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It’s Elementary

When used intelligently, elements such as location, time and space are equally defining as the storyline. Watch your step

Among the most interesting aspects of film are temporality and space, and the fact that you can actually play with these elements of space and time. Every film has these elements interacting and changing and growing, and a good writer is able to use these elements to enhance the story. Sometimes they ARE the story. And then these stories go beyond a particular time span or space. The beauty is using them well.

Some films are all about location. They are about where you shoot them. For instance, a film set in Bombay, as my film was, was all about the city. The locations I shot where as important to me as the characters in my film. Hence, the location became representative of my point of view of the city and the layers within the city.

Every film requires, if not an identifiable place, a place in space and time. And when I started making Dhobi Ghat I realised that location was all-important. If I could find locations that represented these various classes, these various strata of society, I had actually created the world that I wanted to depict, which was very multi-layered, multi-cultured, different yet connected in some way. For me, location was all-important.

For any other film, the space may not really define the story. One could pretty much shoot them anywhere. Often, we know that film meant to be shot in New York is shot in Toronto as many parts of Toronto could easily be passed off as New York. Space tells the viewer what the story is.

Often, space doesn’t go beyond being the backdrop of a film. It forms a location in which you need to shoot. But I needed to shoot at the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat. It defined the face of my film. Location plays a part depending on the content and sometimes filmmakers write films based on the location, like I did.

We call this city ‘Bombay’, one city but actually it is not. I wanted to connect different aspects of the city. Thus the characters I showed looked at the city in different ways. Every city has dichotomies, different ways of life and different levels of society. This is a very interesting aspect of Bombay. You have the extremely privileged class and people who live at the very edge of life. The connect between the two makes Bombay the big metropolis that it is. 

Bombay is the only city in the world where you see great poverty and great affluence. In many other cities the difference is not so vast. Thus, you could be the biggest tycoon but your household help comes from the slum next to your house. I find that very interesting. This makes our city very human. It forces all of us to acknowledge that we are dependent on each other and that we need each other to live in the city. In other cities it is easier to cut yourself off.

In filmmaking, each space definitely tells the viewer a lot about the plot. The way people speak, the kind of relationships people have. What is the culture of the community I come from? Then when you think of a character, you situate the character deeply in his environment. Only then does the character become real. The character belongs. Or sometimes you deliberately show an outsider compared to an insider. For instance, in Band Baaja Baaraat, you can actually see, feel and smell the city of Delhi. In a way, while it is not essential that it is Delhi, it can’t be anywhere but Delhi.

Hence, location is a very big decision when you are writing a film. Naturally, Delhi Belly was meant to be in Delhi. If the story was based in Pune, it would be a slightly different film. Location is not just a backdrop. It finds its way into the story and affects people culturally, in language, and what they wear. Then, it begins to be an important part of the film.

To be honest, I am not excited about shooting abroad. I love the idea of making films about the Indian experience. The myth, the legendary stories, the issues that we don’t talk about is what fascinates me. It is more about the human story of India and showing it in a way it has not been captured before that excites me. I want to be part of our country, representing and understanding it.

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