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Today we bring you the concluding finale of the three part story of the ‘The Digjam Days.’
Back home, Tulika and Reena whom I called my fairies were to look after the backroom activities. I must add here that I was very fortunate in having these two young ladies (as they were then). Tulika since is a mother of two but the last time I met her some years ago, she was still looking young. Reena went to assist Ram Gopal Verma and later became a Production expert, handled major Game shows like Khatron Ka Khiladi and operates out of Mumbai. Since I worked out of both Kolkata and Delhi, Anuradha who looked after the day to day operations of our Kolkata Office was also brought in to the loop. All the girls were equally good at figures. Cost estimates, cost control, budgets, they took care of them with a fine tooth comb. Working on Digjam was like developing a war game. Rama Luthra gave you the liberty to either succeed or perish, which made life easy.
Derek and I landed up in Mumbai a day before the shooting schedule was to commence and since our first shoot was scheduled at the National Association of Blind at Worli, all of us did our rounds, hoped that everything went off well and had a quiet drink in the evening. We also met the Cellar Master, an Italian expat who had made Mumbai his home. He was a hair dresser by profession and many celebrities dropped by at his house at Bandra. He looked all of a Cellar master, beard and charm included.
Bijon had done a wonderful work by creating a cellar with casks. It was so real that after the ad was released, people really thought that we had gone abroad. Well, they thought the same for the entire campaign. Having become a half Dilliwallah, I decided to give an approving smile to their assumption but since I had never been abroad till then, I decided not to open my mouth. The shoot was over in a couple of hours, my job was restricted to what is called a Motion Master in Bengali jatras . If I remember there was also a lady, presumably the “wife” of the Cellar Master but all her job was to smile at Shekhar, as if to say that she was happy with Shekhar’s appreciation of the wine. With Rasnaben you can close your eyes and be confident that everything to the last detail has been taken care of. Tea and Refreshments included.
Two days later we were at The Film City, shooting a magnum opus. Shekhar doing the waltzing Matilda! This was perhaps for a very long time the most expensive still shoot organized and the arrangements were even more elaborate than a film shoot.
First regarding the set, Bijon had created a complete Vienna Ball Room, with pillars, arches and a balcony. While the finishing touches were being done, in rolled a huge truck carting a grand piano with all kinds of instruments, cello, violin, sax. Once the piano was off loaded I asked the guy from the prop supplier to play a few bars for me. He said he knew how to play the piano but this piano was just a shell. There were no hammers or strings inside. I think we paid more for transportation than we paid for hiring the instrument!!
A very pretty looking lady, firangi, was chosen to be Shekhar’s waltzing partner while I don’t know from where, a bunch of backpackers were rolled up to be the “musicians.” We hung around, Ashok as always keeping us entertained with his chronic laughter, Shekhar rehearsing a few steps, Derek cracking his wise ones as the clock moved on. Bijon was being pushed. His paints had to dry and then finally the “carpet” had to be rolled out. A few film personalities who were also present at Film City dropped by to say ‘Hi’ to Shekhar and marveled at the set. Just then Rasnaben came and told us that we have to finish the shoot by 8 pm else, they will charge us extra by the hour. Ashok got down to setting up his camera and light arrangements, using dummies while Bijon was pushed to rolling out the carpet, which was naturally wall paper. The carpet he had chosen looked like marble floorings which went so well with the backdrop. This shot was going to be talked about. The cast was being dressed, final make up, touching up, comb, mirror…when the bomb dropped. The carpet was falling short of the floor area. If the camera had to move close then all the heavy work on balcony, pillars and backdrop will be cut off. In fact the music hands will also get cut off. Rasna added that in no case would there be any extension after 11 pm since they had another booking, or we would have to pay for another shift.
For a while there was silence. Bijon who was in great spirits throughout the day, receiving compliments from almost everyone who had seen the set looked like a lost man. Something had to be done. Bijon went out immediately saying he is making alternate arrangements. We waited. The band hands were getting fidgety. It was understandable. Shekhar was a true professional and as always, never created any fuss. He was a part of the production team than being a paid model. It was near about 9.30 pm that Bijon arrived with a fresh roll and it was immediately laid out. He had not been able to manage the earlier shade but the replacement was not bad either. By the time the frame was ready we were in to the last hour.
“What a waste! We are now having to somehow click the frame. There is no time for any improvisation,” Derek rued.
Then, by the time we had the final look see, we realized that one of the band hands was wearing sneakers and the guy was pretty oblivious about it. Everyone was asked to take off their shoes, especially those wearing black shoes. Subhash Taing, the Ad Manager of Digjam who had burst my blood vessels in the last two hours by repeatedly asking me, “Ab kya hoga? Ab kya hoga? Babu ko kya bolengey?” and such panicky phrases was wearing a black pair which were virtually yanked off his feet but they did not fit the guy from the band. The composition of the band was shifted around, to hide his feet, but a bit of it was still showing. Ashok was at his composition best and finally we decided to push his feet somehow, even if it didn’t go in comfortably. As long as a bit of the black showed under his feet!
Ten shots later, with Shekhar really trying to waltz away only to be told to “Freeze! Freeze!” It must have been difficult for him. How can you hold still an action which is all graceful movement? One of the band hands just got up and started walking away. We rushed after him but he wanted his backpack and a vehicle since he had to rush to the airport. He was going home and could not miss his flight!! Changing a frame composition of the band, that too with one guy barely wearing a shoe and time clicking away, we had no option but to virtually push him back to his position, promising it will all be over in 10 minutes and that we will rush him to the airport, for 10 minutes was all we had.
I don’t know how he reached the airport but ‘Pack Up’ was declared and we just crumbled on the floor. The very same floor which had created all the stress and strain.
Rasna and Nayna did all the last minutes, paying off people. The piano was carted back to the truck, the backpackers vanished and after a round of hand shakes, we returned to the city. Derek and I were staying together at Holiday Inn and he, who had a habit of taking a huge dose of purgers, took an additional dose, I guess! I too could do with some!!
Next morning Derek, Subhash and I went off to choose a locale for a single shot we needed for King’s Choice and travelled down the coast line, stopping at various points to freeze on a backdrop. Around lunch time we found one at a place the name of which I now forget. There was a beach and behind it rose two identical looking plateaus from the sea. It was a visual delight. We decided to place Shekhar on a cane chair with a straw hat against this backdrop.
A day later Derek and Ashok went off to Ooty for selecting the third locale for our international theme and I returned to Kolkata. | By Sujit Sanyal, Ad veteran
About the writer:
The guest article writer this week is ad veteran Sujit Sanyal. In his early days in Calcutta he was with the theatre group which was the flavour of the day in the early seventies. But by late seventies he had stepped into the world of advertising and moved to Delhi. Calcutta has nurtured and shaped some of the finest minds in advertising, Sujit Sanyal is one of them. He has worked with Clarion Advertising and recently launched his book ‘Life In a Rectangle’ which takes us down memory lane and depicts the highs and lows of his days with the agency. His need to download memories is fulfilled by sitting in front of his laptop when words come naturally to him. A multifaceted person Sujit Sanyal is an adman, journalist, poet, artist, novelist and actor all rolled into one which has made him emerge an enriched human being.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect in any way of Adgully.