I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I came up with the idea of STRANGER. For me, it is mostly a random unstructured thought that provides the germ for a story. Yes, there are many such thoughts that cross my mind and for me, to sit down and write it, the story has to be very interesting and engaging. Sometime in November 2011, I came up with the idea of Stranger. It was an interesting thought and I knew I could write it well as a short story. But just writing it as a short story was not the main intention – filming it was the major motive. Now, that’s when, I got petrified. Coz STRANGER is not an easy script to shoot – especially in the short film format. One needs to have a crisp and engaging screenplay, competent actors, taut editing, a certain style of visual and powerful music. A taut thriller without any of these is not taut at all. As usual, the first one I narrated the germ was my friend, flat mate cum producer Praveen Dhawan. He was very charged up and it was his encouragement that motivated me to move ahead.
I narrated it to a couple of more people and they were equally excited. However, what these narrations primarily helped me in, was to figure out the loopholes or lacunae in the story. I realised I have to cover those loopholes – maintaining the mystery and logicality. Somewhere in late December, I wrote a synopsis of the script.
Tejasvi Bhalla, my DOP who shot previous film NEIGHBOUR beautifully, confirmed her presence on the board despite her busy schedule. I also met my assistant director Aniruddha Mokashi in this meanwhile and we had a few conversations online. He still taunts me how I kept him in the dark about the story. I turned down his request to share for multiple times. However, the truth is, I didn’t have a locked script by then. Unlike many, I can’t follow the idea of writing with the flow and then editing later. I need to have an entire mental map ready before I start writing the screenplay. For more than a month, I was only jotting pointers and crucial dialogues on rough sheets, drafts in my phone messages and notes in my itouch. Eventually, I sat down to write the screenplay in the first week of February and completed in 2 days. I passed over to a few dear friends who gave their feedback.
The audition started soon and went on 3 days before we could lock our actors. There are primarily 5 characters in the script – Viraj, Shashank, Aashni, Shakir and a woman. While the first 3 are the protagonists, the latter 2 render significant support to the leads. In my mind, I knew exactly how Shashank would be. Though we had around 5 applicants for that role and we had asked all the other 4 to try multiple ways to do Shashank, Divyeshu was the one who impressed us in the first time. We locked him within 2 minutes. For the woman’s role, Hira Mehta was an obvious choice after I went through her pictures and voice-reel. I always wanted to cast Jitin as Shakir Ali – because the character is the joker of the pack and it need someone smart enough to carry it forward. For Aashni, I had finalised an actress but things took a wrong turn when she injured herself and had to back out. Jasmine Avasia joined the set a few days before the shoot, almost in the nick of time, but she easily gelled with the entire unit and put in a sincere to make her role come alive. The catch was to cast someone for Viraj – it’s a normal character of a regular guy who gets oppressed and tries to fight back. We were so underwhelmed with the auditions of 5-6 guys that we thought of changing the audition dialogues for Viraj. However, when Anubhav finally gave his test, he could justify what we were looking for.
With the cast ready, and my Editor & Post Production Head – Krishna Ananthan joining the team, we rehearsed for 2 days and went on floor on 23rd. Pretty much as scheduled, we shot for 3 days at a stretch – hectic on 23 & 24, and a much relaxed thing on 25th.
Struggling with my hectic job, I couldn’t dedicate myself to all the edit days. Kudos to Krishna for sticking on to it, tirelessly! In the meanwhile, we came out with our first look posters and people welcomed them heartily. The trailer came out on 14th March – and within a day, we got a handsome response with more than 500 views (achievement for a short film), loads of praises and some tips for improvement.
In this regard, I must mention about my music director – Charles Nazareth. I don’t remember how I met this little wizard from Kerala. All I can recall it was during the days of Orkut that we met and discussed over music. Though we had been in touch for so long, we finally got a chance to work together on Stranger and it has been a delightful experience. And working with him been splendid. He created a super theme track and a memorable bgm along with a …. Oh! That’s a surprise!
The shooting couldn’t have been complete without the contribution of Indroneel Chaterjee – the creative head – a very balanced and stable minded guy.
Special mention is deserved by our of chief lights supplier – Rafik Ahmed of Golden Light and his expert technicians – Kishan, Ramesh and Yasir, who supported the shoot even when it extended to wee hours and still put on their best shoes. Without proper lights, the film wouldn’t look half as good as it is. In the same breath, I should thank the make up team – Kishan (different guy… hehe) & Om – along with Prashant Kamble – their head.
With only the last leg of finishing going on, I really hope that the film shapes up and gets accepted in a way that justifies the effort put in by everyone.