Suitcase Tales - Recording the journey of 'Side A Side B'
Posted on 22 July, 2016 by Team Wishberry
I turned 39 on February 8 this year.
The last two and a half years of my life was spent on an ambitious experiment that didn’t pay me a buck. And I have a wish-list of completing four films before turning 40.
To make up for lost time - I decided to move out of my flat by mid year, live out of a suitcase and use the rent money to shoot my films. With just an iPhone 6S Plus.
My music director of X – Past is Present, Sudeep Swaroop, with guitar in hand, dropped in to say hello the day after my birthday. It had been three months since the release, and one of our songs from the album had just got a million hits.
The songs from X were meant to be from Bollywood films made by the protagonist K. Hence, the music mostly paid tribute to old school Bollywood. It wasn’t the perfect showcase for a young new music director. We had to do something more fresh and original.
Just a few months before our meeting, a former associate Joel had dropped in home after a 26 hour-long train journey with his girlfriend and their cat. I told him to write the same as a script with a “What if… XYZ happens” during that journey.
He didn’t. But the idea grew in my mind. What if they were both musicians – a duo that performed together? What if we could capture that train journey as a musical? Just eight songs, one every four minutes. What kind of music would they make on a train? We could make a film in the Inside Llewyn Davis/Begin Again/Once space – on a train. With acoustic music, performed live on a moving train, where the rhythm of the train would be a part of the music and the score. A true-blue musical in the truest sense and spirit of the word.
As I pitched the idea to Sudeep, I made up eight song situations or eight great moments from that train journey. After every song brief, he played the guitar and sang some dummy lines. I recorded them on my iPhone. Over the next forty minutes, we had the scratches for all eight songs. I lived with the music for a week - it grew on me. My partner in rhyme and brother, film critic Raja Sen offered to do the lyrics – for the whole damn movie.
By March, we found actors who could perform live and got musician friend - Suprateek Chatterjee, to give them guitar lessons. On 3rd April, I booked tickets for an eight people unit for a train journey across India. 44 hours from Guwahati to Bombay. We would get on board the Kamakhya Express on 7th July, and by the time we got off the train i.e. 9th July, we would have shot a movie called, Side A Side B.
Side A Side B had to take its principal characters across two opposite sides of India – from the green, misty lush hills of Meghalaya to the grey, foggy concrete jungle of Bombay.
I spent the next two months writing five drafts of the script, thanks to the discipline of my assistant Suraj Chhabra. Meanwhile, we recorded the album and gave it to our actors to rehearse.
With one month to go, we realised that our original choice for the lead actor told us that he wouldn’t be able to do justice to the live takes and we had to look for a real guitarist who could act as well.
We put out a casting call on Twitter, went through all the auditions and found our boy - the insanely talented Rahul Rajkhowa, and young Shivranjani Singh (she’s sung a couple of Bollywood songs including 'Oh Boy' from Kya Kool Hai Hum, and 'I Wanna Tera Ishq' from Great Grand Masti) who had been learning to play the guitar for three months, and was dying to start rehearsals.
We needed a DoP who was confident of shooting with an iPhone; Karthik Ganesh (Aurangzeb and Bombariya) rose to the challenge and suggested we shoot with a two camera set-up – one iPhone 6S Plus and one Samsung S7 in addition to the iPhone 6S to be employed by second unit director Hemant Gaba.
We arranged the furniture at home to simulate the train coupe and the two rehearsed for two weeks together after they had learnt the songs. We had a taped rehearsal on 2nd July – five days before we got on the train and that experience of performing for a camera made the actors take stock of their preparedness.
4th July - we flew to Shillong and headed to the Dylan tribute Café to get things started.
5th July - we drove to Cherrapunjee to shoot a music video of one of the songs. Rahul’s dad, Rajen Rajkhowa, was an industry veteran who had worked with Dharma Productions, a former FTII sound graduate who had shot music videos for Rahul with his young associate Himangshu Arya. There was no way we were going to let them off without shooting one for us. We spent the day at Café Soulshine, Sa-I-Mika Park shooting the video and also managed to steal some scenes for the movie.
6th and 7th July - we hit the road again to capture the backstories of the characters on the train – we shot at Café Shillong, outside Loreto Convent, inside the Cantonment, at assorted view points, shot with children in Khasi villages and drove all the way to Dawki near the Bangladesh border to capture the beauty of the North East. We shot extensively around Shillong and the road trip to Guwahati as if we were shooting a documentary on their lives and journey to the other end of the country.
We boarded the Kamakhya Express at 8:55 pm in Guwahati on the 7th and our sound designer Dipankar Jojo Chaki spent a few hours doing sound tests with music director Sudeep Swaroop.
We started rolling at around 9 a.m on July 8, by the time we got off the train on the 9th of July, we had shot all the songs – pretty much the whole movie. Except for a few inserts that needed an animal trainer.
16th July - we finished the Mumbai schedule of the film with our cat actor ‘Dude’ trained by Sanhita Paradkar.
As I sift through the stuff we have managed to shoot with the money I didn’t really have, I feel liberated and empowered, thanks to technology, the power of dreams and the irrefutable energy of genuinely talented musicians, technicians and artists.
I’m moving out of my flat this week as a very happy man.
Next, I’m off to Bangalore to teach a course on fiction writing and spend whatever I make from it to shoot my next film in October, in Istanbul and Tokyo.
Seven months before I turn 40. One film done, three to go.
Excited about the film? Here’s a clip of the cast jamming to a song from the film.