No Boundaries, No Hierarchies –– what I learnt working with Jennifer and Shashi Kapoor

This appeared in The Hindu’s Sunday Magazine on Sunday, December 24, 2017 titled All In With Jennifer and Shashi Kapoor. Read it on The Hindu here.

Shashi & Jennifer Kapoor in Goa. Photo by Karan Kapoor

I got off the wrong station, arrived late to sign my first contract, for a film produced by Shashi Kapoor. His company Film-valas was in the airy open office –– Prithvi Jhopda, designed by the architect Ved Segan at Janki Kutir, Juhu.

I was introduced as a new assistant. He looked up and said, “Do all you arty filmmakers have to have a beard?” His humor intact amidst my tardiness.

Off went the beard.

On a humid Bombay day off my khaki pants he quipped, “now you’re Behramji Benegal”. The trousers stayed. It was too humid in Bombay for denim.

The humor was infectious. Along with it came an openness, like the architecture of the Jhopda.

There were no boundaries, no hierarchies.

Working on the film the family was all in. This was a traveling theatre troupe. Except we made films. Jennifer would send me off to Khilchi and Sons on Kemps Corner for samples for costumes and furnishing. On the sets I met Karan with his Nikon cameras, the ebullient Sanjna and later Kunal. At their home in Atlas Apartments, Kunal and I discovered our shared love for almost burnt toasts.

Their doors were always open.

Inclusion and equality was what set Shashi and Jennifer and Film-valas apart. Right down to the food –– everyone ate the same food, a practice I insist on my productions.

My passion for calligraphy came in handy. I was tasked with handwriting dialogs in Hindi and handing them to the actors. Shashi would take the hand written pages and put an enigmatic slash between some words. When he asked for the pages back he’d glance at those slashes. That was my first clue that in those spaces between the words was where his performance would lie.

In Kalyug, the film I was working on, a complex top angle shot was set up in a cramped room for an intense moment on screen. On a film set there is no sense of privacy. Just behind the wall, people are concerned about their chai and samosa, others impatient with the long wait quintessential to filmmaking. Amidst this an actor has to create an internal world. A bubble of privacy.

Shashi curled up – fetus like – for the moment when his character discovers who his mother is. After the shot was over he turned over to check if it was ok. We didn’t have monitors back then. I said it was brilliant and set the mood for that moment. He looked at me and smiled impishly. “You know what I was thinking about?” I stared blankly. “I hope my wife is not making baingan (aubergine) for dinner tonight. I hope there is something else to eat.” I smiled. Was this his charming way of getting back at the “method actors”?

Whatever it was, it worked.

For some reason Shashi took it upon himself to talk to me about filmmaking. More like asides, they were an insight of another way.

He disliked the lack of planning and the arbitrary way films were made. He had seen another world and was keen to share that. “In India films are not made, films happen”. “True creativity comes from planning. You need planning and organization if you want to make a good film.” My impressionable mind absorbed it all.

“Where’s the script?” I held up a brown file with a one page step outline. He shook his head, “you need a proper script. The one thing you must learn is to write a screenplay.”

And on one of the days when everything seemed to be collapsing he saw me and said, “well, the good thing is you are learning from the ground up so you know how this entire machine works”. “Whatever you do, you have to start at the bottom. You need to lug the lights, lift the weights to really understand the nuts and bolts of creative work. You cannot come to me one fine day and assume you can take over as director.”

I was going to the finest film school in the world, and I didn’t even know that.

Shashi asked me to come to London to work on the English language version of one of their films. It was a heady time –– working with the sound editor of Stanley Kubrick and David Lean –– and I immersed myself. Until one day he turned up and asked, “don’t you need money? Aren’t you going to ask me?” Kunal and I would grab a sandwich lunch, I had a subway card, what more would I want? He smiled, “collect a weekly stipend, it’s not much but it’s better than nothing.” It was the time of Jennifer’s illness. I did not see her then but a few days before I was leaving he asked if I could supervise the English subtitles for 36 Chowringhee Lane. I stayed on an extra month in London –– no questions asked.

With them you were all in.

Jennifer’s memorial was the hardest time to go back to Prithvi and see the family. In all this Sanjna still managed to smile.

Things were never the same after.

Later when I’d see Shashi at the Prithvi Cafe, he would continue his refrain –– “scriptwriting, that’s what we don’t have. Good scriptwriting.”

He knew that we had to look beyond the template driven style of screenwriting. That a movie lies in the white spaces between the words –– those enigmatic slashes between the words finally made sense to me as a director.

At a recent screening of Shakespearewala all I could focus on was the performance of Jennifer and Shashi. It was subtle, nuanced, playful and had all the depth without the accompanying weight.

When I stepped out onto the streets of New York, my new home, I realised that in my work, how I think, what I believe in and the work that I’m drawn to I was carrying a piece of Film-valas, of Jennifer and Shashi Kapoor.

I learnt from them –– I’m all in.

17th Annual Star Screen Award for Best Sound Vikram Joglekar for Road, Movie

An award I am particularly proud of because Vikram Joglekar is one of those rare sound recordists and engineers whose knowledge of films and music — he is an accomplished Dhrupad singer— is unsurpassed.
A person with an amazing understanding of cinema, of storytelling and of life itself, I am fortunate to have known and worked with Vikram for over 20 years on all my films.

The Karbonn Mobiles 17th Annual Star Screen Award for Best Sound went to Vikram Joglekar for Road, Movie.

This award is an acknowledgment of Dev Benegal’s commitment to sound in his films.
The soundtrack was a collaborative effort and I share this award with other illustrious members of the sound team. P M Satheesh and Shajith worked on the sound design,Roland Vais and Sharon Smith did the post-production and Dom Tavella mixed the film. A big thanks to Screen, this encourages all of us to continue to strive for excellence.

— Vikram Joglekar

On Indian Express

India’s Dev Benegal Wins NAFF Project Prize at Korea’s PiFan

Patrick Frater | Asia Bureau Chief

SEOUL — Indian director Dev Benegal’s pitch for a dark comedy ‘Dead End’ was named as the best project at the Network of Asian Fantastic Films .

The story of a man who is declared as dead by a shady government department and has to take extreme measures to prove that he is alive, was written by Benegal and Sarat Rao and is to be produced by Satish Kaushik Entertainment and Benegal’s August Entertainment. The Bucheon Award is worth $15,000.

Read the rest on Variety

Dead, End wins at PiFan’s NAFF

Screen Daily 23 JULY, 2014 | BY JEAN NOH

The 18th Puchon International Film Festival (PiFan)’s Network of Asian Fantastic Films (NAFF) wrapped tonight with top Bucheon Award going to Dev Benegal’s Indian project Dead, End Or: How I Learned To Stop Living And Love Being Officially Dead.

Jury head Michael Favelle said: “Dead, End may be seen as a surprising choice given that it’s not an immediately obvious, traditional fantastic film in the way fantastic film festivals are known for. It is, however, a brilliant satirical surrealist comedy of a place that no one has seen before.”

Read the rest on Screen Daily.

United Art Fair 2013

Photographs at United Art Fair 2013
Photographs at United Art Fair 2013

Road Movies

Photographs by Dev Benegal

On show at United Art Fair 2013 September 15-17, 2013

Private Preview- by invitation:  5pm Saturday September 14, 2013
Media Preview- 3pm – 5pm Saturday September 14, 2013

GENERAL ADMISSION: 1pm – 8pm September 15-17
Entry Tickets on sale at Gate 7
Gates close at 7pm.

 

Moving to Twitter – @benegal

If you want to ask questions, chat or just rave and rant, well, I’m on Twitter.


Comments on Vacation

I’ve decided to put comments on vacation.

I have in the past loved your thoughts, comments and rants. Even when most of them were asking about the DVD of English, August – A torturous process I have written about and will continue to do so until the film is out again to view.

I still plan to write on this site. Though I am thinking about what shape this page can take in the future.

If you have any thoughts or comments you can use Twitter.

Road, Movie Screenplay

One of my obsessions has been reading production screenplays. Either very early drafts or drafts just before production begins. Somewhere between those two stages is a master class in filmmaking.

I think Emir Kustirica said this; “a screenplay is not the film. A film exists in the white spaces between the dialogs.” If he did not it’s what I’d like to imagine he said.

A screenplay is not a work of art. It’s a document that occupies a strange intermediate space. I’ve always seen a screenplay as a set of coded instructions. But then, “code is poetry.” So, when I write I try to make every word matter like an author would when writing a novel. And as a director it’s that elusive white space between words that I’m in search of.

So, here’s the screenplay of Road, Movie. This is the draft dated August 15, 2008.
Two days before we began filming.

This is for your personal use and I’d appreciate if you did not post this on your site or put up on any services like Scribd.