By Vipin Sharma
Missing is an improvised film. Almost all of it was improvised, except maybe a few scenes. Those as well were spontaneous without any pre-written dialogue.
Goa fascinates me tremendously. My first trip happened ages ago, when I was visiting from Canada. The streets, houses, old churches, rivers, beaches, all on a rented bike went away with me and stayed in my memory for years.
I think my first revisit was when Taare Zameen Par was screened at IFFI, Goa. I was hooked. I started going there a bit more regularly. I even came up with excuses to go there. But I couldn’t find the Goa that I had taken back with me to Canada when I seen it for the very first time. I longed for it. I wanted to meet that Goa again. I was wondering where it went.
During one of the monsoons, I happened to be in Goa. I was blown away by the sheer beauty of it in the rains. I fell in love with the lush green and the hauntingly beautiful, deserted beaches sans the tourists with the raging sea and the clouds moving rapidly in the skies. Goa during the rains is stripped off of all the formalities of being a tourist destination. Naked, glistening in rain and occasional sunshine, was like being in a movie itself. I decided that I wanted to make a film during the rainy season in Goa but with no dialogue. Goa is in a silent conversation during the rains, and I felt it shouldn’t be disturbed.
Dalip Sondhi, an actor and an acting coach from Australia, had just shifted to Mumbai. We met and immediately became friends for life. Paul Finlay, a London based music producer, came to visit him. I told them about my idea to do a film in Goa during the monsoons. Paul immediately agreed and decided to produce it. I had thought of doing one of the roles in it, but decided to cast Dalip instead and we headed to Goa to shoot.
I had thought of three short stories running parallel in the film. I, along with two other friends who also wanted to make short films, decided to collaborate. I was going to supervise the film overall and edit it too. But unfortunately, just before we were about to start, one of them decided not to be a part of it. Then just midway through the shoot, the other friend had some issues and stepped out of it. This left me alone with my story and half-shot story of the other friend, and I still needed one more to complete the trio. I didn’t give up and kept moulding my ideas for all the three shorts. I had to completely let go of my friends’ ideas and come up with something new. I stayed committed to my decision of making a silent film and decided to improvise as I went along. It was a shot in the dark as I had no idea how I would conclude everything. Instead of three short stories, I now had three loose sketches of tales.
So, Missing became an experiment of sorts. Everyday, me and the actors would hop into a car and travel across Goa, and wherever I saw a location which seemed to go well with the feel and look of the ideas of the film I had in mind, we stopped. Actors interacted with the space and we shot them almost like a documentary. My only note to them was just to be themselves and take the place in.
No tripod, no lights, no reflectors, no sound. With Missing, I wanted to go back to the basics. I shot without any pre-structured or preconceived notions. I wanted to gather images and worry about how to unfold the narrative later. Despite being an editor myself, I didn’t worry about the edit while shooting. A lot of the random shots of various people on the beaches, like fishermen taking their boats into the water, children playing and fishing, just regular life on the beach…they became part of the film later while I was putting it all together.
The challenge of having no dialogue turned out to be quite difficult. The edit took a very long time. Since there was just a thin thread of three sketches of the lives of my characters in the film, it became extremely challenging. As I progressed, they became three short stories about a certain kind of loss, a nostalgia, our obsession with memories and our attempts to recreate them, and that gave me the idea to treat the film as if it was a collection of old black and white photographs. I tried a very muted colour as a symbol of the cherished memories that linger in our souls. A high-contrast treatment enhanced the idea further of making it a montage of old photographs.
My first cut was about an hour long. I was in love with it. The length didn’t bother me. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I was indulging. I was obsessed with many images. I gave up after a while. But then the world shut down. I decided to go back to it. Be very brutal and revise it. The lockdowns helped me finally discover a film I had an extremely hard time to find from what I had shot. It also helped me stay positive during this most difficult times of our lives. And I am glad Missing has started its journey. It is now over to the audiences. It has been selected to screen at NYIFF 2020 next month. I hope everyone finds their own story in it. That is what I have aimed for.
I think once again during shooting it, like during my very first trip to Goa, I collected many more images and memories. Goa never ends. It continues.
And you know I did find the Goa that I couldn’t on my second visit. It was the Old Goa. I found that during the shoot of Missing.
[Vipin Sharma is an acclaimed Indian actor with titles like Taare Zameen Par, Gangs of Wasseypur, Paan Singh Tomar, What The Folks and Paatal Lok to his credit. He is also an editor and filmmaker.]