Jack & Jill is an adaptation of my short story, ‘The wailing’ – a story, just like that little girl tied with a rope, has been with me since three years. I came across a newspaper article on a doctor being arrested in Surat for revealing the gender of the child and committing the heinous crime of female infanticide.
The article left me wondering, ‘What if the doctor lied to the couple?’ They would believe him anyway and go ahead with the abortion, hence the doctor would be minting money either ways, irrespective of the fact that it was a boy child or girl. Hence was ‘conceived’ the short story, ‘The wailing’ (the names kept changing from ‘the humming’, the cry’, ‘the wailing’ to ‘Jack & Jill’). I attempted adapting the story into a short film, but the project never took off, hence was rendered as ‘jinxed’ by me.
About a decade ago, a couple used to stay near our relative’s place. They distributed sweets, announcing the arrival of a child, only to later inform that the woman had a miscarriage. This happened thrice, and eventually the woman delivered a boy child, whom they described as ‘Kishan Kanhaiyya’. Rumours were rife that they probably aborted the previous children in the name of ‘miscarriage’ and even the hospital staff was involved.
I am still unsure whether they were just rumours or the truth, but I often feel guilty that like everyone, I chose to do nothing about it and dismissed it as just another product of grapevine, without even bothering to probe into the matter and trying to find out the truth. This guilt stayed in my conscience for a long time and writing a short story on this topic was probably the most easy way out and making a film was no big deal either. I took comfort in the Naseeruddin Shah quote which I love repeating that films cannot change the world, all they can change is the hairstyle. Hence, the short film was never made.
After my first book, ‘Baker’s Dozen’ was published, I got to know that this ‘one-paged story’ (it was called ‘The wailing’ then) was selected to be published in a short story anthology. As luck (or bad luck) would have it, the story was ‘aborted’ for reasons best known to the publishers. Nevertheless, I thought of sharing it on social networking sites, hoping that it might find few ‘likes’, ‘shares’ or ‘RTs’, but alas, it never happened. The story died a silent death in the cradle of social networking sites, ailing from short attention span syndrome of our times.
Few months later, my sister was about to deliver a baby and was admitted in the hospital (now blessed with a lil’ angel called Jahnvi, who makes her debut with Jack & Jill as the smiling baby). The nurse used to narrate horrifying stories of couples insisting on knowing the gender of the child and agreeing to pay a fortune for it. According to her, the hospital never encouraged such practices and sometimes they even had to threaten the couple with dire consequences if they ever made such ‘requests’.
The incidents narrated by the nurse left us shell-shocked, more so, because it was mostly the women who were more keen to get ‘rid’ of the child if it was a female. The short story ‘The wailing’ got a new lease of life, with the birth of a baby girl in our house. Watching her grow and documenting her first cry, first smile and many such firsts in the last three months have been one of the most memorable moments in my life. I couldn’t help wondering what makes people stoop to the level of aborting a girl child. I was thus, determined to make a short film on the abandoned and orphaned short story, and wrote the script and screenplay in few minutes and immediately started pestering my friends to become part of it.
The next day after ‘announcing’ my short film, I was watching a reality show where a group of kids were performing in front of three celebrity judges and narrating their real life stories of how a child feels when he or she is abandoned by his/her parents. The show moved the judges to tears and to certain extent, my sister, who was watching it (like always I was reading an e-book on my new-found obsession called tab).
I made a casual remark, ‘Arrey yaar camera ke aage dukhdaa rone se kya hone waala hai? Jo yeh sab karte hain woh patthar dil hote hain, thodi pighalne waale hain’. (Why are they crying in front of the camera? People doing such thing are stone-hearted and won’t be affected by this). My sister quipped, ‘To tu yeh abortion wala short film kyu bana raha hai? Jo yeh sab karte hain woh patthar dil hote hain, thodi pighalne waale hain. (Then why are you making the short on abortion? People doing such thing are stone-hearted and won’t be affected by this) It was a perfect foot-in-the-mouth moment for me and a befitting motivation for making ‘Jack & Jill’, with a resolution of – Aise patthar-dil logo ko pighlaana hai (To move such stone-hearted people with this film).
The casting was decided and we were about to shoot. My friends, Krishnamurthi Kumar and Vidya Janakiramanan were supposed to play the lead roles but they couldn’t, blame it on professional as well as personal reasons. My friends Jay Merchant and Vishwa Bhavsar were supposed to play the roles of doctor and nurse, but couldn’t, blame it again on professional as well as personal reasons.
Furthermore, I wasn’t allowed to shoot in any clinic as they didn’t want any trouble that the short film might invite. Hence, I dropped the idea of shooting in a clinic and decided to use voice-overs of doctor and nurse (Which eventually proved to be a blessing in disguise as many people told me that the voice-over in the end makes a huge impact, as they herald the ultimate twist in the tale).
I had an opportunity to work with popular RJ Kshitij Banker for a professional project. For me, Kshitij was more of a great actor than, with all due respect, a great RJ. The reason for hailing him as a great actor is because I watched the Gujarati play, ‘Gopal ane Sayaji’ based on Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad-3, where he played the role of a minister. After the play was over, I was surprised to hear the name ‘Kshitij Banker’ by the play’s director.
This, according to me, is the mark of a great actor – of being able to play a role with such perfection that blurs his real identity. I am sure many people must have told Kshitij that they didn’t recognize him. I made him wear my old spectacles (which gave him a headache) and asked to shave off his goatee to get rid of his ‘cool RJ’ image.
Later, Apsara Iyenger was the obvious choice (had approached her before but she was busy attending Jaipur Litfest, lucky her). She had played the role of Maharani Jamunabai in the same play, Gopal ane Sayaji. The doctor and nurse voice-over artists were the leading pair of the same play, where Shakunt Joshipura (doctor’s voice-over artist) played Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad and Chitra Parmar played Maharani Chimnabai (nurse’s voice-over artist. She also recited the ‘tweaked’ nursery rhymes used in the background score) stepped in, just to help out her friend Shakunt.
The next obstacle was shooting location. I wanted a quiet house as I was shooting on my digi-cam with no sound equipment (This was a zero-budget film, remember?) I couldn’t imagine shooting it at my place, thanks to the three dogs (A Pomeranian, a Dalmatian and a Labrador) and my sis’ newborn girl.
We eventually shot the film at Mr. Raghu Venugopal, a family friend’s place. His daughter played the little girl following Naina, who made her life miserable enough to get rid of her. The spooky scene moved Apsara so much that it actually shows on screen. I just couldn’t stop feeling in awe of the acting skills demonstrated by Apsara and Kshitij, editing by Dipak Panchal, and commitment of Shakunt (Who despite his examinations took time off for this project) and Chitra Parmar who joined Shakunt just to dub one line of ‘Thank you doctor saab’ in my recording studio called ‘Tata Nano’.
The idea of creating a short film at zero-budget was to prove a point that films can be made without fancy filters, DSLRs, Trolleys, Lights or Cranes, crew and even without taking a day off at your work. Jack & Jill was shot on a weekend and edited at the ad agency I work with, after the office hours and during the lunch breaks (With boss’ permission, of course).
So the ones who constantly wine about not having enough ‘time’, ‘resources’ or ‘money’ to pursue their dreams, you have no reasons to complain. We had no crew while shooting this film. I was the one who was handling the tripod and operating the camera. At the risk of sounding bombastic and self-congratulatory, I’d like to assert that if we can do it, anybody can.
I am really grateful to everyone directly or indirectly involved in this film, including Krishnamurthi, Vidya, Jay Merchant, Vishwa Bhavsar, Devashree Desai (both were approached to play the nurse’s role at different points of time), Amit Jain (for the wonderful suggestion of including the baby girl’s shot in the end). Thanks everyone, including Geet Sharma (he wrote the line – Johny Johny yes papa, want a sister, no papa), and the ones who clicked ‘like’, ‘share’ and ‘RTed’ the link of Jack & Jill. Chitra Parmar went on to write a wonderful review for the film and Apsara penned down her experiences of portraying the role of Naina.
On a parting note after this long blog post (I know brevity is a virtue I still need to accomplish), if Jack & Jill inspires you to put an end to this nuisance of gender determination and female infanticide, please spread this message across your friends, relatives and family members. This will be a befitting way of making such couples guilty of their crimes (Patthar-dil logo ko pighlaana hai, remember?) which often goes unpunished. If this film inspires you to pick up your digi-cam lying in your cupboard or pen down the story you have always wanted to share, it would be the biggest achievement of our team.
Here’s the link to Jack & Jill: