There is sex but it is not intimate – Ajay Bahl
After being widely acclaimed at various film festivals and international platforms, B.A.Pass directed by debutant Ajay Bahl gets its theatrical release in India today. In an exclusive conversation with Pandolin, this independent filmmaker from Delhi talks about the making of his first film that he has not only directed and produced but shot it as well.
How did the idea of making a film on such a bold concept come to your mind?
B.A. Pass is a film adapted from a short story “Railway Aunty” from a book named “Delhi Noir”. So it was never the concept but a story I loved and I have to thank Mohan Sikka for that.
How much was your involvement in the writing process of this film? Could you please elaborate about the process?
All directors work in tandem with their screenwriters. Once we decided on the story, Ritesh Shah and I used to meet once a month and compare notes. In my opinion, meeting too frequently with the writer is counter-productive as both the director and the screen writer need quality time alone to absorb the story, it’s world, it’s movement and the characters. A finished script is, at best, an indication or a rough road map for the film. However, the real journey begins on the set. Now in my case, the lack of funds proved advantageous for me to some extent. Since we finished the film in three schedules so I had an ample opportunity to edit and then add/delete from the script. For example, the moment I started shooting the climax for my film, I knew that it was not working. Hence after taking a couple of shots, I packed up for the day and then we rewrote.
What was your treatment towards the look and the feel of this film, considering its bold theme?
My approach was more from the story’s perspective and was intuitive rather than studied or technical. I wanted to approach the material in an emotional and visceral manner. For me, the choice of lens and the composition are emotional decisions based on where my characters are placed in the story at that moment.
Which camera format did you shoot on and what was the choice of lenses? Why?
I shot B.A.Pass on ARRI ALEXA, 2K version (since 4K was not available then) along with Ultra prime lenses. We shot digital because of the budget constraints but having said that I must admit that I am not a fan of the 5D camera. ALEXA, on the other hand gave superb results and with Ultra primes, I could shoot really wide open. Most of the film including exteriors has been shot at F2.8 because I love the shallow depth of field.
Brief us a little bit about the lighting design of B.A. Pass.
I light mostly by the eye and use the light meter very sparingly, which again helps me in being more organic. I started the film with natural lighting and then gradually added color as the protagonist moved forward in his journey and life. Towards the end to signify his state of mind, I experimented a bit and the lighting became an explosion of colors especially neons.
What was your essential brief to the actors and how did you make them comfortable before shooting intimate scenes? What was your rehearsal process like?
The script demanded that the actors don’t get comfortable with each other. There is sex but it is not intimate and there is a huge emotional void between Shilpa’s and Shadab’s characters. Hence, our process was directed more towards both of them not getting too familiar with each other. In terms of rehearsals we did just one or two, only to figure out a basic staging plan. I like to encourage and help the actors stage their own movements because some how they ring more true on the screen. Mostly, I would shoot a scene by first placing the camera and then giving the actors a field to play in. The love making scenes were not rehearsed at all; in fact rehearsals would have been a disaster. We shot incredibly long takes and the actors improvised. Besides, there was music on set such as hard rock.
What were the major challenges you faced while helming both the roles of a director as well as the cinematographer and how did you overcome it?
Sometimes it was physically draining but then again it was so much fun. I think I would have gone out of my mind, if I had to sit around waiting for the lighting to finish. Luckily, it was me who was lighting so I didn’t get bored on the set. As long as you remember that your job is to tell the story at hand and not to get seduced into making the lovely images, you are fine.
Where did the shooting take place and how many days it took to complete the film?
The film was entirely shot in Delhi, in and around the areas like Paharganj and Barakhambha road. Some portions were shot in old Delhi as well and we finished the shoot in 42 days.
How did you manage to get funds for the making of B.A. Pass and what kind of problems did you face as the producer of this film?
B.A. Pass is a self-financed film and for publicity we partnered with Narendra singh of Filmy Box and eventually sold all the worldwide rights to Mr. Bharat Shah.
Since it’s an independent film and on a sensitive subject, how difficult was it to find distributors and get a theatrical release for it?
We had to wait around four to five months before Mr. Bharat Shah came on board and now the film is being distributed by his company, V.I.P Movies.
How would you describe yourself as a director – spontaneous or methodical?
Mostly spontaneous, though I would like to believe that I have a plan when I reach the set for shooting. But a location speaks to you differently every day, so you have to grasp that and change the things accordingly.