Aditi Sharma in conversation with Sanjivan Lal: Bubble Gum, a film directed by FTII alumni Sanjivan Lal, released a few weeks back. Part film, part nostalgia; Bubble Gum received good reviews from audience and critics alike. A trip down memory lane, the film transports us straight to our summer holidays. Based in the 80s, it tells us an innocent love story of teenagers Vedant and Jenny. And in between touches a sensitive chord with Vedant’s brother Vidur’s story who is hearing impaired.
A simple yet sweet story, Bubble Gum is Sanjivan Lal’s long cherished dream, which has finally realized. In an interview, he shared his fondest childhood memories which inspired this film. He also talks about his film and his experience at the institute.
Q What was the inspiration behind the story of Bubble gum?
I did not decide on BUBBLE GUM overnight….It was a long process of figuring out what exactly or how should my first film be…I had written three other scripts with Stars / Actors in mind but could not make it happen for one or the other reasons….then finally decided to write something which would not have stars but would be strong in content and high on entertainment values… then began the search for the story and decided to look within to write something that would be universal in appeal. Since I had often heard people lamenting about their missed childhood…their past…their first crush or love or call it infatuation…sibling rivalry…etc…BUBBLE GUM started taking shape….I realized it would be something that would transport anybody who has been 14 to their childhood and for the present generation- it would make them curious enough to find out a world that existed without Facebook, internet, TV and mobile!
Q How did you decide on this title?
People say children are like mitti…you mold them the way you like and give them a shape you want….here instead of mitti I am using the word BUBBLE GUM as a metaphor. If you look at the properties of Bubblegum…it’s hard to feel but the moment you put it in mouth – it melts! It’s chewable, malleable, and stretchable and when you blow air – it swells…beyond a point when it breaks it makes the situation very messy! Bubblegum is very popular with kids / teenagers – probably it reflects them / their attitude! The film says – if you handle children well, they can turn out to be gentlemen or else they can go haywire!
Q Please share with us some experiences of your childhood that might have inspired this film. Or any favorite childhood memory. When there was no internet and no mobile phones.
Though the story is completely fictional..some of the incidents shown in the film are real…which happened with different people….like the blackmailing of stamps against the love letter – i won’t be ashamed to admit that i used to be one of the blackmailers then. playing kabbaddi used to be another excuse to hold hands of girls- the reason why it used to be our favorite game as kids! yes. another common thing was to call fire brigade whenever any kid left alone at home would over sleep refusing to answer the door bells in those four storied flats. another thing used to be warring guys settling scores during holi festivals with the help of some lumpen elements from outside! all these incidents form the part of the story in bubble gum…in hot afternoons when-there did not exits any computers, tv and video games…we as kids used to be very adventurous types….going out in-the field playing cowboys trying to lasso wild horses and cows in the open field belonging to the police training center nearby was few of our games then! cowboys & red indian comics used to be our favorite then!
Q This is your first feature film so how was experience?
Wonderful! I went to FTII to become a filmmaker…even before joining FTII I had been wanting to get into films so it has been a long…very long journey….and had been waiting for my film to get made….at the end of the day seeing my film / my story moving people and getting appreciated has been worth it!
Q How difficult was it working with teenagers with no prior acting experiences? Was it difficult to handle them on set?
No…not at all! They were all kids from good families and thus well behaved ones! Kids being kids…occasionally they would play pranks on each other and joke…which was good for the film as that kept the ambience healthy and fun-filled! Whenever they would see my producer..they would go demanding a pizza party…only to be obliged!
I did not want kids with pre-conceived notions about acting hence decided to go in for new faces and that too I wanted kids to look real and their age…hence the casting team went scouting for them all over India. Beside looks –I was very particular about the accents/ distinction of my characters…for that is something which is very difficult to acquire…and so to add flavor to my characters –I preferred to sources them from their roots! Like the guy who plays Ratan is supposed to be a Bihari…so I got him sourced out from Patna! Partho from Kolkata…Jenny from Delhi and so on…Once I found them with the looks and the accent I wanted..half my work was over! Then I got a 10 day workshop conducted by a theatre actor Pushdeep Rattan who really worked hard and got the kids to bond together and get their chemistry right for the screen!
Q – You have one actor who is genuinely Deaf. What special efforts were taken for his communication vis-a-vis script, his performance, interaction with others etc?
Well, my search for the actor took me to Delhi, Indore, Jamshedpur, Kolkata, Pune but found my actor in Mumbai only – in Goregaon West where he is a student at Sanskardham School for Hearing Impaired. Once we found him – we did some photo session of him with the guy who was to play his younger brother! They looked convincing together! Then we gave the full script to his School Principal Mrs.Lata who read out the complete script to him and explained the story to him. To explain him the technicalities of film-making –I got my assistants to make a short film with him on Handycam…It helped him understand the continuity issues and how to sustain an emotion for a longer time! Once he developed a little understanding – we got involved with other hearing actors in a 10 day acting workshop for him to understand others and vise-versa! Soon they developed their own communication ways in signs and words! One scene required him to drive a scooter – but being hearing impaired he had never driven a scooter – so we had to train him which he picked up very fast! Rest was taken care of while he was performing in front of the camera!
Q Please also tell us about your decision of joining ftii and your experiences. & what is your fondest memory of the institute and what role it has played in shaping your film making skills.
I had been wanting to join ftii since my schooldays but with no guidance coming in – i flowed with time & my destiny – went to delhi for further studies and continued with my extra curricular activities of writing for school magazines and later for newspapers! after graduation i joined article ship to become a chartered accountant but i quit after two & a half year to do a six-months documentary film making workshop in delhi and learn t my basic first… by the end of it. I managed to get admission into FTII, Pune and was second on the merit list.
FTII was a wonderful experience. it taught me the whys of film making – in a very systematic and a scientific way. more ever -it provided me with an healthy ‘mahaul’: an environment which is so vital of a person’s creative growth and maturity…it laid my foundation for good film making. for every thing in life..there is an institution – to become an engineer -one goes to IIT, to become a doctor one goes to aiims to become a good manager one goes to IIM or XLRI… similarly for films too i believe one needs/should go to FTII and train himself formally in the craft to make something good! all the whole – FTII made me whatever I have achieved today!