Biological Speculation

May 13

[video]

May 06

““Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” – Kurt Vonnegut,” — http://qwiklit.com/2013/04/16/25-rare-photos-of-famous-authors/ (via neil-gaiman)

(via mouthbeef)

Apr 01

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Mar 23

Nautanki Saala- Director’s Notes, part 1 

Less than a month away from the film’s release, its one of the rare moments when you look back and see where this journey began, or at least where you think it did.

This is an attempt at dot connecting, to paraphrase Mr. Jobs- to list as many of the conscious and subconscious influences that led to this film being made the way it has been.

Though there was one beginning when I met up with Ayushmann in May, and we had a look at ‘Apres Vous’ together, there were many other influences that preceded that, by months and years.
I had actually seen the film more than a year before in early 2011, and while I liked it, I didn’t feel like the setting of a bistro and the profession of a sommelier were very relatable. I showed the film to Kunaal then, and while chatting, we discussed the comic tension comes from a setting where an incompetent character is thrown into a profession which requires performance- a sommelier needs to be able to perform live, recommending wine, opening bottles etc. I think it was Kunaal who first mentioned the possibility of theatre giving us a similar potential for tension, and it immediately clicked in my head.
At this point, it was a very open discussion, it might even have been in the context of something for Kunaal to direct for us, after The President Is Coming. We had some discussions regarding cast, but then Kunaal got busy with an acting assignment, and we put it aside for the moment.
In the meantime, I was approached by Chivas Studio to direct a large event they run called Fashion Broadway. Not knowing a thing about the Fashion part of it, I decided to sell them on the idea of doing an actual stage musical. Worse than that, they actually bought it!

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So my friend Aliya Curmally started scripting ‘Love & All That Jazz’ set in 1960’s Bombay.

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Ranjit Barot wrote some wonderful original songs that would be played by a live band on stage and sung live by our leads Shahana Goswami & Ali Fazal, and over the next several months, I really got neck deep into theatre for the first time, with extensive rehearsals every day as we put the show together.


A few months later, after seeing Vicky Donor, I caught up with Ayushmann to compliment him on his performance. He reminded me that he had in fact reviewed a film we had produced, directed by Kunaal- The President Is Coming, based on a play by our friend Anuvab Pal. (This theatre motif recurs frequently before I took the hint!)

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(It was actually while shooting the ‘making of’ this film that I realized that Kunaal was actually one of the funniest actors I had worked with as well, and made a promise to myself that I would get him in front of camera as soon as I could.)
When Ayushmann asked what I was working on, I mentioned this film, and I think in a couple of days he had come over to my place and seen it, and was on board. With Ayushmann cast, Kunaal reemerged in my mind, but now as an actor- the perfect foil in casting that we needed.
At this point, we were still discussing the merits of various settings- the restaurant vs theatre.

(Sidebar- At this point I was in discussion with a potential partner over co-producing this film. They told me that they didn’t like the theatre backdrop, and then suggested setting it in a sari shop. It was a great litmus test for me to judge their sensibility. They didn’t land the film.)

From the time I had discussed it with Kunaal, I was quite convinced on a gut level that the theatre would give us a colour that we were looking for.

So with the cast on board in principle, producer Roopa De Choudhury set about finalising acquiring the rights from the original producers in record time, while I got started on the writing process. With our setting in mind, it made sense to look for a playwright, and thats when courtesy of a few recommendations from friends, Nipun Dharmadhikari came on board. And it was actually his idea to suggest that the play on stage within the film be an adaptation of the Ramayana. Charudutt Acharya was just finishing work on a draft of a script he is directing now, and joined us in the writing team.

In May 2012, I jotted down what I hoped would be a road map for us, here’s an excerpt from there-

____________________

Note on Adaptation 

The original film works wonderfully, especially the emotional through line that keeps you engaged and caring for the characters throughout. I would not like to tamper with that too much, rather I would look at some areas where the treatment is a bit subtle, and look to broaden and underline those elements to keep the film accessible. 

The major departure from the original is shifting the world from a restaurant setting to theatre.

In Bombay we don’t have the Parisian restaurant  & wine culture that works so well in the original. What we need is a world where the characters are expected to perform a role before a paying audience. Which is why we thought about theatre- we can create similar moments of ‘performance anxiety’ but in hopefully a more relatable context.

In addition to that, we have chosen the Ramayana as the play within the film. It is:

SPOILER AHEAD

This last point for me is probably the most interesting aspect of the adaptation. I love the possibility of two leads playing out their real life feelings in front of an unsuspecting theatre audience.

SPOILER ENDS

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What was interesting for me as a director was that while the film is based on the original, this new element gave us a lot of scope to create something fresh out of it.

Rehearsals

Probably the biggest learning from working on the musical was the benefit of the rehearsal process. So as soon as a decent draft was ready, we did a reading in the office with Ayushmann and Kunaal. This was more for Charu, Nipun & me to get a sense of the tone we were playing with.

Then by early July, we got into two or three weeks of rehearsals. Eight to ten hours a day, with most of the actors present all days. It was my favourite part of the entire process, as we got to play around with scenes, try different ways to break the line construction, rewrite and edit scenes where necessary. Then after doing thorough readings, we moved onto blocking scenes as well, with a broad set layout and basic props in place.

Comedy is serious business. It is so much about delivery of lines, the timing, the pauses, and the overall rhythm. Rehearsals gave us relative serenity with which to play around with each scene endlessly and find a tone which worked- which would have been a far more expensive proposition on set.

The other great thing about rehearsals is that it allows you to get an overview of the entire film- there would be days we would run through the script two or three times. It is wonderful to be able to get that kind of a ‘top shot’, and be able to sense where there may be a lag, or if something feels missing. I found this invaluable, as once you get into production it is such a fragmented process, where you are working on tiny bits and pieces of the film, and rarely get a chance to see the big picture, till it comes together in the editing room.

Design

Side by side with the writing,  we started work on the design and execution of the production.

Manoj Lobo came on as DoP, Priyanjali Lahiri as costume designer, & we locked in on Sukant Panigrahy and Saini Johray as production designer and art director respectively. There were 2 major settings to create- the world of the theatre, from the design of the stage to the auditorium and lobby; and then the off stage world the characters inhabit the rest of the time. With the Ramayana, we are most familiar with the RamLeela aesthetic, but I wanted to take a slightly different approach, especially as within the film, Ayushmann was playing Raavan in a play titled Raavanleela. I remembered the time I started visiting Shashi Kapoor’s Prithvi Theatre around 20 years ago, the beautiful cultural oasis in our city run by Sanjna & Kunal Kapoor- they often had great festivals with visiting repertory companies from all over. One group in particular stayed vividly in my mind- Footsbarn. They had such energetic and vivid reinterpretations of Shakespeare- from the sets and costumes to the energy of the actors- it was like watching a whole new play. So in a sense that was probably the earliest conscious influence on this film.

With this slightly modernist, fantastical take, great ideas came in on both costume and sets.

Now where would this fantastical production take place? Since a lot of the film revolves around what happens before and after the show, and behind the scenes as well, we had to physically place it in the context of Bombay. I was initially thinking of shooting at the beautiful old Capitol theatre in front of VT. Built originally as a theatre called Tivoli in the late 19th century before being converted for cinema, it seemed like the perfect location for us. We did extensive recces there, but eventually we realized the cost and logistics of shooting there were prohibitive. (Another recurring motif, as I was saddened many times to know how much harder and more expensive it was to shoot on live locations than during the shoot of Bluffmaster)

So we had to come up with a solution fast, and that came in the form of slicing and dicing it all up. With the input of our VFX supervisor Sid Jayakar, we finally settled on shooting-

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the exterior of the theatre at the Big Metro cinema,

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the lobby and the auditorium at the stunning Liberty Cinema,

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putting up the actual stage at Mehboob Studios (photo courtesy Sunhil Sippy),

& shooting the make up rooms on a separate stage in Kandivali.

While I was initially thinking of setting the rest of the film in the lanes of old Bandra, we finally decided on South Bombay as a nice architectural match to the Art Deco theatre setting.

Again, thanks to spiralling costs and less and less cooperation from civic authorities when it comes to shooting in the city, we ended up creating sets and matching them to existing locations, and did only a fraction of the work we had managed on live locations in Bluffmaster.

The next note (hopefully) will cover the shoot and post production process.

Mar 10

Nautanki Saala Album Liner Notes- Part 2

After Dil Ki… we started work on Draamebaaz. The main thing we reworked in terms of structure, was opening with the chorus, along with the ‘life ke aapa dhaapi’ lyrics, and later bringing in the main verse. I felt this helped us on two fronts- it allowed us to begin the song in a fresher way, with a lot of attack In Geet’s vocals up front. And it also put one of my favorite lines up top too- ‘zor se dhakka maaro- bas ek sorry kaafi!’, which became a great articulation of the Nautankis in our film!

Around the same time, Bhushan played me Mera Mann, already a popular song on YouTube, which he had acquired the rights to. This was quite an emotional rendition of the song, a powerful ballad that worked instantly for me. I could definitely see room for it in the second half of the film when the romantic complications increase. I said I would share it with Mikey and see if he could enhance its production. A few days later Mikey called me in to hear it. He prefaced his presentation explaining how he wanted to take it away from its original space, and make it sound like a campfire song. I was curious, as the lyrics seemed to sit perfectly the way it was. And when he played it back, I was quite confused. While I loved it musically, it was so different to the emo song I was now conditioned to! I remember actually leaving his studio that day telling him I was pretty unsure about his approach to this song. 

Luckily, hearing Mikey’s version several times, I was able to get the old version out of my system, and then very quickly, Mikey’s acoustic arrangement really stuck to me. And I think the fact that he didn’t understand the lyrics actually allowed him to think completely laterally about the music! It was interesting how in the next few weeks I got two different sets of reactions. Almost everyone who heard Mikey’s version first, really liked it; while all those who knew the old song, were much more ambivalent for a while. To the extent that we even asked Abhijit Vaghani to produce a version that was along the lines of the original, which would be our ‘main’ version, with Mikey’s as an unplugged extra. And it was only a few weeks before the music launch that Bhushan changed his mind and decided that we would break our music campaign with Mikey’s version.

Next up, we definitely wanted to work with Ayushmann as a vocalist too. This kind of proceeded in parallel, as Mikey developed a few ideas, and Ayushmann brought a few compositions into the studio too. When he brought us something that was particularly cheesy, it spurred Mikey into action! With Kausar, we worked on Tu Hi Tu, and I really liked the way it was shaping up. Ayushmann on the other hand was not convinced at all, and I had to literally push him into the recording booth, telling him that it was always possible to cancel this if we weren’t happy with the way it was shaping up. I think he was sufficiently thrown off by this to show up with Saadi Galli in a few days! We recorded Mikey’s acoustic version along with Neeti in the Blue Frog studios, and then later Ayushmann brought in his co-composer Rochak Kohli to produce his version too.

I think it was sometime before this that we had begun work on Dhak Dhak too. (My recollection is further impaired by the fact that we were shooting at the same time too, so timelines are a bit unreliable!) Again, this was a track that Bhushan had given us from his catalog, and it was an extremely exciting and daunting proposition to take on such a brilliant track. Mikey brought Saba back into the studio, and along with Geet, & the Blue Frog bartenders (not a band, their actual day job!) they reinvented the track. Bhushan instantly loved it when I played it to him. 

I think I was discussing the film with our editor Aarif and figuring out the music for the opening credits of the film, when the idea of using So Gaya cam up. When T-Series let us know it would be possible, I took it instantly. Its such a brilliant track, and Mikey tripped on it too. He had been doing all these great Bartender covers for SaReGaMa, and suggested using a sultry female voice. I remember emphatically telling him that there was no way we could touch the original vocals- Nitin Mukesh’s voice on that song is seared into our collective consciousness, we couldn’t possibly tamper with it! And luckily he managed to find an approach that retained that, while still giving it a terrific energy.

Like I said earlier, it was a great process working with wonderful artists on this album, just wanted to record as much of it as possible here, especially the collaborative back and forth before we locked in on the final versions that made it to the album. In a sense my only regret is that we didn’t get to put out the background score that Mikey composed on the same CD, because of the timelines involved. I hope we manage to put it out on some digital platforms at least.

Sidebar- there is an interesting genesis to this album via an unlikely city. The person who highly recommended Mikey to me was my good friend Shaad Ali, who had a great experience working with him on some commercials. And I met our lyricist Kausar Munir through my friends Vijay & Anusha. Both Vijay & Shaad are natives of Kanpur, so in a sense, this album has a UP sound built in!

Feb 26

Nautanki Saala- Album Liner Notes

February 26, 2012

With the music releasing today, I just wanted to share some thoughts on how this album came together.

Back in May 2012, I met up with Mikey McCleary to begin work on what would eventually become this album. I sent him some notes on how I was seeing the music at the time, here are some excerpts from that note-

 

"The music will be used as soundtrack- I don’t imagine there will be any lip sync songs in the film. (one of the leads has a very good voice though, so we could use him on one of the tracks if it works)

There is a great scope for lyrically strong, languid or mid tempo tunes. It may be fun to get in some gentle old school ska and reggae (maybe country too) influences too, keeping the vibe warm and sunny. 

I think individual songs will serve as great emotional bridges between the ‘chapters’ of the film as it unfolds, and help develop the humour, exhilaration or pathos of the story. 

There is an opportunity to try out new and unconventional voices too, anything that brings personality and craziness to the album, and gets the music under your skin. That is why I think putting a soundtrack with different artistes works well- I had a lot of fun putting it together in Bluffmaster.”

Its interesting to look back and see how much has changed, and yet I am really happy that we have stayed true to the spirit of what we were aiming for. Mikey has brought a lot of personality to the album with the lovely acoustic sounds of his melodica, guitar, mandolin, ukelele, and percussion too- he has pretty much played all the instruments on the tracs that he has composed & produced. There were other great soloists too, from veterans like Kishore Soda on trumpet, to young Rhys Sebastian on the sax (we worked together on the musical Love & All that Jazz!), and some beautiful violin and cello parts on ‘Tu Hi Tu’ recorded in NYC by my dear friend Rachel Golub, along with the inimitably named Duke Mushroom of Sounds of the Mushroom! We recorded the fun fresh voice of Saba Azad who has done two very different songs, & one with Geet Sagar (plus chorus by some of the bartenders at Blue Frog!).

The first song we worked on was Dil Ki… Toh Lag Gayi. The idea for that song came out of a discussion I was having with Nipun Dharmadhikari, one of our screenwriters. With his background in theatre, I was hoping for a situation that would capture the atmosphere and camaraderie behind the scenes, and this finally snowballed into the first song- both on screen, and it was also the first song we recorded. We spoke to lyricist Kausar Munir, and I gave her this slightly odd perspective for the song. Its a song that celebrates the allure and charm of a woman, but its sung by a woman too. Kausar came up with the perfect complement to Mikey’s slow burning melody, and along with its picturisation, it is one of my favorite song s in the film.

We finally managed not one, but two songs sung by Ayushmann on the soundtrack, including one composed by him & Rochak. And there are some other lovely contributions to the album too, the instantly hummable Mera Mann by Falak Shabbir, and Rashid Khan, the former in his own voice and the latter with Sapna Mera rendered by the inimitable Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. We also were also lucky enough to be able to work on a couple of iconic songs from the T Series catalog- one remixed, the other re-produced, which I think round out the album nicely.

Working with musicians has always been one of my favourite parts of the film making process, and on behalf of all the musicians, engineers and the rest of the team who made this album , we hope you enjoy our work!

Feb 14

Awesome Sholay poster by sirmanish!

Jan 29

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Jan 24

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Sep 21

Gist of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision setting aside the suspension order of screening of “Aarakshan”- from Film Producers Guild

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court has set aside the order of Uttar Pradesh Government directing suspension of screening of the film “Aarakshan” in UP. The State of UP had suggested deletion of some portions of the Film, without which the Film could not be screened as the same would have an adverse effect on the law and order situation in the state.

The decision of Supreme Court is historic and has far-reaching consequences since no state will now be able to suspend the exhibition of a film before its scheduled release if such film has been certified by the Censor Board.

The order of Supreme Court has removed the hurdle of films being banned in different states based on the apprehension of disturbance to law and order. It recaps the duty of State Government to maintain law and order in the State and they should maintain it effectively and potentially.

The court said once the Central Board of Film Certification cleared the public screening of a film, no state government can raise objections on its content. Therefore the order restrains the State Governments from seeking deletion of certain portions of the film after the film is certified by Censor Board as such act amounts to “pre-censorship”, which power is not vested in the state.

The Constitution of India has guaranteed the freedom of speech and expression to every citizen of India. The Supreme Court observed that a film maker cannot be restricted from making a film on the subject of “reservation” on the ground of the same being a delicate issue. “Reservation” is one of the social issues and in a vibrant democracy like ours, it is necessary to have a healthy debate on such issues for a better and informed decision.

The Supreme Court’s decision upholds the rights of a film-maker to express his thoughts and views through the film as his fundamental right of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Once the Censor Board has approved a film, the State Government’s interference with exhibition of the Film on the ground of breach of law and order would amount to breach of such fundamental right.