The 16MM Film Festival is a Harkat Studios initiative to reminisce the medium that shaped the history of cinema around the world. With time, the medium has lost its charm to cheaper and faster alternatives like digital and the 16MM Film Festival has done a great job to shine the spotlight on the magic of the film!
At the fest, Harkat aims to ‘bring alive the magic of film’ by hosting screenings, including feature presentations, talks, short films and two very exciting hands-on workshops. The festival is spread over 3 days from the 14th to 16th of December, 2018.
The screening was followed by a Q&A session with the Director of the film Vikramaditya Motwane. And Rajat Barmecha, who played the character of Rohan in the film.
While we attended the screening and the QnA, we couldn’t help but get amazed by the insights Vikramaditya and Rajat had to share in response to some great questions asked by the audience.
Here’s our transcript of the QnA.
First off, Udaan is an amazing film, sir. Congratulations! So I wanted to know how was the process of writing the story like – the entire process, with the screenplay and all? And what was your inspiration?
It was miserable! (laughs) No, really. It is very miserable because you are thinking about the story the whole time – when you eat, when you go to bed, when you wake up in the morning. And the main issue here is that it takes time to get into that mood. Once you get that mood of ‘this is where are we going’, I think you can finish it soon. Like, I took around 10 days to finish the screenplay and all the dialogues and all – once I had gotten that mood. But it took me around two years to think about the script and get into that mood. What helped me with that, mostly, was the music that I heard. There was a point when I was clueless and I happened to hear this song “Bhor” by Indian Ocean and it just clicked! Udaan is largely influenced by that song…
I noticed that a major part of the movie is very shaky. The camera wasn’t held still. Was it deliberately done so?
So if you observe carefully, there are scenes which are not shaky. What happened was that we decided to shoot only the first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes on a tripod. This was to show, you know, Rohan’s emotions being at one level. Like when he was at school, he was happy being around his friends and in the final scenes he has taken his decision and is leaving with Arjun, feeling good. Apart from these scenes, the entire movie was shot by the camera being hand-held…
Also, we had the choice to shoot with either 16MM or 35MM and me and Siddharth Diwan – my DOP were like, “if we can afford a 35, this is it”. There is nothing better. And then for Trapped we were forced to shoot on the Red because we needed the smallest camera possible. One year later – we’ve seen the improvement between the Epic and the Dragon and how much digital has improved. Anyway, so I couldn’t afford to shoot 35 (MM) or I could shoot it and dub the whole film or I could do 16 (MM) and do sync-sound. And I think that sound has been super important for me in this film and I didnt want to end up dubbing a 6-year old and a 16-year old. But also, what is really interesting in the sound is that this is the first film in India to shoot the sound on 96 kilohertz. Every other film does it at 48. They still do it at 48. Kunal (Sharma), my Sound Designer went to great lengths to shoot this film at 96. And after we did the Dolby Digital stuff, and the first time we saw it in a properly calibrated theatre, it was beautiful! The depth of the sound that you get at 96 is just phenomenal!
So it was Shetty’s idea, we did a camera test which was Fuji versus Kodak, this versus that. I actually still have that camera test – I’ll probably put it out somewhere so you guys can check it out. It was a camera/screen test. But it blows you out of the world! When we saw this same film in Kodak – the 500T, I knew, this was it!
I actually love this film. For me not all films are able to marry the medium versus delio of the film but I feel this one specially captures the super 16(MM) grain and all the colours and the tone fits so well with the grief and melancholy together so…
We, actually me, Aditya and Shetty – my production designer and DOP, we were quite categorical that we wanted it (the film) to look period-less. So take away the cell phone element and this could be in the 90’s, I mean, it didn’t have to be the end of 2008. We wanted to give it that slightly timeless look and I think the super 16MM captures that – the low conceal, the washout colours. Like that Contessa – it could be something from the 70s till now. So that and the Jeans and the Keds are such a timeless thing. That was a very conscious effort on our part. So the only thing that gives it away is the father’s cell phone or something like that so you’ll think “Oh! Chalo, it is a modern film.”
Hello Sir! First, this is a very great movie. So every character that you portray, has their own essence such as Rohan who is a protagonist doesn’t say much and is silent. So what was your inspiration to build all these characters?
The inspirations are varied. They come from books and literature and music – lots of music. In fact it has been a huge influence on me. So for characters it’s interesting, like the protagonist is always a reflection of you, right? Most of the time. You or someone really close to you.
Now, Arjun’s character, for example, is like, my parents got divorced and my father married again. So the part of the whole imagination was what would have happened had I had a younger step-brother/ step sister… We would have had the exactly same age – I would have been 16 and that one would have been 6 because I was 10 when they got married. It never happened but it was all my imagination.
Bhairav Singh is an extension of what I think I have been hearing about my own grandfather. Like the beginning of the film is actually my father’s story. He had 4 friends, broke bounds, went out, got caught, came running back and one of them fell, literally. It was actually that bad. He got thrown out of school and then he came home and met his father. I never met my grandfather because he passed away before I was born but just hearing those stories – the imagination of how that moment would have been, Bhairav comes from that. So the moment at the train station where he is dragging the trunk and looking up is a literal visual of what I imagined that scene to be like when my father told me that when he came back, he was standing at the gate and his father was over there… So characters come from those moments and you base them on things that you’ve been told and then just take them forward from there.
Why did you choose Jamshedpur?
Because it is a beautiful city? (laughs).
It was Imtiaz Ali’s idea. I grew up a little in Nasik, which is an industrial small town, every family knows every family. I have also worked in a factory, I have done all that. But Nasik was too close to home. I didn’t really want to go there and it would have been really sad if I had gone there. Also, it is not just visuals, you know? Jamshedpur has that sort of lovely texture. Imtiaz read the script and said, “Go there, stay with my family,” which I did.
What does Ram Kapoor, who plays the Chachu, tell Rohan at his place before he leaves? The camera cuts away a bit and only the sound of rain is audible.
I don’t know (laughs). I will start the sequel with that scene, I guess!
Rohan running with his father and eventually trying to catch up and finally outrunning him… when did you discover that in your writing process? Was it in the first draft?
No. That I discovered while I was writing the screenplay. Because the moment I wrote the first bit of the jog, I knew how this scene was going to end. So immediately you transport to, you know, hopefully 50 pages later, and say this is how it is going to end. That’s the magic, sometimes of writing when things happen when you are writing it. You are pre-empting it in your outline. Because lovely things can happen throughout… There are certain things that happen in a film, that you can’t even write. People have said that when Rohan sits on the bed for the first time, the “Love Happiness” becomes “Lose Happiness”, that wasn’t designed. Lot of people assumed that it was. So you have your lucky moments while you are shooting. There is the moment when the father is coming back in the rickshaw and the kids are leaving the house, the rickshaw actually says “Tanhaa” at the back, which actually none of us actually planned. I didn’t see it, until I actually edited it. It is such a beautiful coincidence.
How did you relate to the basic conflict in the film? You have been to a film school, so the choice of being a director or making films was not that tough for you? Whereas the story of the protagonist would make people teary because maybe they had dream and they couldn’t make it.
The conflict is a very basic one. It is a father-son conflict. It is about careers. I have had people asking me whether these things happen in real life and I say, “it might not. But cinematically, you have to take it in the ‘Shakespeare level of things'”. There is an extreme. So here a guy who is a poet, is taken and put into a steel factory where he is sort of hammering out poetry. Those are the larger images within. Conflict is a father-son conflict. Mujhe kuch banna hai mere life me, my father wants me to do something else. How do you play on the conflict to make it unique, it is a wonderful concept. I don’t think we do enough films on it. I don’t think we do have films about teenagers anymore. I personally haven’t faced it. I have worked in my dad’s factory, but he wasn’t much like that. He was like, “Haan (picture) dekhni hai toh theek hai.” He never said you have to do this or you have to do that. But I have seen enough of it. I have seen people growing up in 80’s and early 90’s having to make a choice between Science, Arts and Commerce. No one took Arts because, you have to study Philosophy. So you are forced to take Science. You are forced to take Commerce. It is an unsaid thing, no one has even to tell you. Now it (the conflict) is changing.
Why is the father’s character too rigid? He is a very rare character. In the society we might find very few people that relate to him. So why did you characterize him as an extreme?
Again, for the sake of cinema. You find that extremes are better at giving a conflict. If I had softened him, where is the conflict? You are saying – “Ya, he is a nice guy.” But you don’t know if he is a nice guy? I didn’t write this film with a message. But it was only after I had finished it that I realized that what I had wanted for parents, and now being a parent myself I can understand that you need to always be there for your child as a backup, right? You are always there. But if you do not allow your child to try, run and fall in the first place, then what is the point? Bhaagne do na! What will happen in the worst case scenario? Thoda time lagega. They will fall and come back to the smarter option in your head. But if you don’t give them that chance at all, then there is no point.
Of all the elements in the movie, the one that has stuck with me so far is the music and the background score. It is one of those albums in bollywood where I can connect to each song. So what was your involvement in the songwriting process itself?
Lyrics writing? Not much. Amitabh Bhattacharya has been that one guy, that one head of department to whom I have never given a brief to or a feedback to. He does what he wants. (Amit) Trivedi on the other hand – how we normally work is we read the script and then talk about it and then I will give him references of the music, the tone of music that I have in my head. The rest of it was taking into the rock music that I grew up with listening to. So listening to that and say that that you want to create something in this tone – like nostalgia. It changes from film to film. The background is all Trivedi by himself. The magic he does in terms of using the bells when they are running are things that Amit does. He is a genius anyway. He is fantastic. This soundtrack in terms of songs and background score is amazing and I think it is my favourite.
Bhairav has Rohan from his first marriage and evidently he is very negligent because of which Rohan’s life is screwed up and then he has Arjun and it seems like a do over. In the third marriage, a girl child comes into the picture. So I was just wondering about that decision and what went behind that.
So there is a missing scene in the film which I shot. It was the last scene that got cut out before the film was finalized. It was where Rohan is at his uncle’s house and the father is outside with some friends drinking and he sees his father smile and thinks, “Yeh mere saath kyu nahi hasta?” and then in the final movie it cuts to the scene where he is taking his father home in the car because he is drunk. But initially the next next scene was to be that he comes into that same corridor where he sees that album and then the uncle comes and says – “I want to show you something”. He takes him to his garage and shows him a vintage car. He says, “I quit my job and this is what I am doing all the time. You are looking at your father completely wrong. You have to understand that when he sent you to boarding school, because he thought it was good for you and he didn’t bring you back because he was struggling over here, every bit of money he made was for your studies, it was for your betterment. That is why he never called you back. He didn’t want you to see all that. And then when he got better, you didn’t want to come back. You were already in the zone. Then he got married for the second time and then things fell apart for him.” I think it justifies him for a little bit. Whoever wanted to take that justification could. That he was happy when he was in a relationship. But because the moment had gone for them to reconcile themselves, that was a sad part.
The girl was because, if he had one more boy, it would have looked designed (laughs). So it was just to break that pattern.
Was it literature playing the big role in the story? I know that Satyanshu and Devanshu had written the poems. So was it always a part of the screenplay or did that come out later? And how did you find them?
No. In the screenplay it was all like, “Oh! Rohan? He is a great poet!” (laughs) I was just hoping some great poems would come from somewhere. I can’t write poetry… it (poetry) fits beautifully. I think their work is amazing. Devangshu – When I was working with Nikhil Advani, he used to be an assistant and then he assisted me on a couple of ad films. When he read the script, he said – “can I ask my brother to write the poems?” So I said – “Please ask”.
So the very first poem that Satyanshu wrote, I went – Wow! This is just fantastic! This is what you look for – you want you material to be elevated. That is exactly what they did. Their poems really elevated the script.
What was the process of your shot divisions and why so many close-ups? You have very rare master shots. Why is that?
I don’t know. I think I was worried if I was protecting the performances. And I am also very surprised like – how many close-ups?! So some scenes have a shot divisions, other scenes don’t because I think that so much of it was performance based and I had actors like Ronit and Ram who can improvise a lot. That is why I left some of the scenes to them coming on the sets, performing, improvising… But some scenes for example the one where he steals the cigarette from his dad’s purse – that was shot broken down. The dining table scene was the toughest scene for me to shoot because – first of all, how many of you’ll are film students here? Quite a few. So your axis line – at a round table when you are trying to shoot something, just to keep the axis right between 5 different characters is the most difficult thing in the world. I can shoot action sequences – no problem. But shooting dining table scene where conversations have to happen – where to be over the shoulder? Where to be in a full close up? Where to be wide? When to take the reaction shot? And your axis has to be solid because you can’t at any point of time make the audience feel like, “Oh! Yeh toh galat jagah dekha.” As film students you may understand what breaking the axis is but for the audience it is a massive disconnection point. So that scene had to be sort of specifically broken down to 25 shots. I actually had a plan. I had drawn something… It looked like a ridiculous pie chart.
A lot of inspiration you get for your movies is personal. So do you ever draw a line when you are writing your story? Like – “Nahi. Abhi zyada ho jayega”.
Not really. You have to borrow from your own life… That is the only way you can get true emotion out of it. Now part is that you can’t be militant about it and say ki, “aisa hua tha toh I am going to write exactly that way.” You are taking moments; you are letting your imagination run wild. I never met my grandfather but I have my version of what I think he might be like. Now my dad may come and say – this is rubbish. He was never like this. But what do I know? So if the emotion works for you, do it. So for example, I drew the line when I had to shoot the film in Nasik. For me that was too close to home. So let us take that and put it somewhere else. I guess that is the personal line that I would draw.
It was fascinating to listen to the director indulge into the process of making the film. The QnA unravelled the facets of the film that we could’ve never imagined. Thanks to Harkat Studios, we got this rare opportunity to learn more about the film and what goes into making such a piece! Next time they have this, we implore you to NOT miss the screening and the QnA.
The film was hosted by the Films Division at their campus at Cumballa Hills, Mumbai.
In fact, we at TRS believe that the audience need many such platforms to get the filmmakers talk about the art and craft of making stories become indelible memories. Thank you Harkat Studios for taking the first step by creating the 16MM Festival.
Oh, and just before the credits roll on this, here is a mini-announcement. We at TRS are working on a series of QnA of our own. We went and spoke to Vikramaditya Motwane (and some others) to understand what goes behind the scenes when they make films. The season 1 will release in early January. We’ve poured in a lot of love and effort into it. Can’t wait to unveil it!
Thanks for reading!
Nivedita and Shikha, Team The Red Sparrow.
P.S.: While we’ve taken every care while transcribing this, please do let us know if you spot an discrepancy. Thanks!