Sunday, January 09, 2011

A Random Day

A friend of mine sent me a sms the other day, to ask if we could meet at four in the afternoon at Infinity. Around two, I boarded an auto to Adarsh Nagar. Normally, if I asked eight autos, the ninth one would give me a boarding pass. But this auto driver was special, he was just the second! As we passed the flyover that is being constructed on the S.V. Road that would head right on top of the Western railway tracks and go into Jogeshwari East, I found myself saying, ‘If this is completed, any and every auto from east would come to West and visa verse’. The auto driver saw the half constructed flyover, but choose to keep mum. Maybe he was not interested.

‘Do you know how long will it take for the flyover to get completed?’ I persisted. ‘Don’t know sir… But there is a lot of money in this flyover business’ he replied. ‘Ah… so he does talk...’ I thought. And then the words began to flow, ‘Sir, they keep constructing these flyovers where ever they get space. And when they don’t get the space, they divert the route and change the alignment’. As I began to wonder about the methodology used for such a change of plan he seemed to have read my mind, ‘they have powerful engineers who can turn the course of the flyovers when people on whose homes they are being constructed, object to the existing plans’. I remembered a Tulu language novel that has an old idiosyncratic character who is obsessed with the idea of changing the course of the river. I was also reminded of Shree Atul Bihari Vajpayee and his massive river linking scheme.

A few minutes further, just before we entered Adarsh Nagar, there was a traffic jam. A few machines were crushing road side establishments. Some quick flashes - a newspaper clipping on BMC’s demolition drive on illegal construction, slum dwellers, Shabana Azmi and Anand Patwardhan. Tin sheets got crushed; bricks fell down, the inner walls could be seen, wires were left dangling, people watched in amusement and the cops supervised. Unmindful of the honking vehicles, my excited auto driver stopped the auto to join the party. ‘You should never buy such establishments. When you get it for a cheap rate, you should know that something like this would happen at some stage’, he advised me. ‘Where are the sellers?’ he questioned as he resumed his drive. ‘They have made their money and are nowhere near’, he himself answered speeding up his auto without even bothering to look at me through the mirror.

As we took the turn towards Alok’s studio the driver suddenly yells, ‘Ladki… (Girl) Sir, ladki…’. Thus I was forced to see a young fair girl wearing a mini skirt talking to a man who had just got down from his huge car. The man looked like a xerox copy of Ranbir Kapoor who had a beard. ‘They are all film stars, sir’, the driver beamed as he slowed down his auto. Why would any film star wear a mini skirt and walk on high heels on the uneven mud-stone road that leads to Alok’s studio? But before I could express such doubts, a Martuti van parked by the road caught my attention. It was a mobile idli-vada-sambar joint, and office goes were hogging plate after plate. ‘I have seen vendors who sell idlies on cycles, on hand carts, but on Maruthi van…? People have really developed’, not to be undone I chipped in my expert comments, distracting the driver away from the mini skirt, which by now had become an image.

But by the time the driver scanned for the Maruthi Van, we were on another turning and I had found my destination – The Film Writer’s Association (FWA). I had to register my screenplay before I submitted it to any prospective producer. ‘Thanks, my day is made. You have chosen to sit on my auto and have made me see a variety of things today sir’, the auto driver was grateful as he dropped me, ‘from a flyover that bends, to the BMC demolition and to the film star’s mini skirt.’ He promised to see the Idli vendor on the Maruthi Van, as he took the road back.

To my utter surprise, the FWA was almost empty. Another flash dialogue escaped my mind – a well known mainstream filmmaker had once asked the press, ‘Where are the film writers in India?’ The FWA had then got angry. ‘Today is a Thursday. Mondays and Fridays are the busiest’, said the smiling clerk. A registration officer of FWA has to sign every paper of your script before it can be called as registered. I sat before the bearded old man to help him turn the pages. And then, suddenly I saw the name plate. It was the legendary B.R. Ishara, the man who made films like ‘Chetana’; films that helped FTII graduates to find a place in the mainstream Hindi cinema!!! Some more quick flashes in my mind - among other things, the legs of a skimpily clad girl in the poster of the film ‘Chetana’. He must have been surprised when I grinned at him. He wouldn’t have known that it was a grin of recognition. It did not matter, for I had just seen the man who had created that poster which used to come in my dreams, long ago.

At four thirty, as I gulped down a glass of buttermilk at the Food Court at Infinity, my friend came rushing in, apologizing for being late. He had a meeting with a producer of TV serials, to whom he had narrated three to four concepts. ‘I want to project myself as a creative director. I have eight to ten concepts ready. I am tapping the tap, but the water never flows,’ he exclaimed in angst. As I was figuring out what it actually meant he continued, ‘I once met a producer who asked me on my face – how are you a creative director? A creative director today is almost an agent for the TV producer who gets his project approved at the channel office by whatever means – money, wine and women!!!’

I was a kind of shocked, for I was ignorant of this. ‘So was I that day. The producer had then said - if you don’t do all these things you cannot be a creative director. You are something else’, he continued in anger. He was apparently taking great pains to explain to everyone in saying that he is not ‘that’ type of creative director, but a ‘creative’ creative director – the one who conceptualizes a serial, takes forward the story with a team of writer and gives inputs at the edit. Once upon a time he was a film and video editor. ‘Where was my creative contribution in editing? They neither give money, nor the credit. And everyone has an edit set up in their bathrooms. I therefore have stopped editing, as it has become unproductive’, he questioned and complained.

‘Well, I hardly do TV these days’, I apologized to which he stared at me and asked, ‘Are you friendly with any star?’ I scanned my mind, pressed the refresh button, scanned it again – but nothing emerged. ‘The corporate houses who have recently ventured into the film industry offer a package to a star whom they think would be beneficial to the products that they make. They need a face value to add to their brand value. With a national award under your belt your brand value has increased, but you need a face value.’ I scanned my mind for the one last time – but from MGR to Salman Khan to Nirmal Pandey; none of them were actually my close friends.

‘As far as me, I am not into films any more. But I have many TV concepts ready - reality and non reality shows. I think I will register them at FWA on Monday. I want to be a creative director, and by creative director, I mean real creative director,’ he blurted out. He was on the lookout for the right nomenclature. ‘Honorary director, as in honorary president or honorary secretary of any organization’, I suggested. We both laughed wickedly. By the time the TV monitor at the Food Court had already suggested that Rahul Dravid was out caught behind in the slips, a mother-teenage daughter duo were lapping up ice cream cones, Makarand Deshpande’s meeting at the far off table was over and my friend’s mobile battery was almost down.

Back at home, I checked my mails. My sister had sent me an email which had some photos of my parents as attachments. Over the last year, they had expired within a span of five months of each other. I was seeing these photos for the first time, and they were very disturbing. It gave a glipmse of thier life together, maybe just before thier death. Although they were smiling, the physical suffering that they had endured when they were alive was very much evident, for all to see. Or so it seemed to me. I had no courage to stare at them. It then suddenly occurred to me that I had failed to fully realise the extent of their sufferings when they were alive and that the whole world around them knew of it, but for me.

As I slumped on my bed that night, I could not but help remember the edited words of the auto driver, ‘Thanks. You have made me see a variety of things today’.