I am a director. My vision has given wings to stories, flesh to characters and panache to words. I do not have a cinematographer, a costume designer, an art director, a make-up artist, a special effects supervisor. I do that myself. Alone.
I have the power to dissolved away my surroundings. I have the power to be deaf to tyres scraping on roads, to honks hammering my ear drums, to mouths producing conversations, to songs blaring out of machines. There are times when the car dismantle around me – strips of metal fly away, the seat dissolve beneath me, the humans vanish in fumes – and then I am sitting alone, ready to direct my movie. Ready to be devoured by what I love the most. My private universe.
I open the book and my fingers melt into the pages and then I am somewhere else. I am a time traveler.
The idea was breathing with me. It was not planted but surfaced at the right time. It took time to evolve but soon I was directing books instead of reading them. It started in the 90s. Like the rest of India, I was awestruck by DDLJ and my directorial debut was a Shahrukh-Kajol starrer named The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte M. Yonge. Tears trickled down my cheeks when Guy Morville (played by SRK) dies of a fever leaving a widowed Kajol behind. Yes, such was the magic of my directorial debut. SRK and Kajol played numerous important roles in the classics like The Wuthering Heights (although I replaced them with Hrithik and Kareena in a remake later), Rebecca, Gone with the wind, Anna Karenina, The Scarlet Letter etc. The list is endless. While SRK and Kajol reached the heights of stardom by featuring in my movies, Aamir was as usual sulking. So, I threw an occasional Barnaby Rudge and Jude the Obscure towards him. You might throw a spear of a question towards me asking why were Bollywood actors playing Caucasian roles? It was, dear readers, an alternate reality. It was supposed to be insane.
It wasn’t just the classics where the Bollywood actors were shining. SRK (!), Kajol (!) and Saif came together for The Fountainhead. Who played Ellsworth M. Toohey, you may ask. Nasseruddin Shah. Movies like The English Patient, Sphere, Birdsong, The Bind Assassin, 1984, Life of Pi etc kept coming out with Bollywood actors till the director in me outgrew the SRK-Kajol pair and wanted something more. I wanted to work with Foreign actors. And thus started an era of movies where I worked with Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in A Finkler Question, Japanese actors in Memoirs of a Geisha, Black actors in The Colour Purple and countless other movies.
Soon afterwards, my nation started calling me back and I did The Immortals of Meluha with Hrithik as Shiva. A new idea was germinating. I wanted to go for collaborations. Sometimes blind ones. I picked up The Wheel of Time. It was an epic 14 books fantasy series and a huge star cast was required. I had no idea what the story was and hence I randomly assigned actors. It was a gamble but it created results seen never before on the screen. Katrina was paired opposite Brad Pitt. She almost fainted at the proposition. Kareena became the Amyrlin Seat (after uprooting the wicked Angelina Jolie) with a lost puppy of a Matt Damon trailing her. Yes, who would have thought? Priyanka Chopra ended up as Bradley Cooper’s sister. There were minor hiccups like Aishwarya Rai falling in love with Amitabh’s character, but then we were playing blind, weren’t we?
I had tasted blood.
I read A Song of Ice and Fire Series next and had an equally enchanting star cast lined up. And then The Malazan Book of the Fallen happened. It was strange to see Amitabh and Hrithik playing Gods. It was strange to see Rani Mukherjee and Tobey Maguire together in a scene with A.K. Hangal in the background. It was strange to see Aishwarya playing Empress Laseen talking to Sergeant Whiskeyjack played by Arnold. It was strange to see Ashmit Patel (a slave and a mistake) trying to calm down a weeping emperor played by Johnny Depp. It was strange to see Kareena commanding an army with George Clooney standing next to her as a sergeant and then she goes ahead and kills Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame (they played sisters).
In the end it is not just about the actors but about the visualization – the costumes, the makeup, the backdrop, the special effects, the music and the acting. It is about watching a book and enjoying the experience. I assume it is an art we all possess but the limits vary.
This is another reason the movies in the real world never live up to the books. I have already created them in vivid details in my mind. I have already seen them. I have already directed them.
Nothing comes close to the joy of carrying a world at my disposal in my brain. There are moments while turning pages when I forget that I am turning them, when I forget that I am physically outside the book, when nothing exists except the screen.