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Reflecting films

There's hardly any magic left in knowing how films are made. Agreed that sometimes the best thing about a film is the story of how it got made, the novelty of films about the making of films is a thing of the past now. Gautam Chintamani writes...

brunch Updated: Sep 21, 2012 15:17 IST
Gautam Chintamani
Gautam-Chintamani
Gautam-Chintamani

There's hardly any magic left in knowing how films are made. Agreed that sometimes the best thing about a film is the story of how it got made, the novelty of films about the making of films is a thing of the past now. Yet, sometimes the joy of seeing the madness behind the magic is almost as rewarding as watching the film itself. Indian cinema, especially Bollywood doesn't really have a tradition of feature length documentary films about the life of a film and much like the trade, the average viewer doesn't really respond well to such a genre.

In the west the custom of documenting the journey of important films is almost ritualistic. The power of some of these documentaries is such that many a times they end up becoming nothing less than a cult unto themselves. Think of Deep Throat, the iconic 1970s film that changed the way porn was viewed by the mainstream and you'd have to see Inside Deep Throat, the documentary that chronicles it, in order to understand how homemade experimental film changed the genre.

The popular perception of such films is that they are often made with a retrospective outlook and while that may be true for most of the documentaries there have been notable exceptions. When Francis Ford Coppola assigned himself to Apocalypse Now he was consumed by it for two years.

While shooting in Philippines the film's set was almost destroyed by a typhoon, an on-location affair almost ruined his marriage, the Italian camera crew set up a mini Italy on location and everything that could happen in the course of a lifetime happened there. Of course, this didn't have a direct bearing on the film but became a part of a mesmerizing documentary called Heart of Darkness- A Filmmaker's Apocalypse made by Eleanor or Mrs. Francis Ford Coppola.

Eleanor Coppola's film brings to the viewer everything that happens on a film set but has nothing to do with it. These actions are what make the process of filmmaking so frenzied that it'd be a crime not to know them. Similarly Lost in La Mancha is a film that set out of chronicle the adventure of Terry Gilliam's long waited Don Quixote film. Gilliam had dreamt of this film forever and finally when he got around to making it he never wanted to miss a single moment of the journey and he assigned a bunch of documentary filmmakers to craft a film about the entire process.

Little did anyone know that the film about the making of this magnum opus would end up showing the journey of its unmaking. One disaster after the other like the lead actor's failing health making it impossible for film to get insured, Johnny Depp's unavailability to play a modern day advertising who travels back in time to become a reluctant Sancho beyond a specific period, torrential downpours delaying the production unexpectedly made Gilliam shelve the film. The excruciating experience is captured on film and the unanticipated nature of events makes Lost in La Mancha one of the best films about films ever.

Like films Indian documentary filmmakers would have to look beyond the obvious subjects in order to come up with compelling films. The only recent feature length documentary that Hindi saw on similar subject was Satyajit Bhatkal's film, Chale Chalo, on the making of Lagaan. The companion to the book on the same subject the documentary enjoyed a theatrical release but the tradition is conspicuously missing. One of the reasons could be that we sparingly attach importance to the making a film so, while we'd interested in watching a documentary on Sholay, we'd not care for any lesser film. There's a small but serious change in this genre for India as well which can be seen in films like Videokaaran, a documentary about 'a slightly unusual film buff.'

The film shows how things like knowing the words of a film song from the 1990s can become someone's passion. To know how an average Indian loks at his cinema is just what Videokaaran manages and that's oodles morw than many of the presebt day mainstream Hindi films.


Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

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