By Arun Fulara. Posted on July 15, 2015
Indians have historically been bad at documenting history and that applies to our cinema as well. While there are hundred's of interviews of leading western filmmakers and technicians, we barely have an interview or two of our best. An interview here or there with Satyajit Ray is all we have to show for over 100 years of our cinema. So barely any first-person insights into the mind of Guru Dutt or Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Bimal Roy, exist today.
However things are changing. There is a growing interest in the craft of filmmaking. Most movies now release a behind-the-scenes look at what went into the making of the film.
Rakesh Anand Bakshi's book, 'Director's Diaries - The Road To Their First Films', thus comes at the right time. A screenwriter and filmmaker, Rakesh has managed to pull-off what very few before him have done. Interviewing an eclectic mix of Bollywood filmmakers, he has brought their struggle and journey to their first films alive in a very fluid manner, making it easy for almost anyone to connect with them. The stories are as varied as the filmmakers interviewed. From those born into the industry to those who came out of nowhere to make their mark on the big screen, from those making pure commercial 'Bombay' cinema to those who believe in realism oriented films, Rakesh has covered everyone.
The filmmakers featured in the book
It took us, but a few seconds to realize the value of what he's done. I read the book cover-to-cover in one sitting, such is the power of these stories. While the book is an absolute treat for anyone interested in the creative process, it is a must read for aspiring filmmakers. Order the book NOW! It's available online at Amazon & Flipkart.
We managed to speak with Rakesh about the book and his journey behind getting the book out. Read on to know what he has to say;
One cloud does not bring rain.
To quote from our book's introduction: A thought that has always fascinated me is, 'Our past makes our present; our present makes our future.' Sometime in 2002, I read in a book that David Lean, the English film director known for films like Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago, etc., used to be a tea boy. It made me wonder about David Lean's life and I thought if he hadn't started as a tea boy with a film production company, he perhaps wouldn't have become a director.
These questions also led me to the idea of this book, especially when I realized how little we know about the lives and influences of the Indian film-makers that are closer to our own reality. I also realized that most people who aspire to be film directors often find the path to their dream unfathomable, because most of them and their families do not have background in films. But maybe it had nothing to do with that. I belong to a family involved in films and I had studied film-making, acting and writing abroad. I had also assisted an excellent writer and director. And yet I couldn't make a film. I wondered, sometimes almost angrily, how so many people without any background in films managed to direct films. There was an angst in me to explore how they managed to make a film but I didn't. And this curiosity and anguish is shared by millions of others who are trying to make it into the industry!
Rakesh Anand Bakshi with Imtiaz Ali
One way to put together the puzzle of entering the world of film-making and getting to make your first film as a director is to learn from the significant experiences shared by a variety of successful and masterful directors of Hindi cinema, and to find out how they earned their first break and how they continued on this path of film-making. My goal was to put together some significant life stories, and valuable experiences and memories of eminent and some relatively new directors.
I said earlier, one cloud does not bring rain. Many reasons lead to me writing this book. First of all, it was the lives of these directors. The lives they had lead until then wrote a book I authored.
I would like to mention here that our book is also a tribute to the world's first full length feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), directed by Charles Tait; and to Raja Harishchandra (1913), directed by Dadasaheb Phalke, the first feature film made in India.
Last but not the least, I always believed: People are like letters. Those letters want to be words. Words want to be stories. And stories want to be shared. Books tell stories too.
The choice of whom I should choose to interview was made by me from the directors and films I had admired and liked, irrespective of their box office fate or the judgements and opinions by some critics.
As I have a few younger friends, aspiring filmmakers, actors, writers and some not in the film profession, the films and directors they liked helped me reaffirm my own choices. A few directors I had desired on board did not respond to my hundred messages, and very few refused.
The ones who responded positively, I chased them till they got fed up of my messaging and even though many of them met me over four to five sittings over two or three years, I persisted and they responded with equal passion. This happened with those directors who could not complete their interview and got sucked into their next film's scripting or pre-production. It is best to let them go then, and catch them post release.
Though all the directors enriched me in varied ways, some things amongst many others that I thought about long after meeting them were -
Anurag Basu's love for his father inspired him unknowingly and he knew he will defeat cancer.
Ashutosh G's pursuit for perfection made him see and accept his shortcomings as an actor;
Farah Khan's love for her father for whom she suppressed dance through her childhood and teens which I believe caused her passion for dance to erupt to the surface as her natural career path at youth;
Govindji for how the combination of two words cinema and photography fascinated him to choose cinematography;
Imtiaz Ali's childhood memory of discovering the reading room in his house and failing the ninth class transformed him;
Mahesh Bhatt Saab for his deep insight into himself from his teens itself and as his as deep insight into humanity;
Santosh Sivan for how he 'understood' light while being made to look out for rain during the hockey games his friends played but did not include him and how he dedicates his work to someone to remain motivated and inspired;
Prakash Jha did not take money from his father and was working in a restaurant to gather money for his survival in Bombay and pay college fees and cooking meals for his teachers so they mark his presence;
Tigmanshu's years at NSD and his grit during the seven years his films did not release he kept asking for work to write;
Vishalji playing harmonium during food festivals at PragatiMaidan and after he had become a music composer reinventing himself as a director so he can give himself work as a music composer;
SubhashGhai for when his mother left his father she had a choice to take him with her to her rich maternal home. But she chose to leave him with his father who was financially not well because she believed that will make him the man she wants him to become someday. And how cinema and music became his escape from his childhood sorrows of his parents’ separation.Moreover, their exchange of letters became his first lessons in writing. She wrote very long and emotional letters and he simply responded.
In a world of instant coffee, the myth of instant success needs to be busted. I hope an aspiring filmmaker, and even those not in films, realizes the number of years and various paths it has taken most of these iconic directors, and people from other professions too, to arrive at the threshold of their first film, first break, first anything that became a milestone of the first of many subsequent ones. This shows you how much time, effort & energy it took for these filmmakers to make their first films.
As for the 'new' directors I had interviewed, I interviewed some directors who had made excellent first films and were yet to make or release their second or third film. I interviewed them and valued them as much as the others, because I know the value of making even one, as I have yet to make that one. I hope in Volume 2 we can include one chapter that that have these one or two film old directors, under a chapter "On the Horizon", because, though they had made fewer films that did not mean their journey here was not amazing and not inspiring especially for people and film making aspirants of their very own generation.
We value our artists, but many people do not look at filmmakers as artists. With so much media attention given to actors, even to painters and other artists, and naturally so as actors are the face of films, the director has somewhere, unfortunately, got side-lined or pushed to the edge of the platform. The media tends to mostly aim their lights at stars and not the star-makers, often. Many directors have immortalized actors by giving them great characters and roles to play, but because actors are the face of a film, the director and even the writer is not thought of as one of the partners in the actor's achievement.
I think a book like this and other books and Tv shows like these will help general people realize the creative-and-important-souls these directors are too, and with that knowledge even many or our people will begin to perceive directors as precious artists too, like it is in western filmmaking industries.
Anurag Basu with the book
By publishing Vol 2, which is ready, it will be published in 12 months or less. And most importantly, publish the book in regional languages, especially HINDI! We have a Marathi publisher on board already, and will soon have a Marathi version priced at Rs 50. I will be adding a bonus chapter of a recent iconic director from Marathi cinema to the Marathi version. I am hoping to do the same for other regional languages too, add a bonus chapter of their one iconic director from their cinema along with the present 12 from primarily Hindi cinema.
I will be happy the day someone informs me that this book that the 12 directors wrote with me gave them the courage to take their first step towards their dream, even if it is not filmmaking, and or motivated them to persist in their struggles which helped them last longer or reach the threshold of their first film, or their first shoe factory, or first job, whatever. Because I consciously attempted to write it non-technically, rather as a tale, so that even a non-film person can read and relate to and possibly be inspired, and even someone below 16. I came across a boy of 12 who loved our book! And his mother teaches writing and she made our book a part of her writing curriculm. Her name, Mayura A. There was a writer, a woman writer named Dew, who I must tank too; she really inspired me when the thought was a feeble humble seed in my mind.
So much, that your article cannot encompass it all. Each person will gain something for himself or herself on reading it. Because different people pointed out different things they loved. I now feel as though every page may have something inspiring or enlightening to offer to some readers. I gathered that from the comments from a few people.
An important thing I learnt from these interviews is that cinema is not a destination for most film-makers; it is a journey which continues even after one makes their first film, even after making many successful ones and even their massive failures. I simply desired to share mostly the varied journey of these directors from their childhood to their first film, because that is primarily what shaped their lives and molded them into the people they are today, or they were at the time when they said ‘Action” on their own first film. It is small jobs that lead them to the one that turned to become their first film. So, keep at it!
I once asked screenwriter Salim Khan to define a film director. He replied: 'Frank Capra made a film after a gap of nearly five years. He was asked, "Why took you so long to make your new film?" Capra replied: "I did not have anything to say, until now!" On the other hand, a journalist complimented an outstanding prime minister of a country, "Sir, you speak well; and you really know what to say!" The prime minister replied, "It's more important to know when to be or remain silent." For me, both define a director.' That was a learning.
Another was, the director is the ultimate designer of the film. He or she creates the context in which every person's work involved in the film-making process is given a shape. A good director ensures that all individual parts and all individual contributions are creatively brought together. The totality reflects his or her fundamental ideas, dreams, beliefs, convictions, about life and films at that moment in time. A director evolves professionally and personally with every film, so direction is a wonderful imprint of their mark on every frame, akin to an artist who signs his paintings saying 'This is how I see things!' at that point in time.
Furthermore, film-making can be akin to a military exercise. The director can be a general who disguises himself as a common soldier to dig creative trenches in the minds of his creative collaborators and contributors. He is the ultimate illusionist. He nurtures an atmosphere of democracy even though hidden in this magician's sleeves can be discreet aggression, a secret dictatorship. He can imbue in his collaborators a powerful belief in their abilities, even those not up to the mark, and that will invariably bring the best out of them.
Another significant learning, the talent common to all directors is their ability to communicate across the film-making spectrum: actors, editors, costume makers, lyricists, composers, production team, and make all involved feel one. The process of film-making is often challenging, frustrating, tiring, viciously demanding, painful, certainly stressful, yet it is the most satisfying work for these directors who bared their experiences in this book. In spite of the angst, they loved their journey through every film.
I think, beyond the gratitude, the best reward a director can hand to the collaborators and contributors to his art and craft is a great film! Because that is what they really need for knowingly or unknowingly permitting the director to enter their innermost selves to love, encourage, manipulate, inspire, coerce, motivate, bully them, or whatever else was necessary for the director to make them deliver their very best.
Read as often as you can. I do not mean voraciously. Read fiction primarily.
Write short stories or poems when you can. You don’t have to.
Don't stop working to write your script/s. Do both simultaneously. Create a balance.
Continue to work as an AD, Karan Malhotra (Agneepath) rose from AD to Director over 16 years.
Act, write, choreograph, edit, photograph, be involved in films keep working on TV, or TVC or film sets in some professional capacity, even if it not paying too well at that moment.
Be humble, be patient, have an ego, but a creative ego which comes from conviction and not just beliefs, but not an attitude-ego. No talented and creative being cannot have an ego.
Most importantly, none of these 6 are the gospel. Write your own 6 or more.
Inhale life. Exhale art. Includes cinema.
Behind every able director are lots of able men and women.
The job of a director from afar can seem overwhelming and mighty. From near, can seem quite over rated.
Last but not the least, the quote our book is dedicated to, my father's: "You have to write your own breaks. You got to write your own biography." - Anand Bakshi. Pull your own weight Bro! J
All that I say or may advice, is not gospel. Go make your own mistakes and write your own rules. I do not know it all, so what if I interviewed these iconic directors, I still have more to learn to even give advice.
Even if I had met 100 directors and publish another 40 books on them, I will never be an expert on them nor filmmaking. See, you can learn filmmaking by film-making. By making them. Like you can learn writing by writing, or learn swimming by swimming ‘in’ the water. None of these directors said 'I know it all!' None of them said 'What I am saying is gospel." All of them said "hey, I am still making mistakes ya, I am still learning and discovering the craft and even myself while at it, with every success and failure."
There will be parallels and there will be differences. Few, impromptu, come to mind.
Highly self-motivated.That is what you need to be to write a book, as it often pays far less than a film does, though it may be more satisfying and rewarding.
Many publishers, top ones too, rejected me saying
1) no one is interested in directors.
2) Q and A books do not sell.
3) Get us only the young turks.
Film producers behave same-same : “Get us the star actors! Your script is not mainstream. Your film is too niche. Etc” Yet people arrived with what was presumably not sale able and broke their myths.
In a film script the characters belong to a certain world, they have needs or ambitions, they will invariably face obstacles and challenges en route on the path to those needs and ambitions, they will invariably meet others en route, some will help them, some will not, yet they will proceed towards their goals and gradually and mostly always arrive at a resolution. Same for the characters here. They had a dream since childhood or their college years, and they walked those paths knowingly or unknowingly.
For a film script you create from your life experiences. For this book I created from their life experiences. For both you need your own experiences.
When you write a film, you write what you know best about. I interviewed them in such depth and detail that I knew them pretty well by then, so it made my writing of it easier I think. Yet, I will never know them, because they will have evolved with every dawn and dusk.
Writing a film script, you may need to balance the producer and star actor and director. In a book, you are all three, you decide what stays and what goes. You are the master of your work in a book. Like a painter or a solo musician. Whatever you are, you first play for yourself, sing for yourself, dance with yourself. Write for yourself. Do what you want the world or family to love you for, first for yourself. Hopefully, your work will find a listener, reader, viewer.
Money is so important, et many creative people find it dam hard to ask for what they feel they deserve. Writing for films, you may not get paid. Even if the film does well. Writing a book, you will, however little, if it sells. ;)
I would like to leave you lovely peeps with a wonderful tale my Dad had told me. On valuing your worth.
A successful and famous English writer had an unfinished poem. The last paragraph was left unfinished in spite of many attempts. He realized he needed help to finish his poem. One of his friends recommended that he travel to a distant village and there he will find an old writer who has the talent but was never recognized for. But he is high on self esteem as he knows he is worthy even though he didn’t get fame.
The successful and famous writer traveled to the distant village and he met the old writer and asked him for his help. The old writer read the incomplete poem and said he can compete the poem but he will charge 500 pound sterling for the job. The successful and famous writer agreed to the terms and very soon the old writer had done his job. He completed the unfinished poem.
The successful writer was surprised that the old writer finished the incomplete poem so quickly and in a few words. He removed his check book to pay the old writer and hesitated while paying the old writer the contracted amount of 500 pound sterling. He asked the old writer if he was justified in asking for 500 pounds sterling for such an easy job accomplished by him within a few minutes.
The old writer replied, “You are hesitating to pay me because you are not convinced that I should charge you so much money for a job I accomplished with much ease and in a few minutes, even though it’s been done to your satisfaction. You are taking into account the few minutes I took to complete your poem, but you are not taking into account the many years I have lived and experienced life to be able to arrive at this moment in my life which gives me the wisdom and experience to be able to complete your poem. You are only counting these few minutes you have spent with me but not considering the millions of moments I have spent to reach here today. It’s only thanks to the long life I’ve lead that I could accomplish the job for you in a few minutes.”
The successful and famous writer was humbled and humiliated in the presence of the wise writer and immediately paid the writer his fee willingly.
Value your worth and ask for your worth.