The day the “chajja” or the terrace almost caved in!

It was Day 6 of the Jugni shoot, the last but one day at “Bibi Saroop’s House”. The house had worked out really well so far but the novelty of the shoot for the owners of the house was wearing off. They were continuing to stay in the house while we shot and so we were forced to ask them to “clear the field” a lot of the time. They were getting tired of being asked to sit somewhere else because the spot they had chosen was going to be in frame. Some neighbourhood politics of the village had also kicked in making everything a little difficult. All in all, they were not saying it but they now wanted us to get the hell out of there!  

We had a night scene scheduled for that day, to be shot on the “chajja” or their terrace. On day 4, when we shot the first song on the terrace, Joel shooting the “making of” asked the “Production Designer” Vikram, how many people the terrace could handle and he said “4” in a tone of resignation because there were 20 people on the terrace already that day. The actors were dancing and everyone else was rushing around! (as you would have read in “The day music hit the Jugni shoot“)

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The terrace was “kaccha” ie,  made of wooden beams, covered with layers of wet mud. And so… Yeah… it was not meant for more than four people on it at any given time.  

Back to the night scene on Day 6. It was a scene where Babaji and Bibi Saroop are on the terrace already and an excited Mastana comes rushing in, singing at the top of the his voice and plonks himself down on the charpai next to Babaji.  Mastana, ie Siddhant is an energetic actor playing an energetic character and the energy he brought to the scene that night was superb! He rushed up the stairs, climbed the charpai and jumped down, plonking himself in place, next to Babaji!

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 A loud “CRUNCH” was heard but we all stayed in character. The actors, the director, ie me and the DOP. We keep rolling and the actors kept going.  When the take got over, there was a lot of chaos downstairs. The loud “CRUNCH” was the sound of a few beams giving way with mud falling on the people sitting in the room below. We were extremely lucky that the roof did not cave in, else… No! I don’t even want to think about what could have happened.

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Anyway the art department swung into action, nailing a plank of wood up there to keep the broken beams in place. BUT… Manas Malhotra (see him in his Darth Vader look as he was on most of the shoot) Screen-Shot-2015-11-16-at-5.57.06-PMwas more tense than I had ever seen him before. And understandably so… we were in a bit of, not just a bit of… quite a bit of… actually, deep trouble!

We had to finish the scene and so despite the tension writ large on everybody’s faces, the bare minimum people went back up and finished the scene with strict instructions to the actors to do nothing that might endanger the floor… It was difficult but we managed. After all, as I have said several times on this blog, crisis management is the second name of the film making process.

That scene got done, somehow… but… there was one more scene on the terrace,  scheduled for the next day… the last at that particular location. My co-producers, Manas and Karan were very keen that we should not shoot on the terrace again. We should just finish whatever we needed to do in the lower part of the house and move to the next location.

The journey back to the hotel every night was in different vehicles but the same people travelled together everyday. Our car was the Direction team along with Manas and Karan. Screen-Shot-2015-11-16-at-6.05.40-PMSo every night all along the way back, we discussed how to deal with all the problems (of which there was never any dearth! 😉 ). And I have to say, it was a super energising journey at the end of every single day. So on the journey back that day, my chief AD Ripunjoy, first AD Kartick and I started discussing options for the scene remaining on the terrace. By the end of the hour long ride we had two plans that could possibly work and enable us to shoot the  scene without compromising on the lyricism planned for it.

Finally after several rounds of discussion between us and the DOP, Divakar, we did end up shooting the scene on the terrace. But with only the actors on the terrace. All the rest of us were downstairs and the DOP was on a crane.

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There is a solution to every problem. Always. And the film making process painstakingly teaches you that every single day! Cheers to the process! 🙂 

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The quest for the right “tree”.

The search for the right tree

The second most important location after “Bibi Saroop’s house”, from the Jugni shoot perspective was “Mastana’s hut”. This was to be a little pad of his own,  in the middle of the fields. We had spent a long time searching for a real hut, unsuccessfully, and had finally decided that the only way to get what we wanted was to create it. So it was going to be the art department’s baby.  But, it had to be close to the main village where we were shooting, ie, Hassanpur, it needed to have easy access from a road where the vanity van could be parked, it needed to have standing crops around for the aesthetics yet not so much that they get trampled by the cast and crew. It needed to… basically there were many conditions and restrictions but despite it all it needed to be perfect.

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On the day we went for the recce, Divakar, the DOP, Vikram, the production designer, Ripunjoy, Chief AD, Kartick, First AD and me along with the Production team, went all around the village in a radius of about 3 kms. By the end of it we knew almost every tree in the area.

L to R: Divakar, Shefali, Vikram, Ripun, Devender, Kartick

L to R: Divakar, Shefali, Vikram, Ripun, Devender, Kartick

Finally we zeroed in on a mango tree that we all liked. Vikram Singh, the production designer is a man of few words. I have talked about this before but will do it again, because unlike him, I am a talker. 😉 To most of my animated, detailed long list of demands he usually had just one reply, it is his ‘takiyakalaam’… he says “ho jayega” in a tone that we all know very well… it is… it is… ‘Vikramesque’! But he was quiet when we got excited about the tree. Later he came up to me and said that he felt that the tree on its own is looking nice but if we put the hut under it, the proportions will not work out well. I wasn’t convinced, so he drew it and showed me how the height of the tree is not enough to bring out the best in the long shot that we will need of the hut. Hmm… well… ok…

So the search for the right tree began all over again. We found one which did not work out because the owner of the field had a problem last minute. Anyway… finally the tree was found, the work of the hut started and every little detail… the beams should be strong enough to take the weight of the lights that Divakar might want to hang from them, the thatch on the top should let in light so we could create patterns… the door… the window, the texture, the painting on its wall, the objects inside…. finally it all worked out. Most importantly the Tree! 

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What does “Barquat” mean?

Since I promised to tell you more about the making of the music in The day Music HIT the Jugni shoot, let me start by sharing a post the first AD for JugniKartick Sitaraman wrote at the time the very first song Dub happened. And it was with Javed Bashir! Yes, we started with a bang.
Guest Post this, by Kartick Sitaraman! He writes…

I join Shefali in a music session with Clinton Cerejo (our music director), Shellee (our lyricist and dialogue writer) and Javed Bashir (singer). This is the same, just the same as watching the BTM video of a Coke Studio song on one’s laptop. Ironically, and not just incidentally, the Making of Jugni is being done by the same guy who did the BTMs of Coke Studio 3, Joel.

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Cliinton and Kartick

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Shellee ji and Shefali

So Clinton plays us the mukhda and antara of the title track, Jugni. There’s a line in it that goes ‘barqat din-ba-din ho dugni’. After playing us the track, Clinton requested Shellee if he could rewrite the last word to end in an ‘aa’ sound because given the ‘aa’ rhyme scheme of the verse, the ‘ni’ end was sounding off to him. So Shellee immediately launched into giving him options, in his lilting lyrical prosaic way of doing things… As Shellee and Javed stepped into a tango over whether or not ‘barqat’ could become ‘doona’, instead of having to become ‘dugni’ – Shellee saying, ‘kyunki barqat Shilpa Shetty toh hai nahi… toh uska doona ho jaaye toh koi problem nahi hai…’, and Javed agreeing in the manner true and entirely becoming of a Sufi Qawwal singer, ‘haan haan bilkul – barqat toh USKI rehmat se hai… toh doona bilkul ho sakta hai…

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Parallel to this spiritual-lyrical-dialogue was Clinton’s honest wonderment and he earnestly waited for the conversation to amble to a stop before asking, ‘what is barqat?’ (not to add to the stereotype but Clinton’s ease with Hindi and all associated languages of the Devnagiri script are not very different from my comfort with jumping out of a helicopter into the most shark-ridden zone of the ocean).

Shellee and Javed were about to continue with the next line of the song when Clinton persisted with his question, ‘haan, so what is barqat?’ So Shellee being the poet, the lyrical interpreter of the mundane, the translator of the esoteric to us keen askers of questions, analogised barqat with ‘Clinton maan lo tumhari biwi ne paanch logon ke liye daawat banayi hai… aur un paanch ke saath teen-chaar aur aa gaye… toh woh tumse kehti hai, Clinton koi tension nahi hai, yeh toh uski barqat hai…’ Clinton infers, ‘so barqat means gatecrashers?

Life lesson learnt (as a writer): the best sit-com always arises from the earnestness and honesty with which the character approaches the situation. Shellee and Javed went the whole hog in clarifying the intent of that analogy and Clinton was brought to the same page and life, as we know it, resumed.

As I type this, Javed Bashir is in the dubbing room, energising Shefali’s vision, Shellee’s words, and Mastana’s character with his powerhouse voice. Watch out for this album!

Javed Bashir JI

Javed Bashir JI

Coming soon, to a hearing device near you – ! The JUGNI album!

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from L to R: Shefali, Kartick, Shellee, Javed, Clinton, Simaab, Manas

The day music HIT the Jugni shoot!

Day 4 of the Jugni shoot, the third consecutive day in Bibi Saroop’s house, was a turning point, a game changer in many ways. Why? Because we shot our first SONG that day. And Jugni is a musical film, a VERY musical film that was made by a VERY musical team. (Random Trivia: There will be atleast 9 songs in the album, maybe 10!) As you might have read in “It had to be a musical, didn’t it“, I had gotten to know and become friends with my Chief AD, Ripunjoy Byum and my First AD, Kartick Sitaraman over many “music open houses” where we sang away, anything and everything, with maximum lung capacity! My co-producer Manas Malhotra joined in many of those too. 🙂 Also Sugandha, playing Vibs, a Music Director and Sadhana ji, playing Bibi Saroop, a singer in the film are both great singers.

Sugandha rehearsing for the day

Sugandha rehearsing for the day

Back to Day 4. So… we had scheduled the shoot of the song “Joban”, known by the crew as the “Radio Jam”. It’s a fun song, which, in the film is sung by the singer Bibi Saroop in her hey days,  and it suddenly plays on the radio. She is really excited and everyone dances in celebration, on the terrace of their home! crouching2

We had decided to go with a very fluid handheld feel for the song and so we let the characters dance as they wanted and my DOP, Divakar Mani, was going to compose shots on the go. This meant that we did not know know which way he would turn, when, so the only way Shekhar Anna, pulling focus, could stay in focus was to stay just behind him and since we could not have the cables connecting the camera to a monitor, lest Divakar trip on them, I could only see what is going on in his camera monitor, also following him around, without a clue about which way he might turn next.   

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Crouching Crew Dancing Actors

As I watch the “making of” footage now, I can see how idiotic we look, ducking and running to make sure we stay behind the camera. Even Joel, shooting the “making of” was having a super hard time that day. I remember he was not in Divakar’s good books, being in the “field” (the zone of the camera) at least one time. But Joel is never one to give up! He finds a way and he did, even if it meant sometimes ducking just at the right time into a crevice on one of the neighbouring terraces.

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Babaji springs up on Rickety trunk.

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Bibi won’t be left behind

Daman ji, playing the grandfather was so spirited (well, he is always seen in the film with a glass in hand, but that is not what I was referring to) that I was nervous he might hurt himself.  Sadhana ji was no less. She was the first to spring up with the support of a rickety trunk to reach a higher level of the terrace because we wanted to shoot them in a silhouette up there too! My heart was in my mouth but the spring of her step was unmatchable. 

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Yup! this works!

Anyway after many takes and full on masti… we thought we had all we needed to put the song together.

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Bibi of the film and Bibi of the location! Mastana in between.

And in those couple of hours, the mood of the entire unit, the cast, the village, everything shifted as the first song of JUGNI resonated over and over again in the Hassanpur air!

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Director Actor bystander everyone happy!

Now, there were smiling faces everywhere, a spring in everyone’s step. It was just a small peep into the power that music has in general and, may I add, the music of Jugni has in particular!

Our music Director, Clinton Cerejo and lyricist Shellee ji have done such a, such a, such a fabulous job! (Pardon me but I can’t help saying it myself. And I promise you will agree with me.) More about the music in the next piece. For now, allow me to say… we really killed it that day! 🙂    

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As it looks on the camera monitor!

So where do you draw the line?!

One of the biggest technical questions in the film-making process that pops up time and again during the shoot, is of the “Axis”… that imaginary line which defines how you are going to shoot the scene such that it comes together seamlessly on the edit table. If you ‘jump’ the axis, the scene can not be put together. It’s a technicality that is essential to follow and sometimes gets terribly confusing.Picture 2

It was Day 3 of the Jugni shoot and we had a very long day ahead of us. The first scene was the “Paratha scene” which had all of the six primary characters that the Punjab schedule of the film had, Bibi Saroop, Babaji, Jeeta, Preeto, Mastana and Vibs. The make up department had their hands full and we were already running late.

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The placement of the characters at the location, Bibi Saroop’s house,was more or less circular and thus the conversation hexagonal. Many characters saying things to other characters and sometimes saying things Picture 3to one but meaning them for another. In this kind of a scenario, defining the dreaded axis becomes even more difficult. And after a little bit of thought about the theory, one must rely on one’s instinct to do the rest, at least that is how I have always dealt with these kind of things. So that is what we were doing and it was going well, till my dear friend and first AD Kartick Sitaraman threw a spanner in the works.

IMG_6849He brought up some theoretical points that confused us all and we somehow finished the scene amdist much argument leaving me uncertain and stressed.

I took time in the lunch break to call my Editor cousin, Anupama Chandra, to confirm that we had gotten it right. (I call her for different kinds of emergencies, work and life related, and the first thing she always says on the phone is, “is it urgent?!”) The answer she gave me at that time was not so clear… “draw the line between the characters having the primary conversation”, she said, but there is no “Primary” conversation here! I remember she also gave me a reference of a youtube video to look at where the placement of the characters is circular. But in the remote village of Hassanpur, I barely got enough phone signal (in some spots) to be able to have this phone conversation , definitely not enough to check out anything on youtube. So I decided that I must leave it to the instinct and to God and get on with the rest of the day. We had three more lengthy scenes to go and there was no time to waste.

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Once the first set of rushes (raw footage) reached my Editor Navnita Sen, I called and asked her to check whether all is well with the Paratha scene. She did and reported back that it looks fine, but she will know for sure only when she puts it together.

That was that. We had to keep moving on. And we did.

67The Paratha scene, the bit of it that is still in the film (the edit is a cruel cruel cruel process!) works just fine.

It’s a lesson for me in trusting the instinct. It rarely goes wrong.  Kartick Sitaraman, do you have something to say, theoretically speaking? 😉

The magic of Hassanpur!

Day 2 was the original Day1 on the Jugni shoot that had been demoted because of actors’ flights not landing etc as you might have read in Shoot starts tomorrow… BUT…  IMG_6761It was going to be the first day in “Bibi Saroop’s House”, one of our principal locations. It was a super important location and we had the maximum number of scenes in any one location, here.

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Mastana was a favourite with the kids!

We had first identified it when Manas and I came on the very first recce . Then on the next, technical recce, with the Chief AD, Ripunjoy, the DOP, Divakar and the Production Designer, Vikram, we could not find this particular house. Its in a village called Hassanpur, which has circuitous lanes that tend to get very confusing at first. But since we ended up shooting much of Jugni in and around this village, by the end of the shoot, it was like home and we knew every nook and cranny well. By the way, we plan to go do a special screening in the village once the film is ready. It will be interesting to see the response of the people who were greeting us every morning with dialogues from the film and lines from its songs. 🙂

The right location is a critical part of getting the flavour right and to my mind we did very well with Hassanpur. There were other villages that the location managers showed us which were nice but some had been used in films before, others didn’t have much character. Hassanpur was just right. It had a feel of the contemporary but with a touch of history, which is exactly what we wanted.galli

Just look at this galli… isn’t there magic there?

The house was interesting by itself and made even more interesting with the intervention of the Art department. Their job is often to make a space look like no work has been done on it. And their best work camouflages itself so well that it doesn’t peep out from anywhere. 🙂

kitchenIn an interesting part of the “making of” footage, Joel sees Sadhna ji as Bibi Saroop for the first time and says, “Shit, I didn’t recognise her only! She blended man!”. Then he asks her whether she likes her house… and she says yes, that she especially loves the kitchen. The kitchen that looks so much a part of the house was created by the art department.

In fact, most often the best work that goes into a film is the one that is invisible, whether its the art department’s, the Camera person’s, the Editors, or even the Actors’. One of the best compliments someone gave the rough cut of the film recently was that “nobody looked like they were acting”! The director’s work is invisible in any case, if the film works. 🙂 If it doesn’t, then the director is to blame for everything of course.  Haha!  costume-base

Coming back to Hassanpur… we set up costume base in someone’s house, food base in someone else’s… and EVERYONE welcomed us with open arms. I guess that is what Indian hospitality is about… it does exist… especially in villages and small towns.

Hassanpur… A very big “Thank You to you!”  And we are coming back soon… to show you the film! IMG_7939

I owe you… Scene 55!!

Scene 55 might be one of the most difficult, most critical scenes in the Jugni script but on DAY 1 of the shoot it turned out to be a lot more than that.Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 12.29.48 PM

It actually set the tone of ALL of the rest of the shoot.

When we got back to shoot the last scene for the day, after my Chief AD Ripunjoy’s b’day surprise, it was late, it was cold, we were tired, we were anxious, and on top of it all, we just HAD to get this scene right. A lot depended on it.

We had decided to stay on a hand held, “fluid” shot for most of the entire scene. Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 12.28.06 PMMy DOP, Divakar, was going to hold the camera without a proper ‘grip’ because the one we had didn’t work well. Sekhar Anna, was going to pull focus without anyone knowing what exactly the movement was going to be. (I have no clue how he managed to do it, I guess it comes from his yearssss of experience and he is a rockstar!) Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 1.16.59 PM

We were all in a small clearing in the sugarcane field, mattresses covered with sugarcane husk below our feet which made even just walking difficult, forget trying to do it without looking or knowing where one is going. Also we had strict instructions not to trample any of the standing crop. I could not be at the monitor because the sound guys had some issue and my headphones were not working, so the only way I could watch the scene was to look into the camera monitor, walking behind Divakar and hearing the actors live. In short, it was crazy! But that is what film making is. It is crazy! And the sooner you accept, nay embrace that, and work with that, the better. 🙂

From the videos of the ‘making’ that Joel has shot, I can see the gradual shift of tone as the day continues. The pace of instructions becomes faster, the tone more urgent,  the actions more animated.

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 12.12.34 PMWhen we had done the scene in the last set of rehearsals in Mumbai, we had gotten it to a very good place. It has many emotions in its graph. It goes from, frustrated questioning to anger to tenderness to disbelief and then a final blow up. But that day it took a while to fall into place.

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 12.22.12 PMConvincing the actors is often a tough task. And if the actor is not convinced, the scene can’t be convincing either. So the first day was a big big challenge for me as a director.  sc55

What finally happened in the scene… you will have to wait and watch in the film when it releases!

But for now suffice to say that SCENE 55, I owe you! Big time!