Film Education


Behind the scenes: “Clap Trap” – Part 4

Behind the scenes: “Clap Trap” – Part 4

By Sorab Irani – Chairman/Managing Director, SBI Impresario Pvt. Ltd.


The observational mode of documentary film making was of documentary returning to ideals of truth. The innovation and evolution of cinematic hardware in the 1960s made this very possible. The emphasis was on mobility as, new, light equipment made possible an intimacy of observation new to documentary, and this involved sound as well as image. The move to lighter 16mm equipment and shoulder mounted cameras allowed documentarians to leave the anchored point of the tripod. Portable Nagra sync-sound systems and unidirectional microphones, too, freed the documentarian from cumbersome audio equipment. A two-person film crew could now bring real truth to the documentary milieu.

Unlike the subjective content of poetic documentary, or the rhetorical insistence of expositional documentary, observational documentaries simply observe, allowing viewers to reach whatever conclusions they may deduce. The camera, while moving with subjects and staying in the action, remains as unobtrusive as possible, mutely recording events as they happen. Pure observational documentarians proceeded under some bylaws: no music, no interviews, no scene arrangement of any kind, and no narration. The fly-on-the-wall perspective is championed, while editing processes utilize long takes and few cuts. Resultant footage appears as though the viewer is witnessing first-hand the experiences of the subject so to say.

As a producer I wanted to make a good observational style documentary. It was therefore very essential that we had a camera person and a sound recordist who were aware of this style of film-making. My choice fell on Navroze Contractor for camera and Inderjit Niyogi for sound. Navroze was a veteran world renown camera man in India and had shot umpteen documentaries for European filmmakers and had the all important sense of grabbing a slice of reality as it was happening, this is an instinctual thing and only gets developed with time and experience. So when Navroze’s eye went towards the camera eye piece Indrajit Niyogi the recordist would simply start the nagra. Indrajit and Dileep Subramanium (fondly called Subu), who latter formed a team and a company and worked together were one of the best sync sound recordists in India at the time. This was an essential combination necessary to achieve capturing ‘reality in motion’.

Owing to my other commitments at the time I realized I needed the services of a director. After much consideration I decided to get Jill Misquitta an FTII trained director to do the job. Jill was married to Cyrus Mistry an author play writer of some repute in Mumbai.

Basically it was decided that we observe the world of the extras. To bring a human interest focus to this exercise from our research we picked two interesting characters and for balance one male Masood and one female Pummi.

The story carries on in my next post.

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6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This is very amazing Ma’amji!

Comment by Agastya Kapoor

Glad it was useful dear !

Comment by oorvazi

Hi, it was reaally interesting and i would love to know more about it….

Comment by Deepali Donde

Great and am happy that you liked it! More in the next installment is coming up soon.

Comment by oorvazi

Extremely informative and insightful…Thanks for sharing!

Comment by amborish

Very happy my blog is being of use to nurture the passion for cinema. Thanks for reading and your feedback always appreciated.

Comment by oorvaziirani




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