In the internetlessness of the pre-80s era, where the only commonly available means of entertainment were either the part time mono-channeled black & white Doordarshan or shellac discs spinning at 78 RPM on something called a turn-table to belt out “kajra mohabbat wala…”, the Convocation Hall at IIT was a life saviour. People got convocat- ed once a year in its precincts, but they got entertained by feature films once every week. Friday evening to be precise. Same movie played on Saturdays too, but that was for the campus residents. Students saw the movie on Friday evenings before scurrying home for the weekend, mainly to get clothes washed and eat some decent food.
Watching movies on Fridays made a lot of sense for several reasons. For one, you paid Rs. 2 per month rather than Rs. per movie in theatres. You could see Helen gyrating to RD Burman’s drums in full 35 mm glory rather than the 8 mm and 16 mm jobs that one hired during hostel functions. You could walk into the Convo in shorts, in lungis, and even in towels, place your legs on the table, recline and whistle away like some cine goers did in the front benches of theatres, i.e. non-balcony, non-stall. If you liked a cabaret number, you could shout “once more” in unison with your friends and the song would be rewound and replayed. You did not have to stand in attention after the movie, because the national anthem did not need to be played. Back then, movies were made only in huge glitzy studios and one never ever thought of making a movie. There were no VCRs, no video cams. Yes, a few stinking rich folks did own a portable 8 mm movie camera and a home projector that was used to film weddings and kiddy birthday parties. Of course, they were silent jobs since soundtrack was expensive. No one was intrepid enough to think of making a feature film in 8 mm, save a group of crazy guys from H4 and H7, who made a movie back in 1982 as a part of their EP/PAF event.
H4’s Madhouse book is replete with references to the Friday evening movie outings in the Convo and also carries the story of the attempt at filming a masala movie on the banks of Powai and Vihar lakes. With permission from the authors, we reproduce 2 short snippets about the Convo movies as well as the longer story about the film making attempt.
It took another thirty years for technology to advance in the Indian Institute of Technology; for digital inventions to replace celluloid technology. In those days, there was a Film Club and a Film Society. The Film Society was the one which screened movies in the Convocation. The Film Club was the arty type and screened movies on Thursday evenings in the Lecture Theatre. Then, it was for people rich enough to cough up ₹ 2 every month to watch a movie. Now, the club is for those who want to MAKE a movie which hopefully others will watch. One can now film a movie on the go – while walking, while chewing gum, while hanging clothes out to dry. Cameras fit into a pocket now and special effects, sounds, cinematography, scrolling titles… these can all be accessed and applied with a few punches on the keyboard and a few mouse clicks. But again, this easiness creates a level playing field for all competitors who have to therefore stand out by virtue of their creativity and imagination. Siddharth Babbar the Film and Media Secretary of Silverscreen, the club for the movie lovers of IIT Bombay, tells us the story about his maiden film produced some 30 years after the H4/H7 venture i.e. 30 years after Raj Babbar’s time. Despite advancement in technology, film making is still full of trials and tribulations. You have to master casting, scripting, editing, acting, filming, production, and sound. You now do not use good old fashioned tomato ketchup for faking blood. You now use Gulaal as Sid did in his comedy horror film. That’s the extent of detailing now. Sensitivity to ketchup blood vs. Gulaal blood.
Read on to travel a 3-decade journey of film making in IIT. It’s a story of the motion of the picture. Not a picture of the motion, that’s in Piku.
Wax pass? Or Faux Pas?
Excerpted from Madhouse
IIT showed us four movies in a month with four Fridays and five in some months. The monthly pass came at a princely Rs. 2,which was sheer highway robbery as far as some scientific minds were concerned. If Necessity is the Mother of Invention, IIT was her maternity ward. The necessity of spreading this Rs. 2 expense over ten people led to an invention called ‘coat the pass with wax’. Once the pass was ticked with a pen, or so thought the usher who actually ticked on wax, the successful entrant into the covo (convocation hall where the movies were screened) rubbed the tick away and slipped the pass out through a grill for the second man to attempt entry. In IIT guys asked each other for the usual match, lighter, cigarette of course. But sometimes they asked if anyone had a candle to spare. If you carried a candle in your pocket, you were respected as an individual with foresight.
Liability of Aas-ets
Excerpted from Madhouse
We were provided passive entertainment every Friday night, in the form of the Friday Night Movies in the Convo. These contributed significantly to many pleasant memories of IIT. Over half the hostel would empty, because the locals – those with homes in the city – went home. The campus descended into a soothing end-of-week tranquillity. The silly Hindi movies enhanced this experience. H4 junta had their regular seating area, a spot on the front right of the Convo entrance. The movies were entertaining, but not always in the way they were intended.
Some seniors before our time had a kind of a bet that one of them would go up and kiss the heroine on the screen while the movie was on. Let’s assume that the heroine was Zeenat Aman. In order to help this intrepid hero, a few guys walked up to the screen with him, formed a human pyramid like we used to during Krishna Janmashtami celebrations, allowed him to climb up on the shoulders of three layers of guys to reach Zeenie’s lips. But by the time he reached the top, the scene changed and our hero was rewarded with Pran’s lips when the kiss materialized.
Some seniors before our time had a kind of a bet that one of them would go up and kiss the heroine on the screen while the movie was on.
One of the Friday movies had maniben Asha Parekh in the lead and Garam Dharam was the hero. The scene shows Asha Parekh in a temple talking to God with a small wish in her mind ”Bhagwan! Meri ek chhoti si aas hai…” The entire convo erupted with peals of laughter at this request, and some cried out that Asha was extremely ungrateful. Everyone remembers how well stacked Asha was there, and yet she had the cheek to call it “chhoti si aas.”
1982: Not a Love Story
Excerpted from Madhouse
Bakul’s crazy ideas, which, by his own admission had severely dented Fish’s sense of discernment, had not always
failed. We had achieved our elephant on campus, thanks to one of them. One of these came at the end of his time in IIT. With contributions from many of the stars, Bakul tells the story of his last EP (entertainment program) contribution.
In 1982, H4 was paired with H7 for the EP competition. It was early August and I was to bid adieu to IIT soon, but remained enthused enough to offer some “parting advice” to my juniors, most of whom had become my good friends. As it happened with all previous EPs, most of the initial ideas came over some lazy off-the-cuff remarks made in jest during tiffin time, when the organizers supposedly congregated for a serious brainstorming session. I had reasoned that our 1980 Hitler’s motor- cade and the elephant had been sensational hits and H4 should carry on the tradition. I said we should rent a helicopter during Friday evening Convo movie time and throw confetti on the guys walking to the Convo. As usual, this was greeted with jests and barbs and a “let’s see you try to pull this off”.
The elephant-renting success made me believe I could whistle “chopper” and the rotored version would soon be hovering overhead. Soc-sec Sameer Vijaykar sanctioned a budget of Rs. 500. The chopper company guy (I think company was Pawan Hans) asked me lots of questions about why IIT needed a chopper and why they need to throw confetti from the air rather than from the ground and if there was “nothing fishy” in the deal and whether we would get the Police Commissioner’s permission “at our cost”. After answering his questions satisfactorily, he quoted a figure of Rs. 6000. Fortunately, this was on the phone, so he could not see my eyebrows aiming for the sky and neither did he catch my “oh shit”. I decided to at least compensate myself for the princely 50p I had paid for this call. I asked him if he had paratroopers to land near the Convo. I asked him if his aircraft could skywrite H4. I asked if he was willing to negotiate his figure “a bit”. Sure he was. How much was the bit? Could he look at Rs. 500 all told including the confetti? He was incredulous. Surely, I meant five thousand and not five hundred, right? “Wrong”, I told him. It was five hundred I wanted to pay him. The answer was the click of him hanging up. Clearly, he was not a Bawa. I was half hoping that he was, so that I could reply to his inevitable swear words with what I had learned from my friends Sharookh and Irani.
One evening and one more tiffin later, amid guffawing and more jests and barbs, I was selling my new idea of the day. Instead of showing the customary slides that we generally did during the intermission of the Friday movie, why don’t we film a ten minute trailer and run it during the intermission? In those days when video cameras were not even heard of, thinking of renting a movie camera and a projector was more ambitious that getting a helicopter. I waited for the next series of barbs.
I said we should rent a helicopter during Friday evening Convo movie time and throw confetti on the guys walking to the Convo.
Surprisingly, there were serious and silent faces all over the table. Jetu spoke up finally. “Why should we spend money and make a trailer for publicity? Why don’t we make a movie and run it as a feature in the main EP?” Ideas started flowing soon after this and it took us another evening and another tiffin to start discussing specifics with Photography & Fine Arts sec Sheshgiri Rao aka Shesh from H7. Shesh could and would borrow an 8 mm movie cam from his friend. A ten minute reel would cost us Rs. 350 and another Rs.150 if we wanted it with soundtrack. Brilliant IIT minds decided that they would beat the soundtrack system by dubbing the vocals on a cassette which would be played synchronously with the movie and we would spend the saved Rs. 150 on beer to celebrate what looked like a clear cut box-office silver jubilee hit the moment Shesh said yes.
I left for Hyderabad soon after but returned within barely one week when an excited Sood and an equally excited Vijaykar called me in Hyderabad to say that the movie deal was through and that we were going to film it on so and so day. I got to H4 early on that so and so day. Vijaykar ran the oral script by me hurriedly. It was going to be Bollywood masala all the way. Two lost brothers. Villains with dens, goons and molls. Car chase. Comedians. Dubbed songs. I was to play a guest role. I was to drive the mobike with the hero in tow to rescue the heroine from the villain’s clutches. But before that, I was to milk a cow when the hero comes running to me asking me for help and I was to stop the milking and jump on the nearest mobike to take the hero on the chase.
Vijayakar had already talked with head sweeper Kalidas who was going to loan his favourite milch cow for the scene. Kalidas had assured Vijaykar and team, “Saheb! I will give you such a cow, fountains of milk will spring forth from her teats.” And the rascals had conspired to get me to be the comedian discovering these fountains. I had to make a hurried and secret trip to Kalidas’s dwelling just north of the north wing (which also housed The Dhoban). Kalidas was washing and scrubbing the cow while his family members babbled excitedly at the big day in their cow’s life, little realizing that I was about to play spoiler. I reasoned with Kalidas that I was appearing in the fillum too with my cow i.e. my mobike, and I had carried an ironed pair of my favourite striped shirt and cream trousers for this momentous shoot, and would he please leave his cow where it belonged and would he please tell Vijaykar that she had taken suddenly ill? Kalidas apparently remembered a few lucrative deals with me in the past, including a bounty of my discarded clothes which I shamelessly made a big deal about, and dejectedly agreed to send his cow to graze in pastures of faceless anonymity. There would be no fountains of milk, as Vijaykar would discover later in the day.
Instead of showing the customary slides that we generally did during the intermission of the Friday movie, why don’t we film a ten minute trailer and run it during the intermission?
Shoot started sharply at noon at Powai lake. It was decided then that the script would be developed as we went along and improvised at will. Two heroes, Shinde and Pa came from H7, while Radhika and Priti came from H10. This was a coup scored by Jetu, Sood, Khosla and gang. Rather than getting guys dressed up as women, they managed to get “the real thing” as Jetu said. It was quickly decided that Radhika would be the heroine and Priti would be the gangster’s moll. Shinde was decidedly more handsome than Pa and also owned and wore a denim jacket and “non-slippers” and was selected unanimously. Pa had started a week ago with “I don’t mind being the hero” to “I’d like to be the hero” to finally “Please make me the hero”. Though ousted, he was sporting enough to break the coconut he had bought from Y Point to mark the token start, and he also did a mock muhurat clap shot.
Shinde and Radhika sat in a boat whose ropes were held by Alexander while Shinde pretended to row the boat and Radhika pretended to sing a number from the film Tere Mere Sapne. Lyrics were “Jeevan ki bagiya behekegi, mehekegi”. During dubbing however, the song was changed to “yeh jeevan hai” and nobody gave a thought to how the lip-synching would look on D-Day. Shinde and Radhika then stepped out of the boat hand in hand while the short cute athlete Bhinge playing the comedian got up from the boat (where by implication, he was hiding) and jumped into the lake. The new found film makers in us decided to mimic the veterans to the extreme. We now shifted our action to Vihar lake in the same manner that a lead pair starts singing a song at the Eiffel tower and finishes it at Qutb Minar. We needed Powai for the boats, but Vihar was more photogenic and gave us access to the pipeline where we had the car chase scene.
Image credit: Image is sourced from https://unsplash.com/
While the cameraman Shesh and a few others drove in Chintya’s black Fiat to Vihar and other trudged their way there, we realized that my bike would carry me and Shinde while Chintya’s car would carry the villain and the kidnapped heroine Radhika and Shesh would need another vehicle to film the car chase scene. That’s when we hit upon the idea of roping in DOSA Isaac, ostensibly to play a guest role, but in reality, to provide his scooter for the cameraman. Jiten and I rode to Isaac’s cute bungalow A-11 by the lakeside. Isaac was not thrilled to see that “Bak Bak” was back on campus after promising to stay away. The aftermath of the recent scandal “Campus Call Girl” was still fresh in everyone’s mind and Isaac was already frowning hard and loud on seeing me. I had to go down on my knees twice, I said his non compliance would cost our “crew”, thousands in damages. Jiten laughed his trademark loud Ha Ha every time I made a fresh attempt at melting Isaac, who finally relented when he knew I would not leave without him. He did ask what role he was to play in the movie, I told him truthfully I didn’t know (except for the scooter part). “The director will decide”, I said. He was unconvinced, but came to Vihar all the same. At Vihar, after a hurried discussion, we gave him a pair of binoculars and asked him to look toward the lake and snap his fingers to summon an imaginary sidey. In the film, he would look through these field glasses at Vihar and espy Shinde and Radhika alight from a boat in Powai, and his snapping fingers were deleted and rather a Boss, he was transformed into a sidey who tells his Boss, “bass! Panchi aa gaya hai.” Bass was the tall, mean looking Meshram from H7 who had shaved his head for the role. Boss was seen sitting on the banks of Vihar with his moll Priti (not our Boss Patil and his real life Priti), telling her how they would escape with the “sona” after abducting Radhika. The Shinde-Radhika duo who had alighted at Powai was now walking, same hand in same hand, except that it was at Vihar now. They were still singing the “yeh jeevan hai” to the lip movements of “jeevan ki bagiya” while Meshram quickly moved behind them and grabbed Radhika’s hand and ran off with her.
Shesh was on the camera, there was nobody to direct as such and improvisation was the decided order of the day. Radhika brought in a new dimension to the script by running fast along with villain Meshy while screaming a sing song “bachao.” Shinde was quick to run in the opposite direction looking for his lost Radhika who was still in the frame while Shinde ran away. Shinde ran to a Charsi “sadhu” sitting under a tree and replied to his question of where Radhika was, “gone man! Solid gone.”
Shinde then turned towards the pipeline and saw me sitting on my stationary mobike while singing, “Musafir hoon yaaron. Na ghar hai na thikana.” Vijaykar was seen scratching his bald head wondering why Kalidas’s cow had acted up. Shinde jumped on my mobike and I started it and raced off towards the direction of Meshy’s getaway car. Eventually, I caught up with the car and then saw Shesh sitting backwards on Isaac’s pillion, ahead of the car, filming the scene with a heavy wobbly camera resting on his unsteady hands moving up and down due to Isaac’s bad shock absorbers. Later, we could see that when he zoomed into the car to catch a shot of Meshy and Radhika, they were seen laughing while Radhika was still shouting “bachao”. A damsel in lesser distress was never seen before. An excited Shinde decided to catch the car by its window when we got there and almost got us killed by getting my mobike pulled close to the car. I started hitting Shinde’s hand to detach it from the car. It was captured on film.
The light was fading and Isaac had to go out and we decided to pack up shooting and continue next day at Kol Dongri sanctuary at the edge of Powai. Kol Dongri was an ideal setting for the villain’s den as it had some old crumbling walls which would crumble when a hero threw a villain’s sidekick into them. Before shooting on next day, we had an interesting and an animated discussion about how to film a scene where a hero dodges twelve armed villains by jumping backwards from the “ground level” to a landing or a floor or a wall top that could be classified as “upstairs”. The motion had to be smooth and fluid and nonchalant as in the real thing seen in not so real movies. Again, many intelligent engineering minds stepped in and offered solutions including filming a guy jumping down and then pasting each frame in reverse order.
Fortunately, a few idle minds concluded that holding a camera upside down would also do the trick. The scene shot at the villain’s den was the best , in my opinion. The villain’s lackeys were bare-chested and went down one by one in double slow motion to Shinde’s dishum dishum. One degree of motion was due to Shesh filming in slow motion. The other degree was the guys themselves falling down in slow motion, unaware that Shesh’s borrowed cam would do it too. When the last sidey was hit, he was made to collide against the wall and sure enough, as expected, it came crumbling down. Finally, Shinde and Meshy decide to fight it out solo. Meshy said, “Main woh toofan hoon jis se takrakar, ped hil jaate hain.” Shinde struck a match on Meshy’s bald head and said as he lit his cigarette, “Main who Chattan hoon jis se takrakar toofan ruk jaata hai.” More fisticuffs. A pendant comes out of Meshy’s shirt. And suddenly, there is recognition and a finally heart rending “Sohan” and “Mohan” kind of reunion between lost siblings. While the duo gets united, Radhika decides to run away with comedian Bhinge into a scene which shows “The End”.
During screening the projector began to vibrate and made Isaac vibrate to the tune of “yeh jeevan hai.” Shesh stopped the projector but Kohli did not stop the cassette player. Sound travelled at the speed of sound while light travelled at the speed of a faulty projector and we could hear “Sohan and Mohan” from the Charsi Sadhu who intended to say, “gone man! Solid Gone.”
All in all, the audience got a gist of what we attempted and as a concept, we got a lot of points for novelty. Jetu touted it as a multidimensional project which involved three hostels, faculty and alumni. Isaac was faculty and I was already an alumnus. While leaving the Convo, Isaac was heard remarking, “These chaps made me look like a fool. I hope that Bak bak has left for good.” I left IIT and H4, but certainly not for good.