In the beginning when we don’t know much, all of us are so innocent.
Then we watch a few movies, read a few books, hear some loud music, eat junk food with papa’s money, sleep walk through some dull colleges and come out as certified ’know-it-all assholes’.
Then we grow older – get sucked into a routine that we hate, read fatter philosophy books to explain why we are stuck, watch a few more movies, eat more junk food with our own money, marry people who we love and hate, and then die as lonely fuckers.
What happens after one dies, no body knows. I doubt even those who pass out from FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) know much about what happens after death. Wonder why it’s called ’Pass Out’ though.
As if you are dead once you come out of college.
Imagine all those famous filmmakers that we worship as geniuses, imagine them as lonely fuckers – Woody Allen, Scorsese, Almodovar, Truffaut, Wes Anderson, Walter Salles, Alexander Payne, Billy Wilder, Kurosawa, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee. All these guys will die or have died as lonely fuckers, not knowing where they are going once they die.
They are no different than you and me. They die.
The day I figured that I had the potential to die a lonely fucker like these wonderful filmmakers, my fear just evaporated and I decided to pitch myself as an indie filmmaker. No more fear of not turning out to be a genius.
This was definitely achievable. This is pretty much how I see the world.
Now the question is, does my worldview matter?
No. Actually, no body cares.
But as a filmmaker, it is good to have one.
How do I make small-budget films?
I close my eyes and visualise my dinner plate when I was a kid. We were three kids. On the dinner table, on the days a special dish has been prepared by Mom, we used to get one serving of that special dish. Ask for more, and you are in trouble. Enjoy your food with what you have.
Don’t sulk. Middle-class upbringing.
So when it comes to films too, I see what is there, and then work backwards.
MY GOAL IN LIFE
I want to die if possible on a Saturday (not this Saturday, many years later some Saturday). So my wife doesn’t have to take a Casual Leave from her office the next day, and my little daughter doesn’t have to miss her classes.
But before that, I also want to write and direct a few more films, travel to a few more countries, make a few people happier… all that would be nice.
How can I remain an Indie filmmaker?
If I don’t spend much in my life, keep my lifestyle normal, then I might be able to pull through this lifetime making indie films my way.
So I have to invent various reasons why I don’t like to ’Spend’.
For instance: I prefer not to eat out in fancy restaurants because the Waiters there look richer than me.
I don’t go to see Plays in Prithvi Theatre because I don’t like clapping at the end of a show. I don’t enjoy walking inside Malls because it is so damn cold inside, like a sausage inside a cold storage.
I hate Shopping for clothes because there is not enough storage space at home and they cannot be stored inside a One TB hard disk (the same one’s that I had used for storing footage of Love Wrinkle-free which I then reused for Hola Venky)
I wear the same shoes till Amnesty International cries “Shoes Right abuse” because I get emotionally attached to them.
I don’t go to discotheques because I don’t know how to dance in a sophisticated manner, I dance like a wild animal (do they dance?)
If my wife wouldn’t have married me, I am certain that I would have died a bachelor’s death. Suffice to say, I am so boring that at times I get a little bored with myself. That is when I come on Facebook.
Everyone else is so exciting. How did you people turn out this way?
But all is not bad…
There is an advantage too of being the way I am, you know. Nobody has too many expectations from me.
Whenever I did something of some value, my folks and friends were amused…maybe at best, a little surprised. They always thought that I got lucky and the next time, I will definitely reveal my true colours– he is so average after all.
But they don’t want to kill my optimistic spirit, so they smile and tell me “Well played” or “Great Job” etc.
I have never had any pressure to be the Greatest filmmaker of this generation or any generation nor am I interested nor does it look possible!
My films don’t have to be better than anyone else’s, they just have to be mine. Lack of this pressure really helps me. All that I want to do is write a script that I love, and go and make that film.
Then another one. Then another.
Then die as a lonely fucker, just like anyone else. Simple.
From the time I realised that we all are going to die as lonely fuckers, I stopped saving money in banks.
I started making Facebook friends instead. I agree that Mutual Friends are subject to market risks and stuff, but I like having facebook friends. Good feeling to know that you are not alone in this universe and that UFO’s exist.
Yet I am sure that none of them would come to the crematorium when I die unless I personally invite them.
Yes, they may post status updates like: “RIP Sandeep Mohan, was an average guy, very average talent, made a few films in his lifetime that I am yet to see, I met him on facebook many times”.
To expect anything else from anyone is asking for too much. No one owes me or you anything here. There. Anywhere.
WHERE DID I GET THE ITCH TO MAKE MOVIES?
Growing up in Trivandrum, I never knew you can become a filmmaker. I showed no special talent in Arts…a little bit in Sports yes, but nothing exceptional. An occasional movie on TV or in the Cinema hall was good enough for me.
The general impression was that the film-people have loose morals and tend to sleep around a lot.
I was not particularly a sleepy kind of person when I was growing up, so this didn’t really fascinate me. I was also convinced that you have to watch a lot of films to be a filmmaker. It is only later that I realised that if you have a keen sense of observation, and have an interesting way of looking at life, you can pretty much figure out a way to tell your story. At times I suspect that I came into this medium because I must have figured that this is the only place where an average guy like me with no rich parents could afford to explore ideas about life that I find exciting, and make a career out of telling stories.
No FTII for me...
I pretty much owe my learning on films to Youtube, Google and my ’fascinatingly fucked up life’.
I am always full of questions. Always felt that Google was invented for me.
With the coming of internet, screenplays of films were getting available online for free. I used to sit and read screenplays, and most of these films, I am yet to watch it. But I still remember the screenplays very vividly. From the age of 30 to 32, I remember watching a few good films, and realised that the filmmakers whose films that I loved were no different than me.
I mean,they were more gifted than me as directors, but as people, they were guys and gals who were just adamant and stubborn like me about their ideas. These folks go about making the films that they want, not what someone tells them to. Their unique worldview or point of view made their stories stand out.
WALKING AND MAKING FILMS
Beyond that, the biggest teacher has been Walking.
Yes, Walking has taught me more about life and films than anything else.
I have never taken a school bus to school. Never.
Walking was the best part of going to school or even college. Classrooms were always boring. You were made to sit for hours together by frustrated looking Teachers who I was convinced were going through some mid-life crisis – maybe a boring sex life.
There are many kinds of walking.
One is walking towards something/someplace/someone.
The other is walking away from something/someone that you don’t like.
I walked away from many things that society told me was important, mostly I walked away from money and a salaried life. It was tough, but this has helped me walk towards more clarity in life and the kind of films that I want to do.
A LITTLE BACKSTORY
Before making my first feature film Love Wrinkle-free, I had to walk away from many things.
From the age of 23 to 29, I was in Bangalore and Pune – I worked in 26 companies in that short period – small and mid level ad agencies as a Copywriter, Content Writer in e-Learning companies, sold Home Loans for CitiBank for 3 days, joined a Credit Card company and worked there for 2 days, even set up my own company that I will write another day about! Life kept throwing distractions and temptations in front of me and I used to walk straight into these traps. But the good thing in hindsight is that I used to Walk off pretty fast too once I realised my mistake. And this habit of walking off has helped me a lot in my brief filmmaking career till now.
Walking is a cost-effective and easy way of collecting ideas and storing info for our scripts. Also, as a filmmaker, it is very important that we learn not to step on too much shit. Walking on Indian roads trains you to stay alert and move away from shit. Because cleaning the shit and the trauma of shit on your shoes doesn’t go away easily. So you lose precious time. Once or twice I have put my feet deep into the typical Bollywood shit. And regretted. The smell of the dog shit that followed me home wisened me up quite faster. Or that’s what I believe.
My first film: Love, Wrinkle-free
My love affair with Goa started when I was around 25 years. Have traveled there many a times from then. Used to take a bus from Bangalore alone, end up in Goa. Walk around the beach, the narrow lanes…In the nights, I used to be that quiet guy in the bar…with a beer, sitting and looking around.
These trips became so regular that I knew who owned which pub or shack or restaurant. Of course they didn’t know me or recognise me. I was one of the lakhs of tourists who come to Goa after all. Also, I had/have developed a habit of being invisible.
Finally, when I was ready to plunge in, I wrote my first feature film and set it in familiar Goa. My budget was tight, but I still shot in Goa, because I was in love with the place. It is always nice to set stories in places that you know about. I have many more Goa stories within me. Will come around to making them some day.
Even when Love, Wrinkle-free released in 7 cities in India through PVR Director’s Rare, I remember walking outside PVR Juhu all alone on the 3rd day. Looking at the poster of my first film there was a a beautiful feeling. A big moment in my average life. I walked in, bought two tickets (one for me, one for no one…just so that the next seat is empty!) at the ticket counter, went in and watched my movie till interval with an audience of around 60. I watched their reactions…difficult to see when the lights are dark, still tried. I didn’t have the courage to sit there for long. My heart was beating way too hard. I had tears in my eyes.
I couldn’t believe that it was my film that was screening in that big theatre and these people have paid money and bought tickets to see my film. Surreal stuff. Anyways, I got up and walked away.
I never went for another show of my film again.
I had the opportunity to go to Cannes Film Market with my friend in 2010. I didn’t watch a single movie during the film fest there. Was too lost and dazzled by that world.
When walking around in that space, I saw an incident that stuck me as funny. I thought a bit about it.
The aimless walk that day gave me the idea for my second film Hola Venky. I jotted down a rough idea sitting in a small bar at Cannes. Now you know why I owe a lot to walking. Sitting inside our air-conditioned cars, we miss the smell of the real world outside. Once I finished my second feature Hola Venky, I decided to travel with the film and screen it. I didn’t want to do a conventional release. Anyways, the film was made for a budget of 10 lakhs with a crew of three, with friends and crowdfunding supporters pooling in. I could dare to experiment with this I thought. Anyways everyone keeps talking of the lack of smaller exhibition spaces to screen indie films.
I thought it might be worth exploring screening in alternative spaces like cafes and pubs and restaurants.
So I called it The Great Indian Traveling Cinema, on a whim, traveled and screened my film using a second hand ’moody’ projector in various alternative spaces. Had 90 plus screenings, even screened in US and Singapore.
I used to connect my projector to my laptop, introduce the movie, and then when the movie used to start, sneak out of the venue, and go for a walk. I have walked around more than 90 venues…you feel like you earned that walk.
You feel important that your movie is right now being watched by people…and then, you see all these people on the road going about their normal life, not caring a shit about my movie that is screening right now.
This used to instantly bring me back to reality. I figured that no body cares.
Life is more important than films for them. Just thank my stars that I am one of those lucky ones getting to make films. So i tell myself to focus on working on my craft, get better at telling stories, and keep my ears and eyes on the ground to stay grounded.
And finally, heart matters…
I never like over analysing a film or music or any piece of art.
If I “feel” for it in my heart, then it is good. If it doesn’t make me feel, then that that doesn’t work for me. Simple. I also have this theory that words are not enough to describe music, movies, paintings etc. Words strung together may sound nice, but they are never going to exactly describe how that piece of art makes us “feel”.
Talking of heart, I do this fun thing at times: I try to listen to the sound of my heart beat. If you want to try, try now, while reading this. Do it now for a count of 10, hear that Thud Thud Thud Thud sound.
I don’t know about you, but I respect that sound. It is a reminder that my time here is limited.
A fucking time bomb is ticking within me, and I hope to make a few more films, my way, before that Saturday arrives, when that time bomb explodes and I fall dead.
So I dream on like every other lonely fucker…