Sunday, February 25, 2007

Things you didn't know about That Four Letter Word

1. We finished shooting 90 per cent of the film in one stretch of 12 days. We shot in all for about 18 days (including reshoots and patchwork) and not years as many people think.

2. TFLW was written in 1999 as Made in Madras, as a Tanglish film. But given the scope and the universality of the theme, the producer suggested we keep it global and stick to English.

3. The script was written over email. Murugan was in the US and he would rewrite most of the lines I wrote. He’s the best rewriter. And yes, I’m the better writer.

4. Purab Kohli was originally supposed to play Vishal. But because he was shooting for Supari and unavailable, he told me that Cary would fit the role better.

5. We first shot a trailer for TFLW in February 2002 at Pune, thanks to Abhishek Shah and Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication. The film then starred MTV VJ Cyrus Sahukar, Channel V VJs Cary Edwards and Ranvir Shorey, my buddy from college Pradyumna Singh Chauhan, my college junior Usha (who then went on to become a VJ) and a friend who later went on to join Radio Mirchi and came to be known as Mirchi Suchi.

6. Early July 2002, Cyrus Sahukar backed out two weeks before shoot saying he wasn’t getting leave. It was only a month ago that I had met Abbas during the press show of his Hindi film debut, 'Ansh'. It was so bad that in the interval, he was all shook up.

We drove to a friend’s place during the break and I showed him the trailer. He had loved it. So I called Abbas. He said he would check dates and call me back. Two minutes later, he said he was in. We met one hour later and had a six hour long meeting when I narrated him the script and gave him a copy. He then told me how he had secretly wished he was part of the film when he saw the trailer. So Abbas was in, Sahukar out.

7. Ranvir Shorey became busy with his play Blue Mug and wasn’t available for the shoot. And we were convinced no one else can play the role but him or Cyrus Broacha.

A guy sitting next table at Qwikys walked up to us after eavesdropping into our conversation and gave us Cyrus Broacha’s number. We called Broacha religiously for a week before we found him at home. He liked the role, promised us dates in what turned out to be the busiest month of his career.

During that month, he hosted the UN AIDS conference at Barcelona and shared stage with the then US President Clinton and had to rush to Dubai for the Chotta VJ Hunt. After 10 days of shoot, we still didn’t hear from Broacha. We had made frantic random calls to all major hotels in Spain from the Iway opposite Residency Towers to trace him. We had scheduled his shoot on day 12.

On day 11, we took a break and went for ‘Bend it like Beckham.’ During the interval, Cary suggested we call Ranvir and check. It seemed like a ridiculous idea because Ranvir was upset with us because we couldn’t wait till he finished his Blue Mug schedule. Besides, Ranvir did tell us that he didn’t have leave left and Channel V would not give him anymore leave. But we didn’t have any other option for Zebra, so we called him.

Two days later, he flew into Madras and completed his role in five days. It just happened that he had resigned from Channel V merely two days before we called him. Life.

8. All the outdoors of the first version of TFLW were shot in Manipal because we wanted a university town feel. We even got fancy number-plates done that said TFLW 01, TFLW 02 and so on…

9. About 95 per cent of the film was ready and complete as per schedule but due date hassles with our stars, we couldn’t get all of them to come to Madras at the same time. Pradyumna had injured his knee so badly that his physio banned him from any sort of exertion. He underwent physiotherapy for nearly six months in Madras. Meanwhile, Suchitra became Mirchi Suchi and didn’t get leave. So we waited for the stars to give us dates.

10. The producer’s little daughter had a little tumour in her brain. So he had to shift to the US and we put the project on hold for a while.

11. Mid 2004, we decided we were going to reshoot the film because we didn’t like it. We studied it extensively and realised that the fundamental problem was with the script. The 144 page long script had resulted in 136 minutes of talking spread over 72 scenes. It was like a radio play because the actors said everything and there was hardly any visual subtext. We figured we had to make it racy. The new script was 106 scenes in 90 pages. We decided we can’t bother the producer. So Abbas took charge as Executive Producer and we entrusted him with the responsibility of getting funding.

12. In November 2004, a couple of my friends got together and decided to make a movie. Three months later, they had a movie. It was a no-budget movie called ‘I just don’t get it.’ It was about two guys making a movie without any money. Due to a few technical glitches and a redundant screenplay, they decided not to do anything with the film. But I was inspired.

If these two guys can go around and make their dream come true in three months, it’s high time I did something after sitting on my ass for five years. In January, I told Abbas that we should shoot with whatever resources we had. He wanted time because his marketing guy wanted two more weeks to get the cheques from corporates. We had had no luck in over six months, but we gave him time till mid February. Mid Feb, he asked for one more month, we agreed and told him that we will start shoot on March 15, no matter what happened. We had two plans. How we would shoot with money. And how we would without it. Early March, Abbas gave up on trying to find sponsors.

Meanwhile, we got everything ready for shooting with available resources. First day of shoot was on March 16 at the British Council. We had a two day break before we resumed shoot on March 19.

13. After about four days of shoot, on March 23, Abbas and me had to part ways because of creative differences. It was a painful decision to make because Usha had to leave to the US on April 13 and wasn’t coming back for at least 8 months.

Parting ways meant we had to reshoot everything and lose quite a bit. Abbas brought with him Shakti, a replacement for Pradyumna, an experienced cinematographer in Rajesh Datar, free food from his friends in Gallopin Gooseberry and free cameras provided to us by Panasonic. So in less than 48 hours, we recast and regrouped to catch up with the schedule. Aashil, who works with IBM Bangalore, sent me the Sprite ad he had done, over email. I instantly knew he could play Sunil. Thanks to Vijay for recommending him, Aashil is a natural. He’s brilliant. Watch him in TFLW and you are bound to like him.

14. The evening before Aashil was supposed to land in Chennai for the first day of the shoot (our third attempt to shoot the movie and second within a week), my grand-dad died.

My folks had to leave town but Mom left me her ATM card. She said: “Go ahead, make your movie. He’s dead and gone anyway.”

Thank you Mom, because if we hadn’t started the film that day, we wouldn’t have finished shoot before Usha had to leave to the US. And we wouldn’t have released the movie by now.

15. Prashant was cast one and a half hours before his first scene. We had auditioned over 20 people that day and had given up hope. And, Praveen got it right the first time. Praveen was the fourth guy to play Prashant after Pradyumna, Shakti and Tejas. We've shot Scene No.55, the drag race scene 4 times in all, with different actors. Oh yes, Tejas was an actor who ran away after one day of shoot because he wanted to spend time with his girlfriend. And he disappeared without telling us and we were left guessing for two days. Extremely unprofessional fellow, this Tejas Sreedhar. Praveen was the exact opposite. What he lacked by talent, he made up with hard work, dedication and discipline. He puts in a lot of work and it is not easy for a young theatre actor used to saying his lines out loud to underplay.

16. The climax scene was shot on April 1. We needed 20 cars to create a traffic jam on New years eve. But people didn’t show up thinking it was an April Fools joke. We had all of seven cars that night. But we had to go ahead and finish shoot.

17. We finished shoot on April 4. And Vijay edited 25 minutes of the film featuring Usha by April 8, just so that she could dub and leave to the US. And she did. It was all per plan.

18. The Editing was jinxed too. Vijay was editing the film at home on his computer. He lost all the data, everything he had edited, including the 25 minutes we had completed of Usha, when his system crashed. Finally, we had no choice but to move to a professional editing suite. Pradeep, my very first assistant director, had gone on to become a producer with SS Music and later Marketing head and Kosmic Studio. He got us a good deal at Kosmic and we got Vijay to come and edit in a professional set up.

19. Editing took a lot of time. Editing the same footage the second time around could be a pain. Ask any editor, he’ll refuse to do it. The colour correction was done at Vijay’s own new studio AgNO3. (Coming soon: The post explaining the colour palette used in the film, something that our critics just didn't get!)

20. Vijay studied film at Vancouver Film School. Vijay and Pradeep were the guys who made ‘I just don’t get it’. The guys who inspired me to go ahead and make my film no matter what. Pradeep did the cinematography for the final schedule of four days.

21. For the scene where Prashant teaches Sara to drive, both actors Praveen and Paloma didn’t know to drive. The scene required them to almost bang into the car. It was a difficult scene to shoot only because out of the four people who would be in the car (Praveen, Paloma, Pradeep and me), only the guy holding the camera knew to drive. So he was instructing Praveen and Paloma how to drive, while shooting.

Frustrated with Praveen not looking scared enough while acting, Pradeep kept the camera on the steering and drove recklessly (while shooting at the same time) just to make the fear look real.

In the process, he ended up actually banging the car. We’ve used that shot in the film. The car he banged was our camera unit car. Oh wait, the best part is that the car we were driving was Pradeep’s.

22. At the editing table, after showing it to a different sets of people from the target group, we cut down nearly 14 pages (Amounting to nine minutes from the 100 minute Director's Cut). The TFLW DVD will have not just these deleted scenes but also the entire movie we trashed.

I still personally like many scenes from the old version. Too bad we couldn't finish it. But this version is infinitely better.

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