Getting an Oscar nod is quite an overwhelming experience; particularly when it comes to you on your first film. Well, nearly first film.
The film I made before 'Little Terrorist' was 'Road To Ladakh'. It starred Irrfan and Koel Purie. It almost didn't get made; which is why the making-of is called 'The Near Un-making of Road To Ladakh' take a look, it's a hoot.
RTL is what I call my film-school, or what others would call 'student-film'. Suffice to say, I had no clue what to do at the beginning of that experience. A few ideas, yes. Plus, hundreds of films watched and books read, sure and an oversupply of confidence absolutely. But in terms of making films, the seat-of-my-pants was the main mode of transport. Fortune favours the brave, they say, I think it favours the foolhardy.
Dragging a crew of forty people from various parts of the world to 15,000 feet, convincing them to fund their own air-fare (forget about fee), using tents for accommodation in the blistering cold and rain, disasters striking so often that it becomes normal. Small example: Irrfan Khan saying yes to the part, then agreeing to forgo his fee, then breaking his arm, then agreeing to come along regardless and then being attacked by altitude sickness that knocks him out cold. And yet, somehow, with dedication so rare in Bollywood, doing all that was expected of him without a fuss and turning in a brilliant performance. He deserves every award and commendation that has come his way since 2004, the year I made 'Road To Ladakh'.
As I recall these snap-shots, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. So many things could have gone seriously wrong, how did anyone ever let me do that? I was so green, so raw. That film was funded on fumes, infectious enthusiasm and passion.
So, hard on the heels of a recognition like the nomination, comes the expectation of a repeat performance. That causes anxiety and pressure that have little or nothing to do with making films and telling stories. It has everything to do with an inflated perception of oneself and the fallacy that one has "arrived" so to speak.
The story of my debut feature film 'The Forest' is as much a story of arrival at no-destination-in-particular, as it is about a remarkable collaboration of some seriously well-meaning, skilled and talented individuals drawn from around the world.
More than that, it taught me about life. It grew me up.
So, here I am, post-nomination. Do I decide to make my debut feature film about a couple in Delhi going through marital difficulty? One apartment, maybe a few car shots, maybe some second unit shots of Delhi night life " all very contained, focusing energies directing the actors, small budget. Performance driven human story about love and loss?
Instead, a remote, damp and freezing jungle location, a main character that is mostly hidden. When spotted its shown to have four legs and very large teeth. A convincing suspense thriller with what is intriguingly called a 'love triangle' in Bollywood. A movie that would teach me all about special effects, make up, prosthetics. All about computer graphics, compositing, visual effects, blue and green screens and how to direct an animal wrangler who in turn is trying to get a performance out of two very fierce and determined leopards.
I had no experience of a big film, I had never stepped onto a set of a crew of more than twenty people. Here we had close to two hundred. All I knew for sure is what I wanted to see on the screen. And I spent my energies on creating a team of people who would help me achieve that.
Everything the gurus will tell you to avoid, I did while making 'The Forest'.
I hope you enjoy watching it.
May the 4th be with you.