On Set with Rakta Charitra

I can neither pronounce or spell without Googling “Rakta Charitra” so from here on out I’m writing it as “RC”. Phew!

The second installment of this film was released this weekend so I’m making good on my promise, and spilling the dirt! (Plus I got the go ahead from some higher ups!) It is proving harder than anything to find a showing of RC2 in Manhattan so I’m planning a trip to New Jersey later this week to see it. In the mean time you can drool all over this.

Goodness, I don’t even know where to start…

When I was on set the film was being shot at Film City. The set sat literally right in the middle of the main road that you drive on through the “city”. Film City is more like a huge forest with little drive-offs that take you to either stages, empty lots, secluded woods, pre-fab sets (like a huge manor house), or post production houses like Reliance and Prime Focus. Film City is huge and it has tigers. Or panthers? Whatever it has, I was told multiple times that I would be eaten if I was there after dark.

Also, Auto Rickshaws are a pain in the ass to flag down once you’re inside Film City so just slip the driver who brings you in about 100 Rs. and tell them to go take a nap. I never did this, however; now sitting in my apartment 6 months* later it sounds like the most brilliant an logical solution in the world.

Put simply, Film City is anything BUT how you imagine a great hub of filmmaking to be. Forget the lavish complex in Om Shanti Om, because it is a lie. Well, such a beautiful place might exist, but I never saw it… plus seeing such a thing would have totally ruined everything for me. I don’t know why, it just would have.

The premise of my internship was largely observational, within the perimeters of my day-to-day assignments (i.e. what set I was on) I was mostly left alone. My boss was suffering from Malaria and would drop us off on set and spend his time in a trailer in a cold shower. Mainly I was given a chair behind the director and ignored. What am I saying? Ignored? I was a woman, and a white, American woman at that. I was anything but inconspicuious; my coworker was from the Philippines and was short, brown and Asian. She was the one who was ignored and as such she spent most of her time asleep on set.

But back to the main point: I wasn’t involved in the creative process in any way, I was just supposed to watch the creative process happen. Fine by me considering I was getting quite the eduction anyway, being a stage actor suddenly immersed into a world where they had do-overs!

Being an idiot I thought that movies were shot just like plays/operas are performed, in one continuous go. I knew there were takes, and editing and they were shot out of order. Imagine my surprise when on my first day I spent 12 hours watching the SAME 30 seconds shot over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. I tried to comprehend how an editor sifted through all of that and made sense of it. My awe for movies and their makers has rocketed to the moon and back since learning that. All of that information processed, you can imagine why being on a film set is kind of… tedious. I won’t say “boring” because it isn’t, but it is a touch pedantic. Again, being said, I have so much respect for anyone involved in film making.

BACK to RC though, which is what you’re here for…

The day I took my camera was the same day that they were blowing up a car. That was fascinating. They had two copies of the same old, white car. One was in shape and spruced up, sitting under lights and in front of a green screen. In front of the car was what I can only call a flame thrower. It belched flames on the car.

Please keep in mind that this was in Mumbai. At about 1 p.m.. In the May. Right before the monsoons. (Translation: it was too hot for words even without a flame thrower going off every 10 minutes).

The other car they had was directly in line, in front of the other. This car however was disassembled, the doors hanging off hinges and the hood and roof taken off. Set builders were meticulously wrapping the frame of the car with rags soaked in gasoline.

Just as a side note: The fact that there was a bucket of gasoline no less that 10 feet away from the flame machine totally gave me a nervous breakdown. I mean… just saying.

This car was obviously the “post bomb car”.

Our man, Vivek Oberoi, would walk from his 10×10 pop up tent where he was CONTINUALLY combing his hair and into the car. He would sit in the car while they called “Action” and a flame ball would fly at the window of the car. Then “Cut” and he would get out of the car and walk back to his tent. Then 20 minutes later the process would repeat itself.

Probably my favorite guy running around was the man holding pictures of Vivek’s makeup from previous days’ shootings making sure it matched. It was a small detail, but it made me smile. Continuity is so important you know, especially when there are blood spatters involved. And there were a lot of blood spatters.
The guy in blue is holding the pictures…
You can just make them out.
His fanny pack is filled with make-up miracles.

The whole time Ram Gopal Varma would be running about shouting commands into a megaphone and make sure everything ran according to his plan. I really liked him. He was so lively and surly and focused. And welcoming. I’ll always be so thankful that he let us watch his movie being made. It was such an incredible privilege.

Vivek, as I have said many times and will continue to affirm, was the sweetest guy. Of all the people I met his was the heart that was made of pure gold. He was so nice. And, FINE, here is the picture you’ve all been waiting for anyway:

This was the same afternoon I found out I had dysentery.
That’s not really a caption you wanted to read.
It was also my 6th or so day in Mumbai… 3 weeks to go of sickness! 
I was trying really hard not to get sick all over Vivek’s face. 
Also, this was right before he whispered in my ear.
In any case I cannot wait to see the rest of this movie on the screen. It is such a surreal experience to view something that you have background sight on. All the rough edges (like the green screen just being a green… screen) are smoothed away and you have a working film in front of you full of people you talked to about normal things enacting such brutal and debase personas.

Mind blowingly surreal.

*Has it really been 6 months since I’ve been back? Ow. Can someone please send me back? It’s a physical pain, being separated from India, and it can only be cured by my return. Help a sister out? ;)

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Rakht Charitra, pt. 1, 2010

(Telugu)
Directed by: Ram Gopal Varma

I decided to stream the music to this film while I wrote to get me in the swing of things… it’s actually making me really anxious. Point taken!

Ok. Here is the deal. I’ve been all sorts of excited to see this movie because during my internship I spent a good majority of my time on this film’s set. Prior to the film’s release I knew this much about it:
-Vivek Oberoi was starring… and wore a mustache.
-It was about something or someone political
-It was being shot (or dubbed, depending on the actor) in three languages.
-Vivek had whispered in my ear that I was NOT, on my honor, allowed to talk about anything I’ve seen or post the pictures that I had taken until the film was released.
-Vivek Oberoi. Whispered. In. My. Ear.

Just imagine…
When I was passively watching previews before Anjaana Anjaani the preview for this film came on. Blood was spattering everywhere and I was having a serious deja vu moment but I could not place it. THEN I saw it. IT. “IT” comprises of Vivek Oberoi walking about in said mustache and a sequence of the scenes that I sat on the sidelines for.

“HOLY SHIT!” I screamed, very loudly, grabbing the arm of the poor auntie in the seat next to me. Having attracted the attention of the packed theatre I ducked in my seat. My heart was racing a mile a minute, I was blushing, very cold and sweating.

It was so weird.

I was ready and excited to see the film when it came to New York. Little did I know that while I was visiting my parents in Indiana that there was a one-night screening of the Telugu version. I booked tickets online and somehow talked my obliging mother in to going with me.

We arrived at the theatre, and were stopped by the theatre owner when we tried to collect our tickets:
Owner: I saw your name on the credit card statement. You know this film is in Telugu, right?
Momma: Oh, yeah, we know. My daughter always watches these things. She’s crazy.
Owner: Really? Well, it doesn’t have subtitles. Usually the Hindi ones do… you’re sure you’re going to see this? It’s not a mistake?
Momma: Oh no. I promise. Erin really wants to see it because she worked on the movie in Mumbai.
Owner: NO!
Me: *head bobble* Yeah, I had this internship….*mumble mumble*

That, is how I became a pseudo-celebrity. Basically I  got the most remarkable look from the owner, like he was going to kiss me, or hug me, or make me marry his son (or all three, I’m game… and his son was hot. So was he…in the uncle way.). Next thing I know he’s shouting (in Telugu) to all his employees and pointing at me. Momma and I collected our tickets and slipped into the theatre trying to avoid the mob.

I was famous!

Everything I wanted in my Endhiran audience I got from this experience. The theatre was packed. To the brim. They hooted and hollered and threw popcorn and whistled and jumped and did all sorts of amazing and spectacular things. I loved them.

I can’t provide a detailed plot analysis since I was suffering in the language department…. but it was pretty straight forward. It was political. And violent. And bloody. And Vivek Oberoi wore a mustache*.

There were humorous bits, and romance; and the best proposal/carrying away of a bride ever. Nothing says romance quite like showing up at your girl’s house, a gang of goons toting guns behind you, and simply telling her father that you’re taking her to get married, whether daddy likes it or not.

The movie went on merrily (ha!) and I was starting to get really confused as to when what I saw in India was coming into play when BAM! Credits!

It was over?

And then… there was a preview. And contained within that preview was everything I had witnessed in the filming stage.

Ok.

THERE ARE TWO PARTS!? I felt so uncool. Like all that I had been bragging about was a lie. And there I sat, a cad of the first water.  I was duped. And so impatient for the second installment that I literally started pulling my hair out.

It is/was/continues to be torturous.

Aside from all of that drama…

I enjoyed this film. Not only because I saw it in its raw form but because of a variety of other things.

The filmography was stunning. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t clean but that hardly mattered. It was stylistic. Everything through the lens seemed so unstable. Given that everything as a whole was unstable it was a really nice, unconscious touch. I say “unconscious” because the stability of the camera isn’t as concrete as if it were on a tripod but it’s not as rocky as if it were handheld. Granted, there are uses of the upside-down shot and tilted axis and so on… but overall it is a very subtle devise used in keeping the viewer uncomfortable and a little on edge.

Couple all that anxiety with the droning music and general blood thirstiness and you’ve got yourself one very nervous viewer.

Or, since I don’t want to generalize, one very nervous gori named Erin who couldn’t watch another knee injury with a shovel (it happened A LOT) since it made  current one throb in sympathy.

From what I can surmise, Vivek’s character, Paritala Ravindra has the moral high ground (in theory… what with the killing and the plotting) up until the end of the film. I could be entirely wrong, but until I have the chance to see the Hindi version with subtitles I just have to imagine.

What I liked and what I thought spoke volumes about the differences in Vivek’s character and Abhimanyu Singh’s** (and heaven forgive me if I have that wrong) was how they treated the women folk. VO’s was a picture of respect and inclusion and AS’s was a degenerate with lustful appetites and dominance. It was interesting to see them switch back and forth between both men. It probably served in my thinking of VO’s character as the moralistic one…

There was also a lot of no nonsense scenes including sex. Whether just sex or forced rape on an abducted girl it was nice to see it presented in a way that wasn’t cheapened by the “OMG! LOOK! THEY’RE DOING ‘IT’!” mentality or by some absurd guilt on the victim or any other such nonsense. So, just for that, Ram Gopal, thank you.

There was a female cop! And she RULED! However, her story line did not go the way I would have liked it too. I was a little sad, but overall very impressed and in love with her.

The cast for this film is huge. Everyone was slightly recognizable without me knowing exactly who they were. Granted, I am really, really, really crap with names and faces, so it’s probably all my failing. I thought everyone gave spectacular performances… and, this was my first Vivek Oberoi film and I was so impressed by him that I could hardly stand it. I won’t dally in the oddness of seeing him portray someone so completely opposite of who he is in person but I will give him credit for being a stunning actor. He employs my preferred technique of keeping everything a little restrained and behind the eyes. Wah! I’m such a fan of his now.

Overall, I adored this film but then this sort of film is right up my alley. A little intrigue, a pinch of politics, a smattering of blood (I’m so witty) and a fancy cocktail party to stir things up and you’ve got me hooked.

And since I am honorable, I’m going to wait until part II releases and then I’ll post all sorts of goodies from set!
…Unless Ram Gopal Varma, who is very nice, kills me.

*I’m obviously obsessed with this mustache. I am just a facial hair kind of gal. YUM!
**Forgive me for only using actors name in lieu of their character names, since without seeing the names typed below the screen I didn’t ever really catch them… if you get me.