Friday, 23 December 2011

Flights (of fancy) in chroma key

Malegaon Ka Superman with his heroine, dancing.

A novice in the world of filmmaking wonders how an essentially collaborative art succeeds in projecting a single vision - the director's. Not a cine-hippie with some reading of the auteur theory. A cloth-store owner, living in a remote town of Maharashtra, whose dreams are the stuff of cinema. Nasir Shaikh. Director of Malegaon Ka Sholay - the comedy remake of India's biggest blockbuster which became a runaway hit in its own targeted market. Having conquered the peak of India's commercial film industry in his own way the next step in his evolution is, of course, making a Hollywood-derived film. Malegaon Ka Superman.

Boasting the biggest budget ever Shaikh has worked with (about a hundred thousand rupees), he has decided to upgrade the "technique" in this film. Superman will fly - a feat which will be achieved by chroma keying. Played by an undernourished hand in a power loom (weaving is Malegaon's primary industry) called Shafique, Malegaonwale Superman seems earnestly determined to move onto bigger roles. His daredevil feats involve painfully balancing his body on bits of wood and bullock carts, jumping into cold water inspite of not knowing swimming (the kids he's meant to save somehow haul him up on land) and performing stunts that usually end up hurting him a lot more than the villains he's beating up (all of them have better physique). Production problems dog the filmmakers at every step - actresses are rare because Malegaon's conservative society does not permit girls to step out of their houses, the camera falls into water and nearly goes dead and Superman-ji is married off in between the shooting. Falling behind schedule means cost overruns - now here's something that connects the most frugal of film industries with the bulkiest and most moneyed. And yet Nasir is egged on by his love of cinema and the sheer joy of filmmaking to overcome these and stay cool.

Superman and I'm-in-trouble-man fly together. And yes, Superman wears uber-cool Hawaii chappals.
The insights are many. One of the screenwriters, Akram Khan, confesses how he started out thinking he'd write with his heart and yet how the final product is mathematical (to use his own word): coldly calculated bits of comedy, anti-climax, climax, action, songs, the works. In other words, the story of almost every commercial filmmaker who had set out with personal visions and slowly gave them up for success (there are echoes of this sentiment in a Dibakar Banerjee interview where he says how he too has been corrupted by the money-making machinery). And then the equally candid confession that only 20% of the original script and vision remains in the final product - in this Akrambhai only differs with Nicholas Ray, a far more rebellious and adamant fellow, in the numbers (Ray said 50%).

There are revelations which quietly seep through the cracks - the heroine of Shaikh's film talks about the strict restrictions on the womenfolk of Malegaon, how girls from outside town (like her) have to be hired at high rates ( she takes 1000 a day whereas the hero takes about a 100) to do the dances, love scenes and climaxes. In the midst of her interview, her phone rings - we deduce it's her boyfriend from the hushed tone, a confirmation comes when we hear several covert mwahs. A village elder comes to the shooting location, sees hero and heroine hoisted on wooden planks (they're shooting the couple-flying-together scene) and turns his eyes away from the blasphemous sight.

Then there's the near-ubiquitous talk of moving on to the bigger game - Bollywood. Everyone in Mollywood (for that is the name of Malegaon's direct-to-video film industry) has upwardly mobile dreams. Except Nasir Shaikh, whose dedication to family matters is absolute - the reason why he dissuades his younger (and equally cinema-crazy) brother from venturing into filmmaking. Someone needs to earn for the family. If one brother is indulging in his passions and losing money, the other must make up. The business is exhausting and unrewarding. An echo of Billy Wilder telling his audience that he'd prefer his son not to be a filmmaker - "it's too goddamn painful."

The film is completed and Shaikh re-opens his long-dead video parlour (where he learnt by watching the greats, as he says - Chaplin, whose Modern Times and City Light [sic] are in his collection; Arnold Schwarznegger, Jackie Chan, et al.) for a screening. Initial reactions are encouraging. Luck favouring the brave, Nasirbhai will probably move on to bigger projects. In Malegaon. Even if his crew moves to Mumbai.

Supermen of Malegaon (documentary), dir. Faiza Ahmad Khan, 2008.

P.S.: The film will have a second screening at Rabindra Sadan, 6 PM, 27th December '11 as part of the Kolkata International Children's Film Festival. Catch it if you can. More than a few guffaws guaranteed!

1 comment:

Blackbeard said...

Hilarious, Sudipto! And you claim not to know how to write!