A few years after Rom and I got married, one of Rom’s colleagues asked me when we had met. Without thinking, I replied, “When I was 15.” She was shocked; she had jumped to the conclusion Rom and I had been seeing each other from the time I was 15. I didn’t say anything for a few moments. Oh yes, I was evil, all right.
When my classmates and I were 15, we had to write our board exams, and we were under a lot of stress. We studied every waking minute: no television, no weekends, no “wasting time”. I don’t remember how I visited the Madras Crocodile Bank. Perhaps someone felt we needed a break and took us on an outing.
At that time, I had an infection near a finger nail. Instead of lancing it and relieving the pain, the doctor said the pus had to come to a head. Someone else advised my mother that sticking a whole lemon on it would quicken the process. So I wore a citrus on my finger when we visited Croc Bank. And there was Rom. I remember trying to hide my hand, but he remembers meeting a chit of a girl with a lemon on her finger. Our meeting wasn’t romantic or even dramatic.
We may have even met earlier. Everyone who lived in Madras in the 1970s and 1980s knew everyone else. It was a city in size, but a village by nature. Rom and my family shared mutual connections, such as Siddharth Buch, a prominent naturalist. My father went to school with Siddharth’s sister and knew the siblings well. Rom also knew Siddharth, and there’s a possibility we may have met when I was a child.
Five years after meeting Rom, I graduated as a film editor, and began my career editing soaps, advertisements, and corporate documentaries. It didn’t take me long to get tired of it. Being a young woman in a man’s world meant I wasn’t taken seriously. Besides, the directors merely wanted an equipment operator, one who would cut a shot when instructed. I hoped as I gained experience, I would be allowed more creative freedom.
In the meantime, Rom had made a children’s feature film called The Boy And The Crocodile. To sell it to the European market, he wanted the two-hour-long movie edited down to an hour. I remember him with an armload of video tapes striding down the corridor at the studio where I worked. He claims we fell in love as we sat side by side, cheek to cheek, in the dimly lit editing room. I don’t remember that. In fact, I don’t even remember editing that film.
However, I do remember editing his show reel, a short video portfolio of his work as a filmmaker. He arrived one morning, dumped a huge pile of tapes on my desk, and said he’d be back after I finished the job. Nobody had ever given me such freedom. When I was done, he picked up the tapes and vanished. He was going to the U.S. to pitch documentary ideas to the heads of various television channels. I was just an editor, and he, a client.
At this time, I took a break from my editing career to apprentice with the foremost editor of the feature film industry in Kodambakkam. To my distress, he had only marginally more artistic freedom than I did. It appeared editors were merely technicians.
If I wanted greater control, I decided I had to become a director. I was hunting for a suitable subject for a film, when a friend introduced me to a group working on snake conservation. They wanted an educational film to show at schools, and I was interested in the range of reactions people displayed towards snakes: from reverence to abhorrence.
Who do you meet when you want to do a film on snakes?
(To be continued…)