Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ released recently with mixed reviews. I haven’t watched it yet, but a section of the audience claims it was ‘boring’. There are people who thought Martin Scorsese’s ‘Shutter Island’ was just about OK. The films of Steven Spielberg range from masterpieces to ordinary. Even back home, we see good film-makers coming up with not-so-good films. So, why does this happen? How the best of filmmakers end up making films which are unarguably inferior from their standards? How do they overlook certain flaws in their works which even a common audience with no knowledge of film-making finds palpable?
Let us assume that throughout their careers these film-makers remain as motivated as their first film, and as experienced as their last, that they never compromise on intent, vision, effort, and execution, that they always get the same kind of support from their producers, cast, and crew, that they are equally fit – mentally and physically, and that the factors beyond their hands – luck, chance – remain constant every time they make a film. I hope you understand that this is not possible and little changes in a few of the above-mentioned factors will affect the film being made, but let us still assume that all these factors remain constant, along with the director’s understanding of what he is doing. The nature of the process will still not let him make his films equally good. And making a truly great film will rarely happen. Here is the reason why.
Filmmaking is one of the most unnatural forms of creation. It is not at all organic. You do not start creating the film from its first shot – a few seconds every day, to reach the interval in a few weeks and the conclusion in the next few. It is not like a giant jig-saw puzzle you solve over days. When it comes to film-making, you first create that nightmare of a jig-saw puzzle. Once the script is ready, the stage where you 'see' the full film for the last time until the rough-cut on the edit table, it is broken down to schedules, scenes, shots, and takes, and creation occurs in random order. You might be shooting the last scene before the first. And it might take you several years to create a film that will be ‘received’ in a couple of hours. It is only when you start joining the pieces of this jig-saw puzzle together on the edit table that you, the filmmaker, get to see how your film looks like. And by then you have lost all your objectivity. You don’t laugh at the jokes, never feel any thrill or pathos looking at your footage, and all you can see are the glaring errors you have committed. On the contrary, you might fall in love with everything you see, and can not judge a bad shot from worse. You fail to realize that what you have shot is short of great.
I believe it is this ‘unnatural’ process that causes some invisible error, something being lost in translation. It is like when you enter a forest, you lose touch with its ‘whole design’ once you start focusing on the trees and the vague paths ahead of you. And when it comes to film-making, you have to select each path carefully, and stare at each tree as if it were the most important object in this forest, and then silently hope that you are correctly navigating through the maze.
So, what do you do when you end up making a not-so-good film? In my first meeting with Anurag Kashyap he had told me – “Do not be scared of making a bad film.” This I think is an essential wisdom in film-making. I’m not saying that you compromise on your vision, or intent, or efforts. I’m not saying you let complacence seep in and corrupt your soul. Nor am I saying that let overconfidence blind your judgment. A filmmaker should work hard with all his conviction, honesty, and integrity, and then let go of his fear of failure. I think it should be like Sachin Tendulkar’s attitude when he says that while walking into the ground with the cricket bat in his hand, all that matters to him is whether he prepared well. The result on the pitch is not and will never be as important as that. There are things you cannot control, and in the end all you can be critical about is your preparation, not your performance.
But I think it is easier said than done. I dread the day I will see the rough cut of my film and sulk into depression and refuse to let it release for the public. By that time several crores of rupees will be riding on it and it would be an ethical and professional crime not to actively promote the film and ask people to watch it, knowing very well that it is a poor film. But as they say, your child is your own, even if it is born with severe congenital deformities. You cannot abandon it. All you have to do is readjust your expectations with your creation. If it is not bad, if it is decent, try to feel proud of it. And let the world make their opinions. If you have been honest with your vision and effort, chances are you will never end up with a film that is bad, despite the unnatural process adopted to create and solve the jig-saw puzzle that is called a movie. Readjusting your expectations is perhaps the only way to preserve your sanity in this insane world of film-making.