the fact that you feel pain is just a signal that you are alive. Nothing wrong in that. But even if you take some things negatively momentarily, make sure that the net effect is positive. If someone hurts you, and you can’t let it go. Store that potential energy in you. Store that energy till it becomes a volcano. Point it in the right direction and let it erupt. Millions of years ago such volcanos erupted and formed clouds of dust and ash and vapour, eventually raining down on earth and creating life! Volcanos are powerful tools of creation.

No matter what level you reach, it is difficult to handle criticism. Because the higher you rise, the deeper you can fall. Bad experiences make experienced players. And I am going to think about the long term positivity the experience is going to bring in my life. I am going to jot down the things that went wrong from my end and also the errs of the client. And I am going to make sure these same mistakes don’t happen the next time. And trust me, there are limited ways in which  you can go wrong. Once you have gone wrong all the ways, you have no option but to get it right.

Cheers to getting one step closer.

Horrible Bosses

My younger brother has a knack for theatre. In February he joined a local theatre group and they are putting up an experimental play. Within just a few weeks, he was given an important role in the play as a replacement. It was wonderful to see him so excited about this. Managing school and rehearsals is a tough task and he was doing it without any complaints.

One day, school got over late and I went to drop him off to the rehearsals. I had some work nearby so I thought I’d wait after finishing it, watch the rehearsals and then give him a ride back home.

“Oh, do I have to start from the basics now? ALWAYS face the audience!” The harsh voice echoed in the building. I peeked inside just to realise that my brother was getting bashed up by the instructor for some silly mistakes.

“Walk properly, like a man. You are a man aren’t you? I am not too sure.”

“Do you think this soft voice will reach the last row? I doubt it will even cross the third one.”

“Call the Janitor. I am sure he will do a better job than this guy…”

Every word hammered his confidence down. And the humiliating laughter just made things even more cruel. He is new over there and I could see that he was trying his best to cope up. If there are any suggestions, there has to be a gentle way to put it forward. He is just 15, trying hard to adjust in a new group. He needs to make friends over there who will make him feel confident. He needs an instructor who appreciates his courage of venturing into something new. He needs encouragement. Not a bunch of bullies who turn this into a nightmare.

A group which already has a strong bonding will never accept you so easily. You have to take special efforts not to be a pariah. You have to laugh at jokes you don’t find funny. You have to do things that don’t interest you. Humiliation comes free in such situations. And there are always horrible bosses. These are the people who can easily make you feel comfortable. Their opinion matters. BUT, they choose not to.

A boss could be anyone who “bosses” over you. It could be a friend who constantly insults you, a teacher who criticizes you way beyond necessary or even your son or daughter who makes you feel like shit. In most of the relationships, there is one dominant person and one recessive one. In a healthy relationship, this position keeps changing. Sometimes, person A is the dominant one and B accepts it and sometimes B becomes the boss. Once one person in a relationship never steps down from his or her dominant position, the relationship turns horrible.

In today’s world, criticism has replaced appreciation. In the constant struggle to achieve more, we have forgotten to sit back and look at what we’ve done so far. If I know people, I know for sure that nobody underperforms by choice. At least not in the start. Let it be a boring desk job or even something you have passion for, naturally you will try to give your best in the start. But when these efforts go unappreciated, things turn sour. Mediocrity steps in. Everybody in the world has at least one unique talent. The tricky part is, most of the times this talent goes unnoticed. Sometimes even by that individual himself. As a human being, I feel it is our responsibility to respect that talent and genuinely tell that person that no matter how small it seems, it matters.

After rehearsals, while going home, I asked him, “Are you okay?” And he said yes.

The next day he was as excited as the day before. He went to the rehearsals. Now, he is doing alright. When I ask him about his rude instructor, he tells me that he has started nitpicking some other new kid. I am glad the focus has shifted to someone else. But I am even more happy about how my kiddo brother treated this whole situation. He stayed positive. He didn’t lose faith in his own abilities. And that really matters.

Not everyone is generous enough to understand what you are going through. Because it takes efforts to be compassionate. But nobody can make you feel bad about yourself if you don’t let them to. If you have a horrible boss in your life, let him be the way he is. Don’t expect him to change his character to suit your needs. And if his opinion makes you feel low about yourself, then seriously f*ck it. Do not give such people the authority to tell you that you are no good. They may be the dominant one in this relationship. But that doesn’t mean you have to agree with their point of view about you.

My younger brother and his reaction to this situation taught me to stay confident about myself and my work. There are people who tell me that I have potential but I am extremely ordinary. Such reactions when come so bluntly hurt a lot. They may be right. They may be wrong. And not my thoughts but my actions to come will differentiate what’s right and what’s wrong.

Cheers to staying positive.

#6 My Creation – Pardes (2012)

I had just finished my first year in college. I was getting a few assignments to shoot. I had an agenda of making a film every month. This is the movie I came up with. It started as a simple following assignment. And it turned out to be a short and sweet documentary which earned me multiple awards in the years to come. And most importantly it showed me how difficult it is to even think to produce one short film per month.

Pardes

It is the story of a man who came to Mumbai in search of a better and comforting life. The main character is a bhelwala (street chat seller) who is selling bhel in Mumbai for 16 years. The story explores the problems he faced and how his roommates helped him find solutions from time to time. Furthermore, the story explains his thoughts about his wife and his four kids which stay in village. Why doesn’t he bring them in Mumbai? Doesn’t he miss them? The story explains.

I am listing down a number of things I learnt while making the film:

1. Get your character right: Find an interesting enough character and your job is half done. Well, not literally. But a character with multiple personal challenges commands attention.

2. Multiple locations: I had a number of options open. The fact that attracted me with this particular subject was that he roams from place to place. I had the liberty of changing the location as I shoot him. I had the liberty of making him stand anywhere I like and take a timelapse. In the end my choice of locations made it look even more cinematic.

3. Small crew, small camera: I like to work alone. But a small crew of dedicated members is always welcome. Smaller the camera, lesser the attention. When using a DSLR, it is really easy to go around taking shots that you like. If you can manage to do so with a camera even smaller, nothing like it. At times, the complexity of the shot, the locations demand the use of smaller cameras with inferior power. But if the end result is going to be interesting enough, it doesn’t really matter.

4. The story is made on the edit table: After the interviews I was trying so hard to make him look like the hero of my film. It didn’t work out. I had to change the story by a great extent after taking his interview. And that actually worked in my favour.

5. Hide that lapel mic: Pretty simple actually. Take 5 seconds out of your precious time and pay attention to these smaller mistakes you can easily avoid.

6. Inserts and cut aways: I finished off the interview in a day. However it took me two and a half months to finish the documentary. I was roaming all over Mumbai collecting small clips for my film, making timelapses and staging some shots as well.

7. Hardwork, hardwork and hardwork: It’s a simple formula actually. To make something, anything, you have to devote your time. You cannot produce anything worthwhile without putting in your heart and soul. It is just not possible. That’s why I feel making a film in 1 month is kind of unrealistic and cruel. It kills the art.

8. You can’t make the films you don’t like: And the opposite of this is also true. My father disliked the film as I showed him the first cut. This was the first film, he told me that he did not like. It was a major blow. Yet towards the end I was eager on finishing it. I just wanted to know what have I invested in…

9. Take care of that hard drive: Luckily I had the export of the film on my laptop. My portable hard drive crashed and it had my FCP files. I could never retrieve the edit. I wanted to make a smaller version, I couldn’t.

10. The best compliment: As I stated above, this started as an assignment at FX School. We were told to follow any interesting character and ask him questions about his life. Making a documentary out of it came much later in our syllabus. When I showed it to my professor, she asked me for the FCP edit file. I told her that it wasn’t possible for me to retrieve it. She refused to accept my submission saying she does not believe that I made it. This, by far, is the best compliment I have ever received for my film. (Although it wasn’t intended to be one!)

#3 Within 40 Hours (2012)

This was the first documentary I was involved in. And it was based on the students of Kamla High School in Mumbai.

1. Pre-production: It is important to invest a good amount of time in pre-production. But that does not mean we can spend 90% of the time on deciding what to do. In our case, the school that we worked for was supportive by all means. We could shoot wherever we want, we could go in a class in the middle of a lecture and interact with the students very easily. So we were sure at least there are no hindrances from the organisation. We could focus on the creative aspects. We chose the right organisation.

2. Best time to shoot: In photography it is known as the Golden Hour. Luckily enough for us, to match the timings of our college and the school, we had to shoot either early in the morning or just before sunset anyway. And in the month of February, the climate was just beautiful for a shoot. I’ve taken some of the prettiest shots out of sheer co-incidence just because the time was right.

3. Some people are camera conscious: Some kids are natural in front of a camera. Some are not. And that applies not only to kids but to everyone. As this was a documentary we could get away with the hesitation as it acted as a character trait to the person. Also, the subject was psychology so we actually used this to convey our point more convincingly.

4. You don’t need to get it right in the first take: We were interviewing ourselves. We were making a presentation where we were telling the audience about our experiences and what we learnt during these 40 hours of work we did at the NGO. So we had the liberty to note down the points so that two people don’t repeat the same ones. And we did so. That worked so well while editing the film. But on the other hand, it made everyone very conscious while they were talking. The best way to deal with this was to cut the shot a line before they fumbled and then ask them to start again just before the line they said incorrectly. I added a movement in the middle so that I could get a cutting point. And it did not appear as a mistake while everyone watched it.

5. The above only works when the subject is ready to coordinate: As we interviewed the professors, we were running short on time. We had to do it in one go. So we had to settle for a simple cross fade to cover up.

6. Double tap: We were using Lapel Mics for recording the interviews. It is important to check that there is no necklace or any element for that matter which is constantly banging on the condenser.

7. Shoot a lot of inserts/ cut-aways.

8. Cinemascope (2.35:1 ratio) adds a really professional look to your film.

9. Music can make or break your film

10. The film was awarded as the best project and it marked the end of our first year in BMM. It left me on a high and inspired my next Documentary, Pardes. More about it soon!

#12 Spooky Obsessions (2014)

Well, in a very recent, very unbiased and completely reliable survey three most common fears across the globe were revealed:

Number 3. Fear of death

Number 2. Fear of public speaking

Number 1. Fear of dying while public speaking

 

Today, as we are being antisocial on the social networking sites a few modern threats have popped up in the notification window.

 

For a very close friend, Surpanakha Ramachandran, it is a matter of honour when it comes to her selfies. Anything below 371 likes gets deleted from Instagram and finds a haven in Google+. Her recent selfie at the PVR washroom had to settle for a new low of 198 likes. When asked to comment on this catastrophe our humble friend answered in vernacular: “अब तो नाक कट गयी।”

 

It is demeaning, degrading and demoralizing not to be appreciated for a status update. One does try so hard to compose it. Sugar, spice and everything nice blended with chemical #. And when a comment receives more attention than the original message, it is taking a defecate right in the face. *defeat (autocorrect)

 

One must be aware about how he/she is portrayed on the Internet. Being cool is a full time job with it’s own perks. And there is nothing wrong in wishing your dad a happy birthday in the cyberspace rather than the awkward space.

 

While most of the world lives in this fear of lacking social presence, a modern monk has found inner peace in simple pleasures like privacy. He believes that we can never share our true joys in words. Our minds are so cluttered by the aftermath, that we forget to savour the moment ourselves, sharing them is a different matter. His dumbo was last seen in Thane mental asylum and he is scheduled for execution in 2 days by a Slingshot.

 

As we keep our articles honest and ad free, here is a shoutout to your favourite Twitter celebrity Kamaal R Khan for his latest clash with Kapil Sharma. And if you are just scrolling on Facebook as you are completely jobless here is a list of 20 things you should do if you are a human. #12 is an absolute must!!!

 

Note: Hey! What do you expect? I’m a filmmaker. I exaggerate for a living.

#3 My Creation – Some notes on composition

There is a plethora of information available on the Internet but knowledge of something is different. For me, knowledge is the kind of education that you can make use of in actual day to day life. So here I am, compiling some information hoping to convert it into knowledge for myself and maybe for the rest of the world!

Few pointers that make a good composition:

1. Grouping

2. Balance

3. Ratio/ Proportion (one of the best things I learnt today!)

4. Rule of thirds

5. Lines and curves

6. Figure and ground

7. Harmony and contrast

8. Light (soft light and hard light)

9. Colour

On reading all these articles, (if someone is passionate enough to do so) you will understand that there is a lot going through the DoP’s head before he even presses the record button. Does he carry a book with him referring to every tiny detail? Not anyone I know of. This is the homework one often does subconsciously. At first you might have to try hard, push yourself looking at one frame for hours before you decode it. Later on it becomes a part of your daily life.

As we move forward in time, most of our functions as a cinematographer will be submerged under the term automatic. I feel there is nothing wrong in putting your camera on P mode when you doubt your exposure settings. Ultimately, the results matter. However, I feel it is very less likely that a camera will be able to compose a shot as well as we can. You may be using a cell phone or a DSLR or a cinema camera, if you don’t make use of your frame, you will end up with an average looking image.

So if you don’t have a camera and you still want to be a DoP or even a better photographer, try this: cut a 4 inches by 3 inches rectangle in a cardboard and start ‘framing’ the world around you. When you have a limit to your field, you will understand how a simple change in your position can make the frame look better. I feel at every level, a visual artist should carry out this exercise.

 

 

#2 My Creation – For a change (2012)

FOR A CHANGE NEW

It makes me smile when I look back at my early works. It has been more than two years now since I made this. And I can’t stop laughing when I look at the foolish mistakes visible on screen and the major cover ups made on the edit table, minutes before our presentation!

Here are a few technical and a few creative tips to myself in the present from an enthusiast in the past:

1. Troubles with the crew:

There are all sorts of people in the world. Some may prove as an asset to your film and some are just troublemakers. They do not contribute towards anything but ruining your plan and raising your temper. It is essential to determine “your crew” and get rid of the troublemakers at first instance. Things get really tricky when you’re not paying anything else but your gratitude. All that diplomacy seen in TV soaps comes real handy in such conditions. I wish I was more manipulative then!

2. Getting a 50mm prime was the best and the worst decision:

Why it is the best lens? I think DigitalRev can explain better. They’ve explained it from a photographer’s perspective but most of the points are valid for a film maker too. To make a long story short: fast aperture – better lighting; small and lightweight; bokeh; as cheap as my camera bag (then!) Now some things others might not tell you. The flip side of the coin. Since buying a 50mm it’s been a task to move to any other lens. I don’t think I used my kit lens 18 – 135 to its fullest potential for a long time. And frankly speaking a wide angle lens provides a variety of angles to your film. It is necessary to opt for a stylish wide look to show your sets, to establish your settings.

3. Class 10 Transcend:

SanDisk happens to be the market leader in SD Cards but for me, Transcend at a cheaper price has been a reliable companion. I think I purchased a class 4 card out of sheer ignorance but I was lucky to get it replaced. For my camera, Canon 550d, I require a class 10 card with about 45mbps speed. I purchased 2 SanDisk Ultra 16 GB cards later on and I was pretty disappointed. If you are ready to spend, go for Extreme or Extreme Pro only. I’ve heard a lot about Sony but never used any.

4. What happens when you’re pulling off an Orson Welles?

Yes! I acted in this one. No! I wasn’t the lead. It is considered as the director is the best actor on set. I was the worst. I have done my share of performing on stage and even in front of camera before. But when you have the responsibility of Directing, Shooting and handling the Mics as well; things tend to get into the weird zone. I think I was the most awkward character on screen. This multiplies my respect for directors such as Orson Welles, Mel Gibson, Charlie Chaplin and many others who pulled this off with mastery.

5. Music made this film what it is

This film was fundamental for my learning because I learnt how music can enhance the overall cinematic experience and how it can convert an ordinary video into a decent short film.

6. Good casting lends you a sigh of relief

A very senior actor upon watching the film praised my casting abilities. Whatever I had done was unintentional and intuitive. Taking up actors on the go, making my classmates act on the streets et al! Whatever it was, it worked. When I see the film again I know how important such decisions were.

7. I work pretty well under pressure (only on the edit table)

When I have 5 hours to finish the edit I can do a better job than having a week for it. Or maybe it just feels like it. But I have not finished many films in absence of a deadline. This worries me immensely. I hope I can change that with time.

8. Not just the white balance but the tint!

People suggest you to check three things before you press the record button: exposure, focus and white balance. I don’t have a manual white balance option in my camera. I always stick to auto and most of the times get away with it. It was sunny when I was shooting and there is a green cast on my actors because of the sunlight reflecting off the leaves in the foreground. Fixing it is pretty difficult and cautionary measures during the shoot are the only way to survive.

9. Take your time but hide that mic!

I knew the mic was visible. It was just the tip of the lapel mic. I thought it will go unnoticed. I notice it every time I see the film and it is pretty distracting.

10. Keep your friends closer (there is no enemy part to this one)

Keeping in touch with all the people who lend you equipment is like your second job. You can make a film because these people put aside their interests and simply let you use their houses, mics and sometimes even cameras for free. I think I owe all of them whatever I am and whatever I may be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#1 My Creation – Argument (December 2011) – Backstory

A Shot From The Film Argument

Before this film, I helped a friend of mine in the edit, sound design and visual effects for his short film ‘Pause’ in which I acted as well. And the film had a very warm response from the audience. We decided to make one more short film, which failed miserably. I had a really clear idea about the story of the film and the dialogues as well. But for some reason I couldn’t convey it very well. My friend slept the entire afternoon and I was demoralised.

I realized the importance of having the script in writing. Even when you are writing, directing, shooting and editing the film on your own, you are not the only mind working on it. When you direct your actors, they give their suggestions. They may be brilliant but not in sync with the demand of the script. When you have your script in your hand you can simply ask your actors to stick to the plan when it is necessary. It is very important for the director, the captain of the ship to have a command over his vessel. A hard copy of the script in your hand is your map, your compass and your wheel.

I also had a very simple shot division plan and a storyboard this time. I borrowed a camera, a Canon 550 from a friend of mine, a 50mm 1.8 lens from another friend in a different part of the city, I asked my dad and a friend of his to act and was all set to shoot.

The shoot was in the afternoon at Juhu beach and I was running around everywhere since morning. When we reached at the location it struck me that I forgot my script at home! I hadn’t explained the script to the actors by then. But we were losing light. We had to start. So again, even this time I was without a script even after writing it so precisely.

I struggled while directing but everything was alright. I had to come back on the next day to take a few inserts. The treatment changed drastically on the edit table. But I am glad we could finish this. The film was screened at Usha Pravin Gandhi College during Aahan International Short Film Festival in January and that was my first screening. The film got the second best film award and thus it all started.

The film was screened at a few more festivals in 2012. I tried sending the film to Berlin Short Film Festival but it couldn’t work out. Quite recently, all of my films were screened back to back at My Mumbai Film Festival. I couldn’t go for the screening but my mother and my younger brother did. My brother said that out of all the films, Argument received the best response. By many aspects, my work after this film was more substantial for me in terms of quality and reach as well. But I think the first step, the first boost was essential.

As I look back, when I made the film I did not know whether I was shooting at 24 fps or 25 fps. I spent at least 15 minutes in changing the lens, which doesn’t take more than 5 seconds. I almost lost my friend’s SD Card. I was turning the focus ring when it was on auto and I thought I broke it. There were so many retakes just because I kept my tripod in the frame. And many more mistakes, which taught me more than any institute would have.