EXT. “IN FRONT OF SOMEBODY’S HOUSE” 3 AM
” Lights. Camera….”
Sound of police jeep siren intervenes.
All (In unison)
“Arey band karo yaaron. Mama logaan aa gaye“
For next 20 minutes the entire crew lies low. Not even a sound of breath. I impatiently look towards the sky. There was only an hour left for the crack of dawn. More than half of the scenes scheduled for the night were yet to be shot.
“Why are we wasting time. We can bribe the police and get started with shooting”
Pallavi (Executive Producer)
“That won’t be possible”
“Why? Just because we haven’t taken permission and are shooting before somebody’s house.”
“No. Because we haven’t taken permission and are shooting before an MLA’s house !”
My only prior experience with cinema was shooting a couple of short films during Engg. College. For me movie making was all about having a story in place, finding out actors (friends) who could spare time for me (besides dinner at the nearest best restaurant) and getting someone’s camera (begging/ borrowing a digicam at the last moment) for shooting. I was thus a little taken aback when Rahul (my producer) & Pallavi (my executive producer) started holding auditions for casting in my film.
I first met Rahul Reddy during a short film screening session that his company Octopus Studio, organised once in every 2 months in Hyderabad. One of the short films that I had made in my engg. college was selected for the event. It is here that I learnt about how Rahul’s company invested in short films, participated in festivals and looked for distributors who would buy the rights of these shorts for release in TV slots or Cinema Theaters abroad meant exclusively for short films. (Here in India, till date, I have been unable to explain the difference between a short and a documentary to my relatives). I narrated the idea of a thriller, I had in mind, to Rahul and within a couple of months we were ready to go on floors with shooting. It is here that my actual learning began.
Although I was a director on sets, in reality I was the most inexperienced crew member present. Words like “white balance”, “ISO setting”, “rule of thirds” sounded Greek to me. My D.O.P., an assistant cinematographer on the sets of numerous Telugu films, was appalled at the fact he was taking instructions from someone like me. Also, since I did not have an A.D. on set, I doubled up as director and clap/spot boy who also took care of continuity. My preparation for shooting ran in parallel with online tutorials on rules for lighting, blocking and story-boarding. It was like interning for your own company!
Scheduling the shooting was another big problem. Since I was working in a software company, I could take out time only during weekends. and since all my actors were theater artistes, their weekend was locked owing to their theater assignments. I thus had to reschedule the shooting to after-office hours. Which implied, rushing back to home after 6 PM, shooting whole night till 7 AM in the morning; and then getting ready to leave for office again by 10 AM. The fact that most of my scenes were written for night actually helped.
Because of lack of time/ money/ resources my own house and apartment were converted to sets. (My room mates were in shock the day they walked into the house. It hardly looked like the place was inhabited by 4 bachelors). Friends and neighbors chipped in to play extras. Hand made lights and dolly came into use where space constraints did not allow usage of traditional ones. In fact, on one of the days, handicapped by power cut, we had to use mobile flash light to create the impression of laptop screen’s reflection falling on actor’s face. A contraption, made out of small motor fitted to garden pipe at one end and a 1.5 l tank at the other, was used to create artificial rain (and the fire brigade was charging us 50K for the same!). If anything, this movie helped me understand the big Indian word- “Jugaad” !
We did not have a title for the film even when the final cut was ready. I decided upon the word ‘Gutthi’ (Hindi for riddle) simply because the world of the film had a very rooted feeling to it and the title should have conveyed the same. (In a way my tribute to RGV for lending the most wonderful titles possible to Hindi films) Although its a thriller, the effort was to make the movie akin to reading a novel- taking time to introduce character and plot and trying to hide the “presence of a script” in the film.
Once the final edit was ready, I thought the most Herculean task was over. Everything here on would be a cake walk. I was wrong ! Taking your short films to industry biggies and getting them screened at the right festivals is an altogether different ballgame which I was yet to learn. (to be continued)
(Gutthi-The Riddle premiered at Indian Film Festival, Stuttgart (Germany) in 2013. The film has had 5 festival screenings so far and has been appreciated by the likes of Anurag Basu & Sudhish Kamath. Please find the details of the film on its IMDB page here )
Part II of the blog and the YouTube link to the full film would be coming soon. Here is the trailer of the film.