Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Film Days at MassCom, Jamia.

My film days have been sitting quietly somewhere in the recesses of my mind but it was a thesis in the form of a comment from a Jamia buddy on something I wrote that ignited the memories again. It was Shukul with his dog that got me in the Film School also known as Mass Communication Research Center now known as AJK MCRC formally immortalizing Mr Kidwai, its Chancellor. There were two to four of us scheduled for an interview at this new phenomenon of a film and video school in Jamia University. I'm not quite sure of the politics of it but MassCom was supposed to offer an alternative to FTII, the only school of films known to be of any consequence in a country reeking of a film industry aka Bollywood going back as long as the country's independence. Anyway on the fateful day, I was surprised to see a dog accompanying a prospective student to this school. I heard Shukul say how tense the atmosphere was that even his dog could feel it. I personally didn't see the dog feel anything. When I went inside, there was Mr Beverege, Mr Kidwai and a few more people. Mr B asked if anything spectacular was happening out there. I said yes I could act it out. So I did Shukul's lanky walk, repeated his disgusts, and did the dog as well for good measure. Highly impressed, the company asked me to do the ever ineffable Mr Kidwai himself. I borrowed his pipe and did a Kidwai impression as well. Such were the vagaries of life. I got accepted in the degree course where I spent two years drinking tea, smoking cigarettes, and sometimes discussing film theory. 

MassCom was Mr Kidwai's baby so naturally he remained the most sought after except Mr Kid didn't seem to remember any faces or any order of things. We got used to being looked through by Mr Kid thinking our time to be recognized by the Chancellor (and world) would surely come. In fact Mr Kid seemed to forget things and most people in a very short span of time. Many times his chauffeur had to come back without him because Mr Kid was lost and couldn't be found. It seems when the chauffeur opened the door and Mr Kid stepped in, he also forgot to sit down and just as quietly slid out the other door of the car. These were the times we saw Mr Kid drifting around the campus looking for a place to settle in. Mr Kid reminded me of Einstein especially when he could be seen wandering looking disheveled with his perpetually unlit pipe. Some however claimed to have seen smoking jackets when Mr Kid put lit pipes in there. Not from our batch, but from the first one, Matiur was Mr Kid's favorite besides his own grandson Salim who was the defacto student at MassCom. Salim walked and talked as if he owned the place and maybe his grandfather as well. Many philosophers have recommended this attitude. Anyway, at a time when personal transportation was extremely rare, I got to sit a couple of times in Salim's little red car. While Salim did his strut, Matiur continued in the softest cadences laced with a wit that was caustic at times and sometimes indecipherable as well. He was as close a mentor as I could have gotten and a great poet as well. 

Rahul was the only one who seemed to have his wits about him along with a legitimate Nikon camera with all lenses. Ershad and Mukesh were almost like twins. They looked a tiny duo but were surprisingly the most gallant of all the boys in our class. They flitted in and out of MassCom; nobody messed with them and they didn't bother anyone either. Mukesh in fact walked me home many late evenings when I felt like he needed some protection! Ershad unfortunately had a nasty accident which pretty much left him paralyzed. I wish him continued recovery. We had another duo, an outrageous one - Akhtar and Anu who were good buddies but if given swords, would've drawn them often. Nonetheless Akhtar kept us all entertained with his never ending jokes and songs, teasing the girls incessantly especially Jodha Bai aka Shikha. Anu and I managed to work together on our first audio-visual project on Sahara, a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol addiction. We got so enthralled by the place that we almost forgot we were at MassCom and had a degree to complete. While Anu grew out of it, Sahara continued to be a big part of my life for a long time. Anu however remains a good friend and dramatic as ever. I cannot ignore Stan the Man who entrenched himself permanently on our psyche with his potty mouth and the mohowk which caused quite a stir in the conservative Jamia University. I think they all let it go because Stan was one of 'those' MassCom people. 

The only formidable lot for me at MassCom was the group of eight girls. Anu and I were not invited to be a part of this group. It seemed juvenile and reminded me of school girls ganging up. The gang of eight talked together, laughed together, worked together. They had the sense to band together under the banner MediaStorm and do their stint with their first documentary when the rest of us were just drinking tea. No boys ever dared come near them barring Pankaj who was their collective favorite and of course Akhtar who couldn't be stopped anyway. I stayed away as much as possible and surprisingly became friends with one-of-the-eight Gadihokee only after 20 years through the 90 year old Homaiji, not in India but in America. Even after so many years Gadi remained pretty and industrious as ever. Kauser however soured my time briefly with her pig headed ways of literally sitting on a required-reading-book for days on end. The Professor's instructions were to circulate the book. Requesting, begging, threatening didn't seem to work. So in sheer exasperation, I was forced to throw in a punch or two laced with some profanity. The inventory staff who heard the scuffle seemed to be less shocked than amused. Now here was a true spectacle fit to be discussed over many rounds of tea. Kauser thankfully walked away from this fracas flushed with dignity and only some hair out of place. I remained book-less for the rest of the term. Sigh, paucity of resources brings about such meaningless acrimony.

Our final film project was a 5 minutes 16 mm film. From a class of 30, only five scripts were going to be chosen which meant the chosen scripts were also the Directorial debuts of those writers. The rest had to work in different capacities in those 5 films. Surely MassCom wasn't expecting us to turn into full fledged filmmakers with not even a final project for film students. Whatever happened to the Canadians who had promised plenty of funds and resources? No wonder some of us found every opportunity to question the Instructors sent specially from Canada to teach those Indian kids. Ah well at least we still received the paltry sum of Rs. 400 or something like that from MassCom. The princely amount was supposed to make us feel like professionals. It certainly paid for the tea and samosas. Nonetheless, I was genuinely happy with the gift. So, what became of us? Some did well and are still in the profession. Some like me digressed into other areas where I continue to tell stories in words rather than pictures; sometimes the words form pictures and that's good enough for me. What I learned about the mechanics of film-making in two years, my 16 year old did in two hours and produced a perfectly fine documentary complete with narration, music, graphics, and story! One of our batch got famous and infamous simultaneously when he sued the City of New York through ACLU and settled for a hefty sum with the promise of never returning to the US again! Some are teaching and others are being taught. A few from our class got themselves husbands, wives, children while others remained content with cats, dogs, parrots, pigeons, and even lions. Abdullah, I am told, is quite happy with a family of humans and some kites.


  1. 'sometimes the words form pictures and that's good enough for me.' Very true di, I loved reading your blog. You have a flair for writing. kudos! keep blogging. will post comments as i read through your blogs. Its good to know such talented seniors like you.

  2. Vivid. I could almost picture it. MCRC is where I thought I'd be. I don't know what awaits me in my life, but reading through your blog and talking to my father, it feels like somehow I've always been a part of it.

    1. Thanks Saman for reading this. I think you would've fitted in there just fine and life will be ok wherever it takes you or you take it. Your father revived MCRC memories again with the plethora of pix which I thought he stole from me but then I forgot he had a camera of his own :)