On The Road With The Truck of Dreams

Written by Arun Kumar on . Posted in Guides


It was an inspired idea – creating a feature around the ultimate fantasy of a girl from village India dreaming of Bollywood stardom and to fulfill it, running away with The Truck of Dreams, the mobile cinema that rumbles around the dirt roads that pass for off-the-beaten-track in rural India. It was a dream also for London-based director Arun Kumar, a first feature with global themes, financed and shot in India, combining his western expertise with his mother culture. In fact, it was the dream that often appeared to be turning into the ultimate nightmare, as everything began to go wrong. But this is India, where everything is possible – eventually.

Arun Kumar takes us on the road with his Truck of Dreams.

 

AN AUGUST BEGINNING

Quite a mad story...

It all started when I was planning to make a short film, Eating Out - in August 2003. I managed to get my actors, crew, location, camera, lights etc all as favours but still needed £200 or so to feed everyone and to get us all through the 2 day shoot. This was a problem until an old friend called me saying she had a new job as the creative director of a boutique on the Kings Road in London and was I any good at decorating? She needed someone to repaint the place - a days work for £100... To cut a long story short I decorated for 10 days and made a grand (you can see the film here:

http://www.creative-channel.tv/film.php?synopsis=9)

During this time my friend introduced me to an Executive Producer, Claire Lewis, who showed me a picture of a traveling cinema. She said she wanted to make a documentary about India's traveling cinemas and would I get involved.

I wrote a short treatment of how I saw the film and Claire attempted to raise money from UK broadcasters. No one was interested until she had a meeting with Shailendra Singh, the head of an Indian production house, who was in London looking for a producer for another project. The idea appealed to him and he said he would consider it. Meanwhile a friend of mine who had recently completed an MA in film was relocating to India. I asked her if she could try and find us a traveling cinema whilst she was out there.

 GO EAST YOUNG MAN

However another couple of months went by and we had heard nothing from the Indian production house and my friend, despite her best efforts, couldn’t locate a traveling cinema.

So finally, in May of 2004, I said to Claire that if she could pay for my flight and give me some expenses money I would go to Mumbai and find a traveling cinema. Whilst there I would also trawl around Indian producers and try get finance for the film.

A daunting prospect! Claire agreed and a couple of weeks later I was in Mumbai staying in a friend’s small apartment in Bandra, a trendy suburb of Mumbai where the film community hangs out.

Back in England, Claire had run the film idea past an old friend of hers, Steve Hawes who was a drama producer and writer. He said it was an interesting idea but what it really needed was a dramatic narrative and that it should be a movie not a simple documentary. Claire called me in Mumbai and related his comments and I said I’d have a think and come up with a storyline, which would integrate with the traveling cinema story.

INSIDE BOLLYWOOD

I spent the next few days calling Bollywood producers/distributors and arranging meetings. I got used to Bollywood time quickly which basically means that people are hours late for meetings or don’t show up at all. Partly this is due to the horrendous traffic and general chaos of the city. Once I got to meet people though everyone was very friendly and helpful and my request of making contact with a traveling cinema was met with a cheerful “No problem”. However no one actually seemed to be able to connect me with a traveling cinema operator.

THE STORY UNFOLDS

At the same time I mulled around various storylines in my head and decided on a scenario where the film narrative would be the story of a village girl in love with movies since childhood. Her exposure to movies had come from the annual visit to the village of a traveling cinema and in our film the arrival of the traveling cinema would be the film’s climax and where two threads of narrative would come together. Her scenes would be everyday village life told from her point of view where we would hear her own thoughts and dreams of the cinema. These would be intercut with the traveling cinemas tour of the region. I decided to structure the film so her thoughts would be heard over point of view shots so that we would actually experience her mundane day-to-day life whilst listening to her dreams. The traveling cinema’s story would be told more conventionally through conversations between the cinema’s owner and his grandson in which he passed on his experience and knowledge. Our girl would be at the stage where she was about to be married off and she would change her life by running away with the cinema. The whole story would be told in retrospect at the moment when she was about to achieve her dream and walk on to set to play her first role in a movie.

Happy with the structure and story I now had to find the cinema, the actress, a village and characters and also a writer who was versed enough in village life to write realistic scenes for the girl’s character. I would need someone who could write poetically in English and then I’d get the scenes translated into Marathi which is the state language of Maharashtra where I planned to film. My actress would need to also speak fluent Marathi and be happy to spend a couple of weeks in the village becoming a villager which is not something most Bollywood actors are prepared to do. In Bollywood films most actors work on several projects at the same time and basically play themselves.

 

THE HUNT FOR A CINEMA

I then got the breakthrough I had been waiting for. A Bollywood distributor, Aditya Shroff, called me and gave me the number of a rural distributor who supplied films to the Alankar touring cinema operated by the Deshpande family. He said that this guy would connect us. I spoke to the rural distributor and got the usual “no problem” from him but I’d have to go and meet him out in Sangli a 12-hour drive from Mumbai. He would then connect me with the traveling cinema operator.

Before I left London I’d made contact with a young producer Raadha. She was originally from London and had relocated to Mumbai after getting frustrated with the lack of opportunities for Asians in film/TV in the UK. She was now working for Percept Picture Company, whose MD Shailendra Singh, Claire had met in London.

I met Raadha at an ocean side café in Bandra and both of us marveled at the difference between where we were right then and meetings in stuffy offices with moody people in the UK. She loved the idea and said to be patient as it would take some time but she was confident that eventually Percept would fund the movie. I told Raadha that I had a lead on a cinema but was looking for an actress to play the village girl and also a writer to work with. She connected me to a writer Anisa Mukerjea Ganguli and her boyfriend suggested an up and coming actress Peeya Rai Choudhri who had recently completed Gurinder Chadha’s film “Bride and Prejudice.”

THE SEARCH FOR A STAR

I called up Peeya and arranged to meet her in the coffeeshop of the Marine Plaza Hotel in downtown Mumbai. I set up a video camera and did a little screen test. I got her to talk about herself and why she thought she would be good for the part, which I had described to her. She was perfect. She could speak fluent Marathi, had spent lots of time as a child in her maid’s village and most importantly said she would give the film her full and total concentration. She was more than happy to live in the village and connect with the people. I was totally convinced. I had an intuitive feeling that she was the one and said to her that I was happy for her to play the role. I said that I would convince Claire and whoever else that needed to be convinced.

I called Claire and outlined my story idea to her and said that I had found the actress to play the lead. She was happy with the story but cautious about Peeya saying she wanted to meet her. She also said that she had met Shailendra Singh from Percept again in London and told him I was in Mumbai. He would be back the next day and wanted me to call him and go in and pitch the film to him. Which was great apart from the fact that I had no script to show him. I convinced myself that this was no obstacle and spent the rest of the night expanding my story idea.

I called Shailendra on his mobile the next day and arranged a meeting for the following day. I also made contact with Anisa the writer and arranged to meet her later in the week.

PITCHING TO PERCEPT

So the next day I arrived at the Percept offices and was shown into the boardroom to meet Shailendra. He was tall and had the looks of a classic Bollywood hero. He smiled and said; “tell me about your film”. I launched into my pitch with passion and verve and after five minutes of me he banged his hand down on the table and shouted, “I love this and we’re going to make this movie”. It was a surreal moment and I was stunned as he picked up a phone and called for assistants to start taking notes on what I needed. He introduced me to a woman called Priti and said she would be running the project along with Raadha. I called Claire and told her it seemed to be all happening and she was also a little taken aback. After years of bland meetings at UK broadcasters where no one can take a decision without months of internal meetings I guess we were both unused to such forthright decision making. All very old school and a refreshing change.

The first thing I said they needed to do was arrange transport for me to go to Sangli to meet the traveling cinema, which they assured, wouldn’t be a problem. I told them I wanted to cast Peeya and that I was planning to shoot her village POV scenes on film and the rest digitally to give a clear visual distinction between the narratives. Also from a budget point of view it would save an enormous amount, as the scenes with the traveling cinema would use a lot of stock. I planned to improvise these and shoot them almost documentary style with a small, unobtrusive crew. Well that was the plan anyway….

A LOCAL WRITER

Whilst waiting for the recce to be organized I met with Anisa Mukerjea Ganguli the writer who was completely enthused by the project. I explained what I wanted her to do and she showed me some examples of her work. Percept agreed that she should write some draft scenes. Claire then contracted her to do this with one rewrite and we were away.

 

Meanwhile the date of my recce kept being postponed with a variety of excuses made as to why. It got to the point where I had to say that I was flying back to London the next week and there was no way I would postpone my flight as I had to get back for my sisters wedding. We were now in the middle of July 2004.

 

THE RECCE BEGINS

 

At last the recce was organized and together with a translator from Percept, I set off with a driver early one morning. We crossed the hills to the east of Mumbai and drove down and across the Maharashtra plateau to Sangli. This is a dusty, bustling market town in the throes of rapid development. We arrived around 9 in the evening and met the distributor for dinner. I explained what I wanted and he said the next day he would come with us to the village where the traveling cinema family lived which was a further two-hour drive from Sangli.

 

After a fairly uncomfortable night dodging mosquitoes, we set off. The countryside was varied and beautiful, with lush greenery interspersed with barren scrubland. Ranges of hills were visible in the distance and I knew I could shoot the tour and make it look as if the cinema was covering much greater distances than we actually would.

 

THE TRUCK OF DREAMS – ON BRICKS

 

We arrived at the village and met Sharad Deshpande, the owner of the cinema truck. He was a weathered 60 years old with a shrewd look about him. His cinema truck was, from the outside, one of the most battered, old trucks I have ever seen. It was parked up, with its rear axle up on bricks. Incredulously I asked him if it ever went anywhere and he assured me that they spent months on the road with it, but currently it was the off season so he showed films only at the village. I explained through a translator what I wanted to shoot and how and whether he would be in the film, basically playing himself but taking some direction from me. He gave me the classic “no problem” and chuckled. The translator turned to me and said that he’d do anything if he were paid enough. I then asked him if he had a grandson and he introduced me to his family. Sure enough he had 10-year-old grandson who, though a bit shy, was someone I thought I could work with. Again, I got a good feeling about the whole set up and said to the translator that I was happy and to tell them we would be back to film in October.

CONTRACTS TIME

Back in Mumbai I informed Percept that we now had all our basic elements. All we needed now was for them to sign contracts with Claire and myself and we would be ready. I also said that I would bring my heads of department from England but would need additional local crew starting with a line producer who could also source and supply all our kit. I would need a S16 camera and lenses, a dig beta, grip equipment including a crane and also a stedicam and operator. Raadha at Percept introduced me to a line producer Nijoo Anand, a tattooed, muscle bound macho man who seemed to know what he was talking about. He assured me he would get us the best equipment in Mumbai and I trusted him. This would prove to be the biggest mistake I made on the production.

On July 26th I returned to London, happy with all the progress that I had made and with the feeling that I was well on the way to making the movie.

NOT CONTRACTS TIME

Claire flew to Mumbai the following week ostensibly to sign the contracts and seal the deal. Percept put her up in a 5 star hotel and wowed her with the magic of Bollywood. However the deal got quickly bogged down. Immediately they baulked at us having any points in the film so they were given away. Even so, she returned with a deal memo, which was unacceptable to her, and I spent the next few weeks waiting for a breakthrough. We got to the first week of September and for our schedule to hold I had to fly back to Mumbai and start pre-production starting with a weeklong recce. Anisa had delivered the village scenes and I went through them with Claire’s writer/producer friend, Steve Hawes, who made some suggestions for changes. Anisa set about her rewrite, but there was still no sign of a contract for the movie.

OFF TO MUMBAI

Claire said to me that I should fly to Mumbai and carry on. I refused to go until I had been paid for the work I had done and had a contract. Eventually, she covered the cost of money owing to me and Raadha promised they would sign my contract once I arrived back in Mumbai.

So on September 11th 2004 I left London for Mumbai ready for a long stay. I was now staying with family there, with an agreement that Percept would start covering my costs once we went on the recce, which was scheduled for the 25th of September.

STILL NO CONTRACT

My contract was a major argument, which mirrored what was happening with the overall deal. Percept’s way of negotiating was to go completely silent and simply wait, knowing that we were stuck in limbo having committed so much already.

This carried on into October, when we finally came to an agreement. I was now also under pressure from my digital DoP in London, who wanted to know whether it was happening, or whether he should take other work. He and my soundman were also now clamouring to me about their contracts.

OCTOBER RECCE

Finally, it was agreed that we could go on our recce on the 14th of October for a week. I would then have a week in Mumbai to write the final shooting script, which I had been drafting, and prepare for the 10-week shoot.

At this stage, I was introduced to Chitra Subramaniam, head of features at Percept, who was taking over the project. She introduced me to a line producer PS Shyam, who, in our first meeting showed his disinterest in the film by spending most of the time on his mobile. In a way, this was ok with me, because I didn’t want anyone from the company on the shoot and he made it clear from the outset that he wouldn’t be making the journey down. I reminded them both that my work visa still needed to be organized and again was told that it was not a problem and that it was something that could be organized in a day, with no hassle. They would sort it when we got back from the recce.

 

PLANNING THE SCHEDULE

The recce went well and Nijoo and his assistant proved to be adept with negotiating a deal with Sharad and his traveling cinema. We scouted locations for various sequences and looked at a number of villages where we could shoot Peeya’s sequences. We created our schedule whilst we were on the recce. We would spend 7 weeks with the traveling cinema, 2 weeks shooting Peeya’s scenes and then shoot for 2 more days in Mumbai and a further 4 days at a huge film/religious festival where the traveling cinema would be screening in December. We decided to make Sangli our base. There was basic hotel accommodation there for us and the crew, which would eventually number 50 people. From Sangli we would drive out everyday to various locations. It all seemed do-able and my script was coming along nicely. I marveled at the organic flow of everything reminding myself constantly that this was the magic of India working in my favour. I realized that it would have to keep working for me to get the necessary performances out of my cast of villagers, Sharad, his grandson Chaitanya and the rest of the cinema crew.

As we drove back to Mumbai I asked Nijoo where I would be staying as now Percept were now responsible. He said he hadn’t been told anything as of yet but would call Shyam at Percept and ask. He called and was told nothing had been organized. I texted Claire in London and said that if it wasn’t organized I would check in to the first five star hotel I found and they would pay. 10 minutes later Nijoo got a call saying that they had organized a hotel in Bandra for me.

BANDRA HOME FROM HOME

The hotel in Bandra was basic but friendly and it became my home and our Mumbai base for the next 10 months. One major problem was that the beds weren’t long enough to accommodate my 6’2” height and the manager said that the only way around this was to upgrade to a suite, which had bigger beds. I did this immediately, which caused uproar in the Percept office, which I ignored. Claire arrived in Mumbai and the first thing I said to her was that my visa needed to be sorted as we were now 8 days away from leaving for the shoot and nothing had happened. She also adopted the Mumbai maxim of “don’t worry.”

We had our first and only production meeting where Claire met Nijoo and his assistant, Raadha and myself. We went through the equipment requirements and it was decided that I would check the gear with Owen, my digital DoP, for the first 6 weeks of the shoot. Roger Eaton, my film DoP, would go over all the film equipment when he arrived in November. After a brief look through my script on which there were no comments Claire asked Nijoo for his health and safety assessment. He looked at his assistant and both of them started laughing. He said don’t worry and left! So that was our production meeting!

VISA PROBLEMS LOOM

Eventually, four days before going on the shoot, Shyam gave me a bunch of documents saying that I was directing a movie for Percept and also gave me the address of the visa office in Mumbai. I went down there and after 2 hours of waiting was told my visa couldn’t be changed there, but maybe they could do it at the Home Ministry in Delhi. Next morning, I caught the 5:00am flight to Delhi, where a Percept representative met me and took me to the Home Ministry. After a five-hour wait we were told it wasn’t possible to change the visa and that I would have to fly back to London if I wanted to do so. I was too tired to get angry when I told Claire on the phone and reconciled myself to 48 hours of non-stop travel around the world before leaving on the 10-week shoot.

I arrived back at Mumbai at seven in the evening and went back to the hotel for a couple of hours. I had dinner with Claire and Owen and told Claire she would now have to check the equipment with Owen and take full responsibility for it.

 

FLYING VISIT TO LONDON

At nine that evening, I returned to the airport where I caught a night flight to Zurich. From there I flew to the city airport in London’s east end. I arrived at 7 am and took a cab to the Indian embassy where I gave in my passport. I was told the visa would be ready at 2pm. I spent a morning wandering around Aldwych in a daze, freezing, as I was only wearing a shirt and had only brought my computer to work on the script. I picked up my visa and caught a cab to Wandsworth, where I picked up a wide-angle lens for the dig beta to take back with me. Then I went home to see my parents for a few hours. Before I knew it, I was back on a flight from Heathrow to Zurich. After a couple of hours I caught my flight back to Mumbai and by 4am I was back in the hotel - absolutely shattered.

A NO-GO SITUATION

We were scheduled to leave for the shoot at 9:30am so, being organized Brits, we duly assembled in the reception with all our gear. Claire was not coming on the shoot, but she was in a state of worry. It soon became apparent that something was wrong. By the time midday arrived, it was clear that something was seriously wrong and tempers were getting short. I was exhausted and remember stretching out on a couple of chairs in the Lobby. I called Nijoo, to ask what was happening. He said that they were still at Percept, waiting for the money to pay for the next few weeks without which they wouldn’t go.

Nijoo and the vehicles finally arrived at 5:00pm and we were confronted with having to do a 10-hour drive, mainly at night. Anyone who has dealt with Indian roads knows this is a bad situation. Nevertheless, we said our goodbyes to Claire and off we went. We arrived in Sangli at 3:00am still exhausted.

THE SHOOT BEGINS

As we started our shoot, it quickly became apparent that my plan of shooting with a minimal crew just wasn’t going to happen. This is because every item of kit hired in India comes with an assistant, whose job is to not to let that piece of kit out of their sight and no amount of asking will persuade them to back off. Even though the digibeta camera had been checked by Claire and Owen it was obvious that it was very old and probably contained non-Sony parts. The serial number had also been filed off, which was decidedly dodgy.

I put all this at the back of my mind and set about shooting the sequences we needed and building my relationships with Sharad and his Grandson. Not having a dedicated translator, nor even a producer (though I always had 5-10 equipment guys hanging around) it was tricky at first. Nijoo stepped in as chief translator along with Atul the camera assistant and we soon got a good relationship going.

The first couple of days were spent filming a sequence in the distributors office; a sequence that might well be cut in my final edit. It was good because it got Sharad used to being filmed and got him to relax into himself as a character.

LOCATION CAMERA FIX

After a few days we had our first major problem. One of the xlr inputs on the dig beta was loose and so created sound interference. Gary my soundman examined it and said that it had been replaced and the replacement was a non-Sony part, which was now worn. In true India fashion, this was solved by inserting a bit of rubber bicycle tube, which stopped the sound lead from jiggling around in the socket. And so we carried on….

 

The whole sequence of getting the truck ready for the road with its accompanying ritual and family sendoff was brilliant. And then we were away, filming life on the road and the magical moments as Sharad and the crew introduced Chaitanya to life running a traveling cinema.

 

TRUCK OF NIGHTMARES

Inweek 3 of the shoot we had a major disaster. I set up the crew for a drive-by shot with the camera ready to dolly off from some agricultural workers to pick up the truck as it drove by. I radioed down to the truck to come towards us and it duly started to trundle forward. All of a sudden there was a loud bang followed by lots of screaming and smoke started pouring from the front of the truck. I shouted at Owen to grab the camera and go hand-held and started to run towards the truck. We started filming as Sharad and the crew shouted at each other and at Nijoo who seemed to be enjoying the commotion.

Eventually someone explained to me that the piston had burst through the front of the engine, which was now a complete write- off. To further complicate matters, Sharad was blaming us for the whole incident as we “had made them drive the truck too much”!! This made me laugh, but not for long, as I quickly realized this could easily be the end of the film. As far as the story went, I could easily incorporate a break-down, but I needed a working truck to arrive at the village for the screening and then to be able to leave the next day with our village girl Meera on board.

 One slightly remodelled engine oil sump....

 

 ...and a well-bent con rod that was responsible, held by truck owner Sharad, reflecting on his great misfortune, but it was also a serious threat to the film itself

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 I turned to Nijoo, who was now also looking extremely worried. Nevertheless his words to me were ‘Don’t worry’. I filmed a sequence of the supply truck towing the traveling cinema to a main road and then decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel.

DILEMMAS

I paced around my room, trying to find a way of changing the story so that I could make it all work with what we had already shot. It was no good. There was absolutely no way that I could finish the film without another truck. At that moment, Nijoo arrived at my room and sat down.

He looked at me and said, “I’ve spoken to those bastards and they’re saying that’ll get another engine. I’ve told them otherwise they won’t get paid”. I looked at him incredulously, “Another engine – really? Can they really get another engine out here”? Nijoo looked at me and grinned as he lit up a Marlboro red. He flexed his shoulders and said,”Fuck knows - but they’re coming here tonight to argue, so we’ll see then”.

The Truck of Nightmares - No engine!

Around 11:30 that night Sharad, his cousin and son arrived for a long heated discussion with Nijoo, his assistant and me. I was dependent on vague translations, so wasn’t really sure what was going on, but the upshot seemed to be that Sharad was demanding more money from Nijoo who, of course, was holding out to pay as little as possible. The good news was that no one seemed to be worried about finding a new engine and fitting it to the truck in the middle of nowhere. After much shouting and a couple of walk outs (only to quickly come back again!) everything seemed to be sorted and I managed to go and get a few hours sleep.

ENGINEERING MIRACLE

We got word that a new engine had been located the following afternoon and rushed back over to where the truck had camped for the night. It was true, a new engine had been found and it would arrive sometime in the night. We set a schedule and for the next 2 days and nights filmed the sequences of the engine being changed. It was a remarkable bit of India again, where even  the impossible becomes possible! And then around midnight, after a couple of days of work, the truck was ready to carry on. After a push start, the new engine spluttered into life and we were back on the road.

 The impossible becomes possible! The new engine spluttered into life and we were back on the road...

 

The next week went well and we got all the required sequences, including a cinema screening in another village and a couple of overnight camp sequences.

Peeya arrives to shoot her village scenes 

OUR STAR ARRIVES

Ten days before we were due to start shooting the village sequences, Peeya arrived and I started to focus my attention on her and her character. I took her to the village and we introduced her to the villagers who would be playing her parents, her sister and her friends. The villagers were overawed by the whole prospect of being in a movie and by the experience of inter-acting with a real Bollywood actress. Peeya was fantastic and completely integrated herself with the villagers. The good will, which she generated in that first week of being in the village, contributed massively towards us succeeding with our shoot.

Peeya meets the actress who will play her character's mother

So, for the next week, I spent each day filming with the truck and would then get back to the hotel and spend the evening with Peeya discussing what had happened over the day in the village and going over her scenes.

One of Peeya's first tasks in the village was to make friends with Lakshmi, the cow

 

MAKE FRIENDS WITH A COW

One of the main challenges for Peeya was to make friends with a cow, as in the movie there is a whole sequence where her character pours her heart out to the cow. So for a couple of hours everyday Peeya spent time with a huge cow called Lakshmi. She fed her, walked with her and generally got to know her. Later on, we were informed that the reason Lakshmi was so big was because she was pregnant, which meant that she also got incredibly moody. By the time we were told this, it was too late to get another cow, so we just had to deal with it.

 

 

The crew was much larger than expected. Each hired item came with an

The crew and equipment for the 10-day village shoot was much bigger than the crew we had been working with, as we were now shooting on film. For this, my AD arrived, it was Anisa, who had written Peeya’s village scenes. I went through them again with her and told her the changes, which I’d made. I took her around the locations and told her to spend the next two days rehearsing Peeya and also to some extent, the villagers, while I finished the truck shoot.

MY CAMERA’S IN AFRICA !

My film DoP Roger Eaton arrived in Mumbai meanwhile and called me to say he was a bit worried. He couldn’t see the camera before he left to come down to the shoot, because it was coming back from Kenya. This was bad news, as he wanted to shoot tests with it, but what could we do?

Anisa, village scenes writer and assistant director, with Roger, DoP for film shoot.

The next day was the last day of the truck shoot. I was happy we had got everything that I had scheduled, despite all the mishaps and chaos. It was a 3-hour drive back to the hotel and during this, I got another call from Roger. He sounded a bit subdued… and then I realized the phone was on speakerphone at his end. He started talking in an official way, which indicated that he had others eavesdropping on the conversation. I realized Claire and PS Shyam were sitting with him, as soon as he said he was in the Percept office. I asked him about the equipment and he said he hadn’t been able to do any tests or anything. He then started to ask if I really needed a steadicam for all 10 days and then started asking detailed questions about my shot list. I stopped him. I realized there was a committee sitting with him and I wasn’t in the mood to start discussing my shooting style with either PS Shyam or Claire. I halted the conversation and said I needed all the equipment I had specified and that we’d go through the shot list, sequences and schedule when he arrived on location, which was the next day.

Discussing a shot

WHERE’S OUR LUNCH?

I then had a day and a half to familiarize Roger with the location, Peeya, village actors and our schedule. The first day we went through sequence after sequence, blocking and adjusting the shot list. The temperature was around 38 degrees and baking. We were working non-stop through the afternoon and were rapidly getting dehydrated, so I sent Anisa, my AD, to find out what was happening with water and lunch. She found Claire and Nijoo sitting in the shade and had a go at them saying we were desperate and what was going on. No lunch had been arranged and an argument ensued. Nijoo took this personally and from that moment on, stopped doing his job. Claire was unable to deal with the situation. However, I was unaware of all of this until the following night, which was when we started the village shoot. We were shooting the grand finale truck screening at the village and then having a two hour break before starting again at 4am to film Peeya’s run away from the village.

 Peeya as Meera sitting with her

This was a disaster as we had constant problems with all the equipment and the crew where working at snail-pace. Also, the steadicam operator was incapable and it soon became apparent that if I were going to finish the schedule, I would have to redesign some of the shots. We got the bare minimum of shots of the screening and spent most of the night trying to get the defective crane working. Our plan was to move from one set-up to another. However, when we finished the first set-up, nothing had been set at the next one, because Nijoo and his assistant had stopped working. He was sitting on a verandah relaxing with his assistant and Claire who couldn’t handle the situation. So we had to break our schedule between every set-up. As we finished the final sequence at midday the next day, I was happy we’d got through it. During the two-and-a-half-hour drive back to the hotel, I ran the sequences we’d shot through my mind and started to visualize how to make the climax of the film work.

The entire village gathered for the mobile cinema screening

 

HoDs INQUEST

Sunday was a day off for the crew, but in the afternoon I gathered the heads of department together and tried to get to the bottom of what went wrong the day before. Nijoo was immediately defensive and guarded and could only say it wasn’t his fault, before he started arguing again with Anisa, the first AD. I got her to apologize and suggested we all start afresh the next day and move on. He agreed, as did Roger. I then asked why the equipment was so defective and could not get a straight answer, though Nijoo did agree to have words with the steadicam operator. Claire was unable or unwilling to ask Percept Mumbai why we had got such bad kit. After the shoot, I found out that Nijoo had arranged all the equipment and had got us the cheapest stuff going and skimmed the budget. We had 2 mags for the camera instead of 3 and a mag change was taking 20 minutes! We were using 2 different stocks, so frequently we were losing time waiting for mag to be loaded. One of the mags was so noisy it couldn’t be used in close ups. The video-assist monitor was generally unusable and the remote signal from the steadicam never worked. Both cranes which were supplied were health hazards and basically useless. The crew was unused to working with a female AD and so Anisa had a hard time getting people to do their job and frequently I would have to repeat her instructions. The clapperboard guy could never ever get a clap in shot with the right call sequence! But the worst problem was the steadicam guy who is the first and only steadicam op who when I described a simple running shot to him turned to me and said, “I don’t run”!! This was too much, even for Nijoo, who berated him to the point that he agreed to do one running shot. His inability to hold a frame or take direction meant that every steadicam shot was taking multiple takes and destroying our schedule. This was the main reason for us being behind schedule, even though in most sequences I was working with inexperienced actors, children and animals!

Arun discussing the script with Peeya

 

 

THE GOING GETS TOUGH….

 

So, all-in-all it was a very tough 10 days. We were on the road at 5:30am as we were shooting from sunrise, apart from two days when we stayed in the village. We usually got back to the hotel by 9:30 at night. Myself, Roger and Anisa would then decamp to a small bar across the road where we would revise the schedule for the next day till they kicked us out at 1:00am. Four hours sleep and back on again. And so it went on. Peeya was amazing and gave 100% all the time and without her focus and dedication we wouldn’t have our film. Roger and Anisa were also totally focused and on it. However, as we went through our days and our schedule got more and more behind, I realized the importance of producers who know what to do and are capable of doing it. Unfortunately, I had no production support. One memorable producer moment was Claire coming up to me mid- sequence and saying she had a migraine and would now have to be indisposed in one of the vehicles. As she was doing nothing it didn’t bother me too much but I stopped the shoot for half an hour and gave her some Reiki healing which seemed to help her.

The director provides some Reiki healing for Exec Producer Claire's headache  

 

Despite all of this we got some memorable and magical sequences. One of the moments was filming Peeya having a conversation with Lakshmi the cow and the cow looking the right way as if on cue! The dawn sequence at the temple, as she runs away from the village, was also very special. I knew I had some magical stuff to work with. It was then that Roger told me about an editor he knew who could be good for the film if he was into what we were doing. My original editor choice had dropped out a month ago, so I was keen to know more. It turned out it was Tony Palmer who is Nic Roeg’s editor, which was a good enough recommendation for me. I got Claire to get on with getting him, whilst we got on with making the film.

Village washing scene

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN…

We arrived at our final night of scheduling and were confronted by a schedule for the following day, which would take a miracle to clear. We cut a scene and this gave us a more of a chance of finishing. However, we had an ace up our sleeves. I had got Roger to bring 50 Swiss army knives as crew gifts with him from London and we made a policy decision that we should give the crew their gifts early morning, before the day’s shoot and after a speech from me.

A very effective crew incentive, otherwise known as a Swiss army knife

The next morning I gathered everyone together at 7:00am in a village courtyard, climbed up on a big stone and tried to motivate everyone into one final day’s push. I said that I knew there had been cultural differences and that we’d all had our problems but could we all please put these aside and for once really work together as a team? And as a small token I said “I have a present for all of you.” Well, this worked wonders and the spirits seemed noticeably higher. More important still, this was the only day when everyone seemed to do what they were supposed to be doing. Consequently, we achieved what we had previously thought would be miraculous – we cleared our schedule and wrapped the village shoot.

 Action now switches to Mumbai's Ocean Drive - Roger prepares a CO shot of Meera the village girl who has blossomed into a Bollywood star

The Marine Drive crane shot - the crane proved to be unbalanced, but consummate professional, Roger still amanged to pull off the shot

THE MUMBAI SHOOT

Back in Mumbai we were scheduled to shoot in Mumbai central station and on Marine Drive, the famous Mumbai promenade downtown. Both of these shoots went well, though again, organization and equipment let us down. I shot a sequence with Peeya at 4:00am in Mumbai central and then headed for Marine Drive, where we had to shoot a sequence with her looking completely different. No one had organized anywhere for her to change, or for her hair and make up to be done. I cordoned off an area with big flags on stands after calling for a trailer. Again we were let down by the crane which was unbalanced, though Roger managed to get the shot eventually.

Meera's transformation from a village girl to a Bollywood star is now complete, as she leads a song and dance routine along the breakwater of Mumbai's Marine Drive

10 hours drive from Mumbai we captured scenes from this festival - here we see the chariot scene with its cast of thousands

THE FESTIVAL SHOOT

We now had a couple of days off before leaving again to rejoin the traveling cinema at a huge film and spiritual festival 10 hours drive from Mumbai. I was put under a lot of pressure by P.S. Shyam from Percept and Claire to abandon this part of the shoot, but refused point blank. As soon as we were on location again, I knew I had made the right decision as we shot a stunning sequence with a cast of thousands! This is one of the most spectacular scenes ever recorded on film and rivals many epic sequences from big budget films.

This is a huge film and spiritual festival which looks spectacular captured for the screen

The production had been put under intense pressure to drop these scenes, but the director successfully resisted this - he knew capturing these scenes would be well worth while

And that was it – a wrap! I could hardly believe we’d got through it all and come out with it all in the can. I started to discuss the post with Roger and kept asking Claire where we were going to edit. I was introduced to Brynley Cadman, a Canadian who had been working in Mumbai for a couple of years and was told he would be my VFX supervisor and be overall responsible for getting me what I needed for post and the grade. I really needed Roger to come back for the grade as his experience was invaluable, especially with treating the digital shots but this already began to look unlikely.

Arun Kumar knows he has just filmed a scene with a cast of thousands of extras that cost him virtually nothing - No wonder he looks so pleased!

 

ALONE AGAIN

So everyone went home for Christmas, apart from me. I spent a week or so thinking about the structure and visual make up of the movie. I had also requested Claire to organize translated time-coded transcripts of the rushes and also, time-coded VHS dubs, as well as an edit suite.

Tony, my editor arrived and I was still waiting for the VHS dubs and still had no indication of where we were going to edit. Claire, now back in London, also had no clue and I couldn’t get any help from P.S. Shyam or the production company.

Then the first rushes arrived on VHS. Rather than one reel per VHS labeled with time code, we had to make do with 6 random reels on long play tape with random codes! Still, I took Tony through the rushes and he marked up his script. I explained the vibe I wanted to create, the pace and recurrent themes and motifs which I wanted to emphasize. Tony was amazing. He quickly grasped what the film was about and how it was structured and started contributing some magical touches. After a couple of days we were ready for our suite. Unfortunately there was still no word on where we were supposed to edit!

The arrival of a mobile cinema creates great excitement in the village, but in Mumbai, the arrival of the rushes created instant headaches

POST PRODUCTION BEGINS

We had a couple of days off and then on Wednesday 11th of January we were told we could go and see our edit suite the next day. We were already over a week behind schedule. The edit suite was an hour’s drive away from our hotel in Bandra and when we arrived we were shown an empty box room and told that this was where the edit would be. Tony started laughing and I asked where the Avid was? The owner assured us that it would be all up and ready with our rushes digitized in by the following Monday. We shrugged and said OK and went back to the hotel for another few days off.

 

Over the next few days I tried to call P.S.Shyam at Percept, but couldn’t get hold of him. So on Monday morning, Tony and I found our way across town by cab to the edit suite. We walked in and asked for our suite and were met with blank looks and confusion. Tony lost it a bit and shouted at the receptionist for whoever was in charge. Eventually, I managed to get the owner’s mobile number out of her and called him. He seemed surprised to hear from me and then apologized and said that the Avid wouldn’t be ready for a few days. I wasn’t really sure what to do at this stage and tried calling P.S.Shyam. His girlfriend answered the phone and said he was in the shower and would get back to me! 10 minutes later I got a call from Chitra who said that P.S.Shyam had left the company and that ‘don’t worry’ they would find another suite for us. Again we went back to the hotel for another few days of waiting for the suite.

Post production threw up a few problems - like finding a cupboard big enough to fit in an editor as well as an edit suiite

POST BEGINS AGAIN

 

A couple of days later we were taken to a suite. The good news was that it was only 10 minutes from the hotel. The bad news was that it was in a room the size of a cupboard and it was an old version of the Avid software. We didn’t have any choice but to get on with it. I still had no transcripts and no amount of calls to Claire in London or to the production company seemed to get anywhere. I also had no chair to sit on in the suite!

 

We settled into a routine for the first week of Tony assembling sequences and then I would go in around 4 and go over them with him making suggestions and changes. At this point we asked Brynley and his assistant to start working on the fx sequences. He was impossible to get hold off most of the time as he was simultaneously working on 2 other movies including ‘The Rising’ as well as pitching for more work! Consequently he never made any meetings and we abandoned the thought of getting the vfx sequences at our off-line stage. It now became apparent that all the film shots had been scratched in the one-light telecine and I flagged this to Chitra and to the newly appointed post supervisor Smitha. The processing house initially refused to take responsibility for this until we had a major shouting exchange when it was agreed they would clean the shots in Flame when we were at our conform stage. Despite all the problems the film was taking shape nicely.

Problems in post appear to have become too much for Smitha, newly appointed as post production supervisor

 

A FRIEND FROM HOME

I had a nice interlude over the weekend when a friend came out from London and stayed with me in the hotel. We had a lovely couple of days and started what would become a close relationship even though we were thousands of miles apart for most of it. She cut her holiday short to go and help the Tsunami relief effort but over the next few months our relationship blossomed through texting. It was great to finally have someone to discuss what I was going through. I was now working with Tony all day and then spending the evenings thinking about the sequences we had cut and how to make them better. The structure was magical and we were both happy with how the film was taking shape. I even managed to get a chair brought over from the company to the suite!

The next major battle was to get my composer Mike Benn from London on board. Percept wanted me to use a composer from Mumbai and they made a couple of suggestions. I couldn’t get hold of one guy but managed to speak to the second guy who said I could come and meet him at his studio. However when I went there at the agreed time he was busy recording. I left and decided that I really needed to work with someone I could trust and rely on. I spoke to Mikey and he was very keen after I explained what I wanted and sent him a couple of clips to work with. I told Claire that I wanted Mikey and she met him in London. I told Percept that I had to have him and that he would do the work for the amount in our budget. They resisted as I realized that like all the other facilities and people they would be able to undercut the budget if they got someone local and swallow the difference. However after numerous emails and meetings, they agreed to him doing the music.

By the third week of February, the film was taking shape. I now had sketchy transcript translations but frequently had to use the edit runner to translate the Marathi into Hindi, which I could understand. The translator, who was supposedly doing the transcript, couldn’t seem to understand that we needed an exact translation of what was being said no matter what it was and how many times it was repeated and we needed this with accurate time codes!

The good news was, no one was around to interfere editorially with what I was doing. In India, the Director is king when it comes to movies and in my contract I had final cut, subject to ‘a discussion’ with the executive producer Claire.

Peeya and Lakshmi - on reflection, maybe working with animals, even hormonally charged moody cows, was not as tough as it seemed back then

NO CANNES DO

Our original schedule was geared to having a cut ready for Cannes but with all the delays there was no way that this was going to happen. Claire was scheduled to fly out mid-March for a few days of meetings before I locked my edit. In the first week of March I sent a DVD over with a guide paper translation of the dialogues. She texted me in the middle of the night saying how much she loved it and how wonderful it all looked. So it all seemed to be going well.

However, Claire couldn’t come over immediately, as she was now working on 49up and filming with them. She had however enlisted a friend of hers, Pippa Cross, to help her with distribution. She showed the cut to Pippa, who wanted to completely change the pace and structure of the film with the back-up that Portman, a distribution company, wanted that before they would accept the film.

I refused to change the film, saying they were watching a cut without FX, which they couldn’t understand as they didn’t have a complete translation and also, it was a work in progress. This started a barrage of emails and texts going backwards and forwards whilst I carried on working with Tony.

 

STRAINED RELATIONS

Claire finally came out at the end of March and by now our relationship was pretty ropey! Anyway, she viewed our cut and didn’t say much, apart from we had to get a subtitled version to Pippa and Portman in London and then take their advice. I told her I wasn’t going to change the vibe of the film, as distributors should view the finished film and not work in progress. Nevertheless we attempted to get a subtitled DVD done.

Subtitling proved to be a major problem. I was taken to a tiny shack in the outskirts of Mumbai by Smitha, where we were shown into a suite which had an ancient computer running MS DOS (!) and we waited for a couple of hours while they loaded in the subtitles. Our deadline to courier the DVD was that evening as the DVD would take 3 days to get to London and Claire was leaving for London in four days. Our on-line, grade, DI and sound mix schedule, was entirely dependent on this happening. Ten minutes into the subtitling, the computer packed up and all I could do at this stage was laugh. Smitha spent a good ten minutes shouting at the operator and the owner but it was clear that no subtitles were going to be done here. Worse, I was told that this was the only place in the city, which did digital subtitles!

Less fraught, more carefree days - and nights spent in the village's five star hotel, where Anisa, Claire and Peeya shared a suite

BUILDING BRIDGES

I broke the news to Claire, who was very disgruntled - to put it mildly - and we arranged to meet with Chitra at a restaurant near the hotel. It took Smitha and me a couple of hours to get there and it was evening by the time the four of us sat around the table. We rekindled a working relationship over many beers and some good seafood. Their suggestion was that we stop the schedule and that I fly to London to meet Pippa and Portman with a subtitled DVD and we come to an agreement. I agreed, mainly because it would give me a chance to spend the weekend with my girlfriend and to have a few days break from the Mumbai madness. Tony’s time was now up, but he agreed to fly back with me for a week, to make any final changes that we had agreed in London and then, finally, lock the edit.

So Claire and Tony flew back a couple of days later. Smitha and myself spent the next couple of days trying to get the subtitles done at the same place. The day I before I was supposed to fly we still were nowhere near getting their system to work. Smitha then persuaded a friend with a Final Cut Pro suite to type them manually with her. My flight to London was at 11 the next morning and so at 7am I called her. She said they had been there all night but were still working and it was taking ages to render everything. “Don’t worry I’ll get it to you at the airport”…!

After checking in, I called Chitra at the office to ask what exactly was happening and she said that the DVD wouldn’t be ready and that I should catch my flight. So I was flying all the way to London but wouldn’t have a subtitled DVD to show. The meeting would be even more of a waste of time.

Off from Mumbai to London onca again where the director intended to fight his corner over the film - but he had other reasons too...

LONDON BOUND AGAIN

I arrived that evening exhausted and slept as soon as I got to my parents house. I woke up naturally at 5:00am, which wasn’t so bad as I had to get up to Aldwych to meet Claire and give my passport in for visa renewal at the Indian embassy. I felt completely drained and so, so, tired.

Had a meeting at lunchtime with Pippa and was ready to explain the film to her. I still felt the whole situation was ridiculous, as she had only seen a work in progress without any subtitles. After we ate, Pippa started to go into a critique of how she thought the film should be. I let her finish and then calmly explained to her why I had structured the film in a certain way and also, a little of the symbolism and metaphor I was using in the narrative. She then said to me, “There is no point in continuing because whatever critique I come up with you are going to argue against”. I shrugged my shoulders and said “Yeah – look, I don’t mind constructive suggestion but frankly, I don’t see how you can comment on my film, as you have no understanding of what is being said in the dialogues, nor do you have an understanding of the culture which is being presented”. I really wasn’t in the mood to mince my words, though I managed to refrain from shouting at her! This was Thursday and I was flying back to India on Sunday and the DVD with subtitles hadn’t arrived by courier. So we agreed to meet again the next day when we would also meet the guy from Portman distribution who was supposedly interested. Then Claire got a call saying the DVD had arrived by courier and was at Pippa’s office. We went back there and I took it to a nearby edit to watch it through and check the subtitles. They were rough but ok and so Pippa took it home to watch.

I was now exhausted again and falling asleep on the train. My girlfriend called and I could tell she was a bit put out that I hadn’t been over to see her. I told her about the day and said I was sorry, but I wouldn’t make it over until the next afternoon. I got home and fell asleep at about eight p.m..

 

CONSTRUCTIVE SUGGESTIONS

Again, I woke at five a.m.and headed back into Soho. I met Steve Hawes, who had worked on the script with us before. He had gone over the subtitle script, which I’d given him and had come up with a couple of radical suggestions. Which basically involved giving Chaitanya, the grandson, four voice overs, which in his opinion moved the narrative of their story along massively. He said to consider it and I kind of decided right then that he was right and that it was something, which we would do. Claire then arrived saying that Pippa had watched the DVD and it had gone a long way towards satisfying her criticisms of the film,.which was good news I thought to myself. We had lunch together and then Claire got the call from Pippa that Portman were ready to meet in 20 minutes or so. We picked up Pippa, who seemed much colder towards me than the day before and headed around the corner to Portman. Again it was all a bit of a waste of time. The Portman guy said he like the sound of the film but really had to see it with subtitles. I suggested that he should view the finished film and then decide. I then said there wasn’t much point in me saying anything more to him until he’d seen the movie, which he agreed. We’d been with him for about 10 minutes! Pippa then launched into a speech, which I switched off from, as it was absolute drivel, which went on for another 10 minutes, and then it was, see you later! As we walked out of the Portman building I felt the whole scenario was farcical and real waste of time.

I put it all to the back of my mind as I hailed a cab and then drove over to Portobello to see my lovely lady – my main reason for coming back to London. It was a bit strange to see each other for a bit but then we settled into a blissful couple of days. We went drinking in Notting Hill that evening and the whole scene seemed surreal after 7 months in India. I savoured it! Woke up the next day in the early afternoon and stepped straight into the madness of Portobello market on a Saturday. Even though it was the end of March it was 70 degrees and blazing sunshine. We walked arm in arm to Kensington Gardens and had a lazy afternoon. I was the happiest I been for ages.

Gary was the film's sound man, seen here inducting wannabee boomswingers on the technicalities of location recording

 

FACING THE MUSIC

As the sun went down we got a cab over to Mikey, my music composer’s studio in Harlesden. He had pretty much done the soundtrack and was waiting for my approval. He would then come out to Mumbai for a week and lay down the tracks before we did our final mix. My girlfriend was excited, as she would get to see the film. Although generally a photographer she had made a couple of documentaries so was aware how intense it was for me to show someone an off-line low res copy of my work. We watched it through as I went through the tracks with Mikey, who had done an amazing job. Music was key to the way I had designed the film and Mikey had succeeded in taking it to another level. I was so happy with it all. The girlfriend smiled at me afterwards and her smile said it all. We arranged to meet Mikey for breakfast when we would give me a disc of the music to drop in as a guide on the offline. Had another great night and then woke up on Sunday not really wanting to leave.

Mikey came round and we had breakfast. It was strange to think that the next time we met it would be in the madness of Mumbai! Saying goodbye to the girlfriend was sad as I wasn’t really sure when we would hook up again….

I got back to my parents house in the afternoon, got my stuff together and then it was back to Heathrow for the night flight to Mumbai.

 

HOME FROM HOME – AGAIN!

Before I knew it I was back in my hotel suite and the past few days had already faded into a distant dream. Tony was due to arrive the next day and I already had bad news for him. Because this week hadn’t been scheduled we would now have to work nights. Basically we would start at 10:00pm and work through till around 4:00ish. It wasn’t actually much of a big deal because if pushed I could have made the changes I wanted to make in a couple of days.

So we kind of did that and then I received a list of changes to make from Claire, which had been recommended by Pippa. Some I had already made and two others made good sense. There were another seven or eight major things, which they wanted to change which I rejected completely. This of course led to massive arguments via text/email and phone, which eventually had to be resolved by Chitra. Our schedule had gone to pieces again and we had now lost all our bookings for on-line/mix etc. Eventually we decided to simply get on with it. Smitha sent a DVD of my locked edit to London and then set about trying to find somewhere to conform and on-line. I said au revoir to Tony and thanked him for all his support and help.

The relatively carefree days when shooting began, at this point,  seemed to be a long time ago....

POST DISCUSSIONS

I had several conversations with Roger, as now it was clear that Percept would not pay for him to fly out for the grade. So basically I had to rely on Brynley and whoever was going to operate the FCP. After a few days, Smitha took me out to the suite we were going to use at a company called BGIL (note under no circumstances should anyone contemplate using these people – read on and see why…). The owner seemed clued up enough to me and they had Final Cut Pro – again in a small box room in the middle of nowhere, but I was well used to lack of creature comforts by now. I asked to meet the operator but he wasn’t around. Despite repeated requests, I never got to meet him till we started with our conform. Brynley and I met with him the first day and checked that he had loaded in the offline as a visual reference and then asked him to conform over the next couple of days and then we would come back and start colour correcting the digital shots. It was at this point I realized that no provision had been made to give the film sequences a grade at 2K and also deal with all the scratches. I spent the next two days arguing and having meetings about the methodology of our post until they agreed to me going on DaVinci and grading and playing out to HD, which would then be taken in at HD resolution into the conform. This was a compromise because to go back to our negative would mean having to scan all the rushes as no key codes had been given during the processing! It was a nightmare but we had to deal with it. We also had a massive argument with the processing lab about the scratches, which we won and they agreed to correct all the scratches on flame. I spent a day on Da Vinci, grading my film sequences with a very talented Korean operator who was a joy to work with. For a day I had someone to work with who was focused and who knew what they were doing.

Meanwhile, back at the conform, the operator insisted we should come in and start colour correcting and generally getting the digi footage ready. Our plan was to create 5 HD reels, which would have graded and de-scratched film sequences and FCP colour corrected digi sequences, which would be then scanned and printed to our 35mm master print.

 

EXHAUSTION SETS IN

First of all, we went through the reels and selected all the sequences and shots, which had to go through Flame for scratch removal. I began to notice that our operator was in a constant state of exhaustion and he openly admitted that he was tired because he was working somewhere else at night authoring DVD’s!! I told Brynley, who suggested we kept going with him otherwise we’d never finish. Then after all the shots had gone for scratch removal we started to look at the first reel and colour correct the digital sequences. Immediately I saw an incorrect take and after we looked through the reel we realized that the conform was wrong. The operator had in many cases used the wrong takes and in some cases completely the wrong shot.

Brynley outside the film lab

Brynley went apeshit, Smitha arrived and the owner got involved. It was a huge massive row. It was true that Brynley wasn’t really checking up on the guy, but then again, it was a straightforward conform to the offline reference using time code. I was starting to think I’d never get the film through this whole process. The owner screamed abuse at the operator and generally abused him in front of everyone, which was completely the wrong thing to do, as now he was even more sullen than usual.

 

ARRIVE IN SYNC

Over the next couple of weeks I would generally wait to hear from Brynley, or his assistant, as to when he would make it to the edit and plan to arrive when he did, which was usually in the afternoon. We would be there till two or three a.m. generally sorting out major problems with everything. Here is roughly what happened: We started going through the reels checking the shots against the offline to get an accurate conform. The operator seemed incapable of doing this unsupervised. Film shots arrived back from having their scratches painted and these were re-inserted into the conform. However we realized that these had been sent back to us on low resolution and not at HD and so these were now sent back again. When they were reinserted for the second time we then had to check that these were the correct shots as per the conform. It was then we realized that all the scratched corrected shots had been sent back to us with random time codes. So now, we had no accurate time code reference to any of the film material. Hours were spent trying to locate the right film take, see whether it conformed to what had come back from scratch removal, or whether a different take had to be sent, needing it to be done again. Frequently, the film shots were too long or too short - if they weren’t completely the wrong take. Many shots still had the wrong aspect ratio, which was another whole confusion for our operator even though it is pretty simple concept to grasp i.e. the aspect ratios of the film and the digital shots had to match!

Owen getting to grips with a digibeta that had a few local modifications in its sound inputs and no serial number

A COMPLETE MESS

Our conform was now a complete mess and Smitha was shouting down the phone at Brynley everyday for the first reel. There was a classic scene around 11:30 one night, when we were trying to judge whether a take was the right one and get it frame accurate. The operator was almost dead having had no sleep for 3 days. Smitha breezed in and asked how was it all going and would we be able to get a reel off to be printed by tomorrow? Brynley gazed up at her and completely deadpan drawled, ”Well we’ve completely lost possession of our time code so we’re kinda fucked at the moment…” Smitha looked like she was going to cry and I couldn’t help but laugh…. Basically, we were in the situation where I had to conform the film by eye…

 

The operator was finally sacked the next day and now we had a new guy, who was actually better, but didn’t get on with Brynley, which didn’t help matters. We were close to getting our first reel away and eventually we got there and the first reel was sent off to be printed. This was a complicated process as the suite where we were had no D5 HD machine. In fact there were apparently only three in Mumbai at the time. One at the lab where we were doing our Flame work, one at Kodak Mumbai and one somewhere else. The owner of our suite had done a deal with manager of Kodak to hire his machine to dump out each reel. So for us to dump a reel the whole FCP suite had to be shifted over to the Kodak building, set up and then brought back and set up again. This took 3 days.

Arun and Roger plan the details of shooting the bangle scene

DIFFERENCES OF OPINION

So, Smitha then asked the Kodak manager if we could come and carry on working there and dump out the rest of the reels. She told the manager we would be there for a day maximum to dump the other 4 reels. Well, in the end, we were working in the Kodak machine room for 2 weeks!! None of the other reels had a correct conform and shots were going backwards and forwards from the Flame getting scratches removed. It was a very heated and traumatic time. Smitha sacked Brynley twice over this period and they were regularly screaming at each other. Both of them constantly complained to me about the other and tried to drag me in to support their case. I managed to keep my distance and focus completely on getting the best version of my movie out of the damn FCP that by now had started to crash regularly. We would be working from 10:am till midnight when security used to come and throw us out of the building. The operator and his assistant were by now looking like zombies.

 

MUSIC SOOTHES

After a week at Kodak, Mikey my composer arrived for a week and it was great to have a mate around who I could go out with for a beer in the middle of the night and to download all my problems to. I was acting as a producer a lot of the time now, having to sort everything out on an organizational level as well as creatively.

 

Mikey was recording some Indian musicians for the sound track and laying down ready for the mix. Of course, the first day he went to the studio no one was ready for him and he spent the day chatting to the studio engineer and generally hanging out. From what I had told him though, he knew this was the score and was pretty relaxed.

Mikey, the production's composer doing some mixing magic with some of our Indian musicians

Luckily, the sound went a lot smoother than the picture and after all the reels were finally sent away to be printed I started going to the studio for the tracklaying. Our soundtrack was awesome and hearing it in 5.1 Dolby surround sound in a huge mixing theatre was a great experience. The final mix went very smoothly and now I could see the end in sight. May and June had gone by rapidly and we were now in the first week of July. With any luck we would finish in a week.

It was around now, after months of silence from Claire I heard via Smitha that Portman had now stopped doing film distribution, to concentrate on television. So they wouldn’t be handling the film anyway. I remembered my meeting there and was happy that I had stuck to my vision. That whole fiasco had wasted weeks of our time, meant that we had to use a hopeless company for our conform as we lost our bookings and for what? For no reason at all.

 LAST ADJUSTMENTS

The print came back and myself, Brynley and Smitha went to the viewing theatre to take a look. There were a number of sequences which were completely off and again Brynley and I thought it would be fairly straightforward for the technicians to view the HD master and match the print to that as much as possible. Again this was wishful thinking and we went backwards and forwards to view reels for the next week.

 

I did the final script for the subtitles when I wasn’t going to and from the viewing theatre and then spent a night with Smitha at the National film corporation where they do subtitles for film. At midnight that night Chitra arrived where we were working and asked if I could now move out of my hotel, like the next morning! I asked about the print and she said she would make sure all my corrections would be done so basically after the subtitles it was all over. I agreed to move on in a couple of days, as I needed a day off to get my stuff together.

 

FOR THIS RELIEF, MUCH THANKS

I felt so relieved that I managed to get the film out, despite all the problems and politics that I’d had to deal with. And again, against the odds, I had held true to my own vision of what the film was and managed to withstand all the attempts by others to dilute the vision. It was kind of a weird feeling.

After the fraught post production period it was time to relax for a few days - where better than the tranquil south coast of Sri Lanka

The next day I booked a flight to Sri Lanka, where the girlfriend had now relocated. She had a job with an aid agency helping with the ongoing Tsunami relief. She was working and living in Colombo and said she would come down to where I was on the south coast for the weekend. I spent a few days walking up and down the beach and watching the ocean. Slowly, I began the process of emptying the movie from my head. I was at the stage where I could pretty much shut my eyes and watch and hear any sequence from the movie in minute detail, so I knew it would take a while to clear my head. It helped that I was staying in a fantastic room, high up in the treetops, with a balcony, which looked through the forest to the sea. The girlfriend arrived and we had a great couple of days before she went back. Then everything went quickly weird! She left her job in Colombo and came down and stayed with me working for another NGO in the nearby town of Galle. But I could feel our closeness evaporating and she seemed distant. When I left a week later, to go back to Mumbai and then London, I had a feeling it was all over. Sure enough, a week later she called and in that conversation we decided to move on separately. She had decided to make Sri Lanka her home and didn’t want to return to London.

Sadly, the director's girlfriend didn't want to pass on this - so London attractions lost out to those of Sri Lanka

 

TWO YEARS DOWN THE ROAD

A week later, I was back in London. It was 16th August 2005 and nearly two years on since the adventure began in the Kings Road boutique. I went down to check out the shop and saw that the whole block had now been demolished and a modern new development was being built in its place.

 

So now 7 months on I’m close to getting the next movie going and ‘The Truck of Dreams’ is motoring its way round the festival circuit. The next screening is Wednesday May 3rd at the East End Film Festival in London – click here for more info: http://www.eastendfilmfestival.com/event_item.php?23

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