Rahul Joshi, Aardra Athalye, Vinay, Anvay Ponkshe,
Raju (Dog), Ramu (Monkey)
Tom Alter, Ravindra Mankani, Mona Ambegaonkar, Bakul Thakker,
Jaydutt Vyas, Brij Bushan Shahani, Chittaranjan Giri, Rajeev Mishra,
Seema Ponkshe, Arun Hornekar
Shakuntala Paranjpye | Screenplay & Dialogues:
Camera: Sudhir Palsane | Edit: Jabeen Merchant | Sound: Narendra Singh
Music: Kamlesh & Vinod | Choreographer: Sonia Parchure
Art: Keshav Thakur | Production Manager: Atul Chavre
Asst. Directors: Sameer Naik, Samir Kazmi, Supriya Khan
Direction : Sridhar Rangayan
Not a child's play!
Though I had been toying with the idea of scripting a proposal for a children feature for CFSI for a while, I had never got down to doing it. So it was quite an interesting coincidence that my debut feature Yeh Hai Chakkad Bakkad Bumbe Bo almost fell into my lap. Very welcome as it may sound, it was actually scary since the producers had a deadline - we had to roll the film in 10 days! And really speaking nothing was ready at all, except for the script, 2 songs and the location. I did realize that it was going to be an uphill task to set up a film in such a short time, but then such challenges get both my logistic mind whirring (me being an engineering graduate) and my creative synergies zooming.
Two things were in my favour - firstly, the story seemed tailormade for me, right up my alley! The film was based on a simple evocative story by the late Shakuntala Paranjpye - well renowned author, anthropologist and Rajya Sabha MP - a Marathi story published in the late 60s. The story had the same kind of humour and adventure that I was very familiar with, having worked with the author's daughter - Sai Paranjpye, renowned filmmaker of such classics like Chasme Baddoor, Katha and several children films.
Secondly I had just completed an episode for television that was an adventure of four kids, set against a coastal area backdrop that was so so similar to the film's basic crux. Quite a coincidence this! Only difference being the television episode was shot, because of lack of budget, in Madh Island outside Mumbai, carefully keeping the city civilization out of the TV frame! And here we were actually shooting in a coastal township on the Konkan coast.
The screenplay and dialogues written by the activist, playwright and scriptwriter Vijay Tendulkar alongwith Sushma Bakshi had wonderfully integrated the adventure as well as the social ethos of Shakuntala Paranjpye's story into it. Still I had the original story read and translated to me (since, shamefully, my Marathi is still weak after 15 years in Mumbai). This threw up a lot of interesting small details about the local Konkan area, tradition, cuisine, etc which the author was so good at detailing (because of her keen eye and anthropological background). I thought it was good to incorporate these details in the film.
The story also had a value system built into it and what appealed to me the most was that it highlighted the aspect that 'girls are equal, if not better than boys'.
The township of Mandangad and Bankot, near Harihareshwar on the way to Goa was made to order for the story. It had the sea, the fishermen colonies, the mangroves and a gorgeous fort that is rumoured to have been actually used by smugglers in the old days (as is depicted in the story where opium is transported to the sea through a secret tunnel under the fort).
As an overall styling what I wanted to do was to create a 'Malgudi Days' kind of feel which had a realistic edge to it, but not in an obtrusive, notice-me kind of way. I wanted the cast, actual shoot spots, art, lighting, edit, sound design and music to flow together to create such an old world charm. Which I think finally is the uniqueness of my film amidst the plethora of special effects dominated sci-fi and horror flicks that are trying to woo the child audiences into the theaters.
The budget of the film was rather low and it only allowed a shoot of 20 days for a 90 min. film with just 60 cans of Kodak stock! With 4 kids, a monkey, a dog and a location where hardly anybody had shot before, it was not going to be too easy to complete the film in the given time with such limited raw stock. Believe me, getting a monkey to act can deplete your raw stock faster than anything.
The only way to get it right was to rely on a good cast and crew who would do it more for the love for the project than for the remuneration. My friend, wellwisher and supporter, Tom Alter was an obvious choice as the comic villain. Mona Ambegaonkar, one of my favourite actress on Indian television today made her part more than it seemed to have been written. Ravindra Mankani and Bakul Thakkar were kind enough to agree to play cameo roles, which they lent a great dignity to. But finally it was the casting of the four kids that was the foundation for the film. Fortunately I had worked with three kids in the television episode who were just right for this project too. Rahul, Aardra and Anvay fitted the parts to the glove and they proved to be extremely spontaneous actors with great maturity. Vinay was a find from Sai Paranjpye's film 'Bhago Bhoot' and he played the part of a boy from the fisherman's colony effortlessly.
It was my sheer luck that I managed to rope in cinematographer Sudhir Palsane who recently won the Best Cinematographer award for the Bangladeshi film 'Matir Moina' at Pakistan's Kara Film Festival. He is a master at location shoots having worked on innumerable charming documentaries. He managed to beautifully capture the coastal locales of Konkan Maharashtra. He was also, as we all call fondly, the 'mountain goat', able to survive any ordeal with minimum fuss! This film, being my first 35mm work, Sudhir turned out to be my master and guide teaching me about lenses, raw stock, etc - right down to how to judge a frame through the Arri viewfinder (we ofcourse couldn't afford a video assist - and I think it is a good thing we couldn't. The video assist could give one a completely wrong idea of the depth and colours.)
For me it was a completely different experience shooting on celluloid. I had just then completed my short film 'Gulabi Aaina', a Digital Film that was shot completely indoor in a Bollywood soap style. Though that particular style was relevant to that film, I had to look at this children feature in a 'cinematic' way. Believe me, despite all the war raging on the filmmakers' forums about how the format doesn't matter - whether it is digital or celluloid, I think they are completely different mediums and they add absolutely different dimension to the way the film shapes up - especially the aspect of lensing.
The way a shot is framed, the was each movement is defined, the way a close-up is enhanced by choosing a different lens is not something which one could easily attain with any other medium. This is something I experienced, which could of course be disputed by other filmmakers.
80% of the film was shot on location in Mandangad and about 20% was shot in Mumbai and we completed the entire film in 18 days, less by two days than what we had planned - which was thanks to the wonderful performances of the kids and the cameraman.
Jabeen Merchant, editor of films like Agnivarsha and several other films turned out be a great morale booster as a friend, but a tough task master as a professional! She paced the film so wonderfully giving it a languid opening and a razor-edge climax.
One of the interesting thing we have tried out and which worked very well was that a lot of the chase and action sequences were shot 'day-for-night', using specific film and filter combination which managed to give the eeriness of a moonlit night, yet retained the expanse and details of the actual location. Also some of my favourite sequences are those we shot near the fort at the time of sunset with the golden sea behind and the kids dancing in silhouette. It gives a very joyous touch to the song.The kids had a blast at the shoot and I think it shows in the film. But the person who enjoyed the shoot the most, I think, was Tom Alter who being an incorrigibly curious adventurer trekked down the fort to find a tombstone of a British lady who had passed away two hundred years ago! (Please see Tom Alter's short essay - Moonlight and Memories)
The film was premiered at the 13th Golden Elephant International Children Film Festival in Hyderabad in November 2003 and then was screened at the Lion's Children Film Festival in Mumbai in January. It was a great experience watching the children enjoy the film, hooting and cheering our little heroes on screen in their adventure. I knew we had hit the bull's eye.I was absolutely delighted when the film won the Bronze Remi Award at the WorldFest-Houston, Texas last month. It was a just reward for the hard work the entire team had put in.
I truly hope that CFSI would release the film commercially because I think a film like would greatly entertain the kids - with its adventure and unique environment setting - as well as appeal to family audiences because of the innate goodness of the story in a very nostalgic way. I would very much like it to be seen by a wider audience in India and abroad and I am sure it has the potential to become a reasonable box-office success.
(The Sensational Six)
Film Society of India
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