cinema

Confessions of an assistant director

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“The key to a successful assistant director is finding the balance between getting work done and doing it yourself.”

If you go to see Once upon a Time in Mumbaai, you will not see an ambulance chase scene. That took us 12 days to shoot and we went all over town for it, from south Mumbai to Vashi. But in the end, the scene was deleted from the final cut. It was the director’s creative call.

I have been an assistant director on many Bollywood big banners. When working, I know what time I start, but I don’t know when it will end. On average, we work for 16 to 17 hours a day. While shooting Ghajini in Hyderabad, we would work from 7 am to 11 pm, and then 2 am to 5 pm the next day. Aamir Khan never sleeps, he just works.

A five-minute scene may take days to shoot, a song sequence could take three days to a week. There are so many variables that you don’t see, like lighting a set and co-coordinating people. Think of it like a wedding. If you invited ten people, it is smooth; if you invited 1,000, it is chaos.

There are two systems of AD-ing. One is international, the other a feature of Bollywood. In the former, all the job profiles are clear. For example, 1st AD runs the set, 2nd AD runs behind-the-scene operations, 3rd AD helps the first one.

But in the Bollywood system, if something is good for the film, you should be able to do it, even if it means serving chai or sweeping floors. Your job is not to question. It is to solve the problem and ensure the day’s job is done. Unlike the international system, you’re not a specialist. The key to a successful AD is finding the balance between getting work done and doing it yourself.

About working with big names, you can’t approach Amitabh Bachchan, but you can approach everyone else. Many ADs aspire to be directors. Apoorva Lakhia, the first director I worked with, had been a successful AD before. He finished shooting the film in a record 60 days, doing five to six scenes a day.

(Aditya Mandke has been an assistant director for four years)

As told to Shubhangi Swarup