Film Filter Filth (A Postcard From Delhi)
By Neel Chaudhuri
A daydreaming cinephile or film student will often develop a certain kind of obsession over a film. This is where you wish it were your film, your filament that gave light to the idea in the beginning and your voice that called the wrap. It is certainly not an uncommon preoccupation, but an altering one for most. That is to say the films often change, the obsession remains the same. For me, however, the object of this sort of fantasy has for long been constant. I first saw Woody Allen’s Manhattan as a student, alone in a dark screening room, with the New York skyline spread across the wall and Gershwin blowing out of the speakers. When I returned to my room I picked up a dictaphone and recorded – as does the character of Isaac (Allen himself) – my list of the things that make life worthwhile. Right at the top, alongside Lolita and Casa Piccola’s profiteroles, was the film itself.
In my efforts to write a film scenario over the last few years, I have often returned to Manhattan. At first I coveted the obvious – the wit (always the wit), the intentionally pretentious banter, the black and white in Cinemascope, and the silhouette love scene. I soon decided that these were mostly the make-up, and the heart of it was really the internal monologue of a writer at odds with himself. ‘Self-reflexive’ was a word being used a lot in class. And so I indulged in a little bit of solipsism. My protagonist became a screenwriter struggling for a story, driven to opening his dictionary to random pages where he’d pick three successive words (like tongue, tonic, tonight) and then fashion a story out of them. I had reached that point myself and settled on film, filter, filth. It was a crummy plot – the writer needed to filter through all the filth clogging his mind to find one valuable story for a film. But it was working. I made it to page 30, where he met a girl and had a conversation about how handy alliterations can be. That evening I visited the cinema to see the Spike Jonze film, Adaptation which turned out, of course, to be about Charlie Kaufmann writing himself into his own screenplay. Swine!
Later, another scion in my lineage of Manhattan ideas emerged as a short script for a photoroman entitled The Pedestrian. In writing it, I finally found myself upon the actual point. The city’s the thing. Write about yourself in the city. But how on earth was I to find Manhattan in Delhi, a city without sidewalks or a skyline? Delhi’s horns are in the cacophony of traffic and not in the rhapsody of a jazz orchestra. My ambitions were all out of proportion. The full evidence of this is in the first film I have managed to complete – a one-minute video that isn’t monochrome but coloured by Delhi’s smog orange night-light; featuring strangers at roundabouts instead of lovers on park benches. We shot one high-rise that didn’t make the cut.
But the daydream endures … It’s the end of the film. I stand in place of Isaac, opposite the girl, whose face is different every time (though some have repeated themselves). Here is what follows usually:
NEEL: Stay. I think you should stay.
GIRL: Why? That’s not what you said a week ago.
NEEL: I know … but I changed my mind. I love you. And so I would prefer it if you didn’t go.
GIRL: Oh God, Neel …
NEEL: Just stay for a moment.
GIRL: For what?!
NEEL: You’ll see … there’ll be great big buildings and jazz in a second.
GIRL: Jazz! What for?
NEEL: Just … well, because that’s how it should be.
I smile at her.
There is a long silence as no rhapsody follows.
Published in Ekran, 2008 (February/March)