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.

How To Make It Big In The Film Industry

The Film Industry… Hollywood… Bollywood… Dreams that are made in technicolor… Celluloid dreams…

Many young students aim to enter the glamorous & creative world of Films. But unlike other industries that have a more set path to break into; the Film Industry is, perhaps, a little more mysterious. So what does one do, to ensure a place in the magnetic world of Cinema?

  1. Solid Background, Fundamentals: Film Making is both, an art and a science. While there is no hard and fast rule about being academically qualified in the Film line, there is immense amount of learning, both practical and theoretical, that one needs for solid grounding in the different fundamentals of Film Making, such as Script, Direction, Cinematography, Production and so on. Getting that firm base lays a foundation that proves invaluable.

  2. Assist a Mentor: If one is willing to work hard for a modest salary, it is not difficult to get a job under the wing of a well-known industry person. If you want to be a Director, try to get a job as an Assistant Director under a Director you admire. It is the same when it comes to Cinematography & Script Writing. The years you will spend under that person will not only hone your skills, but also put you in an excellent position to ultimately get a chance to make your own Film. This trend is popular these days. People who have worked under Directors & Producers long term, are then rewarded with a chance to make their own Films.

  3. Be Stubborn & Thick-Skinned: The Film Industry is not a sure shot one. It can be a bit like gambling. One also deals with people, who have very large egos. People, who will sometimes be nasty and try and get you down. A must do is to stay focused. Don’t take anything negative to heart. Be thick-skinned.

  4. Hard Work & Persistence: At the end of the day, there is no substitute for hard work. You may not feel it at the time, but people are watching, people are noticing, and important people, remember a hard worker. And ultimately, that hard work, is rewarded.

  5. Network: And finally, like in any other industry, but perhaps more so in the Film Industry, build your network. How does one do that? Well, be open & friendly to begin with. When you get your first job, even as a Production Assistant, be genuine and try to befriend as many people as possible. And never talk behind peoples’ backs. Be diplomatic. It is a smaller industry than you would think. What goes around comes back. The more contacts you cultivate and keep up, the better. People, no matter how high up and famous, always remember a polite and pleasing personality.

It is not an impossibility; and it is no mean feat either. The Film Industry, with a certain amount of persistence, can be broken into. A firm understanding and background of the craft really elevates one’s chances and one’s self-confidence. Once you have that quality Film education in the bag, there is no stopping you!


Role of a Producer in Film Making

The Producer is an indispensable part during the making of a Film. Sure there are many types of Producers – Executive, Line, Supervising, Creative; but whatever their specific charge, an appropriate word to encapsulate a Producer’s primary role can be ‘Enabler’. The Producer is the one person, on or off the set, with the network, contacts and wherewithal to get people & other resources organized. When a Film is being made, many things are needed. To begin with, it is the Producer who brings together the core team for the project, like the Screenwriter, Actors, Director and so on. He is someone who gives the idea of the Film a tangible shape.

Once the initial team is set up and pre-production begins, the Producer continues to serve as the primary enabler – assisting and tapping into his vast pool of contacts to get anything, like locations, shooting venues, Actor’s dates etc. And once the shooting begins, he takes on the additional responsibility of an ‘overseeing executive’, someone who ensures that the Film and all its elements are in place and are moving forward as per the assigned schedule & budget. In that sense, the Producer is the binding force that guides the idea of the film to come to fruition.

Depending of course on the type of Producer, it is likely that a large sum of money, personal or representative, is invested by the Producer in the Film. This then makes the Producer’s duties even more broad-based, as he has to ensure that even after the Film has been shot & edited, it’s marketed & distributed properly for it to generate maximum profits. After all, Film-making is a business too.

To truly understand & learn the craft of effective Producing, it is best to have hands-on training & experience. Since the Producer is involved in every aspect of the Film-making process, he or she must be intimately familiar with each facet as well. For instance, though he may not be shooting the Film himself, a Producer who does not know the basics of Cinematography will not prove to be an effective Producer. Only a Producer with a total knowledge in all sections of filmmaking can arrange for, and oversee, a proper utilization of correct resources. For example, if a big budget commercial movie is being shot on the state-of-the-art Arri Alexa camera, it is the producer’s responsiblity, as much as the DOP’s, to arrange a 4K recorder with full colour reproduction. Otherwise, the film images would lack the finesse of a true blockbuster, and that can hamper the sell as the audience would not feel too involved.

So you must be wondering which is the best way to fast track this learning process? It is by taking a world class Producers’ program at an institution like Digital Academy – The Film School. Here, aspiring Producers learn each nuance of the Film-making process, interact with well known Producers and even have an opportunity to work under them after the program.

To be an enabler in Films, you need to first enable yourself to get an excellent education, right?

Role of an Actor in Film Making

An Actor is an artist; the most vital tool in the visual medium of Films, via whom the story and the journey of a Film is articulated. A fitting analogy for an Actor could be a race car driver. While many people and talents come together to create the racing team, like the engineers, the sponsors and the pit-stop crew, it is ultimately the driver’s performance that wins or loses a race, no matter how well-prepared the team may have been.

It’s the same when it comes to a Film. There could be great direction, compelling story and visuals, soulful music; but all this can be a let down if the Actors do not do justice to their characters and to the story. So what is the role of an Actor then? At the most basic level, it is to translate an engaging and believable portrayal of the written character onto screen.

But in doing so, an Actor needs many tools too. And this is one skill set that is limitless. Even if someone is a born Actor, his talent needs to be harnessed in a manner where either the Actor himself or the Director can draw on that talent and manifest it in a winning performance.

Therefore an Actor needs to be a good listener observer, be able to take directions, be intuitive and must possess a tangible acting range. It’s a skill set that eludes most and not everyone can learn it by themselves. Which is why in order to bring out the best in you as an Actor, it is advisable to formally learn Acting. With an institution like Digital Academy – The Film School, there is a truly world class education in Acting that awaits all young and aspiring students who are eager to become Actors.

Learn the craft from the best in the business and train using the most renowned methods to fast track your way to stardom. Not only will you learn the history and theory of acting at DA, you could also become the actual Actor in Films the students shoot, where you can experience the real process involved in translating a character onto screen while using your craft & learning. Act now, if you want to be a great Actor!

Return of the Studio System in Indian Cinemas?

Indian cinema started as an individual’s passion and slowly turned into a segment of family entrepreneurship. People like Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatwadekar, who took up the helms of Indian Documentary Production in the 1890s, Hiralal Sen in Calcutta and Dadasaheb Phalke in Kolhapur, who experimented a lot in theatre recording and mythico-social fiction Films, were Film makers who used their family, friends and servants as crew and Actors. In a way, the initial years of Indian Film making was modeled on the Hindu joint family structure and not as a capital venture.

As the idea of the talkie slowly crept in, during the 1930s, a need for conglomeration was felt. The model of America was available as reference – the capitalist model of assembly system for manufacture. At that time, India was going through an unpredictable economic change. On one hand, the rural self-sufficient economy had broken down and on the other hand, Gandhi’s call for self-promotion in the form of indigenous industries and products had led to the emergence of a pro-active and intelligent business class striving for a free India.

(Image Courtesy: http://www.wikipedia.org)

Film industry, at the hands of Phalke and his followers, was at best a flourishing cottage industry without the promise of a continuous return. Film makers such as Ardeshir Irani and Chunilal Munim tried to get a bank loan for their projects. But as a completely unorganized industry, Cinema posed a big risk for prospective investors. Also, the whole idea of Film making, especially by Indians, was unacceptable to the conservative British. As an upstart art-form, Cinema wasn’t held in high-esteem by the elite British. With Gujarati and Parsee banias as financiers of the Films, and technicians as well as Actors coming from the lower classes, cinema was ill-reputed from the start.

With the advent of sound, similar problems were addressed in the United States. Five major and the three minor studios started controlling production, distribution and exhibition of their movies. At no point was the control of the Film out of their hands. Any uncertainty of selling the Film and showing it to a full-scale audience could be ruled out. Screenwriters, Directors, Cinematographers, Editors, Music Composers and especially the actors became members of the studio’s paid staff.

(Image Courtesy: http://www.songsvibe.in)


A similar need to connect the Film industry to modern capital was strongly felt in Bombay and Calcutta. Studio system, as a fool-proof company structure stepped in to remedy the bank’s lack of support and the problem of under-capitalization in the industry. In a way, that gave a certain legitimacy to the not-so-elite essence of Cinema in India.

As a result , state-of-the-art equipments could be purchased and used. Also, technical experiments and innovations as well as experiments in ideas were encouraged. Playback system started in a studio in Calcutta called New Theatres, much before it started in Hollywood. Different colour processes, like Technicolor and Metrocolor, were tried out. New innovations from Hollywood were incorporated in Indian studios. And then the first stars appeared.

The first trio of stars from Indian cinema, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, were products of the studio system to start with. However, as their careers progressed and a major chunk of the audience started equating the stars with their Films, studio system led to an era of stars. This was due to the intake of large venture capital in the form of black money. Quite a few newcomers entered the industry as financiers/Producers. But they were interested in making a portion of their money legal and not in a sustainable growth of the industry through a disciplined, charted out process as taken by studio owners.

Under pressure, major studios like New Theatres, Vassan Studios (later Gemini Pictures), Bombay Talkies, Prabhat, Ranjit Movietones and a bunch of others either closed down or changed their operation from movie production to another niche.

(Image Courtesy: http://bit.ly/uTXOQp)

It was at this time when the Indian government stepped in to support Film Production, distribution and exhibition through organizations like Films Division, NFDC, PSBT and other similar bodies in the 1950s. However, there used to be a pro-State propagandist stance in the Films produced and exhibited by the government. Cinema being the biggest machinery for hegemony in the post-independence years, only certain expressions of mind were allowed.

Mainstream cinema of 60s and 70s, specially the Angry Young Man Films, were silently supported by the government program of integration and subordination. In the 80s, the theme of corruption, anger, inequality, underworld and romance continued. Indian cinema was not genre based then. Terms such as masala movies were coined keeping this phenomenon in mind.

Indian cinema became too parochial in this period. Bollywood became the other name of Indian Cinema, flanked by the alternate, art-house Indian new wave Films, most of which weren’t properly distributed or exhibited outside Film festivals and failed to pull a crowd. There was almost no variation in the mainstream themes. Even though both non-mainstream and parallel cinemas had really interesting stories to offer, their presentation was mostly off-the-mark and boring for the uninitiated audience.

In the post-2000 scenario, with easy access to movies with better sound and picture quality which could be watched at home, old theatres started dying. But interesting changes were occurring in the Indian retail marketplace. Shopping malls began sprouting up in every major city in India. They offered a panoply of choices under a single roof and a cozy tour across designed spaces in the weekend. These malls became meeting joints and the hub for all activities for the youth. They were the new public squares where all kinds of enjoyment and socialization was possible.

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As the way to incorporate foreign venture capitals in Indian industries, American and European companies started coming to India for collaborations in the entertainment business. Companies like Reliance, Mahindra and Mahindra and UTV started operating in a structured way, reminiscent of studios in the 30s. As Bollywood became a burgeoning brand, owing to the large expat groups in the Western world, many production-distribution companies like Pathé, Channel 4, Warner Bros, Disney and Fortissimo Films started showing interest in collaborating with Indian entertainment companies. It was unimaginable, even in 2000, that every week a host of Bollywood Films could be commercially shown in theatres across Germany, Netherlands, France, America and UK.

So how do these corporates differ from the previous single Producer system in approach? The answer is simple – neatness of activities and a proper business orientation with domain knowledge. During the star system, Films were produced by short-sighted businessmen who wanted a quick profit in exchange for their unaccounted money. Staleness of thought and repetition of themes crept in easily. New corporate Film houses changed this habit. Habits of financial transparencies changed. But more noticeable was the changes in stories and the way the movies were shot. It was impossible to imagine something like Ishqiya, Band Baaja Baaraat or Delhi Belly a few years back.

As new players took over during the period of globalization, models for sustainable growth were chalked out. The new corporate structures are based on modern American Film studios. In a way, this is the second coming of the old studio system with the difference that, barring a few exceptions, the companies aren’t family bound. The studio system in India was like a feudal structure while the new corporate model is capitalistic. With fresh talent from Film schools joining these companies the current picture looks more pro-youth.

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However, like anything that’s new, the corporate structure has some problems too. Some companies are under the impression that entertainment can be run just like any other business and they tend to undermine creativity. Creativity can be controlled but can never be methodical. That would be similar to controlling the human psyche in a flowcharted manner. Mystery and beauty lies in this randomness. The old studios understood this and gave birth to some of the most beautiful works from Indian Cinema. The star system of the 50s made fixed patterns stronger with the help of stars. People used to come to the theatre to get entertained, even though they already knew the story. That was pleasure for an audience that had a limited choice for entertainment.

However, the Indian audience of the new millennium is smarter. They are consumers with a variety of choices. With the advent of so many TV channels, websites and social networking sites, it is very difficult to keep the audience glued to the big screen. So an organized market research, market segmentation, vertical and horizontal combinations in the market are mandatory to survive today. With companies like Big Pictures creating theatre chains across India and in US, the return of the studio system in the new guise of the corporate has arrived. It is for the new generation of Film lovers, like us, to see if it sustains. 

Comedians and their pathetic childhood

It is an urban myth that successful comedians have a pathetic childhood. What makes this connection between comedy and wretchedness is not known. If we go through history of Cinema from around the world, we see it first caught on to the audience from circus and magic. Some of the famous early filmmakers, like Meliès, or Dadasaheb Phalke, were magicians. And one major attraction in magic and circus is the clown.

If on the other hand, we consider folk theatre, the other grand daddy of cinema, we can easily notice the role played by the vidūṣak on the Indian stage. (vidūṣak, in Sanskrit, has two different but close meanings; a Court Jester, a fool) The Roman comedian shared some of his vital traits too. If we forget about the comic relief they offered during moments of peak tension in plays, we see something very understandable. They were the commentators, just like the audience sitting outside the stage. The comedians were always involved and uninvolved in the act, at the same time. They were the eye of the conscience. Only they seemed to know what was going on in the make-believe world on stage.

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Our modern day comedians are an amalgamation of these two – the Clown and the vidūṣak. But why were they needed in the first place? This leads us to an obvious question with an even more obvious answer – why do we go to movies?

We go because we are crushed under pressure of the mundane world. We want to get back to the freedom of childhood, when dream and reality were the same. And isn’t cinema an extension of dreams?

A lot of psychoanalytical studies have been carried out about the relation between comedy, childhood and identity, including Freud’s early investigations on this phenomena. It may not be totally true that some adults, who had a wretched childhood, want to go back to the dreamland of fairy tales more than others, because they never had it in reality. And they find an accomplice on the silver screen, the comedian, for that journey. However, this may not be totally false either.

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Comedians on the screen are essentially flawed characters. Some gross imperfections in them lead us to laugh at their activities. Consider the tramp played by Chaplin from his early shorts to the later blockbusters, like The Circus and Modern Times. He is gross, unsuccessful and an insignificant character who is trampled and humiliated by the society. That itself is a flaw. However, the bigger flaw that makes him a laughing stock is his knack of getting involved in situations that always go out of his hands. In The Kid, he gets a child by accident and has to bring him up. We break into laughter when we see how a marginal figure in the society, who could not create a place of his own, teaches a kid how to succeed and gain respect.

However, when the same character solves pinning problems in his weird way, we cannot but empathetically identify with him. The same tramp actually takes us back to our roots when he takes up the role of a comedian in one of his films, Limelight. There too he tries to conquer humiliation, poverty and death by escaping into laughter.

Talking about Indian comedians, like Johnny Walker, Mehmood and Johnny Lever, we see these common traits running in their character’s blood. Johnny Walker, specially in the films made by Guru Dutt, helped alleviate the hero’s pain. He was not merely a comic relief, but a very active agent in the plot to solve the hero’s dilemma. He’s the one to bring the hero out of the mental hospital in the film Pyasaa.

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As a matter of fact, the comedian is an active comment on all forms of abusive power and guardianship, such as the school, the police and the mental hospital. So, it is enlightening when the tramp takes up the role of a Dictator Hinkel. At the end of The Great Dictator he talks about parity and peace from a platform which we all want to reach.

Considering the fact Chaplin credited humiliation in his childhood to be a major inspiration for laughter in his movies, there should be a deep connection between a disturbed childhood and the later adult days of comedy.

However, if we consider many other comedians, like Buster Keaton or Rowan Atkinson, we see it isn’t necessary for a comedian to have a bad childhood. There are different types of comedies, ranging from burlesque and slapstick to social satires. Can we divide the comedians into two sharp lines, with or without a disturbed childhood, so they can fit one genre or the other as a rule? However, that’s another story in itself.

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.

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