‘The guy’ was a film-maker who was famous for his frenzied shooting style. His continuous takes and retakes of a shot, his exasperating method of covering a scene from almost every angle, his habit of shooting so many scenes that quite a few would get left out in the editing room – all this so exhausted his cast and crew that very often they would fall asleep on the set while he wondered why they were so tired.

He started his film career by making one masterpiece of a film. It was a hilarious comedy with political and social overtones, and later he followed it up with another incredibly innovative and funny love story. Then he entered mainstream cinema and made a passionately felt film about a young woman battling for her rights as a patriarchal society tried to make her conform to its rules. The film was just modestly successful and he was disappointed.

“I hope I am not doomed to keep doing funny stuff.”

It seems that was what his backers wanted.

What followed next was a series of mainstream films that were situational comedies but you could tell his heart was not in it. They were financial failures and one was not even released. And with each failure he would condole with his producer and refuse to take the rest of his fee. That did not help and by this time he was fast losing out on backers who still believed in him.

“What they want, I don’t. What I want, they don’t.”

‘No more funny’

Finally, he changed track completely. No more funny. No more cuteness. He would get to reality in a completely new way … his way. His first attempt was a film based on a true story. It was the horrifying tale of three sisters who had committed suicide together in a town in North India. They had made a secret pact to relieve their lower middle-class parents of the humiliation of finding them husbands, which they knew would be heart-breaking. It was a story that millions of poor and middle-class families face, and his approach to the subject was stark, almost ascetic, a complete change from anything he had ever done.

The film did not work with audiences.

He was depressed for a while, then recovered and began furiously working on fresh scripts and ideas. He would scrap some, chop and change others, rewrite some others. And then write some more fresh ideas. The files stacked up in his cupboard bore testimony to all that activity.

Somebody joked, “He has enough material to shoot for the next twenty years.”

The ‘P Se PM Tak’ episode

Then, in 2012, five years after the last disaster, a producer did arrive and backed his final eff ort: a film that combined politics, the theatre of the absurd, and a bizarre narrative where a whore is manipulated to enter politics and her gradual understanding about the nature of power and how ordinary citizens are brutalized and used as cannon fodder. Some of the jokes and characters were embarrassingly lewd and at times surreal. The film shocked most of his friends. The others did not know how to respond … nor did his producer.

“Why such graphic imagery?” someone finally asked.

“It’s the truth … isn’t this really the state of affairs in our country? Why hide it?” was his reply.

The film got a deliberately tepid release and later a friend would shake his head and sadly whisper: “He’s lost it.”

Maybe he had, but his writing did not stop. He went on an almost manic journey to script more ideas that he hoped one day would turn into films. It didn’t happen that way.

On the television front he was the maker of a series of path-breaking and hugely popular programmes. That did not satisfy him.

“I know they are popular … but why do programmes have to be only funny? Why the hell are we imitating American shows?”

I thought he had a point.

He now moved to a series on a police station and used this opportunity to hammer home some hard ‘truths’ about Indian society. The series was painstakingly well-researched and scripted, well-directed, the performances of the actors balanced and professional. And the net result was a programme that powerfully revealed the brutal nature of the state and the dehumanized system of law enforcement. His message was clear: There is very little justice for the poor and the disenfranchised in the land.

It jolted the authorities and was summarily banned. There would be no review. Our man was genuinely surprised: “Why did the bastards ban it? I’m going to Delhi to fight my case.”

Later, the authorities relented and a watered-down, much milder version was found acceptable to which he reluctantly agreed, but he was deeply disturbed. Yes, when he dealt with what he felt was the truth, he would go all the way.

Excerpted with permission from I Know the Psychology of Rats, Saeed Mirza, Tulika Books.