Master Class in Film making with Sanjay Gadhvi


Sanjay Gadhvi, who made his Directorial debut with ‘Tere Liye’ in 2000, started his career as an Assistant Director during the making of ‘Patthar Ke Phool’ nearly 20 years ago. With this box-office hit that released in 1991, there was absolutely no looking back.

While speaking about his journey, Gadhvi particularly spoke about his blockbuster ‘Dhoom’ which received wide acclaim for its stellar cast and action sequences. The sequel, ‘Dhoom 2’, turned out to be the highest grosser of 2006 and also won him a nomination as the Best Director at the Filmfare Awards in 2007.

With these two Films, Sanjay set a benchmark for action in Indian Cinema. Speaking about the secret of his success, Sanjay said, “Always visualize the character in the script even if you have all the knowledge about the location, décor, setup, filming, camera, etc.”

As far as he is concerned, you may have all the technical knowledge in the world; but Film making is all about recreating a scene from someone’s life. However, the biggest question in today’s times is, ‘Does a movie work well only if its promoted well?’ A classic case, Sanjay mentioned, was that of ‘The Artist’. It’s all about how you reach out to the audience. “Talent prevails all around us, all we need to do is see,” he says.

When speaking of casting, Sanjay highlighted two aspects that are essential from a Director’s point of view. Suitability and potential are the absolute core. But from a Producer’s point of view, the fees charged by artists and the revenue earned from the final product (the Film) are very important. So how do they find a common ground? “Through the ability to stick to the basics (the purpose/message of the Film) while maintaining the commercial viability of the Film,” says Sanjay.

Narrating the story of the ‘Six Blind Men and the Elephant’, Sanjay explained what movie-making really feels like. Everyone has his own opinion. However, one need not make a movie for the approval of the masses. Instead, it should be made with the intention of engaging the audience.

Making a captivating Film, where the audience can’t take their eyes off the screen, needs a lot of inspiration. As for Sanjay, he wasn’t just inspired, somewhere down the line his inspiration was accompanied by the craving to make a Film. He was also the inspiration for one of the students at DA to join him as an Assistant Director during the making of ‘Dhoom’.

When asked whether songs are necessary in a Film, he was of the opinion that, “Songs are the essence and recognition of the character in the movie and there is no getting away from the character.” Picturing the screenplay of the song Mehbooba in ‘Sholay’where Jai and Veeruare orchestrating an attack, he said it was essential to the script.

Sanjay also mentioned how the length of each scene needs to be planned. For instance, the length of the basketball scene in Dhoom 2 with Sunehri and Mr. A was crucial, yet debated over, as it was 4-5 min long shot. Pulling off a scene that long was quite a challenge. Besides, it was essential to balance the length of this scene against other scenes in the movie.

During the question and answer session, Sanjay laid out some ground rules, like being open minded and avoiding rigidity completely. He also gave tips to aspiring Filmmakers about accepting the challenges that come with the process of movie making. While summing it all, he said that depending on the story, everything related to it needs to be connected with the content of the movie.

With his masterclass, Sanjay Gadhvi proved to be an inspiration to aspiring Filmmakers who are looking to find a foothold in the Indian Film industry. His secret to success lies in the fact that he makes the most of the process of Filmmaking and reflects a vibrant energy as a Director. With this one-on-one session, he showed how a Film as one man’s vision can win the vote of a 100 people.

You Join Lives When You Edit

The common perception about a Film Editor’s job is that he is the person who makes the cuts. A Director captures a good deal of unnecessary information during the shoot and then the Editor chooses the correct shots, trims the extra material and sculpts the final film.

How true is that? An Editor does cut the recorded material. But that is not the only purpose of his job. Instead, he joins chunks of action shots and creates a scene with the shot-changes hidden. He chooses the emotion that suits the Director’s vision and makes it as effective as possible.

The Editor can be called a Director in disguise. He directs the film, but on the table. He does not shoot. He doesn’t even make an appearance at the shooting floor. But he is the first viewer of the shot material, known as the rushes. He recreates the film, with the screenplay in hand, to tell the story. He plays the role of the film’s first critic too.

We talk about a film’s internal rhythm that develops in time. More than the Director, it’s the Editor who creates that rhythm. It is difficult to describe that rhythm in words. But as the audience, we realize when successive shots become shorter and the scene gains pace. Such accelerated mood becomes a creative tool during a suspense-filled moment or a chase scene. Thrillers regularly use fast cuts so that the story moves on from one aspect to another, leaving little or no time for the audience to concentrate on the details. It creates a mood of rapidness, an emotion of tension.

Shots tend to become longer when it is time to introspect. Sometimes the scene demands a slow moving camera, where the frame just stays where it is for minutes. Filmmakers such as Theo Angelopoulos make good use of such stasis in time. A brilliant example was where the little girl is molested inside the truck at the end of Landscape in the Mist (1988). We, as the sympathetic audience, want the camera to move, to recede further away or to come closer, so that we can get rid of the tension and guilt. But the camera does not move. It remains stationary, at a distance from the truck where the crime is happening. It is an Editor’s choice to use a scene like that. It does not matter if the Director has actually chosen the shot. It is the Editor’s mind which is at work here.

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In some ways, an Editor’s mind works like a musician’s. The Editor creates tempos throughout the film that sustain tension at particular points in the story. The ups and downs in the story act like musical notes which operate in time. Maybe that’s what Satyajit Ray meant when an interviewer asked him how he makes a film and he said, “Musically!”

So how did it all start? There was no Editor and no need for editing when movies were first born. The camera started and stopped only once throughout the entire film. Each scene was a shot, and that made an entire movie. The duration of such movies was limited to the capacity of film, which would hold not more than 100 ft at that time. More than 100 ft, and the film would become prone to tearing due to the stress produced by intermittent motion. That problem was solved with the introduction of Latham loop.

However, the problem with such one-shot one-scene set up is that the filmmaker cannot change point-of-view without changing the camera position during the shot. In the initial days, camera dollies were very primitive and jerky. Also it wasn’t always possible to change the camera position without damaging the flow of the story.

Hence, the films looked like recorded plays. In fact, most of them were exactly that – staged plays filmed from a typical theater audience position. They gave an impression of a third person point-of-view and the only way to focus the spectator’s attention to a part of the screen was to move character.

In 1903, British filmmaker George Smith carried out a highly successful experiment by changing the point-of-view in Mary Jane Mishap. He juxtaposed wide, establishing shots with medium close up of the characters, to make the audience empathize with them. Dividing a scene or sequence was tried even before that. Goerge Méliès attempted that in his film Journey to the Moon (1902).

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During the same period, Edison’s film company made two films that explored cinematic storytelling breaking them into sequences. Both the films, The Life of an American Fireman (1903) and The Great Train Robbery (1903), used the cross-cutting technique to portray simultaneity. Now the audience could see for the first time while an action was happening at one place while what was happening at another place during the same time. The concept of ‘Meanwhile’ was very effectively produced by the logical juxtaposition of scenes, connected through common cues by a set of conventions, later to be called parallel editing.

It was the filmmaker who chose these cuts. However, specialized people had to be employed soon for the purpose of physical joining of negatives of different scenes or shots. They rose in rank with time and started suggesting things to their boss. They were the world’s first Editors.

It was in 1903, when the first big close up (also known as insert) appeared in Edison Film Company’s short, The Gay Shoe Clerk, to offer a glimpse into a character’s psyche by shifting the point-of-view. A mini story was effectively told using only two shots and three cuts. Cinema had started in the magic tent. But now the magic went too far.

That year was indeed very auspicious for cinema. A young screenwriter called David Wark Griffith joined American Mutascope and Biograph Company that year, and twelve years later he would change the face of film making and establish cinema as modern art.

Griffith applied almost every possible camera technique from his time to make his first feature length film, Birth of a Nation (1915). Though he may not have invented the techniques himself, he was the first to show how narration in literature could could be applied to cinematic storytelling. He demonstrated how a shot could represent a sentence from literature. He showed the consistent way to cut and join shots to build an equivalent of a paragraph from literature and turn it into a scene in the movie, join scenes to build a chapter from a novel and create a sequence. Ever since Birth of a Nation, all filmmakers around the world, starting from Eisenstein in USSR, Bresson in France, Phalke in India and Hitchcock and John Ford in Hollywood, followed Griffith’s footsteps.

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Griffith was followed by a line of master Editors. They joined two shots and joined two lives which would otherwise remain separate. Movies still show two persons talking over telephones looking in opposite directions in different shots, so that their eyelines match. We still hide the shot changes in modern films depending on the action change; matching the two different shot magnifications. It is similar to a sentence change, or to the complexity of the sentence, depending on the change of the principal verb.

Editors make the movies lifelike. In life too, we want to cut the unnecessary parts from our memories, to erase the wastes of our folly and to make it focused and steady. Don’t we?

Role of a Director in Film Making

Often called the captain of the ship, the Director is the primary creative force behind a Film. He or she is the person who translates the screenplay onto the screen through a definite vision. In doing so, he is aided in equal measure by a host of creative & talented technicians, such as the Director of Photography, the Editor, the Actors. But the entire visual language and the final say rests with the Director. It’s the Director’s unique interpretation of the story and of the characters told through an individual cinematic aesthetics that makes the Director the torch-bearer of a Film.

Hence, the responsibilities that a Director has are many. Guiding and soliciting strong & believable performances from the Actors, communicating a defined visual treatment to the Director of Photography, so that he or she can translate the Director’s vision onto the screen, guiding the Editor through the editing process, so that emphasis and accent is put on pivotal plot points in the story. All this & much more is the prerogative of the Director. It’s a complex job that calls for a combination of the left brain & right brain functions – of organization & creativity, of order & exploration.

To truly understand these duties, every aspiring Director must train for years. Watch many Films, read relevant books and ideally work under a good Director to learn the ropes. But even if one is able to do all this, there’s never a guarantee that your education will be complete and you will have a chance of directing your own Film someday. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the Film-making business. The stakes are high and very few are capable of shouldering the immense responsibilities of being a Director.

There is however one route that can at least assure that you will have it all in terms of knowledge, learning, education and experience. And that is by studying Film-making at a world class center of education, like Digital Academy – The Film School. The Film-making program here gives hungry students an in depth understanding of everything related to Film-making & Direction, not just in theory but also via numerous practical Film-making exercises, instructed by the best Directors from the Film industry. Following your superb education, you also get the chance to be placed under a Director in Bollywood to truly hone your craft and seal your chances of becoming a Director.

There’s really nothing quite like the euphoric feeling of Directing a Film. And in order to do that you must direct your attention & energies towards a great education and see how far it takes you.

Why should you join a Film School?

Why should you join a film school? Is it not better to buy your own camera, arrange for a few actors and a location, and shoot your own film? That way you can learn the art and craft of Film making. This can save you both time and money. If we consider that even the shortest Film school education takes up a few months to a year, the consideration of time makes sense. But can you really become a Film maker by making your own film? Without a mentor? Without the support of a Film school? After all, it is about your career and your life.

A Film school is a training ground for an individual to observe, collect, discuss, plan and apply. Under the supervision/mentoring of guides, students find their goals and the paths to reach them. They can have the creative freedom to choose their ideas and can experiment under controlled situations, which may not be possible in the real world. A Film school is a lab to discover the limits of our expressions and the validity of our ideas. Thus, when a student sees that a personal Film fails to connect to anyone but himself, he or she might reject that approach.

More specifically, what do Film schools teach? They talk about training in techniques and aesthetics. What are they and how mutually exclusive are they? Let us explore this issue in detail.

Film schools can ideally be viewed as conservatories where teachers play a mentor’s role. A Film school encourages all kinds of activities related to cinema – a Film club, a critics’ society, a testing ground for techniques and talents and a simulation of the industry outside. A Film school prepares the student to take up any or all of these communicative roles in professional life.

In literature, the tool is the word; in music, notes and beats and in painting, colours. In cinema, it is the image, video and audio. However, a mastery over images does not make one a Filmmaker. It can, at best, make you a good craftsman. The basic goal of any medium of communication is to express. What is in your mind should be laid out in a concrete form for others to see, connect and comment. For cinema, the mode of story as a form of communication works best. Unlike painting, Films gradually unfold in time. So the mould of story, which also works in time, fits them best. Hence, a Filmmaker must know how to tell stories.

In Film schools, the budding storyteller learns this art very well. Storytelling is an inborn tendency but needs finesse. Through comparing of world’s best stories with yours, you can see the path you must take. For the comparison, a mentor is necessary to guide you through the labyrinth of a million and one nights. Just to cut the time of learning short.

A teacher’s role is to show the relation between things. It may be possible for you to learn the relations yourself. But that takes years. A Film school, with its material and cultural resources, helps you to acquire a creative eye, under the mentoring of people who have found their paths. At the same time, you can interact with a variety of fellow travelers, searching for a similar goal. You can learn the most important ideas and skills from your friends in a Film school, things which may never be possible to learn the same way in the industry.

In this regard, Film schools are more like business schools. Unlike literature or painting, Film making is essentially a collaborative activity. This does not deny the fact that solo Film making is possible now more than ever before. One could make a short duration fiction or non-fiction film. However, it takes a lot more time and energy to finish a full length feature Film that way. You need Actors, sets, costumes, lights to design the space and many other accessories. No single person can manage all this at once. Quite obviously, it calls for a hierarchical collaboration, a focused domain knowledge, leadership and a good working knowledge of the human behaviour. All these come from years of experience in the field. However, in a film school, this can be encapsulated through intense programs and by using other peoples’ experience as guide.

Film schools are a good starting point for building professional contacts too. You can make your future team here, just like the Lucas-Spielberg duo. Also, you can meet the industry professionals in the comfort zone of your space. They regularly visit Film schools to conduct workshops or to give lectures. Quite often, big production companies look for freshers from Film schools. One personal encounter can lead to an internship, or better, a collaboration. And then who knows? Only the sky can be the limit.

What happened to the Villains?

Stars should be dead, leaving the world lightless and pointless in the 21st Century, according to stardom theorist Richard Dyer. However, in Bollywood, we are experiencing a phenomenon of a different kind. The villains are dying.

Gone are the days when cinema was larger than life, shocking the audience at every turn by the larger than life villain, be it a comic book Mogambo in Mr. India (1987), a rough edged Gabbar Sing in Sholay (1975) or a psychopath Gokul Pandit in Dushman (1998). The bad men in post-2000 Bollywood are vanishing out from the silver screen. The question is, why is this happening?

If we think, the slow erasure of stardom and the death of the villain are connected. The audience is composed of common working people from all stratas of the society. Whatever the differences between two individuals may be, the common man is always driven by a typical quest regarding existence. He wants to know how anything in society is made, how making is organized and understood, and what their own relation to making is.

The complex ways in which we make an explanation of the world around us involves the ways in which we separate ourselves into public and private persons, into producer and consumer. And we always make sense of the world in terms of contrasts and differences. We cannot realize the good unless we know the bad. So, good and bad define one another for us. Which one is accepted as morally or legally good and which one bad depends on the nature of our society, our position in the power hierarchy and our education.

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Dividing all choices into black and white is known as binary opposition to social theorists and practitioners. This works fine when the society is going through a troubled or a developing phase, when the logic of we and they is functional, when the enemy is defined and is at sight. For Hollywood, the enemy was the erstwhile USSR, during the cold war.

In India, the enemy was rarely named. But he was there, both inside the border and outside. In the days of nation building, after Independence, the enemies were shown in general categories, like the black marketer, the gambler, the conning middleman or the usurper in the city and the land-owning zamindar in the village. The gullible hero of the ‘50s Bollywood, Raj (as he was known in many of his films), in Raj Kapoor’s movies, who is from the village and comes to the city, is shocked at its corruption. City bred marginal heroes, played by Dev Anand, knows corruption like the back of his hand (eg, Kala Bazaar, 1960) and even the tragic hero played by Dilip Kumar; all of them were defined sharply in contrast with dark opposing characters. By being a counter-force to the enemy of the common man, the hero was recognized by the mass of viewers who thronged cinema halls after a murky day of work and survival.

Villains were needed to implant dreams in the spectator. The dreams were the goals, the hero was the active virtual agent through which the spectator would reach the goals and the villain was the necessary barrier, who blocked the hero from reaching the goal. The pattern was epic in structure, as the ultimate goal was always connected to nation building in the post-independence era. The Indian mind accepted it and related it to real life sentiments.

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The situation changed in late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The neighbouring enemy was specifically named after wars with China and Pakistan. Also, the inside enemy was spotted and shown more precisely before and during emergency period. However, the villain became more of a personal, than a social villain, during emergency and since. During the Angry Young Man’s rule in Bollywood, be it Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna or another less successful actor, the villains were much more flesh and blood and less metaphoric. Those films were driven by a spirit of family vengeance. With rising figures in unemployment, uncertainty at work and a nation caught up in unstable politics (Congress was successfully challenged and thrown out of power for the first time after independence in 1977), more personal stories were required for the dreams on the silver screen.

Even after Congress came back in 1980, the scenario remained more or less the same, until it changed for a return of the lovers in the later half of the ‘80s. The villain was still a personal one. But he was not only a professional bad man like those played by Ajit, Prem Chopra or Amjad Khan, but someone like Gulshan Grover or Shakti Kapoor, who is also interested in the heroine. Facing these villians was less vengeance and more of a challenge. A good example of such a villain is Shekhar Malhotra (Deepak Tijori) in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992). However, the old traits did not vanish. The cinema villain matured.

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Two new types of villains appeared in Hindi Cinema at the turn of the decade. The first was the cold blooded villain played by Nana Patekar as Anna Seth (Parinda, 1989); the other was the two-faced hero of Baazigar (1993), Shahrukh Khan. While the first type got worked, reworked and mixed with the second one in films like Krantiveer (1994) or Satya (1998), to become a stereotype in the end, and to gradually evaporate, the second one slowly became the norm.

Today’s films are less of an epic and closer to reality. Today’s youth knows how a society runs. Moral values have changed with a feel good economy, after India opened a large section of its market to the world. The concept of black and white villains and heroes are dated. In today’s list of coterie movies, the ambivalence is more prominent. The Badmaash Company (2010) hero Karan (Shahid Kapoor) or Delhi Belly’s (2011) hero Tashi (Imran Khan) could not be considered good even by the standard of ‘90s in Bollywood. They are considered normal. Cheat the cheaters is their motto.

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When the whole world has become a competition, and the best cheater gets the crown, how can a good hero be pitted against a dark villain? Such villains do not exist anymore, as the heroes have changed themselves. Today’s society does not need such villains because it has dispensed the idea of such heroes. Today’s society lacks a hero, a model figure in the classical sense. Hence, it is only normal that it should lack the contrasting figure of the villain too. Gone are the days when the bloodthirsty Gulshan Grovers romped the screen!

Career in Film Making

It is now common knowledge that the audio-visual medium is the fastest growing medium of communication in the world. Films are made not only in the fiction format but also as documentaries, training films, corporate films, advertisements and video art. The world of films is like a mushroom cloud that keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Every Film must have a Director with a complete knowledge of Film Making. It stands to reason therefore that higher the number of films, higher will be the demand for directors. A Film Maker is an artist-technician who is also an expert manager, logistics person, coordinator and chief executive officer- all rolled into one. A Film Maker is like a master puppeteer who holds all the strings and makes illusions look like reality. It is a difficult job that requires tremendous creative energy, enthusiasm along with loads of patience and humility. A career in Film Direction is one of extreme creative satisfaction, apart from side benefits of fame and money. But only those who are ready to go through the grind and put in hard labour as well as application can succeed.

Most students of Digital Academy join the industry initially as Assistant Directors and work their way up towards the Directors post. But there is no hard and fast rule about this and if you have the capability you might well straightaway become a Director as soon as you pass out from Digital Academy-The Film School.

While careers of Film Makers are the same as Film Directors it is our analysis that Film Makers who have a complete knowledge of Film Making are generally more in-demand and sought after.

Careers in Film & Television Direction

It is now common knowledge that the audio-visual medium is the fastest growing medium of communication in the world. Films are made not only in the fiction format but also as documentaries, training films, corporate films, advertisements and video art. The world of films is like a mushroom cloud that keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Every film must have a Director. It stands to reason therefore that higher the number of films, higher will be the demand for Directors. A film Director is an artist-technician who is also an expert manager, logistics person, coordinator and chief executive officer – all rolled into one. A Director is like a master puppeteer who holds all the strings and makes illusions look like reality. It is a difficult job that requires tremendous creative energy, enthusiasm along with loads of patience and humility. A career in Film Direction is one of extreme creative satisfaction, apart from side benefits of fame and money. But only those who are ready to go through the grind and put in hard labour as well as application can succeed.

Most students of Digital Academy join the industry initially as Assistant Directors and work their way up towards the Directors post. But there is no hard and fast rule about this and if the student has the capability they might well straightaway become a Director as soon as they pass out from Digital Academy-The Film School.

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