After graduating with an MBA degree and working for five years in Pune and Delhi, Neeraj Ghaywan moved to Mumbai. A new job for another 3 months and then he quit it all. To live, breathe and make Cinema. He started working with Anurag Kashyap. Life hasn’t been much easier since then but Ghaywan survived. Assisted Kashyap on Wasseypur and after working with him for a year, he has now directed a short called Shor. I saw it, loved it, and never thought that AK School Of Filmmaking could churn out another graduate so fast. In this post, Ghaywan blogs about making his short, from research to writing, casting to shooting..read on.. Some stills and the trailer is attached.
I read this research snippet about a woman doing a research on the influence of hormones on relationships. A part of the research involved the woman standing on an empty street asking out men for a date. She asked over 20 men. Her success rate was 40%. She did the same thing on a dangling bridge on a rough weather day. Her success rate jumped to about 85%. Though the static may not be exact but the hypothesis that she arrived at was that people are vulnerable to fall in love in dangerous situations. I had forgotten the article but it stuck in my subconscious and eventually led to an idea about the human condition at the face of death. When we embrace death, our most vulnerable time, we find our truest side. We confront what really matters to us. That became the basis for Shor. Yes, I wasn’t too happy with the title myself but when you see the film you’ll realize we couldn’t have come up with another name.
Shor is about Lallan and Meena, a couple from Banaras (North India), consumed by their pursuit to survive in the seedy ghettos of Mumbai city. Lallan has lost his job at the factory and ambles about hopelessly searching for a way out. Meena has taken up tailoring to make ends meet, losing touch with her emotions, and almost turning into a machine herself. One day they truly find each other while embracing death, divorce and redemption, all just over a phone call.
I had the basic structure of the script ready but I didn’t want to compromise with the culture and milieu of the characters. For me it is very essential to have the premise to adhere to a agreed upon set of culture and ethos. I used to take autorickshaw rides and speak to the drivers at length, recording the conversation on my phone and later make notes from it. I must have spoken to some 40 odd rickshaw drivers to arrive at 4 of them who were from Banaras. I conducted a focus group with these people, inviting them to my house. Yes yes, I have an academic and corporate background and old habits die hard. Anyway, I spoke to them for a long time about their lives, their homes, how they dealt with their wives, I made them call their wives and understand how they spoke to them in crisis etc. Finally, I wrote the script along with dialogue. I was very scared and excited. It was ready and I had to show it to Anurag ( I was assisting him on Wasseypur). It’s like you are going for an appraisal interview to your boss. He read the first page and rejected it. He didn’t read further and I was heartbroken. I felt terrible, this was not just a short film script, but my first work to my boss and he had rejected it. Some people rubbed it in. I almost felt like abandoning the whole idea of becoming a filmmaker. It was humiliating. I thought I should still do this.
I called my rickshawala brotherhood. I decided to go to their homes. Some of them were kind enough to oblige. I spent time at their place; observing their lifestyle, the objects in their houses, the kids, the neighborhood, what they did in their free time, what pained them, what made them happy etc. It helped in understanding their lifestyle and most importantly what language they spoke. Now that I had enough material, I started rewriting the dialogues. When you start writing dialogues, you realize how difficult is writing a screenplay as against a book or a short story. The research helped me in identifying the insecurities that they lived with and how they expressed themselves. I wrote a draft and ran it past Vineet Singh (the lead actor of Shor) and Varun Grover ( a writer friend). They made some tone and grammar corrections with the dialogue I wrote. By the way, Vineet Singh has the fine charm of the angry young man and I have lost the count of how many languages he knows. Finally Anurag read the script. He said it has great potential if I had established the two characters in the same space. He had couple of ideas. I put everything together but didn’t show the final draft which by the way, was the tenth draft.
I just wanted to go ahead and shoot. The more I deliberated the more I’d distance from the passion to make it. Also, there was this pressure of having assisted for only six months and here I was, attempting to make a difficult short film in complete guerrilla style. The folks at Tumbhi.com loved the script and I was ready to go. But there was one problem; the shooting process could only be started in August along with the competing short films, which was completely understandable. But I couldn’t have shot in the monsoons as the film was mostly in difficult exterior locations. So I borrowed money from friends for the shoot (Thank You Anubhuti Kashyap and Suresh Nayak). We got into pre-production, Rishabh and Puja jumped into help me on the film. Rishabh was great help on the locations and convincing people for the shoot. Puja is responsible for the look and the costumes. Poor her, she had to stay away from the action for all the work. They have really worked hard during the film. Super line producer Deep Singh came on board. We did the shot breakdowns, location recces and the research for costume, art and the train routes and stations. Mukesh Chhabra unconditionally helped me to understand what to look for while casting actors. He even did couple of auditions for me.
Umpteen number of rehearsals happened. Ratnabali, the female lead of Shor, was doing English theatre. To be honest, I was panicking because I wanted everyone to get the accent right. I am a stickler for accents. Vineet and I had a lot of sessions on accent modulation with Ratnabali. And when we did the final rehearsal, Ratnabali took me by surprise. I was shocked the way she picked the nuances of the culture. Amardeep Jha, agreed to play the amma. She was perfect in that role and she brought in her own mannerisms to add depth to her role. I remember someone telling me “Oh wow, she’s Sharman’s mom from Three Idiots”.
After an elaborate session we finally arrived at the shot break down. I am of the opinion that it’s almost impossible to replicate the feel of real locations and objects. I abstained from an extensive production design, relying completely on the property available on location (Malwani and Dharavi). . You can never think of a plastic toy of a swan couple with a broken wing. Like how coincidental is that!One of the auto drivers from the research, Pavan Sharma offered his house to make it as our crew base. His neighbor Irshad Shah offered his house as the main house of the film. Not only that, he and his wife also acted in the film. Pavan’s son was the little kid who plays Lallan and Meena’s son. His expressions still haunt me. Milind Shirke, my DoP is fantastic at guerrilla shoots. In public locations he would just hold the camera and either look away or talk over the phone. He used to tell me that if you set the frame, don’t look into the viewfinder for static shots. When you look in to your camera’s view finder, that’s when people look into the camera. He has great sense of framing and very quick at conceptualizing them too. We shot on Canon 7D as the motion capture is better on a 7D as against 5D. For the wide top angle shots, I got the watchman of the only tall building in the ghetto to agree use the building terrace. On the day of the shoot he backed out. In my broken Bhojpuri I made him believe that we are shooting a docu which is about ‘our people’ from Bihar and this film will be a ‘message to the government to listen to us to our woes’. That watchman got all charged up; thankfully he never asked me what I was fighting against. He was all supportive but he still declined. And then I realized he is expecting me to bribe him. I never felt so guilty in my life to have bribed someone, not even when I got caught driving without a license. It was a great idea to go all guerrilla with the shoot.
Without the guerrilla style, the film could have easily become one of the most expensive short films in India. More than the saving, it gave us the freedom of canning the shots exactly the way we wanted. The authorities would have never allowed us to take certain shots if we had shot with permissions. Honestly, if we were caught, we all would have been in jail. To avoid that, we made rules. No three people will be seen together, video assist was avoided. As much as I wanted it, we didn’t take the boom mike. We managed to shoot in sync sound with couple of lapels and a mini sound recorder for ambience. Every location we would find a make-shift base and hide whenever cops or some authorities would come around. I can’t thank Vineet and Ratnabali enough for their courage and conviction. They both risked their lives while shooting for Shor.
Post production took way longer than I had anticipated. I am working on the post-production of Wasseypur and I made Shor in between all the running around for Wasseypur. That was the most difficult part. I had to teleport myself from one studio to another studio, one film to another. Both films were equally close to my heart and it was difficult juggling and two timing. Thankfully, I had a great editor in Nitin Baid. I was handling post and he was assisting the head editor,Shweta Venkat for Wasseypur. They are a lovely team to work with. For few days, when I ran out of money for studios, Shweta loaned her macbook to me and also allowed Nitin to work on Shor while working on Wasseypur. It was great help. Zahir Bandukwala designed the sound and Suhaas Ahuja (You will soon experience their work in That Girl In Yellow Boots). We did a 5.1 surround mix for sound and think it really is achievement by the sound team to pull of sync sound in such difficult locations . Vijesh Rajan, is a bundle of joy to work with. He did the VFX, color correction ( made a DSLR short film look like a film) and the titles. He also made the poster.
I don’t know which filmmaker said this that the biggest task for a filmmaker is to assemble a great team which is excited about the project. That’s what worked for me the most. All of this was possible through http://www.tumbhi.com. Most of the cast and crew were found on their portal. It’s a great platform to discover talent from all corners of India. I am eternally indebted to Tumbhi.com for not only funding the project but also to give us a platform to make this happen. Above all, thanks Anurag! I owe this to you.
( PS – This post was first published on Tumbhi.com)