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'Please saar, one minute photo?'

By M D Riti in Bangalore
April 01, 2003 19:08 IST
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"Just another two days, then it's ka-boom," grins Samir Soni, miming a punch at his costar Anoushka Shankar.

"You bet!" she retorts, lifting a small foot shod in strapped green slippers and aiming it at his jean-clad butt.

"All right, but get ready to start cootchie-cooing now," says director Pamela Rooks, as light boys and other technicians scurry around.

We are at a small gazebo beyond the glasshouse in Lalbagh, Bangalore. Rooks is shooting her film, Dance Like A Man, based on Mahesh Dattani's play of the same name. It is hard work as they are shooting in sync, meaning that sound and film are being recorded simultaneously.

Associate director Sangeetha Dighe stands at the beginning of the mud path leading to the gazebo, directing visitors to the park away. "Please sir, please go along some other path," she requests a group of tourists. On another side of the gazebo, a lone policeman waves his baton imperiously and chases some curious college boys away.

A new scarlet Reva, Bangalore's famous all-electric car, is parked around a bend. Three teenage tourists dressed in identical blue shirts take turns to photograph themselves in front of it. "Vishal, that is the character Samir plays in the film, arrives at the park in this car," explains Sangeetha.

Back in the gazebo, Rooks narrates the scene she is about to shoot to Samir and Anoushka (daughter of sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar and halfsister of Grammy winner Norah Jones).

Samir bursts out into a loud, appreciative guffaw, clapping his hands together in mirth. Anoushka laughs softly. Ace cameraman Sunny Joseph, dressed in blue jeans and a loose cotton kurta belted around his none-too-slender waist, his head covered in his trademark cotton bandana, has his eye fixed to the lens of his camera. He calls out instructions in a mix of languages -- Malayalam, Hindi, English -- to various assistants.

Every scene has one or two rehearsals followed by a take. Anoushka and Samir hold hands and walk on a patch of grass around the gazebo, talking softly, even exchanging a small kiss. They come to a small parapet and sit. She leans back against him. Some snatches of their softly spoken dialogue are audible. They appear to be discussing his visit to her home, to meet her parents as her suitor.

Anoushka is obviously unhappy about what her parents tell him. "Just wait till you meet my parents," says Samir, with a dismissive laugh. He leans over to kiss her fully on the lips. She leans into him. "Excuse me, please!" calls out Rooks. This is their cue to break off the kiss and look up, surprised. The shot ends.

Anoushka is wearing a long skirt that fits snugly around her slender hips. It has strips of blue denim alternated with patterned cotton. She has teamed it with a sleeveless orange blouse. A tiny cell phone is tucked into an almost invisible pocket at her hip. Her curly, shoulder-length hair is pinned back to fall around her shoulders.

This is Anoushka's first film.

Samir wears fashionably faded blue jeans, a snug, short T-shirt and a pale blue denim jacket. The scene they are shooting is a rendezvous between two lovers who are trying to work out how to get her parents to agree to their marriage.Anoushka Shankar

The next scene begins exactly where the last one left off. Lalbagh, like most tourist spots, has roving photographers waiting to sell instant Polaroid pictures to tourists. This scene has one such man approaching the kissing couple.

The man in question is old and bald, wears a polyester salwar-kurta and has a ridiculous blue cap perched on his head. He has just one simple line of dialogue: "Excuse me, please, photo, Sir?" Or something like that.

But Rooks does not know enough of either Tamil or Kannada, the only languages the old man understands, to explain it to him. "Can someone help me out here?" she calls out.

Anoushka breaks out of her clinch with Samir and runs lightly over. "Neenge yenna sollanon… [What you should say is…]," she explains the entire situation to him in chaste Tamil and goes back to her place.

Meanwhile, Samir has covered his face with his jacket. "Someone take a picture of the headless man, quick," screams Anoushka in delight.

Her friend rushes across with a camera. "No, please don't!" says Samir, quickly uncovering his face. "There was just too much sun," he grumbles.

There is some confusion over whether Anoushka was sitting with both her feet up on the parapet or just one foot, and just how exactly Samir was hugging her. The previous take is replayed, and a continuity assistant arranges the embracing couple exactly as they were.

"Okay, that's 1-2-3-4," says Anoushka cheerfully, memorising how Samir and she had clasped hands. The two banter easily between shots, Samir matching Anoushka's thick American accent with his own, obviously picked up during the years he studied at the University of California in Los Angeles.

This scene does not move as fast as the others, with rehearsals repeatedly going badly.

After hopping out of Samir's arms two or three times more to explain to the photographer, Anoushka finally calls out to Rooks. "Can we please change his dialogue, Pam?" she asks. "This poor man is simply unable to say the words: excuse me, please."

"Ungalalukke enna solla mudiyum  [What can you say easily]?" she asks him.

She listens to his almost inaudible reply and says, "Look, he is just going to say, Please, Saar, one minute photo."

The next rehearsal goes well. And they are ready to roll.

Only, the sun has gone behind a cloud. Sunny insists they wait until it comes out, to get the right continuity.

"Why did you waste film and click so many pictures in all the rehearsals?" an assistant admonishes the photographer.

Anoushka runs across to see the photographs. "They all look terrible!" she pronounces, handing them back.

As the unit waits for the sun to shine brightly again, I quietly slip away.

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M D Riti in Bangalore