Saturday, November 7, 2009

From the Diary of a Debut Director - PART 5

Anyone who’s had experience shooting with children will know how tough it is and what big a responsibility it is. Shooting with an eight-month-old baby breaks all the planning, organizing and scheduling. First of all, the baby had to get comfortable with us. For that, I had to take my time to become friendly with him. Without snatching him from his mother’s arms, I had to make him trust me and come to me. I had to frequently give him tours of every newly lit set-up to make him comfortable in every different location before I started shooting with him… (Otherwise he used to freak out and scream when we brought him to a new environment). I made sure Ajmal and Rupa spent most of their break times playing with him. I had to give frequent breaks for the baby to sleep, get fed or cleaned… either of which may happen at any time. Our target of trying to shoot two to three scenes per day went haywire… and out schedule extended by ten more days.

The whole team had to learn to work differently in the baby’s presence. They had to learn to be quiet and refrain themselves from giving any distracting movements when the baby is in the shot. Ajmal and Rupa had to memorize their lines beforehand and rehearse with a dummy baby doll before we brought the baby for the actual take. And most of the times, the baby would give us barely two decent takes in which the actors also had to be perfect. If they make any mistake, everything would go down the drain.

Every day we get prepared, but in spite of all that, the baby would still cry… either because the lights are too harsh for his eyes or Rupa’s accessories were pricking him or he saw some lightman’s scary face or he is sleepy or he is moody or just wants to go to his mom. All those times, we had to stop our work and give what the baby wants… I would try my best to cheer him up and bring him back for the shot. I think I must be the only director in the world who carried a baby in one arm and directed most of her film. On the last day of shoot, Dharshan’s mother thanked me for personally taking good care of the baby. Today many people ask me how I managed to get such cute expressions from the baby. It was all worth it.

Without your family’s support it is next to impossible to survive or succeed in this industry. My father, mother, brother and husband have been the four strong pillars of support throughout. I am grateful to my producers Mr.Jayendra, Mr.Senthil and Mr. ArunVeerappan from Real Image, and Mr. Swaroop Reddy and Mr. Kiran Reddy from Sathyam Cinemas for trusting a new director like me and giving such a huge opportunity.

I also feel lucky to have found like-minded friends and colleagues who have been extremely supportive and have strived for the film’s progress at every stage.

A director needs good assistants to effectively execute a project. I have to appreciate my associate Guru Prakash and assistants Manikandan, Loganathan, Sabrish and G who stuck by me even during the worst of times. I can put down the whole list of people that I want to thank… but that already comes in the rolling end credits of our movie.

I have surely learnt a lot in course of making this film. I came to know that… to succeed in any career, you need to have talent, perseverance, will power, determination strength and hard work. But to successfully complete a movie, you need to have TOLERANCE and PATIENCE more than anything else… Getting along with people is the art to have to master more than the craft of filmmaking.

‘Thiru Thiru Thuru Thuru’ is not a perfect film without flaws. But people say that it is a good film and a decent film that can be enjoyed with the whole family. It has got wonderful reviews and is being supported generously by the television media, papers and internet press. It is generally difficult to please the critics and the mass public at the same time. It is also difficult to balance logic and comedy at the same time. I am happy that I managed to deliver a film which has earned a good name with common public, film industry people and critics evenly. I pray and hope to make better and more successful films in the coming future.

From the Diary of a Debut Director - PART 4

Coming to the technical crew… I had a meeting with Mani Sharmaa sir long before my producers signed me officially. I came to know that he was a little tired of doing routine and monotonous kind of masala movies and wanted to do something unique and challenging. I loved his work in the arty but modern film ‘Morning Raaga’ in which he had done a wonderful fusion of western music and classical Karnatic music. When I approached him, I was confident that he would give T4 a music which is classy as well as commercial. He loved T4’s story and readily agreed to do it. Other than giving wonderful music, he was also a great human being who gave a positive pat on my shoulder whenever I felt drained out or lost. I am grateful to Mani Sharmaa sir for being one among the few people who never lost confidence in me.

Many people ask me if I found it tough being a woman director in a man’s world. I never focus on my gender while working. I think like a director… not a ‘woman director’… and luckily it is involuntary. So, I guess others (men) feel comfortable when I’m around and feel normal when working with me. As far as my work experience goes, I never felt a bias and never had any trouble or pressure or inferiority complex being a female director. However, I did initially encounter some stares from my crew when I acted or demonstrated certain expressions and actions to Ajmal and other male actors. I think they found it strange that a female director can effectively ‘perform’ like a man. I am sure even Ajmal would have found it a little weird trying to grasp expressions from a female face and incorporate into his performance. But all that was only temporary. Once people saw how determined, hard-working and sincere I was… they started trusting me completely.

There is a saying in tamil ‘Veetai Katti Paar, Kalyaanam Panni Paar’… meaning ‘try organizing a wedding, try building a house’… because by the time you complete these humongous tasks, you would have gone through all the high’s and low’s in life. I vote to add this line too… ‘Cinema eduththu paar’ meaning ‘try making a movie’…

We also went through many many high’s and low’s while making T4. Why… on the very first day of shoot, there was a big flood in Chennai. Our newly constructed colourful apartment set almost got destroyed and we had to postpone shoot. When we were shooting the title sequence, our set caught fire. Rupa suffered from occasional skin problems and the makeup products were making things worse. Red camera was a new technology still under development. So there was a lot of Research, Testing and Software upgrading happening amidst shoot. Since Ajmal was simultaneously shooting another film, many times our shooting dates clashed together and both the units had to reschedule. Generally it is tough to execute any project on a tightrope budget. Even though the budget is less, you cannot make the film look cheap. You have to get good actors, talented technicians, decent locations, quality cinematography, classy art direction, good-looking costumes and so on… but all in minimum costs. You have to try shooting two to three scenes in a day’s call-sheet and target the completion of shoot in 45 to 50 days. And then the baby…

From the Diary of a Debut Director - PART 3

Real Image already had plans to make a full-length feature film on RED ONE digital camera, which shoots in 4K resolution. They were also planning to make it an end-to-end digital film… meaning that it will be shot in digital, edited, colour-corrected and processed completely in digital format and screened in digital projectors like Qube. When I narrated T4, they got excited that such a movie will be apt for this experiment and roped in Sathyam Cinemas to co-produce the project.

But still, this was their debut in the field of ‘film production’ and they wanted to be a little careful about making the right decisions. They asked if I was willing to shoot a few scenes from T4 and show it to them. They said if they liked my work, they will start production. I readily took up the challenge and shot some scenes. They liked my work and finally gave the green signal…

The next step was to find the right cast and crew who would understand our limitations and still put in their best of efforts to make this film. I wanted to cast newcomers for the main male and female lead roles because I felt that the audience should see the ‘characters’ and not ‘celebrities’ on screen. As it was a small budget film, the producers also approved. We auditioned many young aspiring actors and models during the following months. Rupa Manjari was the first girl I auditioned and she was looking fresh and different… with natural expressions, beautiful eyes, curly hair and a lovely smile. I immediately felt that she would suit the role of Archana, a pretty, nagging, obsessive clean-freak and perfectionist. After testing many other new girls, we ended up selecting Rupa. Although she didn’t have any solid experience in acting, she had the ability to learn quickly.

Finding the male lead wasn’t easy. There were many interesting guys who were talented, good-looking and promising… but something was missing. One day my associate told me that there is an actor called Ajmal who has done an important role in Anjaadhey. I went to see that film and really liked his work. But I was reluctant to cast him immediately because the Arjun character in T4 is a boyish, charming, witty, peppy guy with a twinkle in the eye… and the rough and tough Kripa didn’t fit the bill. But when Ajmal came to meet me in our office, he looked completely different. He was exactly the chocolate hero I was looking for. He said that amidst all the action and dramatic roles coming his way, a romantic comedy would be a fresh change. He wanted to do diverse roles and willingly entrusted me to bring out the best in him. This is how I found my Arjun and Archana.

I imagined Mouli sir while creating the character of the forgetful Srinivasan. It was a tailor-made role just for him and I knew that no one other than him could do justice to it. Fortunately, he loved the role when I narrated and immediately agreed to do it. At that time, I had written the rough dialogues for T4 but was a little unsure about them and was considering the option of asking someone else to re-write. Mouli sir was the first person to compliment and encourage my writing. When he said he found them natural, honest and refreshing, I felt like I won another gold medal.

How we found the baby is an interesting story by itself. Just like in the movie T4 where Arjun and Archana desperately hunt for a baby, we too were searching desperately EVERYWHERE for a cute little eight-month-old baby who suited the requirements of our official sponsor. In T4 we had more than 30 days of work for the baby who had to be physically present in almost 75% of the scenes. Generally parents are extremely caring and fussy about their children and convincing them to give their baby for shoot was a herculean task. So we couldn’t finalize and fix a baby even on the first day of shoot… but the shooting had to start.

I told my assistants to temporarily bring ‘some’ baby so that I could shoot the important scenes without showing the baby’s face … My assistants hurriedly brought in a baby called Dharshan. He was so cute and bubbly and the whole crew became very excited when we saw him. His family consisted of small-time actors who were used to cinema life and who understood the practicalities. Dharshan’s mother was an extremely understanding lady who helped us a lot with the baby. Also luckily, Dharshu (we all fell in love and started calling him like that) was a born actor who gave funny and cute expressions on his own and we didn’t have to use any animation to manipulate his smile or frown or anything… Whatever you see on screen was his original performance.

From the Diary of a Debut Director - PART 2

After Kanda Naal Mudhal released and became successful, I started writing my first feature film script. It took a few months, during which I directed several advertisement films and corporate films to gain some decent experience and some confidence. I also shot few trailers from the story ideas of mine. By the end of that year, I was able to convince big corporate clients to give me projects and I successfully delivered them much to their satisfaction. Then I went to Duet Movies to meet Prakash sir. Unfortunately my timing was wrong. He was already producing three or four films and his hands were full for the next two years. I was really disheartened for some time but… I recovered quickly. Even though he couldn’t produce my first film, I am still grateful to him for noticing a spark in me and giving the first push I needed.

‘Thiru Thiru Thuru Thuru’ is light-hearted, fun-filled, hilarious but sensible romantic comedy that has broken the myth that women directors cannot make comedy. But it is not the first script I wrote. As per the myth, I originally had few scripts which were serious, ambitious, dramatic and dark. When I approached different producers, they were apprehensive to take up my stories. Some told me that such scripts may work if they were directed by popular filmmakers and/or with superstars in pivotal roles. Some told me that such scripts were risky and there is no guarantee of success. Some were doubtful if I, a debut director can effectively execute complex stories of that magnitude.

A series of disappointments followed… days, weeks and months went by… The long hours of waiting outside production offices, exhausting narrations and waiting for replies led to nowhere. I started avoiding anyone who would ask “So, how’s it going...? When are you starting your film…? Who’s the hero?”… I was unable to concentrate on getting ad films either since I had to put ALL my efforts into getting a feature film project… … my bank balance was almost nil… Being a woman, my biological clock was also ticking like a time bomb… my husband and parents kept asking me when I would start trying for a baby. I was going nuts. I knew that there are so many people who have been working as assistant directors for many years and still don’t get a break in this field… I knew that it is tough to actually survive all the hardships, find the right opportunity and finally succeed…. I knew all this theoretically but… the real experiences were wearing me down. I was not born tough. I had to learn to be tough. I had to change my attitudes, adapt to new situations and smile through the disappointments, failures and sadness.

So after hearing many NO’s and sometimes hearing nothing at all, I decided to make some changes. I started writing something simpler… a comedy… with a hint of mystery, suspense, romance, fun, songs and dances… but still realistic and logical… with believable down-to-earth characters… and without compromising on my style of story-telling. It took three months to finish the full first draft of T4. It was ready by March 2007. Then I started approaching producers again. After few more unsuccessful meetings, I met with Real Image producers during August 2007.

From the Diary of a Debut Director - PART 1

Almost all filmmakers will agree that their very first movie was special and the experience of making it was most memorable. Your first film introduces you to a huge audience and they get a glimpse of who you are for the very first time… It is a learning experience where you have to overcome your own doubts and those of others too… where your unique thoughts and ideas are brought to life on screen… and you witness for the first time along with thousands of people whether those thoughts and ideas work or not… Making ‘Thiru Thiru Thuru Thuru’ has been tedious, emotional and difficult but all the more wonderful, enjoyable and gratifying. I am happy to share those experiences with all of you and I hope they help you in some way to achieve your dreams too.

Joining the Film and TV Institute of Tamilnadu was my first baby step into the film world. Since no one in my family belonged to the film world and we didn’t really know anyone in the film industry, I figured it was best to start there. So, after my graduation, I took up the three year DFT (Diploma in Film Technology) course specializing in Direction and Screenplay writing. I simultaneously studied MBA in part-time basis. After passing out with a Gold medal and winning two Tamilnadu State awards for my Diploma film ‘Ottam’, I was ready to work as an assistant director to get some practical experience. At that time, I felt like a tiny fish taken out of a small pond and thrown into a big ocean.

I started working for Director Priya in the beautiful tamil romantic comedy ‘Kanda Naal Mudhal’ produced by veteran actor Prakashraj under his production house ‘Duet Movies’. I was fortunate to be included in almost all departments by my boss who let me closely observe and contribute to many things starting from scripting, location hunting, costuming, music composing, lyrics, editing, dubbing, mixing, publicity designing, cutting trailers etc till we finally observed the audience reaction in theaters.

I loved Kanda Naal Mudhal as if it were my own film and worked in it with my heart and soul. When we were celebrating its audio release, Prakash sir surprised me by offering to produce my first film. He encouraged me to start working on my own script soon and said that he believed in my caliber. I was totally overwhelmed with the offer. I never expected to get such an opportunity so early in my career. I was also nervous and terrified… because honestly… I was not ready.