as the River flows-Masters and Legends- Part 1

Madhu Ambat

‘Today as u kindle sparklers when u light up lamps, while u eat sweets, take a second to remember unfortunate who made them & dedicate this day to them. Happy Diwali.’…On the Diwali morning, amongst many sms’s this particular message caught my attention. One look at sender’s name reconfirms my suspicions. Yes, the message was send by non other than my cinematographer Mr Madhu Ambat.

It was quite an interesting first encounter with Madhu sir in Goa on November 2009. Both of us were there as a part of the screen writer’s lab, organized as a part of Indian film festival by National Film Development Corporation. Of course I knew of him. The cinematographer of films like Anjali, Provoked, Lajja, Adi Shankaracharya and some 200 others, Madhu Ambat was an institution. After the initial briefing of the screen writer’s lab where we were asked to introduce our project in one minute, there was a tea break. I went up to him to introduce myself. And his first words were, “I would like to shoot your film”. Taken aback, I replied –“Sir, it is an honour – but I don’t think I can afford you!” “Who is talking about money?”- he retorted.

It was too good to be true. It took some time to sink in. And he took the initiatives to introduce me to many of his friends in Goa film festival as the director of the film he is going to shoot next! One Malayalam filmmaker, winner of some 6 national awards, told me – “Now that you have Madhu as your cinematographer, 60% of your worry is over…” During the making of the film, I’ve realised that he was wrong – once you got Madhu sir as Director of Photography of your film, 80% of your worry is taken care off…

On a one particularly punishing day of location hunting, one of my assistant directors had asked Madhu Sir if he is feeling tired. With a smile, he replied, “No – I don’t feel tired working. The first three letter of my name actually explains my state of mind…” And he was not exaggerating. During every day of our shoot, I had to struggle to keep pace with this gentleman who had managed to retain his childlike zeal and innocence after spending more than 35 years on the profession…

Once I asked Madhu sir, “During your career, have you ever done a film for money?” Without batting an eyelid he replied, “Never. But I had shot many bad films because of friendship…”

Thank you sir for being a part of my film. And I will try my level best to ensure that when I approach you for my next film, you don’t have to do it just for friendship…


Victor Banerjee

“Have you heard of born again catholic? You must be aware that they are more conservatives than many catholic. In the same way, I’m a converted Assamese. I have spent more time in Assam than you two put together. And I won’t say a single word against my people in any film” – that was the first reaction we got when me and my wife Pallavi met legendary actor Victor Banerjee for my film in Goa even before he read my script. I knew him as the only actor in the world who worked with three of the all time great directors – Satyajit Ray, David Lean & Roman Polanski. But as time progressed, I got to know him more….

I told him that I had thought of him for a long time for the role of the grandfather in my film, but was scared to approach him. Mainly because his reputation as a wonderful actor, who is very particular about his basic requirements, precedes him. And I am planning to shoot my film in the back of beyond, where even the basic accommodations are a luxury… After taking nearly half an hour to read & interpret what remained unsaid in my two page synopsis of the film, Victor Banerjee said, “It is true that I insist on club class travel and five star accommodations in most of my shoot. But it is also true that I visited Majuli a number of times and know what you are talking about…” And when I hesitantly mentioned that we may not be able to match his market price, he told me with a smile- “Pay me whatever is left after settling the dues of others…”

On the shoot, there was a particular scene where I wanted him to enact a role of a female demon in a very cumbersome costume. I was not very sure whether he would be willing to do that – especially because the part involved wearing a mask and hence could easily be done by a duplicate. But when he I came to know of it, he told me- “I would have refused to do your film if you had not allowed me to perform that scene myself…”

Due to circumstances, we had to re-locate his part of the shoot to Jorhat from Majuli. On the shoot, Victor Banerjee was a father figure. Every day he would insists on carrying traditional delicacy for us from local joints – and yes, I must admit, I was not even aware of the existence of most of those joints…

The dubbing of the film was divided between Mumbai and Guwahati. And he was more than happy to choose Guwahati over Mumbai for his dubbing. But none of us were prepared for the disaster that was waiting to happen in Guwahati on the last day of his dubbing. After a particularly grueling eight hours of dubbing, Mr Banerjee had finished his Assamese dialogues for the film and was relaxing, while the technicians of the studio was taking a transfer of his portion. Than the news came to me -by mistake, instead of transferring they deleted his entire dubbed track!! Nobody had the heart to tell him about it, but being the director the unpleasant job rests with me… I decided that under the circumstances, I have no option but to be honest and upfront about what had happened. After hearing me out, Victor sir took a deep breath and said, “Bidyut, I always believed that in life there is no point pondering about honest mistakes – let’s try to look for a solution.”

That is Victor Banerjee for you. A great actor and an even better human being… As the dubbing was getting over and he was getting ready to leave for Guwahati airport, I asked him about his experience of doing the film. “Well, to tell you frankly, you have not let me down” – said Mr. Banerjee. That meant a lot…

(to be continued…)


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