Friday, 30 January 2015

Documentary Diaries #1 On Parting Ways and Patching Up

I had started thinking of the subject for my documentary shoot soon after the short film.
There comes the short film project and there comes the day after the shoot of the short film project. Believe you me, it is the worst day of production and the only competition is going to be from the day you watch your rushes. Till a day ago you were the busiest soul alive. You had so much to do, think, execute, there was not enough time to even dream let alone sleep. Then you crash after the shoot and wake up to a day so blank, it looks white, like a paper. You don't see people, you only see faces. Thus it was that i set out to my department asking for guidelines for the documentary project because i had to do something, soon.

As usual, the department had a set of guidelines which sounded shitty. I like the pressure that those guidelines give, sometimes. But shooting within 20 kms of the institute sounded ridiculous to me. So did the ten minutes restriction. I took a break and went to Hyderabad to Kunju Thalona. She told me about a lady don there and i got interested. Farah Khan. I made up my mind to steal equipment from the institute and shoot her in Hyderabad. It was then that Salmaan Mohammed, a student from Thiruvananthapuram got released on bail. He had been arrested for the charge of not respecting the national anthem. International Film Festival of Kerala was around the corner and some of my batchmates were attending. I thought it would be a good cover to elope and shoot him. During all this D Jeet, was being updated about the change of plans and ways and means to execute them. He was in agreement with both these ideas. He came all the way to Thiruvananthapuram to shoot Salmaan. As usual is the case with me, it didn't work out. I left shooting only a small bit. [I intend to go back to that project with more funds and to widen its arena to the concept of nationalism itself]. D Jeet left even before i did.

While D and i were in Thiruvananthapuram i had got this idea of shooting a girl going to school. I thought of juxtaposing such visuals with the photographs from the attack in the school in Peshawar by Taliban. It was a vague idea and D Jeet too wasn't too impressed.
Back in Kolkata, we nevertheless decided to go ahead with this idea. I found a girl with the help of a professor from editing, S Karmakar. After a day of shoot i realized the inevitable. I was not able to work with D Jeet any longer. I was too dazed by this realization itself that i went straight to him and told him the same. I was so close with him in terms of everything related to my work here that i didn't know who else to go to!

It was Republic day 2015. It was also Sports Day at the institute. Men were playing boring cricket and Vi, my classmate and Ki, my senior were giving a comic commentary which made me laugh aloud in spite of myself. I laughed. I watched the damn game. I went to D and said i was unable to work with him. I couldn't hear the players or the winners' and losers' shouts of joy. It was as if i parted ways with my ego. Was that even possible, i thought.

For me, working with someone was nearly impossible. From the time of mise-en-scene exercise through the short film project and the various documentary endeavours i was surprised that D and i were getting along quite well. Most of the time when i had an idea he would complete it. It was too good to be true. In terms of aesthetics it seemed to me as if we were in sync. When ideas were dropped in the bin we were equally upset. When something seemed appealing to the work we were equally excited. What had happened?


For the rest of the campus and may be D too, it sounded unbelievable that difference in opinion about issues could make someone take such a decision. Yet it wasn't the first time i was getting hurt thus. The first ever problem which pushed me into depression here was my batchmates' insensitivity towards things happening around them. When VK from editing called Anand Patwardhan's Jai Bhim Comrade propaganda of dalits, a professor cracked a joke about SC/ST, OBCs. 'Sound recordists during a shoot are like them. They would be in some dark corner on set and nobody gives a damn about them', he had said. Another earnestly wanted to know how Tarun Tejpal could have raped his employee. It wasn't that i had never faced such remarks earlier. I had. And i had engaged with them too. The problem was that this place didn't offer me the space to engage with that. I stopped talking or avoided politics altogether in the rare conversations i had. It was a sad thing to do and it killed me.

Then i learned to live with it. Avoiding, sometimes arguing, sometimes being silent and later feeling like crap. With D when i saw that we had our differences regarding a lot of such issues i managed it well within myself trying all these. It wasn't affecting me during work. Later i realized this was because we were working on fiction. Enter non-fiction and i sunk deeper into my dark pit of helplessness. I wanted to question a lot of things but i couldn't. I didn't want to, but i wanted to. I was going back to the old phase of feeling left out. He must have felt the same about a lot of things, i am sure, and i have no idea how he was dealing with it himself.

So it was that on Republic Day 2015 i rushed to him to tell him. What i thought. I did. And i thought it had all ended. I had only a void in front of me. I couldn't think of working with another person. Yet i had to do it. I had to complete the project. I tried doing a lot of things. N, one of the professors of cinematography had a talk with me. So did P Mahmood of my department. Later N, D Jeet and i sat down for a talk. Parting ways was the most difficult thing for me, always.
She always told me to work, talk, live etc without getting involved with people. People were only ideas. Tried a bit and failed as always. So i suffered.

Later that night i again asked D what we could do. He said he didn't know. Nor did i. By then the HOD of Direction had told me about a place in Bow Barracks, the last Anglo Indian colony in Kolkata. He spoke to me about a family who had been running an undertaking enterprise for generations. I felt like giving it a try. I still couldn't imagine myself shooting with any other batchmate of mine. I told D about this idea and asked him if we should give it a try. He said okay. To my relief.
We went to the place and soon it was like yesterday. Where we had seasons in the sun and cinema and good fun. I could speak with him about the topic and get a high. No weed included. No substance abuse. Just cinema. We spoke to Florence, the woman who was running the business. Got permission to shoot. The next day we went with a DSLR. NN was there too, recording sound. More on the place later. We had again begun to complete each others' sentences. I was seeing his images and he was seeing my whirlpool of thoughts. It was as if Republic Day 2015 had received a local anesthesia.

D still makes fun of my getting offended about the difference in opinion on issues. I even think he is going to kick me out of his cinema life forever after this shoot. This was that bizarre. Even then i know what it feels like. I know the pit i was in and its dampness. It's like when you are busy preparing for the UGC NET exam and your folks call you to say they are seeking alliances for you. Nothing is bad about it. It sounds perfectly normal and there is definitely no need to get hurt. But i will. Get hurt. And in that process, hurt people i am closest to.

This is from one of our days of shoot. D Jeet and NN.
I hope we stay together because when we part ways, we lose a bit of our ego and the world loses a bit of our cinema. Ah, and i thought i could be modest!

Documentary Diaries #2: Madeira and Co. Undertakers

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