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Mega stars, humanity, backyard shoot - Inside story of Prasoon Pandey’s Family on SPN

“There is nothing bigger than humanity,” says the man who just released a new film amid the COVID-19 crisis, with a multi-superstar cast that can rival any Manmohan Desai/ Rohit Shetty blockbuster. The much talked about short film, ‘Family’, premiered on Monday, April 6 across all channels of Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI). Conceptualised and virtually directed by veteran ad filmmaker Prasoon Pandey in collaboration with Amitabh Bachchan, ‘Family’ is supported by SPNI and Kalyan Jewellers. 

The film is backed by a larger social objective. Keeping in mind the daily wage workers who have been affected most by Coronavirus and the lockdown, an initiative undertaken by Amitabh Bachchan, ‘We Are One’, has been supported by SPNI and Kalyan Jewellers, through which they have planned the monthly ration of 1 lakh households across the country. Through a commercial tie-up with a leading chain of hypermarkets and grocery stores in India, digitally barcoded coupons have been distributed to a verified list of workers from the All India Film Employees Confederation. They have also offered monetary help to those in need. 

Prasoon Pandey calls the film a kind of “backyard” work that seeks to move away from the “polished” productions that one is accustomed to. This is the kind of work that has been in his mind for almost 20 years and has found fruition with ‘Family’. 

A roll call of the mega stars of India’s film industry, ‘Family’ stars Amitabh Bachchan, Rajnikanth, Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhatt, Chiranjeevi, Mohanlal, Mammootty, Sonali Kulkarni, Shiva Rajkumar, Prosenjit Chatterjee and Diljit Dosanjh. But did you know about the other big stars who were also involved in the making of this film? 

This is the story behind ‘Family’ 

Ever since ‘Family’ hit the small screens, Pandey is a marked man by media. Everyone wants to know how the film was made, the story idea, bringing together so many big names of the film industry and the concept of shooting and directing while everyone is confined to their respective homes. Pandey has shared all these details and much, much more in this exclusive conversation with Adgully. Here’s Prasoon Pandey in his own words... 

The idea 

Since the idea came to me, it kept building as we went on. The idea was to create a drama film where people interact with each other without any of the elements of filmmaking – The Actors, Director and Cameraman – stepping out of their homes. Here is a story which has suspense and humour. I thought if we could pull this off, it would be the world’s first. Nobody has ever tried it before. 

Bringing it all together 

I wrote a script and contacted Amitji. He took the project to the next level and asked me, “Why not make it bigger?” Through this film, I wanted to give a positive message to the audience as we are in such dark times and everything seems so scary. Through the entertainment factor, we wanted to bring out the message that while you’re home and times may seem hard, you don’t need to be depressed by it. You can still be creative and interact with others. 

Amitji gave the idea to create funds for the people in need, something I had never thought of. He contacted a few sponsors to create funds for the daily wage earners to tide over these difficult times. When Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor got involved with this project, they asked, “Why restrict it to just Bollywood? Why not make it even bigger and get the South, East and Punjabi film industry involved too?” 

Thus, the team organically made the project even bigger. After Alia and Ranbir gave the idea of involving other film industries, we turned to Amitji to reach out to them and make them a part of this film. All of them happily got involved without asking any questions. 

Virtual Direction 

It would have been too tedious a task to get everyone on conference calls and explaining what to do. So, I decided to create a template film at home, where I played out each character, with my son shooting and editing the film. I shared the template with all the actors on April 2, where they could see what action they had to follow, what their magnification was and where their eyesight should be. The actors were asked to shoot their part on April 3 itself, which they willingly did it. 

There are 52 shots in the film. Not everything would go as per plan in the first attempt. I was struggling to communicate the errors to the actors. I mean, how do I tell Mr Rajnikanth, “Sir that shot is not correct”? However, all of them willingly and enthusiastically reshot their parts and sent them to me. Some of them even had to shoot their part 3 times. I got all the shots by the morning of April 5. We had to race against time to meet with the April 6 deadline to launch the film. 

Even before the final film was ready, I had a discussion with my music director Dhruv Ghanekar and we started to plan out the music based on the template itself. We then kept replacing the shots in the template as the final ones came in. Slowly and steadily everything got completed in time. 

The challenges & maintaining continuity 

Continuity was always going to be a challenge in a project like this. However, I never wanted to maintain prop continuity. I wanted it to be that way. The spectacles that Alia gives Diljit is different from what he receives. That’s the fun of it. I really wanted the prop discontinuity. I encouraged it. In fact, Ranbir asked me whether he should wear full sleeves or half sleeves as his hand is shown in the film. That’s when I told him, “You wear full sleeves, but I’ll make sure the other person wears half sleeves.” That was the idea of the fun behind it. 

However, there was one element of continuity that had to be maintained and that was the eyeline continuity. They would have to look in the right direction, without it the film wouldn’t work. For the continuity, even the hand passing around the specs was important, because if you’re putting out your hand, it should reach in the next shot. That’s what the template was for. Therefore, I shot the template in different parts of my house so that people don’t get bogged down by the prop continuity. I told them that the location and the props didn’t have to match, only the action and eyeline had to match. 

Black & white mode 

Right from the beginning I wanted to shoot the film in black and white. This is because everyone has different colours in their homes. Some have brighter and stronger colours than the rest. When that jumps out in the film, it distracts the viewer. I didn’t want the viewer to think about the background colours, but wanted them to stay connected with the story. I wanted to remove all distractive elements. 

Camera placement & who actually shot the scenes? 

You are the first person to ask me this question; everyone should be asking me this as it’s where the real magic lies. I shot the template film in my house because I wanted it to be so simple that everyone can shoot it from their homes. The template made it easy. 

But behind the camera, there are some huge names that shot the scenes. Amitabh Bachchan’s scenes were shot by none other than his son, Abhishek Bachchan. Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who is in the US, was shot by her husband Nick Jonas. Ranbir and Alia’s scenes were shot by each other. Mr Rajnikanth was shot by his daughter, Saundarya Rajnikanth. In the scene where Priyanka hands over the specs to Amitji, the hand show in the frame is none other than Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who offered just a hand modelling shot to help us out. We didn’t even need to ask her for this help. Many big names shot the actors at home without taking any credit for it. They just jumped into this exercise with open hearts. 

This was truly a humbling experience for me, seeing the industry wholeheartedly coming together like this without any hang-ups. 

Key learnings & takeaways 

My major learning would be “There is nothing bigger than humanity”. How I got the idea and how we pulled it off, the entertainment factor and the good message are all secondary. There is an even bigger message. I’ve seen the industry come together with a no holds bar attitude, which is a lifetime experience for me. This is much bigger than anything that we’ve created. 

I’m more of an intuitive director. I like being involved in such projects, where there is not much time to think and ponder but just execute. Here, we’ve exposed ourselves here to the audience. They will enjoy the bits where the cup is different and the specs are different. Even the part where Diljit goes on to shake Ranbir’s hand, he reaches out with his left hand but in Ranbir’s shot it is seen that the right one shakes his hand.  As people see the film more and more and notice these instances, I’m sure they’ll enjoy it just the way I do. 

This idea of simplicity and a kind of “backyard production” has been threading in my mind for more than 20-25 years, right from the time I did a series of films for The Times of India, called ‘Times Of India Files’. 

Can a format like this be sustained over time for ad films and TV shooting? 

When I started with this project, the idea that nobody has executed such a film and that there is no precedent for this really drove me. The idea of people coming together for a drama film while being stationed at their homes really excited me. 

However, it is tough to say whether this would become a norm. Keeping this as norm just on style basis might make it go out of fashion really soon. We did this because of the circumstances we are in. 

However, if times like these continue and people cannot move around freely, this is definitely a smart way to communicate stories while sitting at home and putting it together. 

Ad fraternity loves this ‘Family’ 

Sonal Dabral, Creative Consultant: “Loved it in the first viewing itself. Because of the surprising number of celebrities involved in a simple but intriguing story, told in such a unique way. It definitely grabbed my attention. A clever twist at the end added to a rewarding experience. This film also proves that ultimately it’s the freshness of the idea and the craft that will always be the difference between also-ran and breakthrough work. There are many post COVID-19 films for many brands doing the rounds right now that have been made remotely, either crowdsourced or put together in other unique ways, but they’ve all come and gone. It’s only this film that’s created so much buzz in such a short time.” 

Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer, 82.5 Communications: “I loved the film. It’s a great concept and the way Big B and other big names of the film industry came together – though not literally – to make it happen is remarkable. Necessity is the mother of creativity. If you had asked me in February, I would have said it is impossible. Today, I know that this is one of the only workable approaches.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has praised the film. He tweeted, "You can be distant and you can be social. A great video with relevant messages." He also shared a link to the film and invited his followers to watch it. 

 

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