It was Vishu, the Kerala New Year.
I woke up early to prepare for our 7am shoot on the dhow boat. As soon as I opened my eyes, I was greeted with a message on my phone - "Come see the Vishukani!". The actor, the cameraman and the editor had gone the previous night to buy all that's needed to put together a simple Vishukani.
Given that we were in Abu Dhabi, where there are more Malayalis than anyone else, the Vishu spirit hung in the air. In fact, when we had gone to pick up food from the supermarket a couple of days ago, I even found "adapradaman" for sale!
Through yesterday, the team, especially the actor was all excited about Vishu and had been wanting to prepare a kani. I, on the other hand, was too lazy and could only think of sleep, whenever the time allowed. So I said, "Sure, go ahead", and then completely forgot everything about it.
But now, here's a message telling me that the Vishukani is all set! So, as soon as I got ready, I was on my way to the actor's room to take a look at the Vishukani.
I rang the bell but nobody opened the door for a while. Just when I was about to come to the conclusion that the dude had fallen back asleep after looking at the kani, the actor opened the door. I realized that he was late to open because he was making sure there was "kani kaanum neram... " being played off the laptop, when I entered and saw the kani! How lovely!
So here I was. Thousands of miles away in Abu Dhabi. In the middle of a shoot for a feature film. Looking at a simple, yet beautifully arranged Vishukani. With that lovely song ringing in my ears.
Everything felt just about perfect. It felt like nothing could possibly go wrong.
The beautiful Vishukani, courtesy the actor!
And nothing did too. Or at least, nothing major did too.
We first went to a couple of places to pack food that the actors would pretend to eat on the "restaurant" on the dhow. Given that it was Vishu, most of the Kerala places were making only the sadya or traditional feast, so we had to go around a bit before we actually found a place that would sell the kind of food we wanted for the shoot. Then we hurried to the location. We were given only a couple of hours, so we had to be quick.
The shoot proceeded smoothly. In hindsight, one interesting thing about all our shoots have been that we would start the shoot without the perfect frames nor the perfect acting. I mean, they won't be bad, but they won't be perfect, top notch either. Towards the end of it all, when we have about 15 minutes to spare, the DOP and cameraman will have some inspiration for a different frame, and sometimes I will have an inspiration for some new instruction on the performance. Ultimately, what was shot in the last 15 minutes would be the best of the lot. In fact, now that the edit is done, I can say that in most cases we have pretty much gone with the last rushed take! Food for thought, it is.
Anyway, the shoot was wrapped up right on time, this time too after that one last rushed take with a completely different frame, and then we thought of next steps. The editor said he will go and see whether the licence has come in or if it would come in any time soon, and also he would go to the Gold Souk to see whether we can get permission to shoot there without the licence. It was one of the spots in my list of locations for which the licence had been requested for.
As the editor, in his capacity as the producer cum production manager, went to try his luck with such seemingly impossible tasks, the cameraman went to the production studio to back up the footages (this was a daily routine), the cast chilled in their rooms and I went down to the cafe to work on the storyboarding for our "night scene". This scene, planned to be shot the next day, is unlike anything I had directed before. I am not sure how to explain it... maybe I will leave it by saying that when you watch the film, you will get it. But point being, it was a complex scene and while I had done some amount of detailed screenplay writing, I hadn't been able to lock the shot breakdowns nor the storyboard. So I took some time to do just that and at the end of it, felt like I had totally cracked it!
After a few hours, the editor came back and announced three things:
No, we don't have the licence yet.
No, we don't know when it will come.
No, we can't shoot at the Gold Souk without the licence.
Umm, ok then.
But it was Vishu, and we Malayalis don't get upset over such simple matters. So to celebrate, I treated the team to a full blown Vishu Sadya in one of the restaurants.
The rest of the day continued to be a relaxed day. By the time we had finished lunch, it was already evening and we didn't have any more evening scenes to be shot. So we decided to put off everything till tomorrow. We will start with some remaining car scenes and wrap those up in the morning, and then shoot the "night scene"... well, at night.
Including the Gold Souk, we had three scenes remaining that would absolutely need the licence before we can shoot. Tomorrow, being Thursday, would be the last day that the licence could possibly come in after which it is the weekend. And we are to fly out on Saturday. So it either comes in tomorrow, or.....well, let's just hope there is no "or".
Even if we can live without the Gold Souk scene, we absolutely needed to figure out a plan for the remaining two.
As of today, we had no plan. We only had prayers. And a lot of hope. It was the new year, after all!