An enlightening session with Shekhar Kapur at Yashraj Studio

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‘Paani’ germinated on a yawn-inducing lunch break at office when I chanced upon an ad of ‘I love Paani’ contest.  The only reason to participate was meeting up ‘the’ Shekhar Kapur. In few minutes, I found myself frantically looking up my ‘rejected’ folder. I found a rejected poem that I had shared on FB. It lived its short life of few hours on the social media, breathing and gasping with few ‘likes’ here and there. It was lying abandoned, so much so that even I had forgotten it. I resurrected this poem, ‘Paani’ and used it as narration for this one-minute short film.

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Never did I think that the first thing Shekhar Kapur would say to me was ‘Who wrote that poem?’ I stood there silently in complete awe of this man I’ve always adored and idolized, and meekly said, ‘Sir, I am guilty of it…’ He smiled and said how much he loved the poem and congratulated me and Dipak Panchal (The guy who edited Paani)Image

Now before you write this off as a self-congratulatory post, let’s move on to what transpired after the ‘I loved your film’ moments.

There were two other teams (2nd Prize and 3rd Prize winners) along with us at Yashraj Studio and we were like a bunch of kids left unattended in a large toy store. We kept gazing at the huge sets, reflectors, posters, music systems and projectors in complete awe. Right from the studio where Filmfare Awards, KBC, Satyamev Jayate are shot, to the collage of YRF films on a wall, make up rooms of artists, special rooms for Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Rishi Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Vaani Kapoor and such stars, and the place where final audio track is prepared for YRF films and doubles up as a Dolby Preview Theatre for directors, producers, actors and journos – each nook and corner of Yashraj Studio left us awestruck.

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It was quite a surprise to know that the entire final audio editing is done by two guys and a film school student as assistant. Contrary to popular belief that post production team works on graveyard shifts, these guys have a two-shift job hour system in place, which ensures they don’t work more than 10 hours per day, come rain come sunshine. We were told that most of the films these days are recorded on sync-sound i.e. with sensitive microphones placed on location and later ‘cleaned’ by the sound engineer and sent for final mixing at YRF Studio. Watching the trailer of Dhoom 3 at this preview theatre equipped with 7.1 Surround Sound and Atmos Speakers convinced me to watch the doomed film again!

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“The job of a filmmaker is similar to that of a salesman. You need to have the skillset of selling your idea to the people you intend to work with or rather it’s like falling in love with someone your parents would never approve of,” said Shekhar Kapur, adding ‘For me making a film is like falling in love. And you can’t fall in love quite often, hence I make lesser films,” while munching on his lunch box of ‘ghar ka khana.

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“My cook at home watches just two channels – Animal Planet and Marathi channels. The kind of exposure we have through satellite channels is so immense that you cannot get away with anything in filmmaking – something that was commonplace two decades ago. Now if I make Mr. India, I need to have that technological edge at par with Hollywood films. Back then, we created what you saw in the camera – no special effects, no green chroma scenes or after effects. Having said that, Mr. India was more than just the technology…the characters were well-defined, right from Mogambo to Calendar and it has an emotional appeal to it.” He said, leaving us nodding silently in complete agreement and complimenting him that it’s always difficult to change the channel if Mr. India is playing on TV.

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I told him that his blogs continue to inspire me and complained that he seldom updates it. For me, Shekhar Kapur has always been ‘the director of Masoom’ – a film which has always been special to me, especially the songs ‘Tujhse naaraz nahin zindagi’, ‘Huzoor is kadar bhi na’ and ‘Do naina aur ek kahani’, which are must-haves on my iPod playlist. Furthermore, the song, ‘Lakdi ki kaathi’ is surely part of growing up years for almost every kid born in the late 70s and early 80s. “DK is me,” said the film’s director adding, “It was based on the book, ‘Man, woman and child’ i.e. the sequel of ‘Love Story’ by Erich Segal.

Nevertheless, the director’s favourite still remains ‘Bandit Queen’ and not the ‘Elizabeth’ series. “I was never a fan of Merchant & Ivory and period kind of films. Bandit Queen remains special because it wasn’t intended to be made for the big screen and I was given complete freedom to make it. I made it exactly the way I wanted to and there were no pressure whatsoever.”

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He affirmed that independent filmmakers of today have got immense scope to explore new stories and make films they want, sans commercial pressure. Gone are the days when you had to pack your bags and shift to Mumbai if you dream of making a film. With the advent of digital technology, all you need is a great script, few actors, technicians like cameraman, editor, sound mixing professional, and a shoe-string budget to make a film. The rest will be taken care of by YouTube, where you have audience from across the globe.

“If you ask me, filmmaking is larger than life projection of stories on a big screen. Call me old school, but I cannot settle with a computer or mobile screen. Whether we like it or not, that’s how most films are viewed today. People seldom flock multiplexes to watch every film that releases on Fridays,” he said.

Talking about the commitment level of professionals in Indian Film Industry, the director said that there’s a huge difference between ‘us and them’ i.e. Hollywood.  There, the actors are always well-prepared and go through nitty-gritties of the script, whereas here, the actor reaches the sets and asks, ‘Kya karna hai?’

“Here things need to be told, there they’re already prepared. I also don’t prefer working with ‘stars’ and prefers having ‘actors’, be it Naseeruddin Shah or Sushant Singh Rajput,” he said, hinting at his upcoming film, Paani.

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“We are approaching a future where water scarcity will reach to a point where water wars will become commonplace. When I thought of making ‘Paani’ 15 years ago, people thought I was talking about something too far-fetched. Back then, water scarcity wasn’t much of an issue and certainly not something that could become base for a feature film. Now imagine, if there’s no water in the rural areas and the villagers migrate to cities like Mumbai, only to find that there’s no water either – what will happen?”

“Today we have a huge gap of haves and have-nots, where people are hoarding money while others are slogging for two-timed meal. Tomorrow, we can have a situation where water would become the wealth the affluent would amass with them. I was recently at a star-hotel in Jaipur and was shocked at the sight of a large bath-tub. I wondered how a city replete with water issues can afford to have such lavish bath-tubs and Jacuzzis. Just because I am in a star-hotel doesn’t mean I have the right to waste water, isn’t it? We keep talking about it, but do we really practice water conservation?” he asked.

His words seem to echo the closing lines of my poem, ‘Paani’ – “Tweet karke care bahut kiya hai, ‘like’ karke share bahut kiya hai, kya kabhi paani ko ‘save’ kiya hai? A thick cloud of ‘enlightened’ silence engulfed us. Perhaps that’s what people call ‘Nirvana’.

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