A sword-wielding black-robed warrior confronts Indiana Jones in a Cairo market. The swordsman shows his prowess with the weapon, impressing the crowds as you wonder how the hell can Indy defeat him. Indy, with a weary sigh, pulls out his .38 and shoots the guy down. I remember, the entire hall applauded. It’s a scene that still has me chuckling. This scene would not have existed, had Harrison Ford not fallen sick with dysentery, whilst shooting in Tunisia. In the script, it was meant to be a highlight action sequence. A ferocious duel between a sword and a whip. They had rehearsed it for days. But Ford was too weak for any rigorous action. You can actually see it on his face.
Some of the most iconic scenes and moments in films happen thanks to a mishap…what we call the Happy Accident. I remember vividly one such incident on the sets of Johnny Gaddaar. SPOILER ALERT: Vikram (Neil) and Seshadri (Dharmendra) are discussing the heist that went wrong, wondering who could be the culprit. In a slip of the tongue, Neil inadvertently gives himself away, and Seshadri realises it immediately. Seshadri gently starts probing and Neil knows his game is up. Neil goes to the bar to make a drink. Seshadri follows him, gun in hand.
VIKRAM GOES TO THE ICE BUCKET AND FILLS HIS GLASS WITH ICE…He’s wondering how to extricate himself out of this mess. IN A SPLIT SECOND…HE GRABS THE ICE-PICK AND PLUNGES IT INTO SESHADRI’S HEART. A shocked Seshadri staggers as the gun drops from his fingers….
An ice-pick is a handy weapon in a Hadley Chase novel or maybe a Matunga sugarcane stall, but our location was a middle-class Juhu apartment. Surely out of place. So, we substituted it with an ornate paper-cutter, shaped like a Jodhpur sword and as sharp and pointed. It looked lethal. We made a rubber dummy and forgot about it till the day of shoot.
Dharmendra came early that day and watched curiously as I was stabbing myself in the heart and neck with the rubber dummy. I told him this is the murder weapon. How do you like it Sir? He took it and tried stabbing himself in his heart and frowned. ‘Yes, he can certainly injure me with this, but it will take at least half an hour for me to die….and in that time, I’d have grabbed the rascal and killed him!’ I politely asked him why he thought so. His reply: “…because I am Dharmendra!”
I consulted my DoP who said Dharamji is bang on. It’ll look quite silly actually. Suddenly we were all ready to shoot, but the scene was not working.
Dharamji said this is just my feeling. You are the captain. He went into his vanity van and we went into a huddle. We cracked it amongst ourselves and even did a couple of rehearsals before he came to the set. We changed the weapon to the gun, which was already a prop in the scene. The solution was so simple, and more important, SO EFFECTIVE. I remember the audience at Chandan going GASP when it happens. Thank God, Dharamji came early that day and voiced his opinion loud and clear. Or else the scene would have become a laughing stock.
The very first sequence in Badlapur had a child falling out of a speeding car. Of course, we used a dummy, but we had not blocked the roads….We wanted spontaneous crowd reactions. We rigged the camera to the car and threw the baby out at the right moment. And guess what? A stray dog entered frame out of the blue and started chasing the car. The camera kept rolling, and we got a wonderful shot. No retakes required.
Later, whilst sipping chai at a tapri, I wish I had thought of this in the script. But that would have taken all day to shoot and we still may not have got what we got by sheer accident. There are times in a film shoot, where I totally feel that there’s some source guiding you.
It happens to the best of actors. You get stuck on a line or word. In ANDHADHUN, Pramod Sinha (Anil Dhawan) could not say ‘Happy Anniversary’. It was an elaborate shot. The camera follows Anil Dhawan as he enters his house armed with a bouquet and a wine bottle. He searches for Tabu and finally hears some sounds in the kitchen. On the way, he notices a gun lying on the dining table and he picks it up curiously…. during which the door opens…and Anil Dhawan has to say Happy Anniversary.
We did several takes, but somehow, were not getting it right. Happy Wedding. Happy Birthday. Happy Bhool gaya…but no Happy Anniversary. We wondered what to do and then I said, Sir, instead of Happy Anniversary, just say SURPRISE. It worked and I’m so glad we didn’t get it right earlier.
The production keeps a hawk’s eye on you whilst filming your first film. In EHT (Ek Hasina Thi – 2004), we had asked for a Jimmy Jib for a sequence, but then realised that it worked better without the jib. The problem is the Jib is expensive, and the production would surely report that these guys ask for costly equipment that they don’t use. So my DoP and I decided we gotta use the Jib and shoot something, even if we don’t use it later. The lead actors had been packed up so what do we do.
We were shooting in a remand home which simulated a portion of a women’s prison. And then I saw some remand home cooks carrying hundreds of chappatis to feed the inmates. So we requested them to carry it once again, and sprinkled some of our junior artistes amongst them. It was a good shot though we had no plan of using it. And then, during the edit, we found a superbly appropriate place for it.
There is a scene in RAMAN RAGHAV, where Raghuvir Yadav, having lost his first murder weapon, goes back to a local iron-smith to get another welded. We shot the film in 1992, and it was very tough to find lohars, who manually worked the bellows and hammer. We finally found one forge in Jogeshwari.
I was chatting with the owner, explaining our story and he froze. It was the same forge where the real Raman Raghav had made his weapon, back in the 60s. The iron smith then was this guy’s father.
Often, the behind-the-scenes drama of a film is more exciting than the film itself. Truffaut’s DAY FOR NIGHT is an ode to movies and movie-making. A film is being shot, but the real drama is what happens on and off the sets between the cast and crew. Look out for a hilarious scene when the cast and crew are waiting for a cat to do the action right.