We all have a story to tell, but few of us could narrate it as entertainingly as Aditya Chopra did in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge or Imtiaz Ali in Jab We Met. Film directors are people who can transport us to another place or time — another planet, even, if the film is sci-fi — and live in it for a few hours. Or like Luc Jacquet, director of the superhit documentary March of the Penguins, they can make a remote world come close enough to touch.
Ali, 38, who helmed the recent blockbuster Love Aaj Kal, describes his journey as a “series of accidents”. It all started with him sneaking into cinemas that his family owns in Jamshedpur — Star Talkies, Jamshedpur Talkies and Karim Talkies.
However, he did not go directly from viewer to filmmaker. “I don’t have any professional education,” he says. “I did a course in advertising and marketing in Mumbai in the hope of getting a job, which I didn’t. After a year of no jobs, I joined Zee TV and worked as a delivery boy.”
He rose through the ranks, directing Purushkshetra for Zee and then Imtihaan for Star Plus.
“I was doing some press and communication work for Zee TV and then wrote the concept and subsequently the show. I then managed all the creative work and execution, so the company that was producing it asked me to do a little more and just direct it,” says Ali.
With two hits under his belt, Ali is now undeniably a success. But he does not advise aspiring filmmakers to follow his example. “I learnt about direction after becoming a director,” he says. “I pretended I knew everything and I always feared public embarrassment.
However, I did learn that you have to chart your own course. You should have the passion to tell a story and tell it the way the viewer will understand.
“For example, I used to travel a lot on trains and wonder how the person sitting opposite would be leading his life. I used to make up stories about myself, which is how Jab We Met came along.” (The opening scenes show a young millionaire making a journey on a night train to get over heartbreak.)
Most filmmakers are of the view that while one can master the technique through a film school course, the finer points can only be learnt on the sets.
Kunal Deshmukh, 27, maker of Jannat and the forthcoming Tum Mile, based on the Mumbai floods, studied advertising and then “slogged it out for some years as an assistant director”.
There are some things you cannot learn in a film school, he says. “There is the creative side, but you are also the CEO on the set. Everyone is looking to you for directions.
You have to manage so many people and resources. It is like a war situation.
“You need a lot of patience, because if the shoot starts at 9 am, you have to be there at eight. Your actor may get it right in four takes and the actress in two. You have to strike that balance… and also remember the lunch break.”
Once a film goes into production, it is the director who works the hardest. Even a film with a modest budget can take eight months to shoot and eight more to edit, dub and wrap up.
“You have to remain in that groove throughout,” says actor-turned-director Atul Agnihotri, who assisted for four years before going solo.
“There may be a long struggle before you get noticed by a production house,” says Vikram Kumar, director of 13B. “Opportunities are sparse, but once they come by, it can be a great chance. You are constantly judged, so you need to keep refreshing your work.”
What’s it about?
A filmmaker gets behind the camera and tells a story through it. The story may be written by him/her, it could be an adaptation of a successful book or the remake of another successful film, or it could be the documentation of a remarkable journey, e.g. the transformation of ostracised cleft-lip children into happy kids, as in the Oscar-winning Smile Pinki
An assistant director earns Rs 10,000-25,000 a month. This includes food and travel allowance. Top directors today can earn anything from Rs 1 crore to a nine-digit fee per film.
After Hum Tum and Fanaa, Kunal Kohli reportedly charges about Rs 7 crore, Imtiaz Ali charges Rs 9 crore and Vishal Bhardwaj and David Dhawan make close to Rs 10 crore.
. A feel and passion for a good story
. Knowledge of screenplay and camera
. Patience and resource management skills
. Ability to communicate
8 am: Turn up on the sets to prepare for shooting
9.30 am: Cameras start rolling
1 pm: Break for lunch
8 pm: Pack up and have a chat with the actors and technicians
9 pm: Drop by at editing studio
10 pm: Head home
How do i get there?
Participate in dramatics in school and college. Join a film school to learn the technicalities, as films today use advanced visual effects. Become an assistant director to a filmmaker.
Learn the job well and then go independent. Ali founded Iptida, the dramatics society of Hindu College, and was a part of Act One theatre group in Delhi
Institutes & urls
. Film and Television Institute of India, Pune,
Three-year PG diploma course, fee Rs 30,000 per year
. Asian Academy of Film and TV, Noida,
Three-month course, fee Rs 66,000
. Centre for Research in Art Film and Television (CRAFT) Rohini Sector 7,
One-year course, fee Rs 95,000
. Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute, Kolkata
Tel: (033) 24328355/ 8356/ 9300
Three-year PG diploma course in cinema (direction, screenplay, cinematography,
audiography, editing), fee Rs 53,250
Pros & Cons
. Fame and respect
. Good money for telling a story
. Travelling the world
. A long struggle
. A lot of criticism
. Odd and long working hours
Try multitasking for a better break
Work hard, be persistent and patient if you want to make it big
What does filmmaking as a profession entail?
It’s much more difficult than any other profession. Go to a film school, build the foundation, then write a story and then think about the screenplay.
It is very important to know lensing, camera placement and camera movement because that greatly determines your perspective. This is taught in film schools. Training in screenplay writing is highly recommended — it is easier for you to break into the industry as a writer-director than just as a director. You get more opportunities as a multitasker.
What are the career prospects?
Begin by assisting a reputable filmmaker. Learn the technicalities and then approach production houses.
How does one find work as an assistant director? Do film schools help with networking?
Some might, but it is not easy convincing a big director [to let you assist]. You should have made a few short films that you can show him, meet his manager and fix up meetings, meet him on location and be persistent.
Are the skills of a documentary filmmaker very different from that of a feature filmmaker?
As a documentary filmmaker, one should have a lot of knowledge and sensitivity towards the subject s/he is working on. Editing skills are very important for a documentary filmmaker.
A feature filmmaker, on the other hand, needs lots of imagination to create fiction, turns and twists.
Name three recent Indian films that exemplify good direction.
Kaminey, Dev D and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye. They were mainstream films, yet broke away from the cliche.
Vikram Kumar, director of the film 13B Interviewed by Neha Sharma