The Practice Movies

A tale of Sudhir Mishra’s three mad mentors

‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro taught me that life can only be experienced as a tragicomedy.’

‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro taught me that life can only be experienced as a tragicomedy.’  


Different from one another but united in their passion for the medium

I was finishing the final cut of Daas Dev when Kundan Shah passed away. As he disappeared from the world, the thought struck me that from now on I would never have the benefit of his sharp analysis about my work. I would not be able to sift through the barrage of praise and criticism and take from it the lesson I needed, in order to provoke myself into making another film.

I realised then how fortunate I had been to have landed amongst this amazing bunch of three madmen in the beginning of the 80s and how much they had influenced me.

Flashback. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s house-cum-office in Bandra. I had come from Delhi to assist him on his first film. The excitement was palpable. Vinod had received a ₹3.5 lakh loan from the National Film Development Corporation of India to make his first film. The whole production operated from that one room. I was awestruck by this fascinating bunch of mostly FTII-Pune graduates. They were all classmates and when one of them got the money to make a film they’d give each other jobs on it. Apparently, when Saeed Mirza, the elder statesman of the group, had made his first film, Kundan had been his chief assistant and Vinod had shot the songs. Now that Vinod was making his film, Kundan was handling the production and Saeed was head of the ‘Keeping the spirits up’ department. Everybody wanted Saeed around because a wiser and more positive man simply didn’t exist amongst us. These three were my gurus those days. This was the Institute I went to. I also had another guru in the form of my brother Sudhanshu but that’s a story for another day.

Why they were so

The three were absolutely different from one another but united in their passion for the medium. I learnt from each one of them, and in one sense I was fortunate that the first person I assisted was Vinod because from him I learnt that form and content were so closely intertwined that they were indistinguishable from each other. Vinod always narrated sequences by describing the shot with the accompanying soundtrack. The actor and the dialogue did not dominate the narrative style of his film. The rhythm of the shots and their juxtaposition made me realise that a director can make the audience see and feel much more than the obvious. Vinod was precise, and he and Ketan Mehta were perhaps the two most cinematic filmmakers of the 80s.

Running themes

There were no neat happy endings in the work of Vinod, only the inevitability of the descent of human beings into a kind of darkness, and a violation of innocence. His second film Khamosh and Parinda work around the same theme.

I think the themes that run in Vinod’s work and in the early Kundan films were quite similar. The powerful literally ram into the naive, and innocence doesn’t stand a chance. Their styles were different, though. While Vinod was precise, Kundan’s scenes were funny, sad, absurd, exhilarating and terrifying. Just when you thought his scenes would end, there would be a final twist. He pointed the audience towards a problem, then made them forget it and as they were rolling on the floor with laughter, he made them see the tragedy as well. While working on the script of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro with him, I learnt that life can only be experienced as a tragicomedy. It was one of my proudest moments when he told me that the last act of my film Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi was one of the most funny sequences he had ever seen.

When I think of Saeed, two words — wise and humane — come to mind. He was already a cult figure when I assisted him and when he allowed me to work on the script of Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho!. His earlier film Albert Pinto was optimistic but the 80s were hammering cracks into that optimism. So as I followed his vision, Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! became quite a macabre description of a couple’s fight to save their house and a savage indictment of the legal system.

However, the integrity of human beings even while being battered never totally got corroded in a Saeed film.

Saeed taught me structure and he doesn’t know it but he also taught me to give in to the creative process and accept its surprises. The work is dictated by the artiste’s point of view, but then it also sometimes takes on a life of its own and begins to dictate the point of view of the artiste. The medium is bigger than us all.

The writer is an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 2:04:21 AM |

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