An Assistant Director's view of Bollywood
Forget All The Movie Making Pathshalas Of The World. There’s nothing like learning first-hand on the job – even though the pay may be peanuts.
Known as Assistant Directors (ADs), they are the unsung heroes and of late also unsung heroines. In fact, scores of fresh college graduates are signing up as ADs in the hope of becoming independent directors some day. Cut to Kiran Rathod on the best moviewallas to work with and the worst. The lowest ring in movie making is that you have to handle the clapper board, yelling, “Scene 2, Shot 10, take 3…” The cinematographer wants you to exit faster than is humanly possible from the frame; you have to hold your breath while the shot is on.
Or light the director’s 100th cigarette, clear the ground of gutka wrappers and fetch mosambi juice for the heroine’s aunt. No problems. This is cinema education and I love it.
In six years, I’ve progressed from the ground level of a clapper boy to the exalted position of a chief assistant director. And what do you know? My name comes on, in solid block letters, in the credit titles.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE VERY MOODY
It goes without saying that the assistant director’s portfolio has its pains and pleasures. Rather than paying through our noses to learn direction formally – which invariably means flying to America’s UCLA – we get movie literate at the rancid studios. Or if we luck out, on locations exotica. The world’s the limit.
Expectedly, we are paid like casual labourers, denying us that little thrill of filing annual tax returns. If the film features saleable stars, the meal menu figures every delicacy in the rotisserie… if not, hey just grab a vada paav at the end of the night.
Plus, at the end of the movie’s production, many regret that finances have run out, were shown the door with that unconvincing line, “We will call you to clear your dues.” The phone never rings.
The age of an AD ranges from 20 to 29. There are at least 300 of us at any given time, the fringe dwellers. Apart from the usually uncontracted exploitation, we have two other factors in common. One, we dream about solo stardom. Two, we are incurable film fans.
If I’m writing this piece after years of assistantbaazi, it’s to salute film personalities who have treated everyone from Ads and the lighting crew to spot boys as team members and not as inferior geeks.
Sanjay Dutt: The no hang-ups dude, chills even if it takes an eternity to set up the next shot. When he cusses, it’s not with malice. Takes time to show up for the morning shift but when he does, delivers the goods at Ferrari speed.
Shahrukh Khan: Effortlessly creates a buddy buddy ambience. Memorises dialogue to the last comma, pacing up and down for five minutes in a secluded corner. Makes every visitor feel special. If someone is in need of money, organizes the cash discreetly.
Salman Khan: Moody as hell but kindhearted. No discrimination in dealing with technicians, Ads and catering guys. If the director or co-actor rubs him up the wrong way, he either freezes or takes follow-up action – including bouts of rage.
Sushmita Sen: If she takes a shine to you, wow. She even calls you “darling”. She cares for her staff, has a strong off-screen presence.
Aamir Khan: A stickler for order, excellent with his staff. If the Lagaan supporting cast acquired cosy homes, you know who the Good Samaritan was. And hey, he married an AD.
Karan Johar: For any aspiring nirdeshak, he’s the dream director to work with. Has a fiercely loyal circle of ADs. If he’s the best paymaster in the biz, that doesn’t hurt either.
Farhan Akhtar: Demands unflinching efficiency and ADs running around with walkie-talkies. How cool is that? Also knows that after a hard schedule, its party time.
Yash Chopra: Has always had the eye for spotting directorial talent (now with son Aditya). Does not pay handsomely (at all) but believes in a fair degree of equality in boarding, lodging and travel during the shoot.
Urmila Matondkar: Punctual, professional. No nakhras, doesn’t declare World War III if the vanity van doesn’t show up. Doesn’t launch into method arguments just before a shot is ready, a director’s delight.
Kareena Kapoor: So emotionally connected that she will even do a free item number for her favourite AD (Love Singh’s Kya Lovely Story Hai… or it the other way around).
AND THE WORST…
Boney Kapoor: Excellent with stars, indifferent to others.
Feroz Khan: You live in fear when he might want you to dress up in a bikini and play a violin at Juhu beach.
Amitabh Bachchan: Too moody, yaa.
Ram Gopal Varma: Gives great breaks to his ADs, but only if they believe in his sort of movies, only shot at Versova, Dahisar and Vasai. Only RGV can go to foreign locations.
Govinda: You have to solidly believe in the saying, “Better late than never.”
Mallika Sherawat: Attitude, attitude, attitude… but for what? She’s Himesh Reshammiya’s Heroine…ewwww.
Vashu Bhagnani: Defines nightmare, doesn’t pay… and snatches idlis away from ADs mouths.
J P Dutta: No comments.
Ektaa Kapoor: Scream queen, also rumored to slap faces she doesn’t like.
Suneel Darshan: Disorganized and some more.
Dharmesh Darshan: Falls in love too fast… not saying anything more.