The West Coast 2.0 – Color of War, The Tank Engine and The Reprise

Continued from here.

I was waiting at the exit. A lot of people were coming
out. Suddenly I saw Orso coming towards me. He stopped in front of me for a
second, smiled, snatched away my crutches and ran. I ran after him, chasing
through all the people.
“I need my crutches. How could he just…. bitch!”
Shortly after, he took a left run into a very narrow
alley of old row houses. The road was paved with red bricks. I was losing him.
I saw him randomly enter a house at the far end of the street. These houses
were mostly brick and plaster with very vivid colors that had now become dull,
having been exposed to the weather. I could see traces of rains and storms that
had damaged the walls and boundaries. The railings and gates had all become
rusty with traces of paint here and there. Grass and weed all around suggested nobody
was maintaining these houses. I doubt if anyone even lived there.
I reached the spot where I saw him enter to find an
old oak door on a very unfinished orange brick wall. It was the entry to the
backyard of a very old house.
“Good that you are here, food is ready,” my mom said
stirring something on the stove sitting in the backyard. I was confused. She
had moved her full kitchen in open air.  
 She served me
hot rice and dal and went in the house to get something. I was not sure what. I
waited for a minute.  I needed my
crutches as much as I needed to eat. I was starving for home cooked food. And
it was right in front of me. I could smell the ghee.
“I would be back in a while” I whispered to myself and
ran again.
I had lost track of this guy. I had no clue why was he
running away with my crutches. Didn’t he know I need them?
The row houses abruptly ended giving way to a long
stretch of abandoned warehouses with a lot of rusted iron pillars, old
machines, grass and gravel. I could see Orso running at a distance approaching
what seemed like a big group of people circled around something.
I tore across the group and reached for the center
looking for Orso but instead I find Sai.
“Where are you man? We need to start shooting?” he
screamed at me, really angry. There was a RED camera on a high hat sitting in
the center with a girl operating it. There were two actors at a distance doing
something. Their faces were not visible.
“Orso is running away with my crutches, I need them
back before I can start shooting”
“Are you crazy? You are already running. You will be
fine without them. Forget him. We are losing time”
“You don’t understand. I need them” I answered him
looking around anxiously for I knew he was hiding somewhere between the people.
Orso appeared again behind all the people. Looked at
me, teased me showing the crutches and ran away. I was not letting him go this
time. I threw myself on the crowd in an attempt to get past them. But they all
began to close in, looking angrily at me. The more I struggled to get past
them, the more they pushed me to the center.
And then they just gave one fierce push and I went
flying in landing on my cast again…
I opened my eyes with a jolt. I saw the warm amber
evening sunlight flooding the room through the small window on my left. It was
lighting up a collage of Sai and Nehal (his girlfriend). I remembered it from
his room in New York. I also noticed around 50 blue sticky notes neatly aligned
on the adjacent wall. I looked around – a lamp on my left with a side table
full of random stuff, a big desk on my right purposely kept clean to
accommodate my computer which was still packed.
My foot was on three pillows, back to normal size and
devoid of any pain. I wiggled my toes – still no pain. There was a pristine
calm around. Given the fact I had just woken up after a shitty weird dream, I felt
a little dizzy. But everything else seemed fine around me.
“Hey…wait…I am coming in…” I heard his voice from the
other room, probably from the kitchen. He came running in the room.
“How are you now? How’s your foot? Is it okay? You
need something?” he threw all the questions at me in one breath. He looked
really concerned.
I smiled at him. “Yes, I am much better now. Just
hungry but not dying.”
“I can make pasta. 
You are ok with that?”
“Yeah man, go for it. Anything is fine with me,” I
said encouragingly even though half sure of what I just signed up for. But my
past experience with Sai’s culinary skills had been good.
A lot of things were different in LA. One of them that
hit me eventually was the food situation. Last few days, I had been fed like a
little girl would feed a starving puppy. From amazing scrambled eggs and cheese
to mouth watering Alfredo pasta and what not. My roommates too cook kickass
stuff for usual dinner. I was mentally prepared to let it all go. Or at least I
thought I was.
The next thing that was really killing me was jet lag.
I was three hours ahead of this place. While usually I work till 3am without a
problem, as soon as it would hit midnight here, my brain began to shut down.
Given Sai’s day schedule of organizing the shoot and classes, he would only get
time at night to talk about the project.
“Let us begin with the shot list?” Sai would ask with
a lot of excitement in his eyes.
“Yes. Sure” I would reply with equal enthusiasm but
another 10mins and I would pass out.
“Okay, let us do it tomorrow then” the poor guy would
leave the room.
Because of my foot, even though I wasn’t doing a lot
during the day, I would get tired very easily. I slept a lot during the day and
still fell asleep by 11pm-12am. My brain wouldn’t just focus on anything. I
could see Sai worried about it.
I had to fight and get back on track. So the next night,
I decided to not sleep till I was done with the shot list. We sat outside the
apartment. Sai made this ‘herbal tea’ for me to keep me awake. I took a sip and
it was close to what Conc. H2SO4 might taste like. I was
awake. Fuckin AWAKE! I gave Sai a petrified look.
“Good right? I will make some more. I made extra
strong for me. I just put one bag in yours. You want to taste mine?”
In the next two days we finished the shot list and my
jet lag got better. My days were pointless and free. Locked in that apartment,
I would have only two options – sit by the computer and refresh Facebook feed
or lie down and sleep.
Getting food or water from the kitchen was an
adventure. The (not so) fun thing about crutches is, you can either walk or
carry things. So I would hop to the kitchen where Sai would put the table right
next to the kitchen counter, with food on the stove and plate and cutlery on
the table. I just had to manage to heat the food, put it in the plate and eat.
But being the hungry hippo I am, just food is never
enough. Snacks and sweets have always been one of my favorite things. And
having lived with Orso for all this time, well, I was a hippo and pig combined
now. I would stuff my pockets with whatever I could find. Muffins, energy bars,
cake or chips, a couple of bottles of water and whatever I thought would be
useful to survive my hours of loneliness in that room. I would shove it all in
my pocket till my pants would almost drop. I would then hop back and put
everything on the computer table.
When Sai would come back, there would be a pile of
wrappers! I am not saying I was proud of this. The last thing I would do on
this earth is to make people clean up after me. But then I had no choice. Funny
thing about this was, even though I was eating junk all the time, my weight was
going down with every passing day.
None of this food helped me think though. My thought
process was very cloudy. I could not think of all the answers to the questions
Sai would ask about the film. And with every failure to answer a question, I
would hate myself so much. I wanted to take a walk with headphones on. I wanted
to just sit somewhere and breathe the fresh air. The room had become my prison
now. Those pines I could see from the window didn’t even move much. It was more
like a painting on the wall.
On the brighter side of life, Sai had plastic chairs.
So we figured out a way for me to take a shower. Absolutely awkward and
ridiculous as it may have seemed to anyone who would have seen, it was totally
effective. I could sit on the chair and extend my foot out of the shower
curtain and place it on the toilet naturally avoiding water to drip towards my
foot (Gravity bitches!). My first shower since my injury, roughly a week after,
was like I just took a dip in the Ganga.
I felt clean, from inside as much as from the outside even though I had to
shower from my back.
My first visit to the location was a reality check. It
was an old theater. I had to walk to the theatre from the car and by the time I
reached the main door, I was exhausted. Walking with the crutches was a really
tiring process. The owner was late and we had to wait outside. After ten
minutes, I gave up and took a seat in the restaurant next to the theater. I
could now feel how difficult my time in the next few days was going to be.
On the other hand, my first meeting with my gaffer,
Neil, turned out to be very reassuring. I was convinced that he was going to be
an asset. A brief discussion with him and I felt like a cinematographer again.
As I talked more to him about the lighting plan, it occurred to me, I actually
had not forgotten anything. Like some magic spell, everything began making
sense again.
The next thing that helped me a lot in getting my head
in the game was the first full costume rehearsal with actors. Meeting with the
costume designer, the make-up artist and all the actors, I felt how much
excited they were to be part of this project. I could feel their dedication. I
was blown away by the amount of work Alison (costume designer) had done on the World
War I uniforms.
Even though it is not part of my job description, I
have always made good friends with the cast and non-cinematography crew members of the projects I shot. And the warmth and respect I received from the people I
met at the rehearsal gave an immense boost to my self-confidence. Sai and me
were on the same page during the rehearsals. Finally the punishment of doing
the floor plans and shot design with that tea showed seemed helpful. I met John
Karbousky, one of my first friends and NYFA mate when I came to NY two years
ago. I always remembered him for his exuberance on set. And he had not changed
at all.
I was ready to shoot Color of War.
By our first shoot day, I was actually much better at
walking with my crutches. The process was still very tiring. But I was slowly
gaining more stamina and could go further before stopping and breathing. Not to
mention my inability to run around and check every piece of equipment was
frustrating me. But I had a good team that communicated well with me during the
most boring process of this business – the equipment checkout!

The tank engine at the checkout

There was no chair. I was so mad. I was at the
location for our first shot and there was no chair. I found stairs and parked
myself cursing the production for not having a chair when they knew the DoP
couldn’t keep standing. I sulked for a while. And then asked myself why was I
being such a diva? This was my film and this was exactly what I wanted to do. A
chair was not reason enough to get upset. I knew it was a genuine mistake and
it would not be repeated. I was never the complaining one. I hated myself a
little for that behavior of mine.
“Before we set the dolly, let us find the positions
and frames” I head Sai screaming.
Ideally I would get up, pick the camera and fix the
frame. I would decide the lenses, mark the dolly positions and give cues to the
dolly grip and AC as per the director’s requests. Since this was a very small
shoot, we did not take permissions for generators, which meant I had no
monitor. I just got up and crutched my way to the set. This was it. And my foot
was not an excuse for not doing my job right.
Next few hours, as we took the first shot, I hopped
back and forth with the dolly, keeping my eye on the frame. For those few
hours, I was walking. I also didn’t care if there was no chair. I didn’t need
one anymore. I was looking at the shot Sai and me had dreamt about for months,
become reality in front of me.  The red
wall, the glasses and the flawless costume – Color of War was now taking shape.

Tom setting up dolly tracks

I sat in the car and realized what I had been ignorant
about for last few hours: my foot and the unbearable pain and swelling it had
because of constantly standing for hours. I had to go up the stairs again to
get back to the apartment. I was a mess, though only physically. In my head, I
was satisfied like never before. We looked at the footage over and over again.
We got exactly what we had thought of. I popped in a painkiller. Day one was
over, five more to go. My war had just begun. It was a brilliant start.
It is funny how we always take certain things for
granted. The ability to walk around is one of them. Once deprived of it, you
realize how many things are actually connected with that one ability. The next
few days of shoot taught me a very important lesson in life – communication. I
have always been the guy who would not waste time in explaining things but
would just do things himself to save time. However, when faced with a situation
where all I could do was to talk on the walkie and get things done, it dawned on
me I needed a lot more vocabulary, precision of language and patience in order
to make the crew do what I wanted them to do in the least possible amount of
Of course, like every set, some crew members were
outstanding in making an effort to understand what I wanted and implement it to
my satisfaction (sometimes even better than that) while a couple of others
couldn’t handle the fact that a physically unfit guy sitting in a corner was
ordering them around. They sometimes misunderstood my politeness for
incapability and my silence for lack clarity of thought. They would pop up
their suggestions, change things around without telling me and would always
argue back refusing to carry out what I wanted them to do. In an ideal scenario
I always welcome suggestions. But when pressed against time, I prefer that
people trust in my vision and me and play along. So far, I have never been
blank on a set. And I still wasn’t.

One of the key factors of Sai and my collaboration is
homework. We do our homework extremely well. We know what we are looking for
and have very clear expectations from each other. We never discuss anything on
the set. I give him the set, lit and ready with the correct frames and he gives
me the perfect performances without 24 retakes because of an actor forgetting
their lines. And after months of homework and hard work we had put into this
project, when people disregarded something I told them because they thought it
won’t look good was totally unacceptable to me.
With constant clashes of ideas and confusions, I
finally had to give away my politeness and get rough with the smartasses.
Sometimes I had to rudely snap people, some other times I had to jump into the
middle of the set to take charge of the situation and a couple of times, I had to
raise my voice. I even lost my balance and fell twice on the set. Sai freaked
out. But everything was eventually fine. My AD and my gaffer were a boon to me.
They supported me in everything I wanted and needed to do. But I did
understand, that nobody really wants to listen to a guy who can’t even stand
without support. It is a weird mind game.

Neil the ‘Gaffer’

“So where are we shooting?” I asked Sai upon reaching
the beautiful green countryside at 7am, our location for the last two days.
“It is a little far from here, I suggest we carry a
chair when we take you there. If you get tired, you can sit,” Sai explained me
trying his best to not freak me out.
From the roadside, the location was almost 500meters
into the woods through bushes, thorns, trenches, stones and sand. You couldn’t
even see the spot from there. I could have fainted. There was no way I was
making it till the end. I was trying to find possible solutions but nothing
seemed to make sense. As much as I was scared to do it, I had to do it.
“Don’t worry. I will take you there” came a voice from
behind. It was Tom.
From the day he came back after his vacation, he had
been my savior in going up and down the stairs. He was the perfect height to
support me and he genuinely wanted to do it. Not that Sai had any trouble doing
that. Also, his presence in the apartment broke the monotony of Sai and me
talking about the project all the time. We go pretty well with each other. I
always found him to be a nice guy. But then I discovered how caring and
affectionate he could be.
“Put your arm around my shoulder and feel free to put
your weight on me. Just be careful of your foot and take your time. There is no
rush. We will make it there”
He gave me the assurance I needed the most at that
point. I missed Orso. A lot.
While me and Tom slowly moved through the uneven
trenches, often taking longer routes just to avoid very steep slopes, Sai
walked ahead of us clearing the way for us. “Wait guys” he would scream every
now and then. He would go to a tiny stone and remove it totally ignoring the
big rocks around it. Tom and I looked at each other shaking out heads. But
then, the gesture was more important to me. He was just trying help.
It was a painful journey. My left arm was hurting half
way through and I knew Tom’s shoulder was also giving away. He was almost
carrying my full body weight. My right knee is the bad knee and because of all
this stress, it was beginning to hurt really badly now. I was scared of it
popping again. That would just be the end of my career. Not to forget, escaping
all the thorns was impossible. Some would get tangled in my cast; others would
just scratch my toes. It was comparatively easier to walk on rocks. But on
sand, the crutch would get buried and I would lose my balance. Tom would
immediately swing to support me. We would stop every ten minutes to breathe.
 It took us
around forty minutes to reach shoot location. I wanted to just lie down. We
were both exhausted and drenched in sweat. And it was just the beginning. I had
to do this three more times in the next 36hours. That was all I could think of.
I didn’t want to leave. I would have happily camped there at night just to
avoid that terrifying trek. I could have cried at that point.
The rest of the day was not a cakewalk either. The
wireless video transmitter kept on losing feed and I lost image on the monitor
every now and then. They couldn’t figure it out and I knew if only I could get
up and run around, I would find a solution. But alas, I had to trust what
everybody was doing and believe the damn thing was faulty. My operator wouldn’t
listen to me and would stop responding on the walkie. My AC would take the
walkie from him and talk. So I would ask her to tell the operator what needs to
be done. Clearly, this was his plan to annoy me. Given my past experience with
him, I was not at all surprised.
I pretty much sat at my seat for next 12hours. While
all the guys (and even some girls) were relaxed about the fact that they could
pee anywhere, I was particularly scared of that because I could not walk
anywhere. The little tent they put up on me flew away with every strong gush of
wind. People around me would run to make sure it didn’t fall on me. But I
couldn’t really do shit about it. Like an idol, I would keep sitting there with
my one foot on an apple box.

But again, I was happy with the footage. It looked
beautiful and more than me, Sai was happy with what he saw (of whatever he saw
in between the frequent misconnections of the transmitter).
It was time to wrap and the fear of going back started
looming over me. I seriously did not want to go back. Everything got wrapped
and there was just me left in the middle of nowhere sitting on a chair. For ten
minutes I was wondering if Sai or Tom remembered that I had to get out or did
they seriously like the idea of leaving me there.
“Shall we?” appeared Tom from the bushes. “Let us not
include Sai this time. I am sure both of us can manage on our own.”
“Yes, I am sure” I smiled and got up to my feet. It
felt so amazingly good to stretch.
The way back was again slow and painful. But not as
bad as the first time in the morning. Tom kept me engaged in conversation. We
bitched about Sai (we are really good at that). And before I could realize, I
was already by the road. I felt a little more confident and could think of
coming back the next day.
My foot was swollen, hurting and really dirty from all
the sand. I cleaned my toes, took my painkiller and passed out.
Tom probably has over 20 pictures of me sleeping in
the car. He woke me up when we were at the location. Having done it twice, I
was much more relaxed and confident in going through the whole mess again. I
even knew the danger spots and the safe points where I could land my crutch
firmly. It took us lesser time now. But was equally tiring for both of us.
My operator had quit last night. He had no ride to
come to the shoot and when he requested the producer to arrange for one, the
producer blatantly refused to offer any help. I was not sure if I was mad at
the producer for doing that to a very crucial crewmember of the shoot or I was
happy about the fact that he was no longer on the shoot. I had my plan B. I
offered Neil to be my operator and he confidently agreed. Having done such am
amazing job so far, I had no doubts about his work.

Neil the ‘Operator’ with his foot on my awesome AD Lindsay

 And he did not disappoint me. Everyone could feel the
set moving faster today. My communication with him was fluent and efficient
because he not only responded promptly but also understood me beyond my words.
He had been an amazing gaffer so far. He would always stand by me no matter
what to be able to listen to what I had to say. Never did I have to look for
him. It really made my life easier. I owe this film to his efficiency because
his efficiency reflected as my efficiency to everyone.
The day was long and complex but was one of the
smoothest one we had so far. We got all the shots we needed including the ones
that had special make-up effects. The wireless monitor too was responding. I
figured it was the tree in-between that was the culprit for the loss of signal.
I was seated at the different spot now. And I had a clear view of the camera
and the set.
“And that’s a wrap!” I heard Sai screaming at a
distance. Everything froze for me.
I remembered saying goodbye to Orso at the airport,
scared of what was coming my way. I remembered all my worries of not being able
to deliver because of physical limitations and the mental block I had. And
there I was, done with shooting Color of War. Almost, if not exactly, as I had
thought the film would look like.
“You know Tom. Remember how I always mocked you as
Thomas the Tank Engine? I don’t know if you noticed but you did actually become
my tank engine. “ I told Tom on our way out of the set, for the last fuckin
He laughed for the rest of the way. He really liked
the thought. We of course bitched about Sai again. But neither of us felt
tired. Or maybe we did but we didn’t care anymore. It was really strange to
think but I had kind of started to enjoy this little ride. I was going to miss
it. I am sure Tom would not.

Everyone took pictures, hugged each other goodbye and
congratulated me on the brilliant work. I thanked all my crew members for their
work. But in my head, a new thought had just popped up. In a normal
situation, if asked, I would refuse to walk through that path on one foot.
Because I always thought I was not strong enough to do that shit. And standing
there, having done it four times, I felt I underestimated my own strength. I
was fine. I didn’t die. Nor did I fall and break more bones. I just managed
fine. I needed no chair, no stretcher nothing. It was another very important
lesson for me in life. I had just acquired a whole new perspective.
My condition was temporary. Today as I am writing
this, I have already removed my cast and I am resuming walking. In a few days,
I would be a normal walking human again. But I couldn’t help but think of all
those people who have to face all these miseries daily and nothing would change
for the rest of their lives. I already found myself more sensitive to everyone
who had any kind of disability and was fighting with it, living his or her life
at par with the ones gifted with a healthy body. I was already humbled and had
immense respect for all the people I had seen dragging themselves in the train
or on the streets, to work, like everything was fine and normal. People
applauded my patience and strength. But to me, it seemed nothing when compared
to the ones who don’t even have a bear or a tank engine to help them in their
journey. And yet, they don’t give up.
My war was over. But for millions of others, it will
continue till they live. And everyday they emerge victorious. I salute each and
every one of those fighters around the world.
I felt grateful to everyone who had made even the
smallest gesture to help me, support me and cheer me up. Sai had been extremely
patient with my mood swings. Tom had done everything he could to make sure I
was safe and sound. I could see respect amongst all my crewmembers (even the
ones who were indifferent in the beginning). And of course, my beloved bear,
Orso, who had been my constant moral support all these days on phone listening
(actually reading) all my rants and bitching, giving me hope and strength to
keep fighting and going on. He would call regularly just to make sure I sound
fine. I missed him. I wanted to hug him and thank him.
The next ten days were easier because I decided to
edit the film. Instead of pointlessly wandering around the house and scrolling
through stupid Facebook feed, I was now making my way through the edit, which,
was one of my favorite things. Sai was always supportive of the idea of me
editing it. Even though we had planned we won’t but at that point, it only
seemed sensible.
As the day to get back to New York came closer, I got
more and more excited to meet Orso again. I was supposed to edit Favorite
Things with him and the very idea was so much fun to think about. And now that
I was much better with my foot, more independent and confident, I felt much
better about the whole travel back.
We left for the airport on time but there was horrible
traffic on the highway. I was getting really impatient, as I did not know what
would I do if I missed the flight. I didn’t want to stay back as I had a lot of
things planned back in New York.
“Where does all this traffic come from? I mean this is
a highway, there are no signals so why is everyone NOT MOVING?” I asked Tom
like frustrated little kid.
Sai and Tom were both amazed at this question.
“I don’t have answer to that Himanshu. There are just
too many people on the highway, it is rush hour.” I tried his best to be
patient. I knew that was a stupid question. And I regretted saying it out loud.
Of course I knew the answer. And I knew it was no one’s fault. Let us just say
I am not very proud of that question.
I did miss my flight. But luckily I got the next one
and I was just in time to catch that one. I bid goodbye to my tank engine. I
felt strange because I was not sure when was I going to see him next. I was
sure going to miss our conversations. I wasn’t much worried about Sai because
we were going to meet in India in a few months.
“I am sorry. But the machine beeped!” told the
security personnel.
“So we will have to thoroughly frisk you again. This
machine checks for explosives and other chemical residue. And your palm didn’t
clear the test. It may be medicines because you have an injury. Or it could be
false alarm. I will have to call my senior and he would do the frisking”
Brilliant. This was exactly what I was looking for. I
missed my flight due to traffic and I would miss this one because of security
check. The senior officer took me in a small room nearby. He made me stand and
ran his hands over my body multiple times. It felt weird because he seriously
firmly frisked my body. All of it.
“Sorry man. I won’t be able to meet you at the
airport. But I will meet you tomorrow for sure.” I got Orso’s text. I still
sent him my flight details. Something told he would come to the airport and
this was all just a joke. He and his entire family were reaching New York the
same day as I was supposed to reach. I had anyway asked Sameer to meet me at
the airport because I wasn’t sure if Orso would be able to make it. Although
now I knew he had had landed and I was sure he would come.
I made it fine to the flight. I had a middle aged
couple sitting next to me who were very friendly and kept me engaged in
conversation all throughout my flight. She laughed really loudly at all of my
jokes. As much as I was enjoying the appreciation for my average sense of
humor, her extremely loud laughter was drawing a lot of unwanted attention from
fellow passengers and thus, I decided to keep shut.
At JFK, I saw the friendly smiling bearded guy wearing
his favorite white batman t-shirt – Sameer. I hugged him. I was genuinely happy
to see him. I was so happy to be back. It was like coming back home even though
I knew this was not my home anymore. I was soon going to leave it. Orso did not
come to airport. Of course I knew it and I didn’t feel disappointed. I just
laughed at my own stupidity.

As me and Sameer got out of the airport, one taxi
driver came by and said, “Where would you go sir? Jersey City?” he was talking
in Hindi. I asked him about Newport.
“No. Sorry, not happening.”
“Come on sir. Come here.” We heard another guy
shouting in Hindi.
“Okay 90. That is the standard rate sir. Let us go!”
promptly said the cab guy, grabbing my luggage.
I agreed. Sameer and I had the same thought. Did we
just have a déjà vu? This was exactly like any Indian Railway station or
airport. I couldn’t believe I just bargained my way home in Hindi in New York.
“How was LA sir ji?” asked Sameer in cab.
“I don’t like LA. And you wouldn’t like it too!”
“What? Why? Is there any specific reason for not
liking it?”
“Well, the reason I am going to say is good enough for
you to hate LA. There are no Delis”
“Shit. I hate LA. Why would anybody go there? I would
die of hunger! NO DELIS?”
We laughed as I saw the bright twinkling Empire State
building from my window.

You can look at more pictures from the set of color of war here.

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