ScreenSavour: Demystifying Cinema
The common audiences’ interest in shooting is inversely proportional to their passion for cinema

Way back in 1980 three school friends went to watch the shooting of Amitabh Bachchan Neetu Singh-starrer Yaraana, at the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Calcutta. The indoor stadium, the first of its kind in India, was packed with enthusiastic fans who had come to watch the shooting of a song sequence Sara Zamana, Hasinon Ka Diwana. Bachchan, wearing a black leather costume outlined with tiny fluorescent bulbs and dark shades with white borders swayed to the song as the frenzied audience cheered on lustily. At one point, Bachchan held the camera on his shoulder and pointed it at the audience. The audience, realising that they would feature in the song went berserk as the greatest Indian superstar of that time directed them to cheer and clap. 

The bonhomie with the fans over, Bachchan went back to shoot and the director kept on canning a single line repeatedly from different angles for the next more than an hour. The audience got restive with the repeated ‘cuts’; nothing else was happening and there seemed to be an inordinate delay between takes when the hairdresser and his assistant rushed towards the star who sat on a plastic chair, surrounded by bodyguards, to arrange his hair while he waited patiently for the next take. The heroine Neetu Singh was nowhere to be seen.

The three friends — who much later on in their lives went on to join the film industry — soon got impatient and sidled out of the stadium like hundreds of other dispirited fans, as more gullible people entered the stadium to watch the spectacle; they would also get bored soon and walk out after an hour or so.

Film shooting always held a special fascination for people not associated with the craft, as if it was something magical; of course, the chance to see their favourite actors at close quarters is an overriding attraction. But once the opportunity presents itself to the lucky few, they soon get disconcerted by the proceedings and all their enthusiasm gradually melts away. The contradiction between the glamorous, unreachable world, viewed from inside a darkened theater and the reality of the painstaking process of its creation is a chasm that comes as a rude shock to many.

There have been instances where people with lovely houses had fallen prey to shooting units asking for their space to shoot a film or a television episode. Half way through the day, when they find themselves cooped up inside their own rooms, their movements restricted and their voices silenced to facilitate the shooting, the family members begin to lose their cool and become irritated till a point comes when the lady of the house invariably blows her top because of a broken vase or a scratch on the newly painted wall incurred during the course of the shoot. It is then left to the production controller to listen to the outburst with bowed head and plead with the mistress of the house to allow them to continue to shoot, with a promise of compensations. When this fails, it is left to the star to sweet-talk to the angry member to assuage her temper. Generally, it results in prompt acquiescence, and the shooting continues undisturbed. 

Demystification is a hard pill to swallow and there have been directors who quite often have used it in their films to make a point. In one of Jean Luc Godard’s films — the famous French New Wave filmmaker from the 60s known for his iconoclastic take on cinema — a couple is shown in a very intimate position on the bed from close; as the camera begins to track away, first a cable, then a light stand, then the assistant directors and finally the director come into the frame, instantly breaking the illusion, jolting the audience out of its stupor. It’s as if Godard is trying to tell the audience — look, it’s just a film, not reality — don’t get seduced.

Given the magnitude and the complexities of shooting any film, it is a wonder that films are made at all. And given the infinite number of bad and indifferent films made every year, it is amazing that the same effort goes into their making too.

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

Ranjan Das