Friday, December 16, 2011

Filming Elephants at an Indian Wedding

A Short Documentary: Day Two

Okay, the second day of this little production went a bit more smoothly.  A friend of a friend connected our small crew with "Tony". Tony is a wedding planner who happens to specialize in Royal Weddings.  These are not weddings for Lords and Ladies or Indian Princes. No, these are just really big, very expensive, and over-the-top weddings. Think Vegas meets Jaipur.
Tony told us to meet him in a North Delhi neighborhood called Pitam Pura no later than 6pm. Delhi traffic was heavy that evening, but we managed to get there only thirty minutes late. We called Tony, who was actually not on location yet... "stuck in traffic." The wedding pavilion did not disappoint. It was massive. We passed several other pavilions before finding our destination. There is a lot of money being spent on weddings in Indnia. One of these pavillions actually had a one-third-scale Eiffel Tower in the entrance. Vegas.
Tony showed by 6:45 and gave us the drill:  two elephants, eight horses, three bands, twelve guys with mobile chandeliers (connected to a car battery and, oh yes, not to worry: 'completely safe'). There were easily over one thousand guests. The parking lot was filled with German engineering: Mercedes, BMW, Audi. The happy couple were gifted two brand new cars - a big white Ford SUV, and a white Honda sedan.
We had a great time.  Interviewed the Mahouts, filmed a huge fireworks display. The wedding goers danced in the street. The elephants who took money from well-wishers (Long trunks grasped each 100 rupee bill and gently passed them up to the mahout.  Each elephant-driver waggled his head, gave a polite "danyavad," and deftly pocketed bill after bill as they flowed upward).
Many rupees were spent on this wedding night, and although it was crazy and loud, it was full of joy.  Without a doubt, this bash was the largest wedding celebration I have ever attended. And its on film.

Day Three is scheduled for late January... so stay tuned.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Short Documentary, Part One

I kept seeing elephants and chatting with their drivers (mahouts). I researched where the urban elephants lived, what they ate, who actually owned them. We went to see Asian elephants in the wild in both south India and Sri Lanka. I became familiar enough with some of the drivers to arrange rides for visiting friends and family... There is a sadness about these animals. They are treated very inconsistently by their keepers, and must live by and swim in one of the worlds dirtiest rivers. But inspite of it all, they remain beautiful, intelligent, majestic animals.

When I found out their numbers were rapidly disappearing from New Delhi's urban landscape, I wondered if there was a way I could document what I was experiencing. Something that could be shared with others before the elephants disappeared completely from the streets of Delhi.

I floated the idea of making a short film with two friends of mine: a Croatian director, and a Nepali cameraman. I know absolutely nothing about producing a documentary film, but my friends were experienced (and liked the idea).  We scouted locations and found out where to hire an HD camera and digital sound equipment. Once we sketched out a probable shooting schedule of three or four good days of filming.
The camera we use for all footage is a Sony digital EX-3 High Definition system.

Our first day turned out to be a bit of a mess.  We had four locations lined up. Two fell through within the first hour of the day.  A family who owns six elephants in the village of Wazirabad skipped out on us. At 8am we were standing in a dirty village street. No promised elephants on location and no family members to interview.
 "Where is everyone?" we asked. "Sleeping... call Farukh after 11am."  We stood empty handed and looking at one another in the street. We rushed off to a back up location. There'd be elephants if we arrived before 9am.
The second location, at the edge of the Yamuna river proved to be much better.  Elephants and mahouts. We managed to record some great interviews, got footage of a Mahout giving his elephant a bath in one of the worlds dirties rivers and then filmed him painting a beautiful design on the face of his elephant, Champa
By 11am we rushed off to a third location. One of the Mahouts (elephant keeper-driver) gave us a lead on some tourists who had hired Champa for an "urban safari." More great near Delhi's famous Raj ghat Park.
By late afternoon we finally got in touch with 'Farukh', our contact for that evening's wedding location.  In a gruff voice he told us the wedding would a no-go unless we forked over 8,000 rupees... It was late and we had a strict budget. So we decided to eat instead. The day ended with a some good, home-cooked Indian food at the director's house and a review of our first day of footage Day one ended at 10:15pm

Stay tuned for episode two..."Filming Elephants at an Indian Wedding..."