A good story is hard to come by
A good story is hard to come by
Anshul is a filmmaker who finds happiness through cinema. Terrible at reading instruction manuals, he can’t find his way without Google maps but loves to travel and be lost. He spends most of his waking hours figuring out how best to tell a story. With Our Better World, he feels he has found a place that he loves and loves him back; where he meets awesome people and gets to capture their beautiful stories.
Good stories don’t come along often. If they do, chances are they are a bunch of platitudes.
Yet good stories are the simplest, most marvelous things in the world.
But it doesn’t come easy, I’ve learned.
In 2017, I was in India filming a story about Suwas, a dentist in Mumbai whose charity distributes bicycles to children in a poor tribal area so they can go to school.
The night before the shoot, I was anxious and didn’t sleep a wink, so much so that at 4.45am, I was already waiting for the production van and the crew to arrive.
On the way to the shoot, we encountered heavy rain. “If it rains, we look for cover and stop shooting.” I told the crew. “This story is a mistake. How can you shoot in this weather?” a sneaky voice hissed in my ears.
I had weird reservations about this story from the start. At first, I dismissed it as nerves, but my heart began to pound when filming came closer. I questioned my choices, my lack of a point-of-view and my lack of imagination.
When we reached the location of our first shot, the rain suddenly stopped, miraculously.
As I stepped out, the first light of day broke and the sky became sapphire. A suburban train tore through the silence of the morning, and the air turned thick with the crisscrossing pigeons.
First day of the shoot. First shot. My mind turned blank.
No inspiration came. I told the crew to wait for my signal and went upstairs to say hello to Suwas and his wife Vidhya, who were the subjects of the story we were filming over the next five days.
They were ready to hit the road on their bikes. We began shooting, chasing one inspiration after another – with mixed results. By late evening, the day ended, leaving me profoundly dissatisfied and tired.
The next day, I decided to find some time to think. I told my crew to carry on filming the two-hour train ride with Suwas, while I hit the road with Vidhya, hoping for some time to gather my thoughts on how to tell this story. We drove to our second location, a small town called Bordi, 130km from Mumbai, where we were to reconvene with the crew and Suwas. The drive was pleasant. We hit a small country road and the scenery changed so dramatically that my eyes widened. But nothing broke through from my thoughts.
Suwas’s train and our van arrived at Bordi simultaneously. Suwas looked refreshed, almost renewed. I tried to mirror his enthusiasm. Our day’s schedule was packed, but I announced a break. I wasn’t excited to film the next bit of action which involved unloading new bicycles from a truck. “Maybe one or two shots.” I told myself and the crew.
When the truck drove into the school, the kids were waiting. They pounced on their new bicycles. We responded fast and started filming. The next hour was pure joy. I felt I got lucky and hadn’t earned success. I was making ordinary choices and getting ordinary results.
We moved to our next location to meet a different character in the story – Sumitra. While I was chatting with her, another girl hovered nearby. A tall lanky girl with intense eyes, Shewanti was one of Sumitra’s friends. She topped her class. Her voice was edgy and her manner frank. Suwas and I felt drawn to her.
Suwas asked Shewanti: “Do you want to be a doctor, like your friend Sumitra?” She ignored the question, her eyes tense, her mouth quivering, her confidence shaking. It was a strange shift.
“I am not going to study any further,,” she said flatly. “My sister won’t send me. We can’t pay for my tuition.”
Everyone’s energy died. I have vague memories of gesturing the cameraman to keep recording.
“If I pay for your school, will you study?” Suwas asked, and waited for his words to sink in. He added: “But you have to sort it out with your sister. Will you? Because if you don’t, nobody can. Not me. Not your friends. Nobody.”
“One has to fight their own battle.” He said it with such finality, the words still echo in my ears.
On the ride back to hotel, I felt my lack of inspiration too trivial, too selfish to worry about. Something much bigger was in motion, something fateful that throws human lives around like rag dolls. Something turned inside me. I felt the cobwebs in my brain wash away. Now, I could see the whole film run in my head. I knew something fruitful will come out of this experience.
Something like a good story.