Drama Production Workshop

Tom Cowan, DOP of Samskara, IMAX cinematographer and director of such cult Australian films as Journey Among Women, was at Infinite Souls last weekend. He facilitated a drama production workshop with a group of 12 participants.

The weather was drizzly, blowing hard and the light, blue. "Aashada has started" said Huli Chandru. We have two new young cows on the farm - Gowri and Sarasvati. Zui had also brought the puppies along. So there were 3 dogs and 6 puppies underfoot. The cows got in nobody's way, except when Mushroom danced up a storm around their hooves and they jumped about. "Did they jump over the moon?" asked Kai when I told him this story.

Saturday morning, we all headed to the round rehearsal space. First question to the group from Tom "Think of a character who desires something greatly."

Amjad - Someone desperate for a cigarette and in a place where he can't have one. 
Chandru - A man who desires to put an end to corruption through any means possible
Lekha - A person unfairly in jail who desires freedom
Abhishek - A boy who wants to find his father
Divya - A character who desires magic in her life
Madhuri - An artist who simply can't paint. She desires expression


Tom picks two stories and the group has 90 minutes to flesh the stories out and crystallize a 3 act structure for each. They will shoot The Artist on Day 1 and The Lost Father on Day 2. The films are cast, art directors get moving, Lekha is DOP for Day 1 and so on. They improv. the 3 act structure of The Artist once, with Madhuri and Tanvee acting. Then Tom says "Let's shoot." 

....but...but..I can't act (Tom:You don't need to)...can we rehearse again? (Tom: No)...how should I react? (Tom: You'll find a way)...ca...can we speak? (Tom: No)..then how...??? (Tom: Let's see)

Here is Tom's process for Day 1:-
1. Shoot a single shot of the whole film (it can be done with proper planning)
2. Review and assess the footage
3. Create a story board for a multi-shot based on the above
4. Shoot the multi-shot keeping in mind light/action/costume continuity (just in case you want to use some of the single shot in the edit
5. Edit
6. Music and titles as need be

By 7.30pm, they wrap the shoot and Tanvee and Madhuri start editing. 
Ashvin had brought in a veritable banquet of food the night before, so the wood-fire oven burns on and some of us party till late in the Magadi night. Some are so terrified of the dark (and perceived leopards, bears and ghosts) that they won't, as Lekha says, "step outside their pool of torchlight" to challenge Ashvin, the source of all their fear. 
Who's scared of the Big Bad Wolf, huh? Huh?

Day 2. In contrast to the Day 1 process, the group along with Tom decide to shoot 2 master takes (from opposite angles) and edit from that material. Abhishek, Zui, Ashvin and Lekha will be acting. As it is a road film, Gypsy the Jeep is to star in it. Folks get ready to rip off its roof for "additional light".

Kuki poignantly beseeches "Whoever takes the goddamn roof off had better put the bloody thing back before it rains." He also says "Zui, let me drive the jeep down the mud road, you won't be able to turn her around." "Dada you have no faith in me!!" protests Zui as she whirls around, Ashvin in tow, and drives the jeep away down said mud road. The rest of us, hats on heads, take position, ready to shoot. Chandru regales us with stories of other shoots as we wait. Of how his tiger got away while shooting Huli Banthu Huli, of how we got chased by a tusker on a narrow trail to Doddasampige during the Devarakadu shoot. 

20 minutes later, no signs of Zui and the Jeep. I call Ashvin. "...er..Kirtana..ummm... there's been a ...well, a bit of a thing. Noworrieswe'llbethereinaminute."

10 minutes later. No, Zui, no jeep, no Ashvin. Second phone call "Er...Kirtana, do you have a small mumtee?"

So we head off to find them.
Around the corner, along the bend - the jeep balancing a foot off the ground on two mud embankments. Ashvin trying to rev it out. Zui hiding behind a lantana bush.

Nagraj the Indomitable (along with mumtee and ghatapara) is summoned. Soon his shadow looms on us as he places his foot on the embankment and thrusts his ghatapara into the mud. At that very moment, our  neighbour, Huchappa, and his herd of goats and 4 cows choose to pass by. Taking stock of the situation, Huchappa flings himself beneath the jeep and begins scooping earth out with his hands. Fortunately, Lekha kept shooting through all this so Zui is immortalized in the Making of The Lost Father uttering those words made famous by millions of teenagers "My dad's going to kill me." 

After the drama of the jeep, the rest of the shoot was anti-climactic but nonetheless rendered some quality acting and a timely coughing fit by Divya the DOP. Editing began thereafter. In this case, the choices were largely about point of view. 

By 6pm, the group had 2 short films with music and titles ready to be screened. A small audience viewed them. It was interesting to see what the audience got from the films, how the individual's pursuit of a single thing (the named desire at the start of the workshop) can provide a framework for intersecting stories. And finally - how liberating to be able to tell stories, make feature films without that old fashioned dependence on funds, stars, equipment rental, studios, producers and the million things that perpetuate the myth that the individual is nothing without an army of support. Some participants said they learned more in these two days than in three years of back-benching it in college. Hmmm...

PS - For those who feel for Konarak, folks didn't put the roof back in time, it rained buckets that afternoon and the jeep did in fact get soaked. 


Cooking for the Season

June is the month for mangoes and mango eating. My grandfather would say that we should eat nothing but mangoes during this season, accompanied by glasses of milk. Eww...I can't handle the milk part. But mangoes! Green mango rice with ground mustard and green chillies, mango panna with cardamom and jaggery, mango lassi, mango sasimi, mango kulfi, mango rasayana with fresh coconut, mango gojju...

My mother's family adore the early Raspuris (first to come and first to leave), my father likes Malgoas, Konarak will not be without his Banganpallis (dat old Andhra blood) and our daughter thinks the sun rises and sets with Alphonsoes. But we try not to argue (it's bad enough playing Pictionary in this family) and just get all the mangoes we can and eat them through the season.

We collected two sacks full of huge mangoes from the farm this year. They are perhaps a cross between Raspuri and Badami. Many other plants came to fruit this season as well and the farm was a rhapsody in green. The lemon tree from Arunachal Pradesh that Minam brought to plant at Laddu's grave. The rosemary was in full bloom, perfuming jeans and dogs and anything else that brushed against it. But there were also pomegranates, mosambis, sapotas, papayas, guavas, passion fruit. And my first ever precious avocado! The muse of future salads, guacamoles and prawn cocktails.

Lemon Tree from Arunachal Pradesh

Passionfruit (captured before the cows eat them off the fence)

At least I think they're Mosambis


My Solitary Avocado

Rosemary Blossoms

I had so many mangoes at one point that I made a quart of mango ice cream that is serving us well. But the season's hit has been our Ground Coffee Bean and Walnut Cake. On a rainy afternoon, nothing hit the spot quite like a warm slice of this pretty, speckled brown cake with toasty flecks of walnut. I was also aided in pleasure and delight by a book I ask that you all read - "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver, Steven.L.Hopp & Camille Kingsolver   http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/
It has inspired me to:
- Shop for local vegetables and ignore those Dragon Fruits and artichokes that I strictly do not need
- Try and grow more edible produce (how hard can it be to grow a tomato?)
- Make mozzarella at home  
- Be determined to raise some chickens (only for eggs, I'm not that brave) before the year is out
- Try to shop at Foodworld less
- Be aware of indigenous produce/ products (see www.vanastree.org/)

Now to the cake...
The beans I used are from Rainforest Retreat in Coorg. http://www.rainforestours.com/ In the spirit of the season and of cooking, I share the recipe with you! Note: The ground beans add a mild crunch to the cake.

Ground Coffee Bean & Walnut Cake
8 oz Whole wheat flour
8 oz Sugar or jaggery
8 oz Butter
4 Eggs
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
A pinch of salt
2 tablespoons Ground Coffee Beans
100 grams Walnuts broken into small pieces
1-2 tablespoons curd (you may or may not need this)

Whip together the butter and sugar/jaggery till light and fluffy. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add the eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time, adding a little flour mix each time. Keep beating well till all the eggs and flour are done. Stir in the ground beans and the walnuts. If the mixture is too thick, add a little curd till you have a nice batter. Pour into a greased and floured tin and bake at 250 degrees centigrade until it has risen and a toothpick dipped in the centre comes out clean (about 25-30 minutes). Leave to cool. Or don't! My daughter likes this cake fresh from the oven with a mug of milk on the side. (She doesn't have her mother's problem with milk) Tell me how you'd like it?