Film Education

Behind the scenes: “Clap Trap” Part 5 : SORAB IRANI

Behind the scenes: “Clap Trap” Part 5

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

The film was really created on the editing table. The film was commissioned by Farrukh Dhondy of Channel Four as a 25 minutes documentary. When we showed him the rough cut which was about 45 minutes he was so impressed that he immediately decided that it should be a 52 minuter. This involved more filming and a complete reedit.

There were many interesting episodes while filming.

Once while we were in the Men’s Extras association office a big male drunk extra attacked us, of course Navroze kept the camera rolling as long as he could, we were rescued in the nick of time by the other assembled extras.

On another occasion when we were filming at the Women’s Extras Associations office a big fight broke out among one group of ladies against the others – the dispute was that the association was making secrete deals outside the association with some select lady members, we caught the entire fight live and it turned out to be great observational footage. Later there was a big hue and cry about this and the Women’s Extras Association complained to my Producers Association saying it wanted this documentary stopped because it would show the ladies in a bad light. A compromise was reached that we would show them the completed film for their informal approval and a sizeable donation was made so that we could carry on with the making of the film.

It was just after the infamous communal riots in Bombay and one night we were all hauled off to the police station by jumpy cops as we were thought to be suspicious characters while we were filming at the Dadar flower market at 3 am in the morning.

Again while we were filming at Pummi’s home her drunk husband arrived and started a big fight. The police arrived and sorted this one out seeing that the man was very drunk, we were asked to press charges but refrained from doing so as he would pile more misery on Pummi later.

Local goons extracted money from us.

Packs of menacing stray dogs chased us at night while filming in certain localities, but such was the times and such was our brief.

The most painful part was the edit. Firstly we had so much footage, our filming ratio was generous but that meant syncing hours of footage. We could not use the traditional clap so Navroze would just clap his hand in front of the running camera or one of his assistant or one of us would perform the customary duty so that we could sync the footage later.

As all the exposed cans were printed the NG takes had to be synced and then removed. After that was done the footage had to be viewed and a rough structure had to be evolved. Deepak Saigal our editor suggested that we do a paper edit of sorts so that we can all think and agree on a sort of rough first assembly. This exercise meant that edge numbers of each shot had to be written in a log with reference to the exposed can numbers a mighty task in itself owing to the huge amount of footage. Battles royal ensured between the director and the editor as the director would come up with a fresh idea and completely change what was done the previous day. There was no Avid machine or any computer assistance, it all had to be done manually. Shots found from cans and shots put back in cans, doing this for months can get on your nerves. The editor had two assistants only for this job. To add to this there was a fire and we had to shift to another editing room, that was a night mare because if shots got lost we had to get them printed again from the lab only with the help of exposed can numbers whose reference we got from the continuity sheets of the filming. The negative dare not be handled in those days, remember we were 16mmwalls and not 35mm mainstream bollywood.

The story carries on in my next post


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.

BEHIND THE SCENES: Part 3 (Clap Trap)

Behind the Scenes (“ClapTrap”): Part 3

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

It is believed that in Mumbai there is a potential documentary waiting to be made on nearly every street corner. Mumbai is perceived as the city of dreams, the question which begs to be answered is how many of these dreams ever come true and for how many. As one of the character very poignantly said in the film “The Clap trap” – ” There is only one Amitabh Bachhan and many thousands of disillusioned actors with shattered dreams and compromised  lives – why chase such a dream ?” However to dream, to hope, is the stuff that keeps us going, we all live today for a better tomorrow, without hope or dreams it would be an empty tomorrow and today filled with despair.

Bollywood probably unwittingly made dream-making into an industry. Provided hope and elevated despair with escapism. In the darkness of the movie theaters everything was served up, song and dance, sex, comedy, melodrama, forcing people to suspend their reality and millions thronged the theater space for exactly that, probably again without realizing it.

Having said that even my idea of a documentary film on the ‘Extras’ of the Mumbai film Industry had to move from the realm of idea (mind) into reality.

After struggling with the idea in India where documentary at that time was considered the orphaned child of Bollywood, I shifted my focus to parts of the world where documentary was given its due importance as a film format and audiences were interested in seeing them.

I proposed the idea to Farrukh Dhondy at Channel 4 TV – London. Farrukh Dhondy was a multicultural Commissioning Editor at Channel 4 with an interest in India. The commissioning process was straightforward. Submit your idea in one or two paras if the Commissioning Editor saw merit in the idea then he would commission the research of the idea, the effects of the research would determine if Channel 4 wanted to commission the project or not.

Farrukh Dhondy approved of the idea and commissioned the research, being a documentary the research was rightly given more importance then director, technicians etc. The subject matter was correctly the center focus.

The research that I presented both visual and along with the treatment was appreciated  and my company was contracted to produce “Extras” which was its tentative working title. The budget was comfortable as payment was to be received in pounds sterling.

Once all this technicalities of budget approval and legal contract were over I decide I must  meet Farrukh Dhondy in London and get his thinking aboard realizing that this film had to be made for an international audience and so needed to be crafted as such. I also got to see many documentary films made by Channel Four and benefited immensely.

Farrukh Dhondy was a renowned writer and intellectual which he still is and of course a great communicator. What I learned from him was to stand by me in good stead for the many other documentaries that I made.

The basic thing he told me was that the Films Division format of documentary was dead. We were of course brought up on Films Division documentaries which we were forced to see when ever we went to the movies in those days by government decree. Example – we see a visual of say of the Khumbh Mela and the voice of the narrator would say this is the Khumba Mela. The voice of the narrator was to be eliminated all together and the narrative of the film should be propelled forward by the voice of the characters that people the film. The technique of using voice – over to provide smooth transitions of scenes, that a good documentary was given birth on the editing table, that the director had to be non intrusive, the material should never be staged, capture live events as they unfold in time, the magic of such moments is what Farrukh called ‘Observational Documentary’ all these new ideas were very exciting and I knew they will  help me make a documentary film which will be very engaging to an audience. However I must say here that the most important advise and in Farrukh’s own words was – ” Want advise to make a good film – tell a story, want more advise to make a good film -tell a story” .

So I came to Bombay teaming with all these fresh ideas and work started on assembling a team to make the film.

To be continued…………

Behind the Scenes: Part 2
By Sorab Irani – Chairman/Managing Director, SBI Impresario Pvt. Ltd.
Part 1:

While every one was waiting for the selection proceeding to begin there was a lot of noise mainly from the junior artists, talking among themselves, smoking, many chewing pan and speaking in a rather comic manner trying to hold on to, not spitting, yet not wanting to swallow the potent tobacco mix. A sense of expectancy was in the air while on the raised stage the ADs(assistant directors) were in conversation with the president of the association about their requirements.Very suddenly, like a judge calling the court to session the president from his high seat barked loudly for silence. There was silence for awhile which then remained as an underlying murmur. All eyes were on the president.

The events that then occurred was the womb from which the idea for the film was born.

The president announced in his booming voice ” film-city – 15 decent look – 9 am reporting – dress kurta pajama – shave bana kar ke ana please” – then the whole scene exploded, there was pandemonium – every one of the assembled extras were on there feet, raising their hand and voice to catch the attention of the AD in the jetting out balcony- the din was deafening, they were pushing and shoving and screaming at the top of their voice while surging inchingly forward . – “Sir muje lo” – “Muje ek mahine se kam nahi mila” – “Sir muje….. Muje kam ki shakt jarurat hai…….”

The AD then pointed out to the men in the crowd and made his selection. I was left wondering how the people could be identified in this ruckus – but the president seemed to able to note down the names of the people that were selected after calling them out loud but it was impossible to hear over the prevailing din. After he finished writing out the call sheet, he leaned back in his chair gathering his strength, it seemed and roared “SILENCE” a momentary hush fell over the assembled people as all were eager to know if they got work – many hoped against hope – I scanned their faces and saw desperate anticipation.

The president started reading out the names “Masood , Pujari, Harilal……” and so on and so forth. Then the listed paper was thrown down to an extra’s coordinator below who did an excellent well practiced job of getting hold of the paper as it floated down to him. Immediately the extras started surrounding him to firm up things. Many voices were heard complaining “me to roj khali rheta hu” some even cursed their bad luck and the whole proceeding.

The coordinator an official of sorts of the association would be responsible for the extras to turn up and be present at the set and to see that they do as directed and of course most importantly collect their daily meager wages and distribute it to them at the end of the day.

This whole selection process took about an hour and a half, I had mixed feeling and I stepped out of the shed to reflect and to get my head around what I had just witnessed.

My first thought was that this was like a kind of cattle auction. I being a horse lover had seen horses being auctioned at the RWITC but the conditions were fabulous compared to this, even in Pushkar and other places in India where animals were paraded and sold was much better then what I witnessed. For God sake I told myself these are human beings not animals – what a ridiculous predicament these extras are caught up in – no dignity – no respect – working in a glamour industry that sells dreams, surely this was the underbelly of Bollywood.

So right outside the infamous tin shed the idea for the film was born – with the background sounds of the next selection round of the extras- that this was great material for a documentary, not an exposure kind of documentary on the underbelly of Bollywood but a human emotional one examining the whole phenomena of the men and women extras of the Bombay Film industry – their lives, how they came to be extras, what were their aspirations, working conditions, their hopes and woes – to look at this whole subject from their side as well as the way the Film Industry perceived them. I was sure that no where else in the world such a phenomenon existed and so it must be captured on film for posterity.

The story carries on in my next post

Behind the scenes

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

Films are seen on the big screen, but they have to be made. The process of film-making is most interesting. In this space I will share my ‘Behind The Scenes’ experiences as a documentary and feature film-maker, my role as Producer/ Director and share insights of my association for the past thirty years with the Indian Film Industry and the International film-making scene. At the centre of this writing will be the three ‘E’s’ – Educate – Entertain – Enlighten.

Let me start with a poem on memories


Tears are the showers that fertilize this world;

And memory of things precious keepth warm

The heart that once did hold them.

They are poor

That have lost nothing; they are poor far

Who, losing, have forgotten; they most poor

Of all who lose and wish they might forget.

For life is one, and in its warp and woof

There runs a thread of gold that glitters fair,

And sometimes in the pattern shows most sweet

When there are somber colours. It is true

That we have wept. But oh! this thread of gold:

we would not have it tarnished; let us turn

Oft and look back upon the wondrous web,

And when it shineth sometimes we shall know

That memory is possession.

In this my first post I will like to talk about “The Clap Trap” – A 52 minute Documentary on the Extras of the Bombay Film Industry, produced by me for Channel Four Television Corp. London.

Let me start by saying that while I did actually produce this documentary in the traditional sense the original idea for the film was my brain child. The inspiration interestingly was triggered by a location. Here then is the story of how this film got born.

One day in the year 1993 I went along with an assistant director friend – Barot to select Extras for a Hindi feature film he was involved in as I had never known how this was done. I was only aware that Extras had a strong union and hated being called by that nomenclature – they believed they were Junior Artists.

I was wondering where my friend Barot was taking me as we were entering a very crowded area in one of the many lanes that branched off from the main Jacob circle – junction at Mahalaxmi.

I was further intrigued when we entered a slum and walked past todi (liquor made from coconuts) shops and scrap dealers and shanties down a path with multi-coloured hanging drying cloths and the perennial khatiyas with groups of slum dwellers squatting on them, just hanging out killing time and shooting the breeze.

The final destination suddenly came in view – a huge tin shed. It has only one entry gate and a sign which announced – The Bombay Cine Junior Artist Association.

I was amazed at what I encountered inside. The place was like a amphitheatre with a tin roof.  A u-shaped cement 4 tier sitting area facing a raised kind of improvised cramped stage – this was where the President of the association sat at a desk and next to him to his right was a jutting out precarious small balcony from where the AD’s could see all the assembled Extras or Junior artists – if you may- and then point and select them. The place was like a hot oven owing to the tin construction and fans were far and in between circulating hot stale air. Over all, to my mind, it was a very stiflingly depressing, repressing and a rather inhuman place to be in. This was exactly what was reflected in the faces of the hundred odd aspirants assembled there for work that afternoon. The process of selection was about to begin.

The story carries on in my next post