SCREENSAVOUR: Chronicle of a dilettante
There is a difference between desire and competence, and sooner a dilettante realises that, the better

Swapnil’s failure to get into FTII, the premiere film school in Pune, did not deter him from pursuing his dreams. As it happens with most aspiring filmmakers, the need to sustain oneself financially necessitated that he took up a job; but he thought he was too creative for a regular 10 to 5 routine. That he had a working girlfriend who had full faith in him helped matters; plus, he was an occasional journalist, freelancing for various newspapers and magazines in the small town where he hailed from.

Meanwhile, he drank silly with friends who all looked up to him to make the next masterpiece from the state. He regaled them with anecdotes from world cinema and gossips from Mumbai industry where his friends who had got into FTII had been working since passing out. It has been almost 10 years now, my god, and he still had not made a film!

If you can’t work up a feature film, which is always a big deal, especially in a state that churned out 10 to 15 films a year, most of which are made by smug and pompous veterans, you sublimate your creative energies into documentary films, not because you love the medium but that’s a possibility one can explore because of its feasibility in terms of technology and budget. Having an elder brother who was a builder and enamored of glamour – which documentary films did not have any scope for – made it easier for Swapnil, who always spoke in an earnest manner that readily convinced people.

Narrowing down on the ‘mundopota’ tribal community that made a living out of burying their heads under earth with their bodies standing upright, with legs up in the air — for hours on end, without any chance of breathing — he thought he had got his subject. But when he went to research his subject in the interiors of his state, the tribals refused to come forward and he learnt that the practice was no longer in vogue. That did not deter our friend; he decided to make a short fiction film instead on the subject.

Despite his claims to be a journalist, he found it irritating to write a script. “ A film should evolve,” he intellectualised, “and not depend on a structured screenplay.” He summoned his technician-friends from Mumbai who were at that time in-between assignments; they gladly flew down to help their friend for free, and preparations were initiated.  Two amateur actors were chosen to play the roles of father and son; camera and light equipment’s were hired and the unit started on its long and arduous journey to the hinterland in two rickety vans.

Faced with the reality of shooting for the first time, in villages where people flocked to watch the spectacle and making a mess of the entire procedure, Swapnil quickly realised that he was not up to it. But it was too late to own up to his failure, so he promptly entrusted the responsibility to his cameraman-friend who took up the cudgels and began “directing” the film without a clue to what he was doing, because they still did not have a script.  “As long as you can reach your vision to your unit, it does not matter if you are not calling the shots,”Swapnil reasoned.

So, what was the director’s role? “To make the unit comfortable, so that it can achieve its creative vision,” explained Swapnil who took on the role of the production manager, arranging for lunch and the next day’s locations. Henceforth, he was no longer seen within anywhere near the camera. Sipping tea at a shack one day while his unit shot at a distant village, he mused, “You know, a film is never made, it happens!”

The shoot which was scheduled for three days, went on for 10 days till his elder brother refused to put in any more money. The final cut came down to 15 minutes as opposed to 45 minutes as he had planned, but Swapnil was happy that the film ultimately happened, no matter how preposterous.

Moral of the story: There is a difference between desire and competence, and sooner a dilettante realises that, the better.   

(The author is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor  and writer)

Ranjan Das