For some people who love movies, it’s enough to lose themselves in the story, the visuals, the music, the talent (or beauty) of the actors, or perhaps the action and stunt sequences. But for others of us, there’s also a searing curiosity to know more: who came up with the idea to shoot a scene a particular way, what was it like for the film crew to have to schlep up that treacherous mountain with all that expensive equipment to get that one brief shot, how was it to work with this or that actor, and so on.
For the latter group of moviegoers, the director’s commentary track on a DVD is one possible source of information and delight (especially if Mira Nair, Emma Thompson, or Nora Ephron are involved). And occasionally, someone makes a film which – in its own right – answers some of those questions, and others you didn’t even realize you knew nothing about. For fan-geeks like us, there’s never enough of those kind of movies about movies, but then, occasionally, a welcome downpour reaches the parched earth.
At the NYIFF last month, festivalgoers were lucky enough to have three such films to see: Bombay Movie, Baavra Mann, and The Human Factor.
Bombay Movie allows us to tag along for the making of Raja Menon’s 2009 indie release Barah Aana, which starred Naseeruddin Shah, Vijay Raaz and Arjun Mathur. Director Alexandra Eaton takes a very straightforward approach in her film we move briskly from an introduction of the director Raja Menon, producer Giulia Achilli and the investor, Raj Yerasi, straight into pre-production where we see a long-haired Vijay Raaz – looking every bit like a 30-ish Mick Jagger – as he visits Yadav, the chowkidar of the building where Menon used to live, who served as inspiration for Barah Aana.
Within the next 50+ minutes, Eaton gives us a window onto the work and challenges of making a movie, especially one without the huge staff and financial cushion under a YashRaj or UTV banner. The director and his team have to grapple with some staff who have forged shooting permits and funneled off money, people at a building society who don’t want a film crew on their premises, and crowd control at Dharavi (“Silence, please! You’re in the frame!”), urban train stations and even on location in the countryside (“Please, can you stop washing the clothes for five minutes?”). There’s even a peek at Naseer in disagreement with the way one of the last scenes is being directed, and saying so quite freely. Fair play to Menon, at that time on only his sophomore film, and standing his ground with the way he wants the scene to play out. The director came to Bombay in 1993, initially for only one year, but ended up staying on. He speaks of the city as a place of opportunity, where you can “come out of the dirt and be able to rise above it.”
The second half of the documentary shows the ups and downs during post-production. The decision is made to release the film themselves, which brings with it more work. In quick time we witness everything from film posters printing to press kits being assembled, and more money being handed over for a film lab, and even trying to coax the aam aadmi in off the street to watch test screenings of the film. At one point, Eaton’s camera is on Menon when he spots a big hoarding with the blue and yellow Barah Aana poster, with the trio of Shah, Raaz and Mathur peering out from a taxi, and we witness him experience what must be a great, even if only momentary, thrill.
Achilli, the charismatic and photogenic young producer who arrived from Milan in her twenties and wound up collaborating with Menon, goes to a local church and makes an offering of candles and money for good luck for the film, and then opening day – March 20, 2009 – arrives. Much of the day seems to be spent by Menon, Achilli and Arjun Mathur dashing from one Bombay multiplex to another to see how the film is faring and why, in some cases, scheduled showings are not taking place.
SPOILER ALERT: If you don’t wish to know the outcome of Barah Aana‘s release and how it did at the box office, then stop reading here. But I will say – for me – Eaton’s film is really a study of the entire life cycle of the creative process of film-making, from before shooting ever begins, through to the time after the film has been released, when the filmmakers assess how it all went and what they’ll do next.
If you’re thinking to yourself that the title of the film doesn’t ring a bell with you, then you may well guess how Barah Aana fared at the box office. The next day we see an Indian TV reporter stating that it was the worst opening day in box office history. (The competition that weekend came in the form of Aloo Chaat, 13-B, Firaaq and Little Zizou. It may make you shake your head to learn that Aloo Chaat fared the best, with 15% occupancy.) “Maybe it is a Bollywood country,” Menon wonders.
If you can catch Bombay Movie at a film festival near you, or if it’s available for purchase online in the future, don’t miss it. Alex Eaton gives the viewer rare insider access to the creative and commercial process of making a film.
Her camera is unobtrusive and you feel like you’re along with the crew, as it all plays out. In between observing the director and his crew, Eaton intercuts shots of Bombay street life, people rushing to get somewhere, or just living.
The music and the use of a vibraphone, together with all the waiting around that so much of film-making entails, lend the whole movie a somewhat languid vibe.
The most striking image she captures is that of several loops of discarded film, lying on a small mound of trash on the beach, while the sea washes back and forth on the shore.
Now, I want to go watch Barah Aana!