Agent Vinod and Iram have a personal moment where they try to understand each other – An emotional scene, a love song?
Vinod looses a valuable clue to what he was pursuing dangerously for some time – the ancient book – ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’, nevertheless he manages to escape an attempt on his life - An action scene.
Towards the last stages of shooting we decided to shoot it in Mumbai. The song was not ready yet. Sriram came up with the idea of a Motel to have the action scene. He was still undecided about the love song.
One fine morning he came up with the idea of having the emotional scene happening in the motel bedroom and the song overlaid on the action scene. And he threw a question-
“How about shooting the song in one shot?”.
It was a challenging scenario. Shooting a three-minute single shot is very tough. Having action happening in between makes it almost impossible. After an hour of discussion I was convinced, excited and nervous at the same time.
We presented the idea to our action director Peter Heinz. He was shocked and completely against it. He said action doesn’t work with out cuts, and if we do this we will fall flat on our face. It took couple of days to convince him.
As we were nearing the end of the shoot, we couldn’t think of elaborate sets. Rajnish our art director came up with the idea of putting the set in a real space instead of a studio. He suggested the empty 1st floor in Film city with a ceiling height of 12 ft with pillars all over. He came up with the design of a motel with a bar, lobby and a corridor with rooms on either side. One room in this corridor will be done up for the scene between Vinod and Iram.
I decided to work with Rajnish in designing the lights of the motel in such a way that it would help my lighting to some extend. I managed to find some corners where I could find space to hide some small lights. It was very difficult to finalise light positions without knowing the exact camera and actor’s positions. Ramani, Satish and Kamlesh took over the rest of the job. We mostly used Dido kits and small lights like 300’s and 650’s.
All three of us, Sriram, Peter and I had our own ideas of the single shot. Every morning we would narrate our refined versions and get into long arguments over the pros and cons of our designs.
Let me explain couple of aspects of single shots.
Normally we see ‘events’ in a scene through cuts. Here, there is no cut. We see everything. So we have to travel from Event No1 to Event no2 to event No3 to….. so on and so forth. You have to find ways to make these travels interesting. These could be in the form of characters passing in front of camera, following some one to reach the next event, crossing a wall to reveal an interesting event etc… The design depends upon the space, scenario, props , characters, mood of scene and many other aspects.
My design had movement.
Peter had emphasis on action.
Sriram had surprises.
Each one had good aspects but lacked in other aspects.
At some point I sat down and mixed all the three tracks taking some aspects from each one. Then we sat down and modified it further and came up with a final format.
The first two days went onto shooting the bedroom scene. By the third day afternoon we came up with a final movement minus the action part.
Main actors were not present for our primary rehearsals. Junior artists were called only for the final shoot day to save money. So we had to do with stand-ins. These were taken from set hands, assistants, light boys etc. So the rehearsal was an outline of the choreography we had designed with out any acting or expression by any of the stand-ins.
Apart from three of us only a handful crewmembers were interested in what we were doing. The rest of the crew had no idea. Most of them didn’t believe in an experiment like this and were waiting for us to give up and get into cuts.
We decided to record the rehearsal and show it to the actors and producers for any suggestions. That was a bad idea. Half an hour that followed the screening was filled with, blames, screams and accusations of wasting time and money and ended with a threatening suggestion to throw us out and get competent people from outside to do the song in cuts. I even heard someone asking for the DVD of a Hollywood film, from where we could copy some scene structure.
The entourage stomped out of the set and there was silence.
Sriram was called into a meeting with the producers.
Soon one of the assistants came to me with the news of Peter deciding to quit the film.
I stood on the terrace smoking a cigarette looking at the sun setting behind the trees in film city.
Sriram came back from the meeting though we didn’t discuss the issue.
Both of us were used to these dramas and knew very well that we only had to finish it whatever happens.
Soon we got apologies from the production, and we were entrusted with the job of wooing Peter back into the film.
He didn’t budge but agreed to sleep over it.
Sriram and I went back to the monitor to fine tune the shot.
Each one of us got busy with our respective jobs.
Sriram, Pooja and Rakesh got busy with explaining and walking each supporting actor through his or her role.
Peter got busy with rigging up the explosions and other action elements as per the final movement.
I had to redo my lighting with the new positions of actors. I had added a shadow play of one of the killings on the wall. We created it with a 5K without Fresnel. We had done smoke tests the previous day and decided to smoke the set to a mild density . Once my team took over it, I started explaining the movement and framing with steadycam operator Sunil Khandpur.
By afternoon we had pressure mounting from production to finish shoot fast.
On the set I could smell gunpowder and I found the source. It was behind the bar counter. I could see three people trying to fit in the small space with numerous wires and other controls. That was the action team who was responsible for the fire works involved in the gunfire. When the actor fires a gun these people press the right buttons to make small pre rigged explosions which will look like the impacts of the gun shots. When the camera comes close to the counter they may be seen, so they will have to lie down on the floor and do this job.
Split of a moment I realized I am standing in the middle of a time bomb.
In the event of a fire, there was only one way out through the narrow stairway. And I couldn’t see any fire extinguisher on the set.
Don’t be surprised, this is a usual scenario in hindi film shoots.
By the time the pressure to start the shoot had become unbearable.
I decided to forget about the fire concern and believe in destiny.
We got into our dry runs with all the actors.
Lets go for TAKE….
Chetna Koushik, the 1st AD and I had counted around 36 cues to be given during the take.
There were different kinds of cues. Once the camera starts moving each actor has to be cued to get correct timed entry into the frame, because they wouldn’t know when they are coming into the field of view. They would be hiding behind doors or behind walls.
Each lighting change had to be cued like the shadow play of killing, because the guy who operates the door doesn’t know the timing.
Each action bit had to be cued depending on actor’s gun positions.
Camera pacing and pan timings had to be cued as per the actor movements.
There are so many of them.
It’s like a music composer conducting a thirty six-piece orchestra on stage. Correct instrument has to come in at the correct moment with correct note.
Chetna and I shared the job armed with mike and walkie talkies in our hands.
We parked ourselves in such positions where we could see the set and the video monitor to get the correct judgment.
Sriram, Peter and I agreed that if any thing goes wrong before the explosions start, we will cut the take. Because resetting the set after explosions will take time.
ACTION………………3 minutes and 21 seconds …………………CUT.
I had the urge to cut at many points, but let it go.
I ran to the camera to check everything is right.
Was the aperture right?
Did the film roll?
Is there any warning light blinking?
By the time I came back to the monitor to watch the take, everyone on the set had gathered there. I couldn’t find space to see the monitor, so I stepped aside. In a minute, Ramani came with a small monitor in which he had been recording the take.In another two minutes I could hear loud screams, cheers and continuous applause.
Did I hear some one calling ‘Pack up?’
I continued watching the take.
The entourage walked out of the set talking animatedly.
Everyone seemed very happy.
I could find many corrections from performance to timings.
Sriram who had gone with the entourage came back.
We can make it better.
I know….but…You mean one more take? I have packed up Saif !
Oh no.. we should have one more. At least for safety sake.
He thought for a moment…
Let us live with this… One more take means… another five or six takes…
Pooja what do you say?
Or should we go for one more?............
Here … Watch the one and only take full without any cuts, from ‘Agent Vinod’.