Bollywood fans usually divide directors in the industry into two categories – the Hit Machine: whose films are guaranteed good return on investments (Karan Johar, Rohit Shetty, Imtiyaz Ali, Raju Hirani) and the Flag Bearers of Offbeat Cinema( Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Bannerjee, Vishal Bharadwaj, Madhur Bhandarkar). Somehow I never see Shimit Amin fitting into either of the two categories. Maybe because his films don’t specifically make a strong social comment ( though Chak De! India had a social-subtext woven into the narrative) and also because his movies don’t specifically cater to box-office.
Most people reading this would still be wondering about his body of work so I ll quickly brief them about it.
Shimit started his career as an assistant editor for T.V. serials and Independent films in Los Angeles, U.S.A. His most notable work there includes ‘In Search of Kundun with Martin Scorsese’ , a documentary on the making of the film Kundun (1997) by Scorsese.
He received an editing position on the Hindi film Bhoot(2003) through a friend while still living in L.A. It was while working on this film that RGV entrusted him with the directorial responsibility of Ab Tak Chhappan (2004). This was followed by Chak De ! India (2007) & Rocket Singh – Salesman Of The Year (2009). Now each of his three films deserves a separate post on this blog, but I’ll still limit myself to just discussing the range of this director who can comfortably switch genres.
” Karan Johar: Which is your favorite directorial debut – Main Hoon Naa, Dil Chahta Hai or Khamoshi ?
Shah Rukh Khan: Ab Tak Chhappan. ” (Koffee with Karan, Star World)
Most of the people would have laughed away this reply as another smart one from the usually sarcastic actor but King Khan had already started working on Chak de that time and had realized the potential of Amin. Now Ab Tak Chhappan (ATC) for me is what The Godfather and Sholay are to a large number of people. I can defend this film to death and firmly state that though Satya laid the foundations of the genre and Company took it a step further but ATC remains the best Mumbai noir gangster/cop drama to have come out of the RGV Factory. Shot like a documentary the drama comes from the nuances in the performances and the twists in the screenplay.
The film, loosely based on life of encounter specialist Daya Naik, strengthened the position of Salim-Sulaiman as background score composers and eventually as leading music composers in the industry though the same cannot be said about screenwriter Sandeep Shrivastav, who unfortunately faded into oblivion.
In the following scene we get to see how Sandeep very subtly infuses comedy in an otherwise serious film. The entire ensemble is standing in the same frame and we can very easily see the dynamics between the characters. Yashpal Sharma’s is the intimidating cop and no sooner than the conversation over the phone stops he starts quizzing the rookie- Nakul Vaid about it. The in-control Sadhu Aghase played by Nana keeps a poker face and concentrates on the job-in-hand, but once it gets over, he puts Yashpal back in place by not including him in their mission and chooses the rookie over him.
Amin decides to keep the background score zero and very smoothly cross-fades between various cuts at the editing table. He knows the actors are good enough to keep the audience engaged and he need not do anything extra. It is this hold on the grammar of film-making that never makes ATC look like a first-timer’s film.
His next project was supposed to be Lets Catch Veerappan – a story about a group of friends who hatch a plot to catch the notorious bandit. But while still in scripting process the real Veerappan got killed by the police and the project never materialized.
Enter Yash Raj Films and perhaps in the smartest move of his career (apart from making DDLJ) Aditya Chopra signed a multi-film contract with two of the most talented people the Industry had seen in a long time- Jaideep Sahni & Shimit Amin and made them collaborate on a single Project which was going to become a cult classic in times to come – Chak De ! India (2007). Incidentally both the talents were discovery of Ram Gopal Verma.
“We have to make a Team India as you have seen in bollywood blockbuster Chak De. There are players from several parts of the country. We have to unite them to make a powerful force.”- Former Hockey Player Aslam Sher Khan (after suspension of Indian Hockey Federation in 2008).
That was the impact the film had on the country. The title song had become an anthem of sorts and was played at almost every sporting contest the country played during those days.
The germ of idea had come into scriptwriter Sahni’s mind after he read about the winning of Gold Medal by the Indian women’s field hockey team at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Salman Khan was the original choice for the role of Kabir Khan. Thankfully he declined.
This was one performance that even the harshest critics of Shah Rukh could not help adoring. All the mannerisms which are made fun off as hamming- frowning into S-shaped eyebrows, forced half grin to show off his dimples and an inherent bitterness which he garbs with wit in all his interviews, were used smartly by Amin to establish the character of Kabir Khan. There is an inherent chivalry in Shah Rukh (which has perhaps made him the King of Romance) and that somehow surfaces even when he is being harsh with the women hockey players in the following scene, because unless you don’t love women from the heart you will never know where to draw the line when you are playing such a character.
There is a greenish tone throughout the first half to give the film a rooted feel. Sharp change of camera angles from mid to close to wide has been frequently done to create drama wherever required. This scene is one very good example of Sudeep Chatterjee’s good cinematography. Especially in the final moments where SRK is chiding the players, he has been photographed with a hand held camera from over the shoulders (OTS) of the girls listening to him. This lets the audience feel the exhaustion and despair that the players are feeling in the scene while listening to their coach. Do watch!
“Anupama Chopra: Which film would you nominate for an Oscar ?
Ranbir Kapoor: A film called Rocket Singh cause no one ever saw it. I guess if it has some Oscar buzz people would at least rent a DVD and see it.” (The Front Row with Anupama Chopra, Star World).
Well that is not exactly true. Amin’s third film Rocket Singh – Salesman Of The Year (2009) might have been a box office dud but there are a large group of followers of the film who still swear by it. Going with fresh faces for its star cast, Amin made a paradigm shift from wide aerial shots in Chak De to closed indoor spaces in Rocket Singh. The film is about basic goodness in life and Ranbir Kapoor more than surprises everybody with the nuances he picks up-adjusting the kada, shoving in the hair inside the turban- to play the Sardar. It’s a rare display of maturity by any actor who was just 2 years old in the industry at that time.
But more than him it’s the supporting cast – Gauhar Khan, Mukesh Bhatt, D.Santosh, Naveen Kaushik, Manish Chowdhary and the veteran Prem Chopra who add flesh to their characters.
The director is aided by trusted lieutenant Jaideep Sahni once again, who wisely choses a Sikh character to play the lead. You realize the reason for this when in a scene a vendor very happily lends off computer parts to Ranbir’s character saying ” jaa bhai le le .. waise bhi maine aaj tak kisi Sardar ko chori karte hue nahi suna.” The trust and love that this community enjoys in this country makes you warm up to the character all the more.
In the climax of the film Sahni avoids all dramatic and emotional clichés and makes the antagonist formidable enough through the choice of lines for his dialogues before Rocket Singh starts giving him a piece of his mind. Alas! Sahni could have stayed away from the ‘ek rupya’ part as well. It sort of makes the scene a bit.. ummm filmy.
Nonetheless its still a treat to watch out for. “Business number nahi. Log hain. Sirf log.” Too good! (Once again minimal background score and hand-held OTS shots do the trick.)
Perhaps the greatest strength of Shimit Amin is that his films never seem to be made by the same director. It’s not the diversity of genres alone but way he executes the material at hand that makes the difference. For an ATC, he chose the docu-drama style of filming. He comfortably married technology with an 80s Indian parallel cinema look in Chak De. While in Rocket Singh, we could easily see impressions of a classically shot American comedy through the choice of background score and editing transitions made in between the scenes.
It was while writing about Amin that I found out another interesting fact. He is married to screenwriter Megha Ramaswamy of Shaitaan fame. Now that is one collaboration I am really looking forward to.
Come back soon Shimit. Chak De !