30th June, 2008. I got done with my Obstetrics and Gynecology (Practical) paper, took an evening train from Pune, reached Mumbai, and made this city my home. Today I complete five years of my life in Mumbai – a life full of adventure, uncertainties, hopes, opportunities, passion, and dreams, but most importantly, a life of freedom, from norms and conventions, and from the society’s expectations of me. Until recently I could not believe that so much time has passed, but today as I write these words, it all seems very normal to me. Five years have passed indeed, and I have sufficient matter to ponder over and be fulfilled with, despite the apparent continuation of the ‘struggle’ my life turned into that rainy evening.
Yes, I am yet to taste any major success. The poems in ‘Udaan’ remain my biggest achievement to date, something that helps me find immediate acceptance and admiration among strangers who have watched the film – and that number is not big. None of the numerous screenplay drafts I have written have taken me anywhere. I have written two films that never got made. I am still struggling with the script of a film that should be made sometime in near future. And one film I wrote the final draft of got made but never got released. I do consider myself a professional and fairly competent screenwriter, but there is no work of mine out there to prove it, except the scripts I have written for myself, to direct one day. My career as a lyricist has not taken off despite the song in ‘Ferrari ki Sawaari’. I have stayed away from television, until recently, and it is only now that I am going to have a weekly credit on an upcoming TV show that my parents can proudly flaunt to those around them. I have earned considerable admiration and respect at a personal level from some big names in the industry, from Shekhar Kapur to Sudhir Mishra, Irrfan, Vinod Chopra, Shankar Mahadevan, and Anurag Kashyap. Not that they will jump with joy to see my name flashing on their phones, but I know they will talk to me nicely if they eventually receive the call. The strongest relation in the industry I have, apart from several professionals, is with Vikramaditya Motwane and his family and it indeed feels great to receive the affection and guidance from them every now and then. But apart from this, what else have I achieved? My life has hardly improved in the last five years. I am yet to afford a motor-bike or get rid of the lakhs of rupees of loan I had to take while ‘buying’ my freedom from the Indian Armed Forces. In the thirtieth year of my life, I am still asking my parents to stay patient and not expect me to support them financially. I still move around without a wrist-watch, and with the cheapest phone available, and clothes that are several years old but have miraculously retained their sheen to protect my pocket and preserve my reputation. “Something big is just round the corner” and “It is only the initial phase of struggle which will be over once your time comes” are the usual lines I keep hearing from my well-wishers. And every time I take that turn round the corner, I realize the time has not come yet.
So what does this over-romanticized portrayal of the unending miseries tell you about me? Well, it might be over-romanticized, but it is definitely not miserable. If I know one thing about my life for sure, it is this – it will never be smooth, I will always be continuously seeking things to fulfill my ever-changing ambitions, success will only leave me wanting for more. I clearly do not see this quest ending, ever. And, to be honest, perhaps I don’t want this quest to end. As far as the comforts of life are concerned, I have never complained and am pretty contented with what I have. I will not say no to pleasures, but am in no rush to achieve them. My only concern is, and has been, the desire and aspiration to perform at a certain level, without giving too much attention to my successes and failures. This is not a pseudo-intellectual, fake statement by an insecure, unfulfilled man to impress others. This is the only way to survive in this life, as understood by a rational man of limited material attachments. Because if you ignore my lack of material possessions, you would agree with me that I am a pretty rich man.
The first year in this city taught me two things – one, if I keep working hard, I have sufficient talent to make a place in this industry, especially because they are keen to accept ‘outsiders’ if they see any benefit in that. And two, my biggest strength and motivation lies among my enormous support system, which is not my family, but my friends. Friends from school and college have stood by my side throughout these five years, at times even at the cost of their own personal lives, to make sure that I stay strong and motivated, and keep working hard to fulfill my dreams. And then there are some relationships that I have made in this city, few but precious, who are always there for me, to help me in all possible ways, to give me, apart from the financial support if I need it, the emotional support that I crave for at times. Hundreds of new faces have joined this list of my well-wishers, in the form of my present and ex-students, who are available with me as a raw human-resource waiting to be utilized, and as the most uninhibited and ruthless motivators, cheering for me, and smiling at my success. In the third year as a teacher, I have already realized that this is something I was born to do, and even if I fail as a film-maker, I know I will live a fulfilled life as a teacher. The efforts are on to make myself a good film-maker, and the amount of theoretical and practical learning that I have had in these five years has been way more than my five years at the Medical College.
Amidst all this, my personal romance with the movies continues. If I look back at the close to 1000 films I have watched in the past five years, and the film-makers I have discovered and worshiped, that alone would justify the time span. One thing that has not changed is that joy of watching a great film, that moment when I forget what I am – a writer, a film-maker, a teacher, or a medicine graduate trying to live the life of his dreams – and happily relish in the state of being what I was since I was a kid – someone in love with cinema.
Five years have gone. One day, these will look like a short span of time. Today, they are the sum-total of my life as a free man. I don’t know how well I’ll do, but flying with my wings spread wide is all that I want in this life, and I know I won’t give up trying, because giving up trying would actually mean giving up this precious and rare freedom.