Thursday, June 18, 2009

Open Magazine feature: Total Ten

It didn't take long to understand that the movie was a farce. Starring an ambitious young unknown who tried hard to remain decent about the subject, the production was a spoof of itself. The movie will soon be unleashed.

Not long after the night of November 26, several filmmakers had a wholly original thought. Why not make a disaster movie out of this?

And so, as the filming of Total Ten commenced at Film City in Goregaon, questions of taste and correctness were far from the minds of its actors and producers. There was, however, certain hesitation over the sensitivity of the subject, which roughly translates to: “will somebody kill me for doing this?” One actor asked another if the script had an anti-Muslim or anti-Pakistan stance, and got a shrug in response. Neither had seen the script.

Rajan Varma, who plays Ajmal Kasab, was in a pink polka dot shirt and tight denims. His thumbs hovered over his phone’s keypad while unit boys prepared the set. Tonight Kasab and Ismail would sneak past Cama Hospital and fire upon a police van. While the actors waited, a short man ambled up from the set to say hello to Varma. He bowed his head slightly at the other actors, who did the same. After he left, Homi Wadia, who played Hemant Karkare, asked who he was. “Oh,” Varma said, “He’s the director.”

It was that sort of movie. The actors expressed hope that there would be controversy. “Internet pe dekho, sir. Film ne aag laga li hai, aag!” Varma told them confidently. When asked about this, they replied that it wasn’t about the controversy, that the film had a message: terrorism does not pay. They tried hard to put a positive spin on the enterprise. But Varma took pride in publicity, irrespective of the sentiment behind it. A month ago, he says, two men attacked his car. “They had a weapon, sir!” although he wasn’t sure. In half an hour India TV and the others put him on television.

In any event, Varma and the rest were informed that the set was nearly ready. While Kasab and Karkare changed into recognizable outfits, Ashok Kulkarni, a ringer for Ashok Kamte, slouched on a bed. Varma styled his own hair and decided that since tonight’s scene was about action, he needed a lighter backpack. This was his own, and he removed a ceramic hair straightener and a hair dryer. “Iss mein bombs hain,” he said, weighing the bag mentally. Satisfied with the bag’s weight, he then pulled out a deodorant named ‘Havoc’ and sprayed himself with it.

Outside, the action director explained the sequence to Varma. His energy was manic. He swept his hands like a bird to indicate the swooping camera, and shouted ‘KHAD-KHAD-KHAD!’ when he meant automatic weapons. “The national anthem will play when they die,” Varma said. “Shaheed huey hain.” He laughed. “This is all the fight and edit department’s job,” he said later. “To show who the heroes are, and how deadly the villain is.”

While this went on, one unit hand told another that he got a discount on the blasts. Instead of six blasts in six songs, there would now be six blasts in one patriotic song. Elsewhere, the director shouted for the mike, and was informed respectfully that it did not work. There was another problem. Ismail, Kasab’s partner, had turned up without a black jacket. “Kahin se jugaad laga le,” an assistant was told.

Eventually the jacket was unnecessary, and the mike was fixed. A coconut was broken, and the shoot began. Kasab and Ismail emerged from the shadows, ran to a corner of the hospital, peeked out, and ran off screen. The director told them to do it again. Faster. Again, and even faster. “Come faster. What the fuck? Does he think he’s in a garden?! Soon all was to the director’s liking.

Varma came by and sat beside the director. Sweat dripped off his face. They talked about movies and titles. “Night Riders,” the director smiled. “Kaisi lagi? Title mere paas hai. That MTV guy Ranvijay can be in it. Filled with bikes.”

“At night!” Varma added.

“At night,” the director mused.

“I got new pants,” Varma said, pinching his cargoes. “The other one was heavy.”

As the next scene began, the actors playing Kamte and Karkare sat nearby, discussing how they wanted the film to create dialogue among the public. Not controversy. The two were senior actors, and had reputations. They were less enthusiastic than Varma, who relished this major role. As they grew less wary of each other, one actor admitted that he hadn’t told anyone he was doing this movie. “But now that I’m here,” he said, looking at the set, “it isn’t so bad. I might decide to tell people.” They were interrupted when someone shouted “mood!” a sign that actors should step into character.

Wadia looked amused. “Mood? Why do they shout mood? Do they think the actor is not in the mood?” In the distance, Kasab and Ismail stood at the staircase leading up to Cama Hospital, scowling at the production staff. In a beat, one actor looking at them said, “This movie should come and go quickly.”

A few nights later, at Ghodbunder, the crew prepared to shoot the boat hijack sequence. Two boats that belonged to local sand dealers were hired. The director realized that both boats were steered by two drunks. As the vessels began moving, he also realized that he couldn’t be heard over the sound of the generator. To add to his misery, the other boat had a generator as well. Neither his technical staff nor his actors could hear him. He yelled to get their attention, but the extras stood on the other boat, exchanging ring tones. “Where did you get me these donkeys from?” he asked an assistant director.

In one scene, Kasab would stand on deck, holding a gun to the captain’s head while his aides stood by. The boats would float by. That was the plan. For this sequence, the director asked his crew to duck inside the cabin of his ship. When Kasab’s boat eventually floated past, the director noticed that the other terrorists were missing. A frantic search ensued, and the actors were found asleep on the director’s boat, along with some of the crew. “That’s it,” the director said, looking at them. “I’m going home.”

The director returned for a dramatic shot at Chowpatty after a few days. This is where Kasab was captured, and where constable Omble was killed. Now media arrived in force to watch the shoot, to the director’s irritation. “Who called you guys up, man?” he asked a photographer. “Your PR guy,” the man responded. Elsewhere on the set a fight broke out between two Punjabis. When it ended, one ripped off his own shirt, threw it to the ground, and shouted at an extra dressed in police uniform, “You’re just standing there like an asshole, and the rest of you are eunuchs.”

The morbid sequence of Kasab’s capture and Ombale’s bravery was then filmed in one take. Only shots of Ombale gasping for breath were now required. The actor playing him, Adi Irani, rolled about for a while. Then, quite suddenly, he halted the proceedings to ask the director, “Should I say ‘Jai Maharashtra’ after I say ‘Jai Hind’? Or should I just say ‘Jai Maharashtra’”?

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