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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



MIFF 2016: Master Class by Festival Director Mukesh Sharma

MIFF 2016: Master Class by Festival Director Mukesh Sharma

Varied experience and a long, eventful career, make Mukesh Sharma just the person to speak on ‘How not to make films’. And he speaks so fast that he can compress so much in an hour-and-a-half! On 30 January 2016, a packed and refurbished RRIII theatre, on the 10th floor, of the Phase I building, at the Films Division headquarters in Mumbai, heard him talk about his acclaimed film children’s feature film Anokha Aspatal (The Unusual Hospital), made for the Children’s Film Society Of India (CFSI) and a German-Indian co-production, shot during his earlier tenure at Mumbai Doordarshan (DD, India’s state-owned television channel).

A science graduate, Sharma was associated with CFSI in 1980, and worked with them, as Production Officer, during the tenures of Dr. V Shantaram, ShabanaAzmi, Jaya Bachchan and Amol Palekar. In this period, he produced about 52 films. His first as a director, Anokha Aspatal, won a special mention at the National Awards in 1989. The nation’s first Indo-Mauritius co-production venture was initiated by Sharma, with film Ankur Maina Aur Kabutar (Operation Pink Pigeon), the other film he directed.

Many things went wrong during the making of Anokha Aspatal. It was the story of Amma and her grandson, Gagan, who run a unique hospital. They treat and offer shelter to wild animals, shot and wounded by poachers. There were serious issues related to the animals, mainly the tiger and the elephant, and by the time these were sorted, Tom Alter, who was to play the poacher, Mr. Smith, was not available. Sharma himself donned the costume, and before he knew it, the producer-director was also playing a character. To add to their woes, a continuity issue cropped up when a child artiste came on the set wearing a blue sweater, but Sharma felt that he had been wearing a red one in the last shot. No stills or footage was available to decide either way. As is the norm, they shot it both ways. As if that was not enough, the latter one important scene, when printed, had the lights bleeding, a phenomenon the FTII veteran cameraman of the 1965 batch, who was Sharma's assistant as well, could not explain.

Having made an arrangement with Sunny Super Sounds, the unit rushed back to Mumbai, from its shooting locales in north India, and was desperate to meet a 31 March deadline, set by CFSI Chairperson Jaya Bachchan. They had 10 days to complete the post production, which included separate tracks for music, effects and dubbing, and these were the last ten days of March. But even as they arrived at the facility, the facility owner Dharmendra, the star, was instructing his staff to block the very same 10 days for a home production. Sharma and his unit just froze at the prospect of missing their deadline. Somehow, he mustered up enough courage to go up to Dharmendra and tell him about the deadline that was hanging over their heads like a sword. To their delight, Dharmendra smiled, and told them that the commitment would be honoured. He would shift his own post-production to Madras (Chennai).

In the German-Indian collaboration, a whole schedule was shot without incurring any expense whatsoever. Sharma was heading DD Sahyadri (Mumbai) at that time, when the Director General of Doordarshan, based in New Delhi, told him to help a German director shoot some scenes in Mumbai, as part of a Melting Pot cities series that included Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur. Sharma agreed to help. The director flew down to Mumbai. A Doordarshan cameraman was assigned to the shoot. Shooting was organised at HajiAli Dargah (mausoleum), St. Michael’s Church at Mahim, Sidhhi Vinayak Temple and with the dabbawalas (tiffin delivery services), on DVC Pro tapes. The director stayed at the DD guest house, free. A Deutsche Welle production, it became a DW-DD co-production, edited in Berlin. DW owns German rights, DD the Indian rights. Touché!

We thought this was going to be about how not to make films. In the end, it turned out to a lesson in how to make films, surmounting all obstacles, foreseen and unforeseen.



About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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