“I have never been inside an Operation Theatre,” says Director of Ankur Arora Murder Case
Suhail’s Tatari Ankur Arora Murder Case is a film based on a real life incident where a boy dies due to medical negligence. Talking about this realistic drama that has the pace of a thriller, Suhail Tatari gives us insight into his film making world. Pandolin presents you a candid chat with this talented filmmaker who has earlier directed many successful television series and a film with a social message called Summer 2007.
How did your association with Vikram Bhatt happen? Was it yours or his idea to make a medical thriller film?
Actually last year, he was doing a series for a television network and I was recommended to him for direction. I directed first few episodes of that series, which he liked very much. Thereafter we started discussing ideas and he offered me a film. I have done a film earlier, almost 5 years back, but there’s been a long gap in between so when he asked me whether I would like to do a film with him, I obviously latched on to it. Though we started discussing concepts but we were not able to pinpoint on any particular one. And then one day he came up with a script that he had written a while back. I read the script and instantly liked it and from thereon we kind of decided to do the film. So yes, it was entirely his idea to make a medical thriller film.
How much was your involvement in the writing process of this film?
Obviously, once you agree and come in to direct a film, there are inputs that you give. Also the script was written a while back so the things kept evolving. After a gap of six months or one year, even a writer realizes that some other film has already touched upon certain elements of that subject so you try to redo it. But the basic thing that remains intact is the structure. Just few things in terms of characterization and scenes, one tends to amend. Besides, a director has his own sensibilities so one tries and takes it towards his/her own sense of cinema. And that’s what I would say was my contribution to the script.
Considering the film is more of a realistic drama, what kind of research went into the making of the film?
A lot of research was actually done at the time of scripting. We had a doctor on board and Vikram was constantly consulting him. Also he was reading on his own and then I came into picture. Vikram had kind of insisted that we should have doctor while shooting also, which actually proved to be a very good thing. Now, I have never been inside an operation theatre, so I don’t know what exactly happens there when a certain procedure is happening. All I know were just the minor things like blood pressure etc. We didn’t know anything that happened behind those closed curtains in hospital and we have at least two operation theatre scenes in our film. So without actually knowing what it entails and how the situation is and how people behave, I tried to interpret it visually taking doctor’s help.
On sets, the doctor on board guided me immensely from how a particular medical instrument is used to recreating the whole OT ambience. In terms of how to choreograph it, I didn’t know the technical part but then I had to understand everything and make it visually interesting as well. The drama that goes into the operation theatre is very high pitched and high paced and has to be depicted very correctly. Also bit of reading was involved to understand the medical terminology because when you are going to brief the actors about what caused the death of the child, you must first know it yourself. So, this is what we tried and I think we have been pretty successful in showing it authentically and real.
Since your debut film “Summer 2007”, television series “Kadam: Breast Cancer”, and now “Ankur Arora Murder Case”, all three are based around medical issues, we would like to know the reason behind this?
It is more of a coincidence because Kadam was a long series of short stories on women and one of them happened to be the story on breast cancer. However, it was more about the relationship issue and how an illness affects the relation between two people. Then Summer 2007 was based on the farmer’s suicide issues where doctors were of course inherent because they are the ones who go into the village for doing rural service as a representative of modern India. There I wanted to make a comparison between the realities of the rural life and the urban youth, which is living in such an insulated and isolated environment. Now, Ankur Arora Murder Case is a pure medical film. It is actually about the doctors and their lives and what happens in their system. Medical negligence is the basic issue that we have highlighted in this particular film. So it’s just a coincidence that too many medical things have happened but it was not planned at all.
How did you go about the casting of this film specially child artist, Vishesh Tiwari and what was your essential brief to the actors?
Kay Kay Menon and Tisca Chopra were kind of locked immediately but the casting for the character, Romesh who happens to be the protagonist of the film took a while. We needed somebody who is vulnerable and looks sincere but since today’s breed of actors is all macho and doesn’t really have that vulnerability. Hence, it became quite tough for us to get the right person. We met lots of people and then somebody suggested Arjun Mathur’s name for the role. Then I saw few of his ads and also the film that he has done with Zoya. I felt that he is the right boy who looks the part. Also for Vishakha’s role, I needed a more realistic face who would look like a doctor rather than very glamorous. I was looking for a natural and simple kind of look for this particular role and after some deliberation we finalized Vishakha.
Vishesh’s casting also took a while because it’s very difficult to get a natural artist especially at that age who can speak with that kind of innocence. We auditioned lots of kids. Even though the role is very small but it is the spirit of the boy, which is carried throughout the film. Hence, it was important to have a boy, who is affable, with whom you can fall in love. The kid has to be a combination of the right look and good actor, which we finally got.
As far as approaching actors is concerned, I approached everybody differently as a director. I don’t have any yardsticks for dealing with actors because each one comes with his own body of work and experience. For example, Kay Kay is far more experienced and a great actor, so once he understood the character, we broadly discussed that how he is going to portray it. Then, whenever while shooting, we felt that any minor adjustment needs to be made, we incorporated it right away.
Now, Tisca approached this role very interestingly. She used to come almost unprepared like a blank slate rather than working in her head. She performed very spontaneously and I feel that it actually gave incredible results. We used to discuss her part just five minutes before shooting.
With Arjun and Vishakha, I went in more detail in every scene considering they are far more new and young. My brief to Arjun was that I don’t want it to be very chest beating because you are a protagonist and picking up a fight for a child who was just your patient. But since he has a very sensitive character in the film, there’s a certain kind of sincerity that sometimes tends to get boring. We live in times where today nobody wants to fight for anybody, not even your neighbor. Hence, it was very important that by the end of it, one must start liking him and rooting for him. So my entire aim was that it doesn’t become over the top in any way and one must back him as an audience. In Vishakha’s case, she is a girl who is caught in her own web who is not brave enough to pick up a fight against the system. She is a lot like any of us who has the intent and doesn’t want to harm anybody yet lacks the courage to go that extra mile. They look believable and vulnerable yet you don’t hate them for their practical dilemma.
Besides, Paoli had a more complex role because her character is pretty grey and then from grey it moves to being less grey and that transition has to be correct. So it’s a very practical and pragmatic point of view, which is very real again. And my job as a director was to bring out the right emotion through them.
What were your instructions to the cinematographer Jalesh Oberoi towards the look and feel for the film?
I wanted a real look for the film because in every sense of the word it’s a realistic drama. Whether it was hospital or home scenes, I wanted to make it look as real as possible. We did stylize a little bit of the court scenes since they tend to get very drab. There is nothing fancy about Indian courts so in terms of art direction we put in certain lights there. Also the cinematographer was using tube lights for lighting up some particular spots. Sometimes, you don’t know where to place a light and if you have one single tube, you can put it in a way where without lighting up too much area, you get easy results.
Which camera format did you shoot on? What was your choice of lenses in terms of framing in order to get the desired emotion from a scene?
We entirely shot the film on Alexa and the choice of lenses varied from scene to scene. Mostly, we used mid range lenses but at some instances we employed 85 to 100 mm because the scenes were so subtle and underplayed. I think it’s something at the spur of the moment you decide that you want to stay tight here or go wider. For example, in an emotional moment where you don’t want to manipulate the audience then use a wide shot or shoot it from the back. It entirely depends on what you are trying to do as a director. Sometimes you want a certain emotion and sometimes you want to underplay it. That’s when you stay away, particularly where you don’t want to see nuances from the face and feel that voice itself can convey what you are trying to say.
What were the major challenges faced while shooting the film and how did you overcome it?
The film embeds a very emotional dramatic story. It has got the pace of a thriller and also its own moments of emotions so the whole challenge was to balance the emotional part and the drama part. Besides, it had to look real. And as I said earlier about not knowing the medical aspects, the major challenge as a director was to create that frenzy required in an operation theatre. Normally, when an OT scene happens in a film, we just see the lights getting on and doctor goes in and comes out with the patient status but here the camera is actually entering the OT along with the character. So creating that whole world without making it boring was a very challenging task.
There are many directors who are more interested in the camera angles and technicalities of a scene that is obviously important when you are doing a stylish kind of film. But when you are doing a film like this, which is more inward looking, then I think interacting with actors is far more important. Putting them in a right mind frame and getting the maximum out of their performances is what I enjoy the most as a director.
Since it’s a hypersensitive film, please tell us if there any crucial scene in the film that made a traumatic impact on you?
Actually there are two scenes; the first one is where the boy slips into coma when the medical negligence happened and the other one where the child actually loses his life. While shooting also, you realize that you are heading towards a climax that is going to be the death of the child. You see that he is not able to breathe, all the vitals are collapsing whether it’s the blood pressure or the heart beat or pumping his chest, it turns kind of very upsetting. Even if it’s an act, the kind of realism that goes into it while you are enacting the shot, you could feel the trauma. And then while those scenes were being edited and the first time we saw it, it shook us completely. Although you shot it yourself but when put together and you watch it in one go its far more impactful than at the time of shooting. Those were definitely two scenes where shot by shot, you are trying to heighten the drama but it shockingly hits you straight in the gut when you finally see it.
Where did the shooting happen and how many days it took to complete the film?
Everything was shot in Mumbai. We created few sets including the set of hospital in Juhu. We preferred not to shoot in real hospitals because of the practical problems. Also, hospitals were not empty and we didn’t want to hamper their working procedures. However, the remarkable thing is that we were able to detail hospital scenes in a way that it looks almost real. We completed the shoot in approximately 50 days.
Brief us about the editing process of this film?
This film has been edited by Kuldeep who is a very fine editor and has worked with Vikram for a long time. He completely understood what was required in terms of editing and as I don’t overshoot in terms of angles, it made the process easier. The editing in that way was cut-to-cut and not much laborious. It was more or less in the pattern that I had conceived at the time of shooting so it was very easy in terms of the scene construction. I believe, you have a certain rhythm at the time of shooting and you want to see the same rhythm while editing also, so problem arises if there is any contrast. But in this case it wasn’t a problem at all. An experienced editor can always sense the pacing that a director wants while shooting and Kuldeep has perfectly maintained that rhythm.
What is your general methodology as a director when it comes to dealing with actors and rehearsals?
At the basic level, when the script is given to them, I discuss what is there in the script and what is expected out of them. So they get a general understanding about the film at a macro level. But as we start doing the scenes, I layer it and make it more complex for them so that the emotion they are portraying has not just one but several layers. That’s very interesting part for me as a director. I don’t decide the physical movements for my actors and leave it to them. Then I work out the camera movement accordingly their physical expression. If they say that I don’t feel like moving then unless I feel that it’s actually important, I go by the actor’s instinct. Since physical acting is as important as the spoken word and the body language has to be correct, an actor must first feel it for extracting a desired emotion.
Also as a director, I feel that in order to put your actor in a certain frame of mind, you must be able to bare yourself. That’s how I like to work and that’s my methodology of dealing with the actors.
I just go by my guts and do whatever I feel at that point of time. I don’t plan too much in my head. Once I read the script, and get a broader picture, then most of the things I plan on sets. I don’t do any shot breakdowns but I reread my scenes to understand where the scene is within the scene means the crux of the scene. I try to contemplate where exactly the drama or the conflict or the emotion in the scene exists. Dealing with actors is something that’s very important for me because they have to internalize what you are feeling and then act it. The transition that happens from my end to theirs has to be very smooth. Bringing everybody on the same wavelength, this is what I try to do as a director.
What are the things you would never like to compromise while directing any film?
My main concentration is performance. Of course technical aspects are also important yet there are few things that you can always handle in the edit. But when a performance, say any line, any nuance or just a look of an actor goes wrong, I don’t feel happy with the take. Performance is definitely the key for me that cannot be compromised. Also, what you set out to say has to be done in a more convincing manner and for that actors become your vehicle to carry what’s all in your head. Hence their performance matters.