Long before A Gran Plan was even a plan, she and I, as much in love with cinema as we could be – watched Good Will Hunting. And within it, this scene stayed on loop – over and over and over again. Till we knew it.
Notice the cockiness of Matt Damon’s Will Hunting at the start, the assured sadness of Robin Williams’ Sean Maguire, his delicate balance of counsel, admonishment and imploration as the camera lingers on him, the ambient sound underlining why this scene could have been done indoors but was better done in the real world. Look at when the camera returns slowly to include Will Hunting, his eyes just that bit shifty as a tenuous bluff is called, that hint of a gulp which one tries to disguise at a time like that but never really manages, and notice too when the music comes in serenading the dawn of truth…
It’s a magnificent scene, brilliant in almost every aspect of film making and we remember seeing it often. Every viewing brought out a new perspective, a more exciting debate, a fresh nuance. Its great quality is that even seen in isolation, the power of the dialogue (for Matt Damon’s fragile silence never allows it to be just a monologue) holds you and educates you.
But what lingers really is the gist of it: that experience is the only real intelligence…
At the start, A Gran Plan was, as far as I know, a nameless, featureless pursuit.
There were children who were attending a film appreciation workshop at Playacting and the grand plan was that the workshop would culminate in a film. Perhaps a short film, but something which exposed them to the art and craft of structuring a tale and then transferring it from vivid imagination to eloquent images.
That was all.
Every dream has nubile beginnings till it gets nurtured by a desire which derives perhaps its greatest strength from its own innocence.
Sangeeta had been toying for a while with the idea of the story which ultimately became A Gran Plan. The original premise was that it be staged somewhere, like some of her earlier works. As the film appreciation workshop developed, so too did the idea that perhaps this story could form the backbone of something bigger. Even at this stage though, its horizon was limited to doing it with a scratch crew and adult cast, almost entirely locally.
My sense is that the growing confidence and enthusiasm of the children fuelled and emboldened the dream.
One reads and hears often of the meticulous planning and effort that goes into first ventures. A Gran Plan was none of that. What was the plan? Who was the audience? How was it going to get out there? None of these questions were asked.
All that was answered was a feverish desire to chase a dream.
But about a year later, it was conceived, written, named, sourced, directed, edited. Six months later, it was awarded.
Along the way there were many – too many to mention, too important to forget – who bought into the dream and invested, among other things their time and other equally hard earned resources. As the dream grew, so too did their investment. As the dream faltered – for all dreams do – their resolution provided it with strength and their strength provided it with resolve.
The shared money, the time with the kids, the houses to shoot in, the beds to sleep in, the clothes to borrow, the schedules to coordinate, the tips on the weather, the visits to the hospital (that’s another story), the meals for the crew, the efforts at cleaning up, the liaison with the music director and singer(and so what if Shreya Ghoshal was his undying, unsolicited, unprofessed love), the late nights, the early mornings, the dialogue, the arguments, the debates, the celebration … they all contributed.
The only thing better than a dream is a shared dream.
Being a part of or at least being around a film crew is perhaps something which should be on every bucket list. This lot come together from diverse backgrounds, different age groups, unique skill sets and almost always have strong opinions on everything from the color of the set to left wing socialism. And yet, they somehow magically and implicitly believe in the Director and the actors on set. Its a very safe place.
A lot of the crew for A Gran Plan were a result of cold calls and cross referenced chats. Each arrived at various stages of the film, many on the first day of the shoot. You would never have seen someone buy-in and commit as fast and as much to something which was unknown.
The degree of suddenness of the commitment and bonhomie is eclipsed only by the abruptness with which it all ends. As the movie completes, they vanish just as soon as they had arrived, leaving pretty much only the Director holding the baby.
But there’s a beautiful lingering.
The last time she played a central character, Farida Jalal won the Best Actress Filmfare Award even as the film, Mammo, won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi. There were days in the A Gran Plan shoot when the crew and onlookers applauded her takes, only to be astonished when she would ask if she could give another take.
But as you sit to watch the film next week, notice too, the cinema newbies – like Tania Mukherjee, particularly in the closing stages of the film.
Also, take a look at the kids – all acting in their first film. While you enjoy their dialogue and banter in helping set up the film, keep a close eye on the dinner scene or the scene at the end and watch the expression of their silence.
And most of all, watch Ollie. Oliver Kennett’s role has dialogue, a gamut of emotions never easy to portray and long pauses in scenes where its just him and Farida Jalal. In many ways, you’ll see that he walks away with the film. If I could have a Dollar for each time you’d want to hug him….
Sangeeta thrives in the slipstream of doubters. Those who prophesize failure are the ones that inhabit her shrine. In itself, that is a romantic concept, but as the best advice of all time goes : Don’t try this at home.
Nevertheless, her journey from scripting a story to making the film was a long, hard road and often a lonely battle. The parts I remember are really the good ones – the joy when Farida Jalal said “Yes”, the first shot that morning, the prayers before the first shot every day, the lyrics arriving from Jaideep Sahni, the first cut of the song by Shreya Ghoshal, the first look at uncut footage, the first cut, the first reaction from friends, the first private screening on a big screen, the thrill of filling up festival forms, the acceptance at all those festivals, the excitement of heading off to New York and LA to attend the festivals, the call that day from New York saying she’d won the Mira Nair Award for Rising Female Filmmaker and that Farida Jalal had won Best Actress at Harlem, Ollie’s award as Best Child Actor, the trip to Delhi to attend the Delhi International Film Fest, the big cake by the Taj the next morning when she’d won Best NRI Film…
There were other days too. A lot of the film was shot at home, it was edited entirely in the study and all those days of the process were a swarm of busy, lonely struggles. And that was before it was complete. The saga of trying to sell it in Mumbai was another story altogether – Aside from the fancy distributors who wanted to know if there was any “masala” (Sir, its Farida Jalal, a family and kids!) which you could forgive but not ignore, most of the rest of it was painfully cliched “It-is-great-but-its-in-English” or “It-is-great-but-what-can-I-do-with-it” or “Have-you-considered-serialising-it-for-television?”. The pain of an unreleased, completed work is a terrible downer.
But ultimately, it is here.
A Gran Plan releases in Singapore next week.
Sometimes, one sees a work ethic, a pursuit of a cause or a devotion to a dream and the surprise isn’t that there is success, but that there was ever any doubt.