…And the rains came dancing down!

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Playing in the rain, dancing in the rain, shooting a film in the rain? Filmmaker Bidyut Kotoky vividly describes his experiences of shooting for his films in Assam, where it rains almost through the year. Sometimes the rain was an integral part of the script, but more often than not, was an uninvited, but determined guest, and had to be accommodated with a smile!

Unlike most other people, my childhood memories associated with rain are not exactly happy ones. And you can’t really blame me for that. I remember looking up longingly at the grey sky and requesting her to stop weeping so that I could go out to play cricket with my friends…and more often than not, my plea was rejected! Yes, I also used to find all the songs and dances with rain (even if it is in the make belief celluloid world of a Hindi film!) a bit ridiculous – after all, what’s so great about getting drenched? We experienced it all the time, throughout the year! Well, now I can look back at those days and say philosophically that those experiences were an intrinsic part and parcel of growing up in one of the rainiest rain belt of the world – Assam.

It is only when I came to Pune for my graduation, the craving and the beauty of the first rain of the season after the killing dry summer of western India began to seep into my psyche. The monsoon treks to different laps of the Sahayadris become more like a pilgrimage in my college life… those budget trips (thank God there are no Mcdonalds or Pizza Huts, yet, in the middle of the Sahayadri’s trekking routes – one could have yummy Pithla bhaakri and Kanda bhaji prepared by the simple village folks and handed over happily in exchange for love and whatever little extra we managed to offer during our perpetually broke student life), also provided the much needed supply of oxygen that I required to absorb the shock of being exposed to the cruel life in the big city…

Actors on the broken wall –  "…with a newly bathed, fresh earth to welcome us"  	                (Photo: Nitesh Batra)

Actors on the broken wall – “…with a newly bathed, fresh earth to welcome us” (Photo: Nitesh Batra)

And by the time I started my journey as a filmmaker, my love affair with rain was complete – it became an important character in many of the stories that I wanted to tell, especially in the feature films. After all, as a writer and director, you have the liberty to play God in feature films – you can make it rain and stop as you please as per the script you are writing (see how I got even with the weeping sky for not honouring my sincere request as a child?)

Shooting on the mighty Brahmaputra
In my first feature film ‘Ekhon nedekha nadir xipare’ (As the river flows), we had a storm sequence set at night, presumably in the bosom of the mighty Brahmaputra. The production logistic forced us to shoot that sequence in Mumbai’s Film City with artificial rain…Not exactly my favourite option, but I didn’t have much choice considering the small trailer we glimpsed of what an actual storm in the Brahmaputra could be like that we experienced during our shoot in Assam. It so happened that we were shooting a boat sequence in the Brahmaputra – the actors were on one boat, and we along with the camera crew on another ‘combined boat’, viz., two boats joined by bamboo and wooden planks so that we could have a sort of platform for the camera. And it was a night sequence, shoot of which went on till the wee hours of the morning, when the mighty river decided that we had disturbed his sleep enough… The clouds must have been gathering in the sky for a while, it was difficult to know exactly for how long, at the dead of night with lightning being the only indicator along with the steady wind… Well, wind one tends to ignore – it is difficult not to expect wind when you are in the bosom of the Brahmaputra at the dead of night with the monsoon season on the anvil … And then the thunderstorm struck, giving us almost no prior warning! Before we knew it, our ‘conjoined boat’ was tossed around like small paper boats by the menacing storm – but thankfully, rather than pushing us towards the swirling river, it pushed us to his bank…And in an instant, the impact of the crash broke the wooden planks joining the boats! We thanked our lucky stars that the wooden planks were the only things that crashed that night, while we rushed to our vehicle to take shelter from the blanket of rain which came pouring down.

The kindly rain
Recently, when I was planning for my second feature film ‘Xhoixobote Dhemalite’ (Rainbow fields), there was no sequence with rain that was built into the script. But when you are planning to shoot a film in Assam starting third week of April, obviously you have to factor in rain as an uninvited guest, who is going to visit you unannounced sometime or the other. We were prepared to greet rain with an open mind. Yes, we knew very well that pre-monsoon in this part of the world can be much, much wetter than actual monsoon in many parts of the country. Yes, we knew that the shooting location of this film, bordering the hills of Arunachal Pradesh, made us that much more vulnerable to the rain – the floating clouds are sure to crash against those looming blue hills and to come melting down…‘We will use the rain as a character of the film’ – quite confidently we assured ourselves, as I requested the different department heads to pull out the umbrellas…The sound departments started off by buying the balloons as a precaution to store the mikes (inside the actors’ costumes) in case we decide to shoot outdoor while it was raining. The production guys emptied the nearby markets of raincoats. We were ready to face the rain… or so we thought!

With the garden umbrella during the shoot (Photo: Partha Baruah)

With the garden umbrella during the shoot
(Photo: Partha Baruah)

It started in the second half of the first day’s shoot. And continued, for the next three days or so. Forget shooting, it was a challenge to take a few steps outside, even with the umbrellas. Being a ‘smart planner’, I had planned maximum outdoor sequence in the first week of the shooting schedule. ‘After all, chances of rain progressively increases as we move nearer to the monsoon’ – was my ‘smart reasoning’. And accordingly, the indoor locations of the film were planned for the second week of the shoot, and were under construction keeping that deadline in mind – so there was no scope of moving indoors to utilise the time… The combined consequences of all these factors resulted in us being almost 25 percent behind schedule in the first week itself (of the total 20 days of shooting schedule)! And if you want to know what it means in the world of film, just keep it as your secret weapon to use against any director/ producer of independent films whom you know on a personal level and really dislike – this kind of news for their under production film is a sure shot guarantee to raise their blood pressure to almost uncontrollable levels!

But just when I thought that I had enough of playing God and would have to re-work the script to make concession for the fury of nature, the nature decided to show us her kinder side…In an almost eerie way, it started raining at night and would stop at the crack of dawn – just in time for our shoot to start on schedule in the morning…with a newly bathed, fresh earth to welcome us, almost every day! Not only that, when we felt the need to have a little drizzle or a cloudy sky to have some kind of continuity with the few scenes we managed to sneak in amidst the pouring rain in the first few days, she ensured that we got just what we required – enough to get the continuity we wanted, yet not enough to disturb the shoot… What’s more, the unbelievably pleasant weather during those two weeks in that region, with surplus supply of fresh oxygen, ensured that we had that much of extra energy to put in the extra hours required for playing the catch up…To cut a long story short, the last day before the shoot we not only managed to catch up, but actually move ahead of schedule – without a single compromise forced on us by the weather (read ‘rain’).

Today, sitting in my editing studio in humid Mumbai waiting for the monsoon to attack us, when I find people associated with the post production of the film comment on how fresh and amazing the outdoor scenes of the film look, thanks to the rain enforced ambience, I can’t help but remember the first few days of the shoot… And pray that once the film is ready to welcome you as viewers, you will also find the film fresh and amazing…er, dare I say, not just the outdoor scenes, but in its myriad colours…the Rainbow fields!


Bidyut-Kotoky

Bidyut Kotoky

Bidyut Kotoky is a film-maker and a reluctant writer, whose sole objective for writing is to get his readers curious to watch his films. His documentary Bhraimoman Theatre – where Othello sails with Titanic won a special mention in the 53rd National Film Awards. For his debut feature film in Assamese, Ekhon Nedekha Nadir Xipare (As the River Flows) he won the ‘best script award’ for the period 2010-2012 at the Assam State Film Awards. The film also won awards at the 2013 Washington DC South-Asian Film Festival and the 2014 North Carolina South Asian Film Festival. Since the last 3 years he has been busy with his feature length documentary Guns and Guitars – a musical travelogue, which is in its final stage of post production. Made with self-raised funds, the film will be ready for release soon. He has just finished shooting for his film Rainbow fields.

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