On the 16th morning I boarded the GO airways flight from Mumbai to Bangalore. Another film was about to be born.... I AM ABHIMANYU would be a part of a series of short stories that would form my fourth feature film I AM. Yet it felt like as if one was starting all over again, but maybe that’s what’s exciting about film making, you start all over again for every film you make, discover new unexplored bits of yourself and thus you are born again.16th all day I spent along visiting cats. We saw somewhere about 38 cats to finally zero down on 3 . One trained cat was supposed to come from Mumbai. I remember the jet black kutten Sambhunath ... so endearing that we immediately wanted him. And then there was Lady... a beautiful proud furry cat. This is where I met the amazing couple Yashmin and her husband. They take care of about two dozen cats and they offered to help us by bringing them over to the set and being with them all thru the day.
After that I was with another wonderful lady Nalini Ratnam who had shortlisted kids for me. This was not easy, especially to explain to a child of 6 that it’s a film about child sexual abuse. But surprisingly all the parents were extremely supportive of film.Next morning as I entered the bathroom in my hotel I was greeted with loud singing from the adjoining bathroom and I froze. That is one thing I cannot handle. I was feeling embarrassed as I called my Bangalore line producer to rescue me. Well she is the third amazing lady in this city. Archana Balan was there with a smile on her face that said “ You should have listened to me in the first place”. She took us to this place called SU CASA at Indiranagar. And that is where the entire team was till the end of the shoot. And thanks to her for this and many more that i retained my sanity.
The making of I AM ABHIMANYU is anyway an unique experience for me, maybe for everyone involved. 7 CO PRODUCERS/ 34 CO- OWNERS from 17 cities across the world, more than 30 volunteers in form of cast and crew made this film a reality. There is so much energy behind this film that I think i have felt so motivated after a very long time. I am stressed and yet i could not ask for more. To have the confidence of so many people is overwhelming. MY friend DOP Arvind Kannabiran joined me on the 18th along with the 24x7 ready and helpfull first AD of mine AMAR. From the 18th to the 20th we were revisiting the locations/ planning out the shots/finalising the kids and the cats for the shoot and sorting out other production details.
I knew this would not be an easy shoot as it was the first for many of the crew involved..... but then the ship had cast sail and we had to make it to the shore.I cannot write down what I felt during the five days of shoot. Glimpses of memories come and that’s what I will pen down...my scattered thoughts. Maybe it’s too soon. Maybe it’s too many thoughts. Maybe I am already worrying about Omar and AFIA.I remember how the first day we had planned to shoot a relatively easy sequence on the terrace garden - A song and a scene.
The first thing that went wrong is that Lady refused to behave lady like. I think so many people, the lights and the noise just unnerved her. After a couple of hours I resigned to the thought that I will have to shoot the sequence minus the cat. I would rewrite the film by deleting the cats. Arvind looks said “Fool I warned you from day one, not in a small budget film with so much of time constrain”. And to add to salt to the injury the cats were super friendly with Arvind.So Lady left and we started shooting “bhojhase se....”. But then the clouds and the sun decided to be play full and keep playing hide and seek. It was frustrating how in the middle of the shot suddenly the clouds would appear and we would have to stop. Time and stock was running. We took a quick decision. Let’s start shooting what we planned to shoot the next day.... some intense scenes. Thankfully Radhika and Sanjay being seasoned across I was not so worried about them getting into something so intense the first day.
That was a good decision because things started moving. Soon the clouds cleared and Sambhunath had arrived. We started shooting the song again with him. At the end of the day we completed more than what we had planned. That’s why they say that sometimes crisis is most productive.The second day was relatively peaceful. And we were happy that despite all the odds we completed what we were supposed to complete on time.
Day three started with us setting up a sequence with the boy Zubin, Anurag ans Shenaz. I was all excited to work with Anurag. It amazing how he drops the garb of a film maker so easily. I was touched how both Shenarz and Anurag refused any token money for the film. I knew this was perhaps a special film for Anurag as he is a survivor.As we started shooting we realised that a worse replay of Day one was happening. The ”TRAINED” cat from Mumbai just refused to behave. The poor animal must have been treated so badly by its owner that he seemed totally traumatised. The minute any of us picked him up he scratched and panicked. Of course there was Yashmin immediately offering her help, trying to pacify the cat and then finally getting us another kitten. But by then the clouds and sun decided to start playing with us once again.We put the scene on hold and shifted inside to shoot the scene with Dristh( 7yrs ol) and Anurag. It was supposed to be a rather intense scene. But somehow the angrier Anurag looked the more Dristh Laughed. He just could not keep a straight face. And if u scolded him a lil he burst into tears and my heart would no let me use that mode to make him act.After a couple of hours we abandoned the scene. We rushed outdoor( As the sky had cleared) to shoot the scene with Zubin. By then Yasmin had got another sweet kitten for us.Later we decided to shoot some other scenes that day while I re planned how to shoot with Dristh. Actually it was my mistake. I should have anyway scheduled some easier scenes first.... that’s how we finally managed to move on and finally complete the abandoned scene next day. By then he was much more relaxed and we worked the shots in a way were we could cheat a bit.
Fourth day worked was fun. The boy who acted as 17 year old Abhimanyu was a boy with a rather intense and sensitive face. Maybe a talent I would like to groom. Radhika, Sanjay Anurag and Shenarz provided the in between much needed relief of gossip and fun.
Day five Rahul Bose joined us for the shoot at the Brigade road Coffee Day along with Sanjay and Arry Dabbas( a model in Bangalore) and later Kannada actress Pooja Gandhi shot with us for a scene at night club.As the last shoot got canned I looked at Arvind and Sanjay. We had done it again. ... after My Brother Nikhil once again we were working together, under similar budget constraints. But at the end of it we were smiling. That’s the magic of seeing a film take shape.... and thanks to all the amazing people on Face Book, our entire crew of volunteers and others who made this possible.This is the beginning of a possible alternate way of film making for independent cinema in India.... Now the journey begins for Omar......