I grew up around my uncle, who was one of the big daddies of Indian Advertising in the 70's and the 80's, having run agencies such as Lintas, Enterprise and Clarion. So I grew up with the dream of entering his world, and getting paid for creating havoc around his office, as I used to do when I was a child. The atmosphere of creative endeavour, passion, and madness got injected into me slowly and surely.
So much so, that in 1990, when I was waiting for a posting on my ship (the Jag Deesh, I was in the Merchant navy then!) I walked into the office of an advertising agency on a whim, got through their copy test and joined! I was only 18.
I had always wanted to be a writer, you see, a professional storyteller - so writing for a living and doing theatre for passion were what seemed like a perfect life. All right, yes, I know, at 18 the answers are always so simple! :-)
Advertising films were rather rare back then, so I hadn't even begun thinking of that as a possible profession. But one day an offer came along, and I met the guys at an agency - Goldwire - which was starting a filmmaking division - and leaped.
I joined on the 1st Jan, 1991, and my life was set to become a roller-coaster. I landed in a maelstrom of madness, and doubt if I've ever again learned so much so fast, or ever worked so hard and enjoyed every moment so much ever again.
The turning point for me came when we were shooting our first commercial (on my birthday - Jan 22) with the first Formula-3's ever in India (oh joy!!!). One car went bust, so we were left with only one car and the storyboard went down the drain. Add to that that there was a bandh and all petrol stations were closed, so there was no diesel to run the generators. In the film business, this means - no shoot.
I rode down the highway that day in an old Bedford van, wearing a ridiculous floppy hat, carrying a knife, and hijacked a diesel truck on the highway. We shot that day, finished on schedule, and made three films instead of one...
...I have never looked back since.
The thing is...
...I love cinema. Since then, I have made advertising films, documentaries, corporate videos, AV's, television serials, worked on many movies with directors from all over the world. I have been writer, director, actor, producer, editor, madman.
I love working with actors - using my experience in the theatre to draw them out - even the most wooden - and to bring out real emotion. i love that moment of magic when everyone holds their breath, because something sublime has just happened - an expression, a feeling so true it touches everyone on set.
I love the magic of a frame - the way it discards the non-essential, draws your eye to something you might not otherwise have noticed, distills the very essence of what you are trying to say. In so many ways, of all the arts, film allows you the most control over what and how you want to say something. An eye, the twitch of a finger, a person silhouetted against the lonely light of a solitary moon, profiled by the dead branches of an extinct tree. Visuals are poetry, and mixed with words can deliver an impression so powerful it takes over your entire self.
I love the essence of lighting - the way every light source creates a shadow, and the way the interplay of light and shade and all the tones in between can also parallel the essence of a scene, mirroring the state of mind of the protagonist, the joy or the bleakness of an event, the stark or muddled nature of reality...
So my career went rather well. I started with advertising and corporate films, did some documentaries, and then I started a company that would become one of India's first television channels - Gemini Television.
And I was still only 21 - already Chief Executive.
Then I got involved with features, worked with Kundan Shah, Mani Ratnam, then Shekhar Kapur. AR Rahman had done the music for all those first MRF ad films and even the corporate films. He was still young and not the worldwide phenomenon then that he is now, though his talent was obvious. So I'd worked with the sort of best in the business, but something was lacking.
There is a seed of doubt within us all that tells us we need to learn at the feet of a master, so we seek out gurus, and we rarely ever want to accept what is obvious after the first gurus - that your best teacher is yourself. The realisation finally hit me that the best work I'd always done was where I'd listened to myself.
So i ditched the search for someone who could teach me to be a better filmmaker, and I continued doing television, writing and pitching feature films, and a very few advertising commercials. I also chased the common dream of every Indian filmmaker - to make my first feature film, without much luck.
I then executive produced and was First AD on a few foreign Feature films, some television series, did a lot of casting for others.
Almost ten years had passed by then. Two of my friends - just a few years older than me - had heart attacks within a year of each other.
I had a couple of health scares too. So I said 'Whoa! Hold on here. What's going on?'
The thing is - making films is stressful work, takes quite a toll on your body and mind. It's also quite an obsession, so before you know it you could just end up in very serious trouble, and then what happens to those dreams of seeing the world....
So I decided to take a break, to head out to the open road and find adventure, fill up my almost empty sack with new stories, experience life in all its varied colours.
I got on my motorcycle and hit the roads. I joined a commune, lived in my tent, purged myself of the city....
And I thought it would be one year, or two....
But my wandering / my retirement took many more years.
I discovered life again - went exploring, travelling, did oodles of theatre, saw the world, rediscovered the absolute pleasures of anonymity, lived a wonderfully retired life, teaching, travelling, dancing, indulging every whim and fancy.
I realised that my work life had taken me over, left me no time to admire the daisies by the side of the road, so I decided that I had to breathe deep.
It was me, my motorcycles, my books, my music, and one long rollercoaster of fulfilled dreams, whims, and fancies. I worked when I needed the money, discovered laughter and magic in every nook and cranny, and travelled the length and breadth of the country with the wind in my hair.
I taught a great deal - culture, anthropology, creativity, theatre, writing, management, stress management :-)
And then, one day, something clicked in my head again...
After almost another decade, I returned
back to Bombay.
Filled to the brim, and bursting with stories!
It's been almost two years now, and in some ways i feel like I never left :-)
I helmed a 48 part television biopic on the life of Indira Gandhi for 9X, but the project got shelved due to an industry strike and the financial collapse of 9X.
So then I Executive Produced a film called Agyaat for Ram Gopal Varma - shooting in the jungles of Sri Lanka for over a month, and then got gypped out of my credit and my payment by his team.
Some things never change :-)
And then I helmed a reality show for MTV and Volkswagen, which took me back to my first love and to the scene of the original crime - the racetrack at Sriperumbudur :-)
A sign? Perhaps...
Then I joined UTV and spent a year there directing and helming more reality TV - including more reality TV like Big Switch on UTV Bindass. Then, at the end of 2011, I joined Sol to do more of the same - but here I did two wonderful shows in the misdst of the mundance. The first - Wordmatch - was a game show about the English Language and literature that I created for Zeelearn, and the second was a documentary series about the things India gave the world - not fantasies like aeroplanes and flying, but the real stuff - things archaeologically and historically verifiable, and yet sadly lost and forgotten.
Then I headed to the digital revolution, and built Asia's first studio that was based completely on Open Source Technology - Pre, Post, Audio, Edit, and GFX workstations all running some form of open source software, on Linux platforms. We built a new media company from scratch, producing at a fraction of the cost other people do, just by being clever with technology.
And then I had a baby - a real, human one. So in the interests of a better quality of life, we dumped Bombay and have now ended up in Bangalore, where my next startup idea is brewing....
I've realised filmmaking is like riding a bicycle or swimming - you never really forget.
So I'm raring to go all over again, armed with hope, laughter, and an unshakeable belief in this adventure we call life, and - just like that corny line from the movie - I'm armed with stories, and I'm not afraid to use them!