Weather Conditions

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

The disadvantage of not living in countries where films are shot is that we miss out on interviews with directors about production logistics. That is where platforms such as the Berlin Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Montreal and many others come in handy, because that is where foreigners like me hear directors and producers speak.

I’m interested in what goes on in pre-production. Do Indian directors have weather men and women? I don’t mean those on television who say it will partly cloudy in Goa, and sunny in Agra but people in the crew who must find out when it will be raining so that the director can get the shot he wants.

I always wonder about how Indian directors shoot nature, the rain in particular. Some of it is done in the studio, but I’ve seen some real rain in the few movies I’ve seen. In Monsoon Wedding, Mira Nair gave us various scenes to show us what happens in Delhi during a monsoon, but what made me wonder even more is the last scene, where everyone is dancing and frolicking in the rain. Much as I enjoyed the film, with more than 60 speaking parts, I could not find the answer to my question, where are the cameras and lights in such a situation?

My interest in how Directors of Photography set u a scene sometimes gets in the way. Instead of wondering about Aditi (Vasundhara Das) being caught with Vikram, her married lover at night just a few days of her wedding in the film Monsoon wedding, I was thinking about the rain beating the car while they smooched fervently. How did Mira Nair set up such a scene?

As a thoroughly British-educated person, I know everything about England but very little about the former British Empire which includes Asia, a huge continent colonised by a country as big as a single pearl. History teachers didn’t teach me much about India, except its rivers, the population figures and the monsoon.

Now that I’m doing my own education, I find weather conditions in books such as Shoba Narayan’s Monsoon Diary, Kamala Markandaya’s Nectar in a Sieve and Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy fascinating. The more I watch Hindi movies, I more I realise that the rain is not an after thought. It is in the script, as a character that should be taken into consideration when getting lights and reflectors for scenes, deciding where grips are going to stand and where the director is going to call action.

Take the soccer scene in Aankhen for example. I wonder where the director Vipul Amrutlal Shah placed the lights and cameras. Vishwas (Akshay Kumar), Ilyas (Paresh Rawal) and Arjun (Arjun Rampal) are blind men who are being trained by Neha, (Sushmita Sen) to rob a bank. The person pulling the strings is Vijay Singh (Amitabh Bachchan) who is holding Neha’s brother as hostage for his evil scheme to destroy the bank that fired him.

It is raining heavily and the men are playing soccer, stomping in the mud. Vijay is sitting under a white umbrella. He is wearing a black jacket and a black baseball cap. His face is well lit and I’m wondering how the Director of Photography did that. Was it the effect of a white umbrella above a black background? Vishwas comes close to him and bounces the soccer ball in front of him. It is still raining heavily but the ball and Vishwas are properly lit.

There’s a beautiful scene in Kyo Kii Main Jhuth Nahin Bolta, where Govinda’s character is dancing with his mistress while the rain is cascading on the glass roof. How did director David Dhawan know that the heavens will be crying buckets of tears? Was the scene shot in the studio?

Kya Kehna, directed by Kundal Shah, starring Preity Zinta as Priya and Saif Ali Khan as Rahul has a painful scene where Ajay is crying in the rain because Priya just fainted at her brother’s wedding because she is pregnant. It is raining steadily at the poolside where Ajay, who has loved her since childhood is drinking. There was even a close up shot and I scratched my brain once again, how did the Director of Photography do that?

What I thought was genius in films with rain as a character was shattered in Aziz Mirza’s film Phir bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. Rhea Banerjee (Juhi Chawla), a television reporter is filing a story about the destruction caused by a torrential storm. Television viewers even see a clip of one of the victims, lamenting about the disaster. It turns out that everything was staged in the studio, just like in Rann, but I quickly recovered and still believe that Mumbai directors are the few in the film industry globally, that shoot in real weather conditions such as the rain.

I suppose only Mani Ratnam will shed light on Guru’s opening credits. Was it really raining when Gurukant Desai (Abhishek Bachchan) crumpled those building plans? Sahibaan directed by Ramesh Talwar has a beautiful scene of Vijaypal Singh (Sanjay Dutt) taking his daily swim in the river. I think it was shot outside in the rain because a rainbow drops by briefly to say hello.

One of my favourite rain scenes are from Main Hoon Na, from the Red Chillies Entertainment stable executive produced by Sanjiv Chawla. I bought the DVD because I was looking for Sushmita Sen. I first came across her in Bulbul Mankani’s book, The Bollywood Cookbook, a lovely coffee table book with Mumbai projects, actors and their favourite recipes.

I hope Farah Khan the director will not bust my bubble and tell me she shot the funeral scene Main Hoon Na in the studio, because I have convinced myself that it is the real thing. It beats down Major Ram Prasad Sharma’s cap (Shah Rukh Khan), and other army generals’ and they wait for the gun salute to bid his father, Brigadier Shekhar Sharma (Naseeruddin Shah) farewell.

It is easy for me to romanticize the rain because I’m not a harried producer. Gauri Khan, the producer in Main Hoon Na is just like any other producer. She must not go over her budget. Actors are available only on certain dates. Equipment has been rented for the shoot. Cinemas are waiting for prints. That is why most producers prefer shooting in the studio, where they have absolute control. Who can control weather conditions? On location film shoots are like the construction industry. Rain is bad for business.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.


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