Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Film-shoot photos and commentary: Naseer’s dreadlocks, Tipu the star dog and other wonders

(Continued from here. Click pics to enlarge)

This was pretty much my first view of the shooting. After a climb up a rough mountain road near Anup Kurian’s family house in Vagamon, we stumbled out of some foliage to find the crew shooting a scene with three singers (sisters) from Nagaland, atop a large rock. We had been walking through largely desolate terrain for the better part of an hour, so I couldn't resist saying "Dr Livingstone, I presume?" to Anup as I shook his hand.

In the background are the Naga sisters, carrying traditional music instruments shaped slightly like scythes – which is appropriate, since they are associated with death in the film.

Yes, that IS Naseeruddin Shah on the left.

It was his idea that Colonel would have dreadlocks, so he had these long braids stitched onto his real hair before arriving for the shoot. It seems like an overly flamboyant touch at first, but Naseer pulls it off really well, and having read the script I think it suits the character. (“There was no way I was going to wear a handlebar moustache just because the character is referred to as Colonel,” he told me.) It’s very uncomfortable though, especially in hot weather – he’s had to keep the braids on around the clock for over 30 days now, and will only be able to get rid of them once the shooting is over.

Naseer told me something interesting when we spoke later in the day. He conceptualised the Colonel as an older version of the cop he played in the 1987 film Jalwa (a remake of Beverly Hills Cop). “This is the man who busted a narcotics ring, shot the head guy and then, for his pains, was dismissed from the service. It fits in perfectly, because such a thing WOULD happen to an inspector who goes and shoots a Dawood-like character; he would be fucked for life. So he has nothing to live for and he says okay, I’m going to grow marijuana and survive. Fuck honesty, fuck the police force after what they’ve done to me.”

I thought it revealing that he could trace a character arc like that, from a completely unrelated (and very different type of) film made two-and-a-half decades ago. For many of us who were kids when Jalwa was released, the film was an introduction to a new Naseeruddin Shah: the arthouse actor recast as a muscular man of action. Naseer tells me he was in a gym recently when a beefy young man came up to him and said, "Sir, when I saw you in Jalwa I decided to start body-building. I thought to myself, if YOU can do it, then ANYBODY can do it!" Backhanded compliment, what?

Naseer on a new Royal Enfield bike that initially stalled a bit – not an advisable thing for a bike to do on steep mountain roads. It eventually settled into the groove of the shoot though.

On the left is Meghna Gandhi who does makeup, and on the right is Aahana Kumra, the bright young actress who plays Jaya; she was Naseer’s student at Whistling Woods a few years ago and is understandably thrilled about acting with him in her first feature.

They rehearse a scene together.

In the background are the greenhouses with the marijuana plants – more accurately, large cloth plants flown in from China!

Tipu the German Shepherd who plays Kuttapan (originally named Slumdog), with his trainer.

At age three Tipu is already a veteran, having worked in around 50 Malayalam films. This role was a bit exacting for him because there are lots of reaction shots – lots of acting - whereas in his earlier films he mainly played police dogs who ran after criminals. But he’s nothing if not a professional, and Naseer was very impressed by him. ("It's the humans who are the problem," he says laconically when things go wrong during the shoot. I submit that this is generally true of life as well.)

On most days, lunch was served at the little stream that runs near the two principal outdoor locations. Grab a plate, pour out the rice and rasam, pick a rock, sit down.

After a scene is shot, the crew gathers around as Naseer studies the take on a little screen.

Standing in the bright blue shirt is Yuvraj, Naseer’s Man Friday who has worked with him for 15 years – we were mighty impressed by his Jeeves-like efficiency and powers of anticipation. At extreme right in the white shirt is Vishwamangal Kitsu a.k.a. Mangal, the director of photography.

During a scene with an elephant in Vagamon town, Anup’s friend Satish Menon – an imposing presence in his orange kurta and straw hat – stands in the middle of the road, directing traffic and ensuring that car horns and other sounds don’t interfere with the shoot.

Shouts of “HORN! OFF!” and “OFF! HORN!” rent the air, and Satish had quite the sore throat at the end of the day. However – and this is apparently a worldwide phenomenon at location shoots – onlookers can NEVER be made to understand that they are supposed to be quiet or not make faces at the camera. My favourite was the guy who made a reassuring “I understand perfectly” gesture when he was asked to simply walk past, but who then proceeded to look intently into each of the crew’s faces as if he expected the Meaning of Life to be hidden therein.

Abhilasha reads Sidin Vadukut’s Dork in between takes of the elephant scene, when things aren’t too exciting.

Shameless plug: we both enjoyed the book hugely. The trope of the unreliable narrator is something I usually associate with serious literary fiction, but Sidin pulls it off very convincingly in a fast-paced comic narrative. His protagonist Robin Verghese is magnificently clueless about what’s really happening around him.

(Photos 2 and 10 courtesy Aahana Kumra. More from Vagamon in the next post)


  1. Sir, when I saw you in jaiarjun.blogspot.com I decided to start writing about books and movies and stuff. I thought to myself, if YOU can do it, then ANYBODY can do it!

    no seriously.

  2. lovely post jai :) its so wonderful to be reading about it, i am certain watching the entire thing unfold before your eyes would have been brilliant :)


  3. Ummm... nice name for a dog :-)

    So is a book (a la Lillian Ross/ Picture/ Red Badge of Courage) in the offing?

  4. Piggy Little: thanks. Yes, it was fun, but the post probably makes it seem more exciting (on a minute-to-minute basis) than it actually was. There were long stretches with nothing much to do, though it helped that I had to keep my eyes and ears at attention all the time.

    Tipu: might have collected that much material if I'd spent a month on the shoot. As it is, I have enough for a longish essay/feature, which I'll get around to doing at some point.

    Besides, having just completed one book about the making of a film, it will work up some courage for me to start another one!