Saturday, October 25, 2008

13\3 PMGP – End

Initially, the agent who had helped me purchase the flat had stared suspiciously at my unkempt beard and had warned me, ‘You are welcome to stay here…. But don’t do anything ‘aise-waise(This and that) with our girls.’ I was a bit surprised. Did I look the kind who would do all sorts of ‘aise-waise’ with anyone at all? Not taking any chances, I started to trim my beard and comb my hair regularly.

The original alloties of the flats in PMGP colony treated their film and media neighbours as ‘outsiders’. But the ‘locals’, as we used to call them, were as depended on us, as we were on them. The software boom was yet to arrive. We, therefore, were the neo-rich professionals. And we had the cash.
A journalist from New York once wrote an article on India and the transformation that it was going through due to globalisation. He did some exclusive reporting on PMGP. All of us were branded as 'young Indian yuppies' living in the gettos of Mumbai. I should thank my stars that my uncle, who was trying to find a suitable bride for me at that time, was unaware of this discription.

So, your housemaid stayed opposite you; the cable guy was just a block away, the roadside vegetable vendor resided two floors below, the milk man was on the third floor and the lady next door delivered home made food.

On the ground floor of a building, a ‘Kholi’ got converted into a hair-cutting saloon. In another, a doctor inaugurated his clinic. With in a few days he had a zerox machine and an STD booth installed. Tiny plays schools, tuition classes and beauty saloons mushroomed.

And when a sound recording studio got set up, I got the jitters. Why don’t I set up an editing suit at 13\3? After all, it was a ground floor flat. Business would be great. My friend Rajiv nodded in agreement, but my partner at ‘Dziga Collective’ thought that purchasing an auto rickshaw was a better idea.

Meanwhile activities at 13\3 continued. If a friend fought with his wife, he dropped anchor. While I wrote one of my many soon-to-be-made scripts, he stared blankly at the ceiling. When his wife hunted him down, the fight would start all over again. If a writer had guests at his house, my ‘Kholi’ was the most sought out space for screenplay narrations. Thus, the seeds of many great films were sown at 13\3.

Many times, juniors from my film school hopped in with bag and baggage. And when they searched for an alternative accommodation, guess who provided them with an estate agent? That’s right – yours truly. Where did all the deals take place? – Right again, ‘Kholi’ No. 13\3. For anyone who came to my door steps, my principle was simple - stay on as long as you wish and if I am broke, do pay my electricity bills.

There were times when, during my evening walks, a series of local estate agents used to salute or greet me. They generally enquired about my well-being and kept me amused. After all, I gave them business and charged no commission for it.

Kaate Saab (sir), his son-in-law assistant, the ‘Naani’ (aunty) with a big bindhi on her forehead sitting all by herself in her tiny balcony, the friendly independent Rajasthani grocery shop aunty and her two sons; and my ‘bai’ (house maid) who used to call me ‘beta’ (son) to get more things done by me than she ever did herself…

A cousin once remarked – ‘You are so popular that you should be a candidate for the PMGP elections, if at all there were one’. Thank God, I did not take him seriously. Otherwise, world cinema would have truly lost one of its champions!!!

Jokes apart… most people whom I knew or lived along during those days have shifted out of PMGP. But like me, many still maintain their account in a bank situated there. I have no idea why…

At times, when I visit the bank I do bump into a sound recordist friend of mine, who has been staying there for more than thirteen years now. Not that he can’t shift, he just won’t. And he is at peace with himself.

It took me a long time to get out of it. And, I believe, it had got nothing to do with the place itself or its physicality…

It was just the way I looked at it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

13\3 PMGP – Middle

The original inhabitants of PMGP were a part of a rehabilitation scheme – The Prime Minister’s Grant Project or PMGP. They had been displaced from their earlier habitat, thanks to a road project that linked two suburban centres in Mumbai. Most were migrants from other parts of the state of Maharashtra.

I had made my purchase from one such lady. It was only much later that I came to know about her profession. She brewed and sold country liquor. Her husband had apparently hanged himself to death and the rumour going around was that his wife was too ‘hot’ to handle.

My building society secretary, with grave concern, had once whispered that the lady was seeing a young but corrupt police constable, even before her husband’s death. I dared not mention any of this to anyone. ‘Budding filmmaker buys flat from a possible adulterous liquor lady’ – this also did not sound good.

But all said and done, my ground floor ‘Kholi’ was quite an ‘adda’ by itself. It had a TV set and so, people gathered whenever there was a cricket match. Otherwise too, people often dropped in with their own groceries, barged into the kitchen, made tea, cooked food, and happily ate it, as if it were their own house. Of course, they did feed me too. But that was really a by-product.

And some generous ones even brought their own ‘daaru’ – in the afternoons, before and after sunset and even at mid nights. Most times I ended up being at the receiving end of their emotional outbursts; mainly relating to personal and professional matters. I also found myself cooking for them, as best I could, so that they eat and then sleep over their ‘angst’. I would thus be relieved of the burden of listening to their woes.

And on few occasions I got emboldened enough to gulp off their ‘daaru’ and give them a taste of my own emotional outbursts – both personal and professional. That was my way of getting back at them. And invariably, my angst increased the following day when I had to clean up the mess left behind – unwashed utensils or puke stains.

One day my roommate, who worked for a then reputed but now defunct media house, had invited around twenty of his female colleagues for a ‘pharata’ party. It was the first time in my life that I had seen so many of them cramped into a 180 square feet area, chatting away to glory as they took turns making 'pharatas'. Needless to say, the next morning, I did get some strange looks from my conservative neighbours and a friendly warning by my building society secretary.

Once when the doorbell rang frantically, I found myself facing my cable guy who led a delegation of eight to ten people – all of them, his friends and family. Also along them was an agitated actress friend of mine, to whom I had introduced the cable guy. Between them, they had a financial dispute.

The amount in question - one hundred and fifty rupees. It was demanded that I mediate. After one hour of hair splitting negotiations and high-decibel arguments, the actress finally agreed to part with one hundred rupees. I had managed to strike a compromise and the cable guy still smiles whenever he sees me.
Acceptance among the non-filmy crowd was slow. But things got easier when I lent some money to a few people, asked my parents to stay with me for a few days, gave access to my telephone to one and all, helped an uneducated youth to get a job and let my ‘Kholi’ be used for social activities like society meetings and photo secessions for voter’s identification cards.

Thus, this ‘lungi’ wearing ‘Madrasi’ soon became fit enough to be considered as one among them.

13\3 PMGP – Beginning

It was a 180 sq foot ground floor flat that I had purchased during my early days in Mumbai. It was just a stopgap arrangement, before I moved on to a bigger flat. I had planned to stay there for exactly two years. It took me more than thirteen years and a whole lot of persuasion to get out of 13\3, PMGP Colony at Mahakali, Andheri (East), Mumbai.

Initially, when I brought the place, well-wishers had warned me that the number of the house was unlucky. But for me, the purchase was a huge accomplishment – acquiring a roof akin to making a film. In fact, my friend and classmate from the film school, Rajiv Katiyal did comment in jest, ‘Ram could not make a film, so he purchased a flat’.

Yes, technically it was a ‘flat’. It had a living area, a tiny kitchen space and an attached bathroom cum toilet. Back home, my relatives were surprised and even impressed! This black sheep of the family had the presence of mind to buy a flat and that too, within a few years of moving into the city.

But only I knew that this ‘flat’ or ‘house’ that I owned was actually called as a ‘Kholi’ or a small tenement, in local language. Seven such ‘Kholi’ies existed on each floor; each building had four flours and there were seventeen buildings all together. Each of these ‘Kholi’ies must have housed at least four to five members of a family.

Rajiv himself had bought one such ‘Kholi’, in the building next to mine. So had cinematographer V Naravayan and writer Ashok Mishra. And then, there was documentary filmmaker Paromita. Within a year or two, I could see a lot of familiar faces around. Most were starting out in the field of media and film – directors, cameramen, editors, actors, dance directors…

We had our own hangouts, the main one being a tea stall managed by one ‘Shetty’. ‘Shetty’, originally belonged to my state of Karnataka and thus was branded as my friend. If I am not mistaken, ‘Shetty’ was an ex-convict and for some strange reason, I thought it fit to keep this bit of information to myself. ‘Budding filmmaker befriends an ex-convict’ – didn’t sound nice at that point of time.

But the ever-talkative ‘Shetty’ was our man Friday. Keys were left with him so that roommates could collect it. The creative types would sit at his place for hours together and ‘think’ over cups of tea. Credit was provided, so was acidity. The only hitch – the man we all called ‘Shetty’ was not a ‘Shetty’, but an ‘Alva’. But for us, the equation was clear. Any hotel owner in Mumbai is a ‘Shetty’.

The TV industry was on the upswing and a few senior filmmakers that we knew of, had got together to form a body called ‘Channel Dosti’ (Channel Friendship). Or so, we at PMGP had heard. The idea, I believe, was to form a media collective. Soon, there was a meeting at my house. It was suggested by my PMGP colleagues that we too should form a body called ‘Channel Dushmani(Channel Enmity). Fortunately, like ‘Channel Dosti’, ‘Channel Dushmani’ too never took off.

But what we did manage to form was a media unit called ‘Dziga Collective’ consisting of fellow FTII graduates. The first and only job of this collective was to weekly sub-produce around eight to ten current affairs programs of three minutes each for Daryl D’Monte.

That meant that we needed at least eight to ten shooting units per week. It all seemed daunting at that time. But believe me, all we had to do was to walk into this ‘Shetty’ joint of ours, and lo, you found the unit that you wanted.

It was as easy as that.