Friday, December 4, 2009

IN SEARCH OF MIRAGE- an experience of a Cameraman in the desert life

IN SEARCH OF MIRAGE- an experience of a Cameraman in the desert life

-“Do you know good Composition and Lighting…?” – Film Director Khalifa Al-Muraikhi of Qatar Television asked while interviewing me in Mumbai- Nariman Point in August 2002.

I said, “Yes, I know”. Immediately I showed my Diploma Certificate from FTII and few other experience certificates.

“Very beautiful…! Is this made by you? - attractive and within the file;… good, keep it with you” -One another Qatari – Adnan Abdullah Al-Mubarak- Head of Electronics Dept. QTV, told me and I astonished.

Both of them looked at each other and Khalifa asked me, “Do you have any show reel to show your lighting skills and camera work?”

“Yes… I’ve” Immediately I gave one VHS copy of my show reel to them, which depicts my previous experience. They viewed it by fast forwarding…..

“Yes… yes, stop the frame… this kind of lighting….quite realistic…. I want this kind of source lighting…” Khalifa looked at me.

“Definitely, I can give that to you….its my passion”……. It was a positive sign.

“High Definition format has been introduced and too many Cinemas are already being shot in HD, Film will be off-scene in future, isn’t it Nandankumar? This Khalifa is a fool……He always talks about Film…”- Adnan laughed at Khalifa. Then they began to fight each other by arguing about Film and Digital Technology in front of me.

“You tell me Nandan about Film format and its resolution comparing with HD or Digital format” –Khalifa turned his face to me.

“Film is the ultimate and eternal….! There is nothing found out to replace film or to compare with the resolution of the Film. I don’t think, it will be a success in future.” I replied; Khalifa was happy and looked at Adnan and shook hand with me.

I liked their approach but wondered; I thought -‘Is this an interview..? Why they are fighting each other and what nonsense.. .’

After that Adnan was not taking any interest on me or asking any thing to me.

“In Qatar TV, there is a film wing and you will be the Head of that section; if you will be selected. I have to make some documentaries and short films, I need a good D.O.P”….. “Ok Nandan….”

“Ok” -I shook my head and agreed.

“By the bye, you know Mr. Santhosh Thundiyil…? He had been here for the interview yesterday. He has done few films so far. Is he your friend..?- Khalifa asked me.

“Yes, I know him very well and he was my senior in the Institute and he is a very good Cameraman”- Then I became fused like a balloon……

“This is my visiting card”, “e-mail to me about Cinema and also about your new works…, keep in touch…take care…” Khalifa then lighted up a cigarette and went outside the room.

I gave my certificate copies, CV and few other CDs of show reel to Adnan and returned back to Kerala.

I was the Chief Cameraman of Kairali TV at that time and I entered in to my regular works. Mean while I telephoned Santhosh. He said, he is not yet decided and may not go for as a regular employee. He also said, ‘he might go only for certain works, if Khalifa calls…..’

Any how I had to escape from Kairali TV after monotonous daily works. I joined there due to financial crisis as well it was led by the Senior FTIIan-K.R.Mohanan and with other few Leftist Film Directors and Producers of so-called Art-Cinema in Kerala. I’m not revealing any thing here, what had happened to Kairali after one year. Also I dreamt that for me going to Qatar would be a kind of different experience. I began to send e-mails to Khalifa and he used to reply to me often.

After 2-3 months I received a mail Khalifa and in that it was written that…” You have been selected as D.O.P of Qatar TV”. Please send Original Certificates to the Recruiting Agency in Mumbai and do medical test and start immediately”. “I’ve to shoot a short film urgently…. Nandan, please …make it fast….”

I did all the requirements and with few other recruited crews (Operating Cameramen, Sound Recordist and Editor) I reached Qatar TV from Mumbai on 26th Oct-2002.

The very next day we were engaged to do the work for Khalifa Al-Muraikhi`s project and were taken directly to the location in a grave yard. It was a short film; half shot in Digi-Beta by a Jordanian Cameraman- Jihad.

That Cameraman was shooting a scene. He stared at us and Khalifa introduced him and other crews to me and others.” Islamaleiukkum...” Ki fil Haal, Shekbarrak…Teyyeib….” I did not understand any thing except the word …. ‘Islamaeuikkum’

I looked at him and shook my head and replied. “Ok, fine… How are you?”

“Suno-fi…” I could not answer for that Arabic word and then I insisted Khalifa to continue with the same Jordanian Cameraman.

Then Khalifa replied… “No….. No… Nandan, Actually I was waiting for you to come to shoot my story in Film format, there is no body to operate the film camera which we have in TV. There had some problem in arranging VISA for you people, since QTV didn’t approve the budget and it was not sure you people will come here this time.”

“What’s the reason?” I inquired.

“QTV Director told me, it would possible only in their next budget. But I pressured and now you are here, I’m happy…” Please Nandan, do the Camera for this scene….”

I again looked at that Cameraman Jihad, and asked his permission by a gesture. He lighted a cigarette and glanced, shook his head and walked away from there.

We started the shooting, I saw that Cameraman Jihad was arguing with Khalifa away from us and then he left that location by his car. We were not happy with that.

“He is an Idiot..! Doesn’t know what is Cinema and the shots… let him go... ‘Harraamie..!.. Himaar…!” Alright guys… keep the camera on the track…..”... He approached the boy who is acting in that scene and gave him some instructions.

-‘The scene was... the poor boy lost his beloved father, died by a sudden heart-attack and has been buried in that grave yard… boy is searching his father in the grave yard…after long waiting; in the night, the soul of his father comes to the weeping boy and consoles him by hugging and advising him about the short life in this world and the soul disappears…….’ I liked that spiritual and philosophical idea.

We did with our good lighting and also with track shots, completed that scene shooting. We created the soul with smokes and white dress…appears and disappears by steady-block…. The director was very happy. It continued through out the night. The very next day after noon the scene was to capture shots of burial, the camera was in a big pit in the grave yard and the relatives of the boy burring his father, the boy sees all the happenings… then the Director told me to keep the camera in a hydraulic Crane, which was using there in the grave yard for to move heavy items, to get a high angle shot. And the shooting continued for few more days.

Qatar TV is just like our Doordarshan within a large compound like FTII and I found out that there is no Film Wing separately. They engaged me to do Studio lighting and Camera positioning and also work as D.O.P for a large out side event with multi-cams. There had a huge set eructed for Ramadan programme.

They liked my works with other newly recruited Indians. Then they put me in the studio permanently as a Lighting Director and I was under Salah-Al-Emadi- The controller of Technical Affairs. Arabs will not believe any one until he proves his caliber through his work.

When I inquired Salah Al- Emadi (who don’t know English very well) about the Film Wing; he answered me that, they were using 16mm film cameras 30-35 years back when Qatar TV started and there was a Film Camera Section. Egyptians and Syrian Cameramen were working there by the guidance of few BBC team. He also said one more thing. Here there is no post for a D.O.P. You are the Photography Supervisor… Director means…. “Mutheer (TV Director). It was Khalifa`s mistake to select you as a D.O.P. I didn’t give any reply to him for that. I knew that he had only the Upper primary School certificate.

He also said-“Kumar you go and search some equipments lying outside and also search some old cameras abandoned in the store room”.

I went out side TV and searched every where; I could find some 16mm Movieolas, Arri16mm printing machines, Tele-cine machines, 16mm projectors, processing units, Title makers and projector printers… and also so many cans of unexposed films. Some machines were not even used and were lying years outside the TV under the sun and with full of dust. I told my self. ‘If these machines were in India, we would have utilized this for 16mm works and made money out of it. If Adlab or Prasad people find these in this stage’... oh…! I sighed.

Then I went to the store and talked the store keeper for the Film cameras.

He laughed at me and said, “Why do you want to see those old cameras…? Gentleman …! Are you planning to take TV to its old period…? Are you mad…….? Do have permission... First you get permission and come…” The store keeper was a Pakistani-Mehmood Hassan and he laughed and humiliated me in front of his other office bearers.

“I’ve permission from Salah Emadi”- I replied.

“Ahsaan, get the key of that old store and show those old cameras to this Gentleman…” Pakistani stared at me... ‘You know, Gentleman, that cameras are expensive and don’t touch with your hand… ok. Please go and check it...” I laughed in my heart.

Ahsaan took me to a godown kind of store, where I found out in one corner too many 16mm Cameras with tripods, lenses and cases… lying here and there. There were also too many electronic old equipments.

I checked some Arri16BL Cameras. I knew some of them were in good working condition. After that, I realized one thing…. It was only a dream of Khalifa Al-Muraikhi to re-start a Film-Wing in TV. ‘Let God help him and me…’ I took a deep breath and left from there.

I continued the Studio lighting and Studio Camera works………………. They liked my works, especially lighting. The authority asked me to continue with that, when I inquired about Film works. I fed up with the same monotonous works. I met Khalifa after that. He took me to his home. In his house, I could see a place with projector and Film based books. He showed me some classic films in which some of them I have seen in FTII during studies. He gave me some books to refer. I said, I’ve seen films before and I know what is Cinema.

After talking with him few more days, I realized that, he is a graduate of Theater and Film Direction from University of Southern California and also from Chapman’s university in US. Qatar TV sent him to US for to study about Cinema with a Govt. Scholarship. He was in America with his family for 8 years. He came back and planned to start Film Division in TV. He told me that QTV has been not giving him any support for that. There needs few Cameraman and Editors … etc for TV. They sent him to recruit few good professionals from India for TV with Adnan. Then I came to know that, why Adnan was arguing about Film and Digital technology during interviews. He also showed me some of his short film works which he directed while he was in US. Khalifa`s mind was filled with high imaginations and very neo-realistic ideas. His thoughts are highly philosophical and spiritual. While he used to reveal some stories to me, I compared them with Iranian Films. I also gave him some encouragements. He promised me that he would do some works only with Film Cameras.

In between, while I was having lunch with him in his out house-‘majlis’, 2 boys came and he introduced to me and said, “ I’ve Five children… this is Jabber and Jassim ; there are two more girls and then one boy…”. I looked at them and wished… “Hello Jabber and Jassim… How are you? What about your studies…”….Etc. They told me that, they were also interested in Cinema.

After some time the house-maid came with a flask of tea and I saw a small kid in her hand. While she put the flask in front us, there comes another boy child…” Ipa…Ipa (father)…” he was calling Khalifa.

Suddenly Khalifa looked at me and laughed. I didn’t get that meaning.

“Yeh… take them home... quick…”- Khalifa told to that house-maid. I walked outside to wash my hands. Then I saw, few more kids playing in his garden with toy cycles and other things.

I didn’t ask or inquire about that to Khalifa. But the same day, I knew through his Car driver-Suleiman that, ‘he has 10 children’. (After 5yeras, I realized that, Khalifa had one another ex-wife with twins’ boy. I saw them once in Jazeera Children’s Channel)

Whatever it is, Khalifa has a dream to make films... I planned to stay in QTV. After few months I met Khalifa on my way to TV. I asked him” Khalifa... shall we do some thing..?”

“Nandan, why are you wasting your time here in Qatar…? Go back to Bombay and do some film works… Qatar TV is bull-shit…! I have submitted a project to The Director and he said, ‘the budget is too high and not possible to shoot with Film camera’. I don’t know …. I will shoot only with film camera… Nandan, otherwise I will resign from TV... Please don’t waste your time here...” He was furious and walked out. I wondered. ‘Did I choose a wrong place to re-start my career...? Ok, whatever comes… face it? I took a decision. One year passed like that.

At last, Khalifa`s Docu-fiction Film Project approved by the TV director (I came to know that, he had been submitted a very high budget to shoot a docu –fiction, with that money we could complete a feature film with all masalas. Here in TV, one project means- doing a programme as well as making instant money out of it. Qataries will not do any work with out money, even though they are getting monthly salary).

“Nandan…” “Give me a list for all equipments including camera, lights, sound and all crew you need for to shoot” “prepare every thing in writing”– He telephoned me one day. I was very happy and the very next day I submitted the entire list by typing to him.

“Nandan...” “Come to the Souq- Waqif (one Iranian souq here in Qatar), I want to discuss the script with you…” Yeh..! “You know one cafeteria near the mosque called –Bismillah”…. “Come there... it’s urgent, right now…” “Ok, I will wait for you there at 2pm”

“I should get permission from my boss…, please talk to Salah Al-Emadi for that”- I replied.

“What…! What nonsense you are speaking… you came for my work… Salah Emadi? ‘Kalli-valli’ Salah… you must come to that place right now... I shall talk to him later…. O.K…”

“I will come”. But before going to meet him, I called Salah Al-Emadi by phone and asked permission, he said Ok.

Few old Qataries were inhaling ‘hookah’ smoke in that Cafeteria. Khalifa was also taking the same there and was waiting for me. I also ordered for a ‘hookah’

He explained about the story, it was about the Bedouin- Nomads, style of their life and their carpet weaving which has been forgotten from the memory of modern Arabs. When the exploration of oil in gulf, the Nomads (Bedouins of Arabia) left their traditional carpet viewing and migrated to the cities.

“We will have to recreate some scenes... Nandan, it should be exactly similar to that time and space... Are you getting my points… Nandan?”- He took a deep puff and exhaled……

I was in an imaginative mood, suddenly I replied...... “Yes, I know… we will do it Khalifa…, are you shooting with 35mm camera?” I was enjoying that apple tasted hookah smoke.

“There is no budget for that. We will shoot with 16mm camera which we have in the store… found out a better one from the store tomorrow itself and check the condition…. I’ve 2-3 cans of old stocks of Eastman Kodak; I brought from US and have been kept in cold storage in my home. We shall experiment with some trial before shooting… alright…”

“Listen… if you need any thing to buy, give me a list immediately”- I knew that, he was thrilled and ready to shoot from the very next day. I didn’t deny to his instructions.

The next day again I went to the store to check the camera; Pakistani asked several questions to me, I didn’t reply to him much. I found out one box of Arri 16BL and checked inside. Fortunately there were camera and accessories, except the matte –box inside it. I took it outside. I wanted to find out the tripods and batteries. Also the matte box and blimp cover for few block lenses. I got the tripod s from one another old store, where there 16mm camera accessories were dumped years back. From there I could find out so many filters for zoom lens, in which so many of them were not been used at all. I took every thing outside from there, cleaned it and issued in my name to take it home where I was staying. I’ve ordered one Egyptian technician to replace old cells inside the re-chargeable 12volt batteries.

Adnan Al- Mubarak who had come for the interview in Mumbai was the Head of Electronics; He came in between and told me after watching those equipments….

“Mr.Nandakumar…. take this camera, please don’t bring back to TV…. khalas…keep it aalathool (keep it with you through out)”. “Khalifa and his Film…. Majnoon Khalifa”………. “Inta fee mallum Majnoon…. Crazy… Mad…!” He was laughing him self, I didn’t reply for that.

In the home, I cleaned the camera with blowers and removed all dust and loaded with a dummy film roll and connected to the battery. ‘Oh…my God..! It’s running with correct speed…!’I tried with variable speed also. It was a success. I showed that to my room-mates.

Immediately I telephoned him-“Khalifa…’ it’s working… but there is one problem, we don’t have 25 and 12mm block lenses... Oh…and also blimp cover for the block lenses.” Since we had a plan to shoot only with block lenses. Khalifa was happy.

“Alright, Nandan. I will come tomorrow to your home to take you with camera and we will shoot some thing my old stock…. Ok”. “We will buy that block lenses and blimp cover or what ever from outside” Don’t worry… Nandan.”

“It will not be available Khalifa…. and also where will you process that trial stock….” I asked

“I’ll tell you about all tomorrow… first you shoot and check the camera is working or not... Ok” He kept the receiver down.

Next we (Associate cameraman-Roy, Gaffer-Balasudhakar, Sound-Vinod, Editor- Thanka Kumar) went to his house. With Nagra and clap, Vonod Singh was ready for to take sound. I loaded the camera with 16mm stock and measured the light. We shot few scenes of his children playing and also tried with long shots and close ups. We used all lenses we had and also tried variable shutter speed.

“Nandan…. Listen to me, this stock I’m sending to Prasad Lab in Chennai and these are the website to buy used cameras and accessories… have a look and give me a list to buy”…. “It will reach you by courier soon from London… Ok. Every body have a cup of tea, guys… please come to my majlis”. I looked at him and understood that, he was full confident and also prepared.

Immediately I searched the internet in his system and found out more details of those accessories. Then we sent mail to that company for ordering.

We got used accessories with few Tiffen filters and also enough film stock to shoot by courier within one week. After few days the result of the trail also reached from Chennai by tele-cine. We checked also the shot rushes with an old 16mm projector which Khalifa had in his home. It was satisfactory except few scratches. I knew it before; that, the color of the processed stock would be different due to old stock.

Khalifa and we went to see the location; few more Qataris who are from our production department were also accompanied. Khalifa had been arranged few original Bedouins (Nomads) and they had been reached that location with few women by their Land-Cruiser Cars. I wondered after watching them but did not show off in front of them. The men and women were all with new style of traditional dresses.

Khalifa explained to me about each scene to be shot in that location. Then he asked the Bedouins to where should the tents to be erected. With their natural style; they looked at the sun and the direction of wind flow. The main thing to follow was the tent opening should not against the wind, if there is heavy wind; the wind may take the tent away from that area. I also noticed few desert shrubs (small trees) to keep for suggestions instead of showing the bare land. I knew after reading one book that, Nomads used to stay in places where there is water and leaves for their animals, since they were highly depending their domestic animals for living, mainly for food.

We asked the set designer to erect tents in some areas and also to keep the old properties which Khalifa already collected from their cultural ministry. Then we went to see some other areas. We had to find out sand –dunes area where the tourists are not exploited much and we found out that place near the American base in Qatar. We marked that place also for to erect a tent for a girl child who is dreaming while sleeping inside and through her dream, we are revealing the story.

We also got few other Iranian women, boys and girls to act in that fiction, since the original Qatari –women or children will not appear for shooting or show their face in front of the Camera. For them it is against their belief (now it is violated in some areas) and culture. Khalifa selected few real faces those who were apt for his subject.

So, the days came for shoot. We have a system in TV to get the order from our respective Department. When I asked that, the subordinate of Salah Emadi; Imran, he told me “Suno fi...… mamnu… mafi... permission…! Inta shokal light…maafi musavar… kallam Salah..!(It means- I’m working as a Light man not as a Cameraman, go to Salah and ask permission, He cannot give...)” I called Khalifa and told about this matter.

He came to that scene immediately and shouted at Imran- “Nandakumar maafi nafar mal lamba…, nafar aadi Mutir Tasweer..! Yeh... Allah, khalas…. ana kul Salah… maafi muskil… Ok, Imran...” (He is not here for lighting; he is the Director of Photography).

He rushed to meet Salah and also to Khlid Ali Al Naama – who is the Director of Programmes to get permissions for me and it was for one month. Finally they gave permission and Khalifa`s anger subdued.

We did the shot-break down and also made the shoot –schedule. I also prepared every thing like type of stock, filters and lights...Etc to be used for each shots and scene.

Lights have been arranged from TV, but we didn’t get even one HMI. The HMIs which QTV has been used before were all under maintenance and damaged after using by many outdoor shoots like serials. So I had to make few reflectors and cutter stands, low bases… Etc by outside sources.

There were no proper light boys or assistants. We got few Iranian Boys arranged by production and they were unaware of lighting.

The schedule was fixed for 18 days shoot. It was in January 2004. Dec-Jan is the best time for shooting, since it is winter and the sky will be blue and clear for shooting. But you cannot predict any thing in the desert. If it is clear in two days, the next day will be dusty with heavy wind and after that cloudy. Then it starts rain drops, then extreme cold wind.

We started the shooting in the desert, the place called- ‘Shahaniya’. There were few Camels, sheeps, goats and roosters and hens…etc have been arranged by the production team. Khalifa placed them in some areas. We had to wait for the so called Artists – Bedouins. They came with their Land Cruisers. Khalifa wished them all. The return wishes will also take more time. They used to wish each and every body by touching the tips of their noses or the cheeks. They came with the costumes which Khalifa had given them the day before. Khalifa explained them about the scenes to be shot.

The elders were aware of their past life and they themselves arranged and prepared for the shooting by placing the properties and positions. We started with a track shot (tracks were made by Khalifa himself) to show their life in the tents.

Their life starts with preparing “khaava”- a kind of coffee beans crushing with few other ingredients and boiling. After drinking that coffee they will start their daily life….

Then milking the animals, releasing the roosters and hens out from its coop, and then sending the boys to grace their animals… etc. Khalifa was capturing all those moments of the Bedouin life

Our story was based on the carpet viewing and we were concentrating each shots and scenes to be shot, the children used to collect the sticky wools of the animals from the thorny plants and also by cutting the hairs of goats and sheep. Women used to sort out the gathered wools … etc- coloring the sheep’s white wools with natural colors, making threads… then to the handicraft viewing method…. .

Khalifa has been referred some books about Bedouin’s life in the desert; their hard, rough and struggled approach towards the adverse climate in that dryness and also well studied about their costume, properties were using, animals….etc. So he was very keen in directing each scene. Instead of taking verities of different shots, he told me –“Nandan, I will not directly approach the subject, each frame should convey the message through the visuals…. May be there will not be too many dialogues, continuity…etc, but I may use sound to enhance the situation….. It will be our Arabic music and all…I know what to do…”

“I can understand your mind Khalifa… I’m with you….don’t worry” …… Roy…. Give me 25mm, let’s change the lens and also get 200T loaded magazine…” I was using 200T film inside the tent scenes.

I found out one thing that, the women were not removing their ‘pardhhas’ from their faces. I asked Khalifa to remove that from their faces, since in their past life they were not wearing ‘pardhhas’ while doing house hold works, except while the guest come to their tent homes… Also they will not use black gown but used to wear colored dress…. Actually they were wearing, but it was all covered with nice black gowns.

I could see only their eyes and with full black gowns. The tent was black and the costume was black, to whom I lighted up? To the faces or the whole scene…? I confused, there was no separation from the back ground and using the reflectors were also difficult. When I was using hard side of the reflectors, the women were objecting for that…

Khlifa tried his best to convince them for to remove the ‘pardhhas’and also the black gown. They denied.

They used to cover their faces if there is an outsider’s presence or if there is camera in front of them. Again in order to bring the originality to our film; I tried my best to speak about that to Khalifa for to remove that gown, When he spoke to them again for that, they called some one by their mobile and began to leave that place. They became arrogant and about to leave after quarreling with Khalifa. Then we had to compromise for them. We continued our shooting.

The next day, the whole scene changed. It was too windy and when we reached there, most of the erected tents were collapsed and it took time to re-do the few of those tents and the properties. While shooting, the reflectors were dancing; the poor Iranian boys tried their best to hold it, even though they were unaware of where to concentrate the light. I shouted at them but it was a failure. Since if you shout at them they would leave that area and will do some thing else with a cigarette in hand. You can see them with cigarette in their mouth continuously. Some how we managed that day’s shootings, but I was not happy.

The next day, the atmosphere was covered with full of dust along with wind and we could not even go to that location. So we canceled that day’s shooting, it continued one more day and then there was clouds in the sky. Any time it was about to rain. But it didn’t happen except few drops. In the desert if we are in Dec-Jan, the climate changes will happen in a sudden. You can see one morning the atmosphere with full fog or with dust or heavy wind or cloudy sky or hazy or rainy or clear sky. It will be too cold after that. Rest of the season will be humid, dry and hot sunny.

There were scenes that, the tents resist heat of the sun, cold wind, dust and also rain. When I informed Khalifa about to shoot those scenes in natural mood, he told me to complete the artists shot first, leave them free and after that we would take. I agreed. But when we planned for to shoot those climatic changes, there was nothing. The atmosphere was very clear. There was nothing else to shoot. Khalifa became mad. Some how I managed the dusty wind portion by keeping 2 big pedestal fans, Iranian helpers flowing dust in front of that and also by shaking the tent from behind. The actual scene was the women calling their children to come inside the tents, men gathering their sheeps and camels to one place, roosters to their coop and then covering the tents openings. Every body will be safe inside. But there was no wind, no dust… nothing. I created a small portion of it and thought to shoot some other day.

You know it will be very difficult to create an artificial rain in a large area in the desert in the day time. And also there were no proper arrangements to create artificial rain. I discussed with Khalifa and the production guys to arrange two motorized water tanker vehicles and one phase welding machine to create lightning. According to that, every thing was set. We had arranged the camels and Khalifa positioned few people in some where, we had to restrict to a small area of the location. I lighted up the whole area with available lights (there were no HMIs; only few old 5KW lights,2-3 Multi-20s and few baby lights with 30 KW Generator- that’s all) with the help of Roy, Bala and Generator operator cum Electrician Abu backer. We, arranged the tanker vehicle in two positions, single phased welding machine in one place, then I asked two people to spray the water over the tent and also over the camels. Khalifa wanted to do a track shot for this; there was no rain in the foreground, we managed to follow the hose while track moves. It was a success in the rehearsal. But there occurred one problem in the lighting set up; there was flicker while the welding machine sparks the electrodes. So we had to arrange it with the help of another small generator which was available as a safety measure. We took small- small shots to show the intensity of the raining.

It was strange that, the next day it was full of muddy dust whirlpool in the atmosphere and Khalifa telephoned me to stop the journey to the location. I insisted him to shoot at least few shots of dust. He said he would call me.

After some time he called me-“Nandan…” Sorry the artists are not agreeing to come to the location when I called them. They are not ready to do any thing in this climate… sorry… Nandan cancel it….”

“No… Khalifa… Ok, I’ll go with Roy and Bala to shoot few shots there… we are ready to go…” I told him

“Its very difficult to reach there Nandan, you people don’t know any thing here in the desert… don’t go” He replied.

“Ok’…… I didn’t say any thing else, but my mind was with full of pressure. ‘He is taking too much concentration to create each detail, but these natural scenes… why he is omitting….. I’m ready to go with my assistants and shoot… if there are realities it would enhance the whole picture... I’m helpless....’

After noon he called me again…., “Nandan…! Why don’t you go with your assistants and shoot few shots…?”

“It’s too late Khalifa… it’s already 3 o` clock… it needs more than one hour journey to reach the location, it will be dark when we reach there….. Why didn’t you mention when I called in the morning Khalifa…?” I was angry at him.

One major scene was to shoot is the women with their children preparing the coloured wool for knitting and also preparing the hand weaving equipments inside their tent. It has been arranged in side one tent by the Bedouins itself; I also agreed that while arranging. Suddenly Khalifa told the called art department people to re-arrange it in side a jute-tent which was there in one area. I wondered. He didn’t ask any thing to me and arranged every thing himself.

“Nandan…” “We are shooting that area… Ok, shift your camera and crew there….” We all, especially Bedouins looked each other; crew started shifting every thing, but I stood in front of the earlier tent.

I could hear in one place the Bedouins were arguing about that shifting with Khalifa in Arabic language. By their gestures, I could understand that, they were disagreed of Khalifa`s decision. Then I took that roll to talk with Khalifa.

“Please, Khalifa…” “We are talking about the carpet viewing by using the sheep wool, also goats and camels” “So, it is better to show the tent which is made of sheep and goat’s wool as the back ground…, it’s more realistic and… why jute tent…? Why do you want to select it as the back ground…? For me it’s not digesting…? The actors also disagreeing that…. I’ll not shoot”…. Heih…! ... Please don’t shift any thing… keep it in the earlier position….?” -I walked away after speaking this to Khalifa. I called the production guy to give a cigarette and lighted up.

“Nandan… this is my film and you are only the D.O.P…! Ok, listen to me and do your work… Jute tent… what’s the problem for you? You know, jute tents were using in old days… for to live.” “We have been used the other tents too much for other scenes… so I’m changing this scene to there… I’m the director and you must obey and do the work in front of that JUTE tent. Ok…?

“I’ll not … Khalifa. I cannot agree with you and you are deviating from your subject.” “This is very important scene… if you want to shoot, you call some one… I will not do it”

He was angry and murmured some thing as his own….-‘himaar…! Intha… mukhrijh…! La…la… maafi…’ “E-ieh…! Listen…! You are not the director and I’m the director of this film, Ok, you arrange every thing and shoot… I’ll sit here…” I saw he was sitting, looking some where in a remote area and smoking. Every one was quite. I advised the Art people to re-arrange every thing in the previous position. I had to call all the artists by my own language (it was very difficult to communicate with them since I didn’t know any Arabic except few words; but Iranians …they knew Urdu language and communicate with them was easy. Only problem was; if you call them, instead of coming to you, they will go some where...). After arranging every thing, I called Khalifa.

“Khalifa… please come and see the frame… I had a doubt…” but, instead of hesitating, he came to see the frame.

“Alright…! Shoot. Don’t ask me for that…” I became confused. I don’t know the language and should not take it as granted. “Hey… Khalifa… take it easy… please direct the scene… sorry for every thing…”

“You people misunderstood me, you Indians thought we, Qataries are fools... we have also visions... Ok, Nandan it’s good…! It was my mistake… I know you are with me and 100% involved in the subject. When I’m deviating, you are helping me… keep it up… good frame” He touched my shoulder and consoled me.

“Alright… “…………………………………………………..”Then he gave instructions to the artists in Arabic. That day night he called me and talked about the next day’s shooting, he was in a relaxed mood.

One day the woman who acted in one continuity scene didn’t appear. When Khalifa called her husband, the reply was that, she could not come for that day. Then we decided to disguise one Iranian boy as that woman. We selected one and asked him to wear that woman’s continuity dress. In the beginning, he hesitated but he agreed and came with the dress. Nobody would recognize him as a boy, but he was looked like women except his walking. There were few shots in which that woman was helping her husband to collect the wool from the Camels and sheep by holding the animal and cutting the hair of them. He did that and because of that ‘parddha’ he could disguised as woman. Only eyes will be visible; so the ‘parddha’ helped us while shooting.

Next day we got few shots with cloudy sky and the life. We had to shoot too many scenes in that location and we finished all of them. Then we shifted to the sand –dunes area. The camels were shifted with the help of trucks and cranes.

We selected some place which was not exploited much by the tourists who comes every weekend. We completed the caravan moving scenes through the sand dunes with extreme warm sun light. In one place there was a tent, which is slight modern, had been erected for next day’s scene.

The time was US military invasion in Iraq. The American base was in Qatar (still it is here). We saw our location was surrounded by US military people with one Qatari Corp. The tent was occupied with them and also they were with machine guns. All those areas were damaged by their truck’s tyre marks. Khalifa and we were unhappy. Khalifa talked with the Qatari Corp and convinced him that; the tent erected was for shooting and all. They asked Khalifa to show the permission letter from TV. There was no paper with him or with production guys. Then he called the TV Director and gave the telephone to the Qatari Corp. He replied Khalifa that, the TV Director was unaware of the shooting location and Khalifa was not been informed him.

The Qatari Corp replied- “mamnu….mamnu….mafi musawar… khalas... yeh Allah… row bait (it’s not allowed, go home)”.

Khalifa was angry and looked at us-“I’m a Qatari…! I don’t need permission to shoot any thing in my country… This is my country…bullshit … these American Militaries…. Bastads…! They are spoiling every where and our Govt….. helping them, don’t they think that these idiots are looting us…. Vallah… duniya aysa hei dostom… sub log paagal hei…. Ha…ha… ha…! Mutheer maafi maallum shokal ini (Our TV Director don’t know the shooting)”- I saw the Americans were laughing.

“That idiot said they need permission letter…varaga mal mutheer televisioon… alright Nandan… we will shoot tomorrow… they also spoiled every thing… what about the tyre marks? Can you avoid that marks while shooting...?” Khalifa put his hand on my shoulder.

“I shall try… what we will do now? Shall we take any thing?”

“No not possible… right now I will go to see TV Director and get the paper, we `ve to shoot early morning tomorrow… Eeih…! Abdullah Khubaisi… take care of these people” He called the production manager and driven away.

It was the production manager’s duty to deal all those hazards, but they are illiterate and only knew about arranging food and smoking cigarettes. They used to eat first with out asking to any body in the set. Khalifa had to do all the other production duties.

Next day he showed the permission letter to the military people and they allowed us to shoot there. By two days of shooting we completed the scene of that location. The main problem which I was facing that, changing the magazines and lenses. There was fine dust of the sand dunes due to the wind. I had to use blower all the times. The sands entered in to our eyes, ears, nose and head. It was irritating. Qataries had no problem, since they were covering their face and head with their traditional ‘catarrh’ (the one which they are wearing over their head). It protects them from sun, heat, cold, wind, dust and will be clean inside while covering.

Finally we completed the shoot. We sent all the materials to Prasad Lab, Chennai as per my instructions. There was little tension, but I had confidence. We took lot of pain for shooting. I prayed well and waited, as well as Khalifa did the same.

We got the result in tele-cine and, I saw there were few scratches due to dust entered in the gates and also one or two over exposure shots. Khalifa did a rough editing here in TV and went to Prasad for final editing and print. I insisted him to make final print with liquid-gate printing. He did all the post production there and returned back with good print and tele-cine copy. Every body watched that film and appreciated.

But he kept the print as it is for long time with out even showing it to others or screening outside. The tele-cine version also tele-cast after several months. When I asked, he said-“my work is finished…. I’ll have to write for another project” I didn’t understand any thing and I also entered with few other works. Few days after, writings on ‘Threads beneath the Sands’ appeared in ‘Gulf Times’-a daily English News paper in Qatar.

After few months, I heard that Khalifa`s film won Golden Award for the best docu-fiction film in Arab Film Festival held in Bahrain -2004 Dec. Qatar TV sent Director of Programmes-Khalid Ali Al-Naama to receive that Award, Khalifa didn’t go. After talking with Khalifa he said...-“I’m not interested in Awards…who wants the Award? I’ve more projects to do… let Qatar TV approve the budget and allow me to do... That’s all”.

I advised him to send it for other festivals. He then screened that film in front of few invited guests and sent to few more festivals…. I heard he has been received few more Awards in those festivals.

After that, he did few more documentaries and short films; in that one short film and song, we did with 35mm Arri 435 rented from Mumbai along with few assistants. The camera was belonging to Jahangeer Chowdhari. I realized one thing; these people are interested in money, especially the production department. They were looting the money instead of encouraging. They will not bother whether you are shooting with film camera or digital.

I’m still remembering, while we were shooting in the late nights with 35mm format, all the so called light assistants were sleeping. Only Khalaifa, few actors, Sound guy with Naagra-Vinod, me and my assistant Rahel Salem were working through out. Even the production guy was also sleeping. I thought about our own film making style and sighed.

While working with Khalifa, there was no Asst. Director to keep the continuity, costume or property man.

We had to do all the works as our own. Some times after unnecessarily sitting idle for long hours in the day, I had to create day shots in night due to artist problem.

Once, while we were shooting in a mosque area –‘Dhakhira’ far away from Doha in one another December, we were waiting for the actors (very old Qataries and children) after arranging Camera on track and also with Gimmy-jib Crane. There was raining through out the previous days and it was very clear day after the rain. We had to finish so many scenes. And also the crew had to return back to Mumbai in that same day night flight.

It was good early morning light. We reached that location directly from the previous day’s shooting area and was very sleepy. The helpers were Egyptians this time. While waiting, I saw few of them were sleeping.

It was very difficult for me to communicate with them. This time we had HMIs and also sufficient Lights. If I would ask for the light and tracks...They will carry the lights and keep in some where and will look at my face then laugh, then speak to me in Arabic. They don’t know even one word of English. But they used to ask me about Amitab Bachan, Hemamalini and Sanjeev Kumar…etc. I knew that, in Egypt and whole Arab Countries, our Hindi films were very popular before and Amitaab was their Hero.

At last our old Qatari actors came. When we were ready for the shoot, I noticed that, in distant Khalifa was quarrelling with those old people. After some time I saw that, he is walking to and fro with a walking stick and a cigarette in his mouth. I showed that scene to my assistants. The smoke in the back light was moving along with his walk. If I would have a Digital Camera I would have been shot that scene. Khalifa`s tension and acting was that much neo-realistic. Then I approached him and inquired.

“We are ready Khalifa… what’s the matter? Where are those people?” he stared at me and took a deep smoke, I could not see his face for a moment when he pushed out the smoke from his mouth.

“Those old fellows forgot to bring their costume…. They came with normal dress” What I will do now? …They have gone out to drink tea and take break-fast …. Sorry… Nandan… I’m tired… no one helping me… I don’t think, I can finish the whole scene today…” He began to walk with his stick. Production guy Abdullah was there with his friend near his Land Cruiser. They were chatting and laughing each other...

“Abdullah… Thaal… muskil… muskil…………………………………………..” The first time, I saw Khalifa was shouting at him and also cursing himself and blaming Qatar TV. Might be it happened several times before.

“Yeh… Allah…! Surrah…Surrah…!” I understood that he sent him to Doha to bring the costumes of those old people. I knew that it would take another two hours to bring back those gowns.

“Khalifa… we can shoot some wide shots with out them and also few other shots in those old peoples are not there” I gave a suggestion to him and he agreed. Then we took so many shots and in between the old people appeared in the frame in a distance. I stopped the camera.

“Nandan, why did you stop the camera? - Khalifa was impatient.

“Our old people are there in frame walking towards us...” camera attendant and focus puller Javed looked at his watch….

“Nandan Sir, Hamko aaj zaroor jaana hei…. Ye log kya kar raha hei… ye tho ham pahali baar dekh raha hei…. Kal se doosara production hei….booking hei…. Abi thak ham kuch nahi bola… ho jayegaa aaj?” – I didn’t answer to his queries.

Khalifa touched his hand over the shoulders of Javed and said- “Tiek hei, thum log vapaz jayegaa…Bambai….Mr.javed, no problem man…..” “Nandan, let them be in the frame… will they recognize, is it seems some other people…?”

“We are shooting with 35mm film and using Ultra Prime Lenses. It will be seen in the screen”- I convinced him.

“Yei… Yei… they don’t even listen, they are dump…. Row... row (go out)… they are again coming to us…Ok, stop the camera” – they reached slowly near to Khalifa. Immediately Khalifa was questioning them again about their costume. The costume they used to wear while shooting didn’t return back and they went home with that, also no body was there to collect it from them.

“Khalifa…Intha…. maffi sen…maffi, ana row beth…. Maffi shokal illiyom….” One man said he was going back to home and would not work for that day and also he said Khalifa was not good man.

“ …………………………………………………………..” In Arabic Khalifa tried to make them understand and he himself became cool.

When the costume reached from Doha, we continued the rest of the shooting and for me it was hectic to finish it fast. His all shots were with track, few shots were with Gimmy-jib. All with slight movement except some steady shots which needed to the scene.

The crew with Camera has been sent back to Mumbai the same day, Khalifa sent the exposed material with them to Ad-lab and he went to Mumbai after few days for post –production.

After his return, he told me the result was fantastic and will not shoot any more with out proper crew and assistants. He said, he would not shoot any thing with the production team of Qatar TV.

Mean while there came another Qatari Director from US after 8 years of study in Direction and theatre (from the same University where Khalifa studied). His name- Hafiz Ali Ali Abdullah. Khalifa introduced him to me and immediately we started a documentary project. He was very fat and looking aged. After few days I realized that, he is very young and only 33 years old. His all gestures were closed to US style which I didn’t like in the beginning.

The first thing he did was testing me with camera works. He didn’t mention that to me. He took me to the deserts and asked me shoot his figure in different shots, up to his extreme close up. Then the sun set and landscapes…etc. That has been repeated several days. We talked too many things each other regarding cinema and his studies in US. He called me as “Kumar”. He gave me few books to refer and advised me to study about the composition and also about the direction part. I didn’t say any thing to him about FTII or any thing, for the time being it was needed for me to refer some film books. Since here it was dry and no one except Khalifa to communicate about film or its related matters. He also advised me to see MBC2 and Fox Movies coming in TV channels. It was a strange advice to me.

Here to understand each other is very important and also believing one’s caliber. Certificates are not important, but important is the behavior and working style.

One day he called me and talked about one subject to shoot and it was about ‘The Oryx’- The National animal of Qatar. He also gave me one DVD film-“March of the Penguins”; it was a BBC made documentary film for National Geographic about Penguins life in the artic regions. It was an excellent film with marvelous music and highly poetical. The making of the film was also there.

Then he telephoned me from his house,” Kumar…. How are you? Did you see that film? Did you watch the making of it and also the music? How did you feel?”

“Yes, Hafiz… it was fine and fantastic also I saw the making of the film, the crew captured the scenes with lot of struggles…great...! I liked it” – I replied.

“Good, I need our Oryx Film also like the same. We have to use crane, tracks, filters and wide angle lenses. We will stay in the location in tents and shoot each detail of the Oryx and its habits…prepare yourself…. Meet you on tomorrow… good-night, have a nice sleep”

“Alright Hafiz… I agreed. We shall do it … we’ll meet tomorrow…” I thought myself; so far I already have done camera work for more than 40 Film and TV documentaries when I was with C-DIT and KSFDC, and the first time one is asking me to watch a film and shoot like that.

The next day I met him in TV, Hafiz told me to buy some filters and matte box for Digi-beta Camera Lens for shooting. Then I prepared a list of Tiffin filters; its model number and gave it to him. He also told me to prepare a list of equipments including Macro-Zoom Lenses. We went to see some locations where the Oryx were widely kept in open areas by the Environment authorities. And also went to some private farms as well and also it’s breeding and research centers.

I asked him, “Hafiz…have you written any script for this work... Any rough idea?”

“Some idea is there in my mind, but not written anything, one of my friends who is a poet agrees to write about that…. Don’t worry… we will go and shoot Kumar” He replied

I understood that the work was for Ministry of Environment, Qatar and the budget has been transferred to Qatar TV for it. After issuing all equipments, we went to the location with all equipments and dresses. The sound recordist was Khalifa Al-Rumeihi. We stayed in that location in tents and there were few Iranian helpers.

On the way, He talked about few films like American Beauty, Piano, Taxi Driver, Gladiator, Schindler`s List, …Etc. But I had to retaliate him or revolt while he was speaking too much about American Films. I used to hit him by talking about our Indian Films, especially regional Language. I knew that, he was not taking any interest while talking about Indian Films, since from his talking; I realized that he knew only about old Hindi Commercials. Then I deviated to Iranian style of film making. Then we shared our thoughts and also exchanged few films mostly Iranian. Basically few of the Arab community are the migrated people from Iran, Iraq, Plastein, Jordan and Syria….. Qataries are from Saudi and also from Iran. It happened around 70-80 years back. I think, my friend Hafiz Ali Ali Abdullah’s father from Iran.

We decided to go for he shoot. He knew that, I had some previous experience in documentary shooting, especially desert life with Khalifa and one another Director Mohamed Al- Sumeity (with him I have done around 36 Episode on Desert-life as a travelogue called ‘Kyashhaat’, each 40minute). We had, two Sony Digi-beta camera; one with a wide Zoom and another with a Macro Zoom. I had two Iranian helpers for assisting. We were followed by two people from Environment Dept.

“Kumar…shoot as you like… use filters as well…” Then he went to search some other areas where Oryx were grazing. He gave me full freedom.

“Ok… Hafiz”-I started with the geography of that area and then few Oryx moving with their calves.

Khalifa Rhumeihi was followed me with his boom and head phone.

I was slowly approaching an Oryx and it’s calf with Canon33X macro Zoom -, “Don’t go near to the Oryx with its Kid…..” The Egyptian guy who was from Environment authority came with us told me in half English and Arabic.

“Leish (why)…” I asked him. Then the Qatari (from Environment Dept) who was speaking with Hafiz replied.

“The animal will attack very fast if there is kid with it… see its sharp long horns”- I was listening to him.

“The sharp horns will enter your heart and go to your back side… you will die man… Inta fee mallum mo-uth (death)” He was laughing.

“Kumar careful… don’t go near to it, we have to shoot more and more… don’t die yourself… I need you Kumar…” Hafiz was in a good mood.

Every day we used to wake up very early morning and shoot as much we could and then also in the evening. We used to watch every day’s shoot material and would discuss about the next days plan. We prepared food in the tent and slept there. The main problem which affected me during night was snoring of the Director and also one Nepali who had come for helping. Khalifa Rhumeihi was a kind of comedian and he used to talk too many jokes and will not sleep. When we used to get ready, Rhumeihi would be sleeping. It continued at a stretch of one week and returned back to Doha.

Next time we reached the location which was near to Saudi boarder accompanied with Gimmy-jib crane, tracks and also light unit. This time there was one more Cameraman Shinsho from TV.

Hafiz wanted Crane shots, track shots, and also night scenes. Moving crane from one place to another was difficult and also would disturb the animals; they will not approach, they are very sensitive creatures and run away. So we decided to keep the crane on a pick-up tying by ropes and also we kept Camera on top of a Land Cruiser, specially used for Camel Race to follow the animal.

We begun our shooting in different locations by moving the crane and follow car. We were getting only wide shots; since those Oryx were in group, running from one place to another in panic. We could not approach them to get very close. So we decided to keep the camera inside the Land cruiser, opened the back side and approached the animal.

This time it was a success, since if you are inside the vehicle the animals will not run away or attack you. We approached them, as much as we can but kept a distance away from them. But it happened suddenly, that when we approached more near to them all of them surrounded the car and began to shake their head and attacked the car. For me I got several close shots in detail and was happy, but tried to avoid any attack with their horns. The cars body was damaged by their horns attack.

Khalifa Rhumeihi was near to me for sound, but he was smoking and talking instead of keeping quite. Several times I warned him, he kept quite for few seconds and again started talking. Most of his jokes were on animal sex in a vulgar way, since that time was Oryx’s mating season; obviously there were too much mating and fights.

“Kumar…. Choof…choof…! They are fucking….. too much fuck…. Kumar…. They will die by too much fucking……see see… Eih! Kumar……You know this is Al-Maha (Oryx in Arabic) fuck. You will not see this in India” He was enjoying each trip.

“Khalif….chup…chup raho …. bandar ka aulaad….!”…. “Every where all sound recordists are talkative…. see Khalif… silent…. They will run away from us…. Please….” He was producing some unusual sound seems to be more irritating.

Hafiz was driving his car slowing in which we were sitting with Camera and sound; he was also enjoying and laughing after listening that.

“Kumar….. Without Khalifa, there is no shooting… enjoy…Kumar….” “Khalifa…. …………………………………………………” then they were speaking too many things in Arabic and was laughing loudly.

I know Khalifa Rhumeihi since 5 years; we had been working together for several documentaries (travelogues) with Mohamed Al-Sumeity. In TV; outside shooting, Qataries will not work with out Khalifa Rhumeihi. He will be their location sound recordist. He always says jokes and also cook Arabic food for us; little booze and then dance. He is the person give relief and encouragement to all. There would be little vulgarities in his jokes. Arabs like to listen to him.

“No… No… let him go with another car and sound… its becoming trouble for me… if you are not keeping quite, you go with another car Khalifa….” I continued my work. The Oryx were hitting side of the car with its horns. Khalifa was kept quite for some time and then continued his style.

We did the same tracking two more days and the Oryx were accustomed with us and they began to co-operate. They were very close to us, looking at us to give some thing as food.

In the night, we lighted up some hilly areas and put some grass in our frame. We waited, Oryx didn’t appear. Then we decided to keep little grass near to their group sleeping area and also made a rout by placing little –little grass and raw food up to the location, like a channel-path. After half an hour they slowly reached one by one. Then we used the remote controlled Gimmy-jib crane and also a portable camera for to get as much shots.

We reached that location several times; but up to that time, there wasn’t any script. We used to watch every day’s shot material and used to discuss our selves. Hafiz used to sleep in his car, since no body will sleep if he is there in the tent due to his snore; it was very loud. He was very fatty and the snoring used to disturb others.

Every day before sleep, he would say-“Kumar I’m thinking how to edit the material and also to prepare a script for this film”

We had gone 2-3 other locations; breeding centre, one protected area near the sea north of Qatar called ‘Shamal’, near to Bahrain area to shoot the same and also one private farm where the Germans as vetinary doctors who were researching the Oryx. Just like that, we were completed two months shooting and consumed more than 40 Digi-beta tapes.

One day while we were shooting in an open area, with out any planning, I found that two Oryx started fighting and suddenly it became a big fight, then chasing and marking the territory and discarding one from the group. The second unit Cameraman Shinsho was shooting some other area. I called him-“Shinsho….turn the camera to the fighting scene….. fast” he also turned the camera from a distance. We got all those fighting scenes. With two Cameras it was giving two different shots. It was the fight of male domination among the group.

It was his desire to shoot some helicopter shots. Several times he discussed with me about that, but I was trying to avoid that to hide my inability to do that. It was a kind of run away, since I didn’t have any kind of previous experience shooting with helicopter. Here, there is no proper method to shoot with helicopter. We will have to keep the camera hand-held without any security in an open helicopter which owned by Qatar Military wing.

When he decided, my blood-pressure increased and due to hypertension, I had to consult the Doctor. We went to see the location with one small helicopter in extreme cold wind in one morning, from the military helipad. I shut my eyes and shivered while sitting in the back seat of it. My cap and sun-glass flied away due to heavy wind. I could not hear anything what the Pilot was keep on advising me. I thought I would die and began to vomit. The pilot landed the helicopter in the desert and allowed me to vomit full.

Pilot Khalifa Al- Mahamoud asked- “Kumar…what have you eaten before the travel…? Chapatti… subji…? Don’t you know should not eat heavy food before travel? Aah… jaldi…there is no time…” I looked at him but didn’t answer any thing. I was so tired. I had eaten only bread sand-wich and a glass of milk as breakfast. I swallowed one tablet for to prevent the vomiting tendency. He spoke some thing in Arabic with Hafiz.

“Hafiz, let’s go back… I cannot travel…” I said.

“What Kumar…. Don’t worry, we are with you… we must go and see the place.” Hafiz called me to get in to the helicopter.

It took another one hour to reach that location. Pilot Mahamoud didn’t say any thing to me through his head phone as advice. I kept quite. We reached that location and Hafiz told him to fly very low to the ground to see Oryx in groups. They began to run away by groups and the pilot followed them. I was managing myself with my sitting position.

“See Kumar…we want to shoot from top like this… yes, this I want… see” He raised his two hands to make a frame with his fingers and turned his face to me. I shook my head to agree for that.

“Mahmoud… choof…choof… Al-maha…minnaq…. raw. (See one group of Oryx, go there)” … “Kumar… have a look, prepare yourself to get the shots in next trip”. He was in panic after observing it.

“Ok, Hafiz… I will see…” The helicopter was taking sudden turnings and I was about to fell down from it. I realized that my seat-belt has been freed from locking. I managed to adjust it by holding. Then the pilot landed the copter on ground. I jumped from it and sighed, but didn’t show my tension to them. Hafiz explained several shots to be taken and planned to go back as fast to save the fuel to reach back Doha. After that I was in bed for two days.

We went to the same place ‘Abu Samara’ by helicopter with another French Pilot to shoot Arial view of the Oryx group and terrains. The French Pilot was very soft in nature and he flied as per my instructions.

I kept the camera as hand-held and hold with firm grip to shoot as much as by avoiding too much shake. I became more confident each time and took more conscious. We succeeded it by going there 2-3 times with the same French and Qatari pilots. The Qatari Pilot was happy after saw my confidence as well Hafiz.

We studied about the nature of that animal with the help of environment people and followed the rest of the shoot according to their suggestions. For the entire 40 minute Documentary, Hafiz took 3 months and 60 Beta-tapes. Also we tried to shoot in different climates. I never had that kind of experience while I was shooting docus in India.

From that fighting, we followed that the lonely discarded Oryx and we got the thread of the theme; he developed it as a kind of poetry. The whole film reveals; the discarded Oryx speaks to us about its story like poetry. He gave the name “Return of the Oryx” to that documentary.

Hafiz Ali received the best documentary and best director award for the same in Arab TV festival in Tunis in the year 2007. And he also sent it to several Documentary Film Festivals in Europe and in Arab countries.

Apart from these two Directors, I had to work as D.O.P with one another TV Docu-Director – Mohamed Al-Sumeity; with him so far I’ve done 35 travelogues on Qatar, each having duration 40minutes.

Working with him was quite interesting, since we used to go as a team with 2 camera set-up, the presenter-Hassan Al-Mohannadi, Sound recordist- Khalifa Al-Rhumeihi, Cameraman Roy and also with few Iranian helpers.

We used to stay in tents for 3-4 days in some abandoned old villages of Arab Qatari Communities and shoot about that village life of that tribe in 40s, 50s and 60s. Now we can see, only the remains of the houses, rubbles and ruined wooden boats near the shore. They used to build their houses with rocky stones collected from the desert as well from the sea-bed. Cement it with help of lime from certain rocky creeks and sea-shore sands. The roofs were built with the help of long stem of wind-trees kept across as beams and bamboo sheets lay over it. Natural mud paste applies over that to protect from sun heat. There were windows and certain air hole system to cool the hot wind air passes through. In old days, the Arabs, depended the sea for their life, like gathering pearls from oysters in the sea by the natural diving method and also catching fish by the traditional methods.

We had to recreate the scenes some times, as well the presenter would describe about the same in that back ground. The gathered pearls after discriminating; a team of Arabs in past were used to travel to India, Malaysia and some counties of Europe to sell it and thus by they were collecting food items and other house –hold items. It was very tiresome job and struggled life. They were very rough and tough, taught by their life-style in the desert, where there was not even drinking water.

They were depending mostly by the sea or the animals. But there was unity among the people and lived in groups like tribes with group name like Mohannadi, Kowari, Suleity, Smeity, Khubaisi, Al-Naomi, Al-Kaabi, Al-Mariachi, Al-Merri, Al Obaidan, Najjar, Al-Saada, Rhumeihi…Etc. They lived in different areas near the sea.

The geography of the Desert is same in almost all places of Arabian Gulf. So we were concentrating much of the geographical features and the desert life in detail. I used to give him more authentic frames for the subject and also show him extreme close-ups of tiny plants in detail like small leaves, flowers and its seeds…. After watching those shots in the editing room, Sumeity used to call me and say…

“Kumar…. I don’t know how to describe about your frames….fantastic! ….Kumar. I did several documentaries with other Egyptian and Syrian Cameraman… but, this is wonderful… I cannot speak about that…. You are giving me what exactly I want….. Thanks Kumar… Thanks.” Some times he used to call me late night and repeat the same, and then I will say….

“Yes, this is the award from you Sumeity…. Thanks a lot…. I shall give more good frames”

“Listen…. we must go early morning tomorrow to one place and it is far away from here…. Take every thing including sleeping bag….may be we will stay there…. Don’t forget to tell this to Roy… prepare every thing”

“Ok, my dear friend…good night….” I used to arrange every thing before travel. Up to now, four and half years we are continuing the same in certain seasons.

Every year there will be 2-3 days of shower or heavy rain, which also restricted to some areas. Rest of the time, it will be too hot, windy, dusty, humid and cold then foggy. Humidity is high in hot seasons. Qatar is a small country and it’s a peninsula, north of Saudi Arabia. The climate will change according to the north and south wind and it will be in a sudden. If there is any change of climate in Saudi, it will affect Qatar.

Two weeks after raining, the winter starts and the desert will be covered with green grass and other small shrubs and plants. In some areas, you can see ocean of flowers. Desert became a kind of paradise for 2-3 weeks.

We were shooting those scenes as like National Geographic Programme. That kind was the first time in Qatar TV’s history. There will be all ways two digi-beta cameras, Normal-wide-zoom lenses, tracks, crane, light units, small hiding cameras; under water cameras and helpers. In that spring, there will be too many birds and flies. In green areas, there will be desert animals like camels, sheep and goats. Then lizards, small snakes, scorpions, rats and then foxes. The rain water will be stored naturally in some rocky and low plateaus. In old time, the Arabs used to dig wells in that low plateaus for to live certain period in tents as well to feed their animals. They were very much aware of the collected water inside the rocky areas of the water flow, after the one or two days raining. It will be a treasure for them to use fresh water supply for few days. It will be highly protected by aged people. We could shoot all those parts from the first rain drop falls on ground to the vanishing of spring season. The beautiful grassland and small life of flies will end within 3-4 weeks and again the desert will be dry, remaining small thorny trees.

Director Sumiety will not keep any script or plan before the shoot. Every thing would discuss with us in the desert while shooting. He used to say all ways- “Kumar, we will see in the editing table… go ahead … shoot as much as possible” But, while the presenter Hassan Mohannadi speaks about that areas; the Director’s involvement will be there through out, concentrate in what he should speak about.

Qatar is a small place and it’s a peninsula surrounded by the sea water with small islands in some areas. We used to shoot fishing methods and walk kilometers in the sea water with the camera, since it will be shallow and less water in low-tide time. We used to catch lots of fish and it will be the food for some time -Fish with Iranian dry ‘Khuboos’. Sound recordist Khalifa will take the role as the cook. He used to make ‘majboos’- a kind of biriyani with Indian basmati rice and meat.

In the Islands, there is no human life except thousands of migrated birds. They used to come only for their re-production, after that they will return. Two-three kind of Artic-turns, with beautiful colors coming from Artic region and Siberia, reach there in one season in extreme hot and humid to mate and produce eggs then kids. Those Islands will be always crowded with thousands of birds and also filled with their chirping sound. If we observe them, we can see the struggle of life in direct. We will think about the whole Universe and also the depth of life.

In that struggle there will be fight to survive or strive to protect their eggs or small ones. Fights some time ends with destroying other’s nest and also breaking eggs. I could see some birds were killing or discarding other bird’s kids. I used to be within the vast area of bird nests made by small stones. Waiting long hours within those bird group, the birds will be accustomed with our presence and will not fly away. The birth of small one coming out from the eggs, protecting them from sun heat by wings and see water, gathering food from the sea by male or female, feeding with small fishes….etc are quite interesting to capture. How the new born ones are camouflage themselves with its surrounding area is amazing and wonderful. After born, the basic instinct of each life is written and can be seen in front of us.

The life..!…. It is too short, not only man....there are crores of creatures….on the land areas, in the sea and in the air…. Milky-way is only one galaxy…. Of course, there are too many other galaxies; may be there will be another milky-way with life in that..?…. Life …. What happens after death? Every thing in the universe is in the form of matters….Matter is the form of molecules…then atoms….electrons…protons….nucleolus…. all are vibrating….. Even the mind; it’s also the form of certain vibrations….. What kind of energy keeps us alive and tends to think? The intellect, memories, character….After death, do the energy forms in to another life or do berth in the womb of any one? Do we berth as an amoeba or whale…..? I don’t know…. My mind used to go some where while traveling… I used to sit alone and think about the existence of life.

These Islands are far away from Capital Doha, inside the sea and we used to reach there by speed-boat after traveling 4-5 hours and stay there in temporary tents for 4-5 days. The surrounded area of islands, the sea is with full of creeks and corals. Underwater, you can see too many sea-bed lives with beautiful fishes. So, we used do under water scenes with special under water cameras. The Director with two of us (Cameramen Roy and me) swims with full suits and it’s a craze and wonderful experience.

We used to shoot each and very details of the Geography of Island and as well the birds. In one Island, there are only rabbits; one with full of mangroves and other life in between. Sea turtles used to come in some areas to lay their eggs. We got the shots of them by waiting hours in the night with small lights. Sea-gulls, cranes, different types of Sea-eagles and other different life can be seen in some other place.

Several times, we had to wait long hours to go back since, low-tide reduces the water level in the sea, and the boat will stuck in the shore. It was a heavy exercise to push it back to the sea depth, we used to wait up to the water comes.

We used to light up certain areas (old village remains, sea shores, fishing in night, tents and cooking, jungles… etc) in the night and shoot scenes with Hassan Mohannadi and the related subjects...

Some times, Sumeity and I used to talk several matters about the philosophy of life, the universe, their struggled desert life in the past, stars, moon, death…etc. If Khalifa or Hassan and Roy come to the scene, the topic will change and it became more fun. Arabs like sexual related subjects more than any other topic. We used to sleep in open places looking at the stars and listening Arabic songs….it’s a wonderful experience in some times. It tends you to open the mind; especially, if you are sleeping in the sand dune areas in the night.

Sand dunes and the inland sea, also different rocky areas with blue sky take you to the world of other planet life….

The infinite horizons take your mind to think about the existence and matters of life…….

The world with out green and eternal vastness haunts you to the spirituality of life…..

Al-Jazeera Children’s Channel decided to produce a Film called ‘Garangavo’ in Feb-March 2008. They called Khalifa Al-Muraikhi, Hafiz Ali and me to do the film for them from Qatar TV. This time Khalifa decided to write the script and Hafiz Ali to do the Direction part. I’m the D.O.P. We were deputed officially for that task. They also took Mohamed Al-Banna as Sound Mixer from QTV.

The budget was too high and I though, if it was in India, we could have make at least 3 low budget and artistic films. This time, there were Production Manger, Production Executive, 1st AD and 2nd AD, Script Supervisor, Art Director, Casting Director, Costume Director, Sound Recordist, Boom operators, Special Arabic property Supervisor, Light Units with Arri lights, Crane Unit, Generator operator, Electrician, Camera Assts, Associate Cameraman, Steady-cam operator and Helpers….etc.

A team of people launched from Lebanon exclusively for that with high remuneration and also few from Egypt. The track and trolley reached from Bahrain. So it was a kind of superb experience for me to work among mixed Arab culture.

Every thing was pre-planned and Hafiz prepared the story board with the help of a Syrian Sketching Artist Ahmed. So while shooting, we were following the story board but added too many shots in addition to that.

For me, it was a kind of Diploma film shooting, since Hafiz was doing his 1st film project after his graduation from US Film School. There were too many misunderstanding with Lebanese team and when ever they were tried to over power, Director Hafiz and his bothers Hamad and Hajri worked as team to revolt that. Few Lebanese were kicked out and send back to Lebanon including the 1st AD Magdalene.

The real Qatari women or children were not appeared for acting, so that Hafiz had to give options to Iranian Women and Children for acting major roles. But Qatari men were there to act. Most of them were not familiar in acting or faced in front of Camera except an Iraqi actress Hana Mohammed.

The main location was in a permanent village set designed and erected by Qatar TV before 12 years to shoot some serials in ‘Zakrit’ away from Doha in side the desert.

To shoot the past period scenes, there were no other locations since all old Arab Villages were abandoned or ruined after the migration to city life when Petrol came. The climate changes and dusty winds affected severely while shooting. The desert life is so slow and we feel ourselves while work, due to the extreme dry weather. So it was very difficult some time to get the artists in time or they were not bothered about the time or script.

For me, the lights I got from Jazeera Channel were excellent ones made by ARRI. There were 6KW, 4KW, 2.5KW, 1.2KWand 575W HMIs brand new but, the Egyptian light boys were unaware of lighting except, carrying lights from one place to another. So me and my Asst. Rahel Salim Siddiqui (cameraman in QTV) from Mumbai had to do all lighting. I also got some help from Jaffer who brought Tracks-trolley from Bahrain. The Director wanted source lighting and very perfection in framing and movements. All shots were with tracks as well with crane. We were in good sink and I was shooting with full involvement. After long time, I was getting an opportunity to work with full team.

The camera was Sony HD Cam. While shooting with HD Cam, I realized that it needs the same lighting and exposure values of Film format. Hafiz plan was to blow-up the edited version to 35mm Film format.

Hafiz did all the post production in Turkey and also the final print.

After 'Garangao', Hafiz planned to do a documentary on the origins of Cinema in Qatar named -'Scent of Shadows' ; produced by Qatar TV in collaboration with British Council, Doha. We completed that shoot and all the post production of the same have been finished so far. This film will participate as Doha Capital as Arab Cultural Festival, January 2010. It reveals the primitive screening of Indian and Egyptian cinemas in some old houses with high secret; since cinema was banned and against their religious rites. Then it's acceptance, constructed new theatre complex , exclusively for expatraites and labourers in industrial areas. Screening was not allwed for Qatary people in that theatres. Years passed; wide acceptance of cinema with high sensoring, helped Qatari people to watch Arab,Indian and other English movies publicaly. But, it had happened a sad incident ,their main public theatre had caught fire with a severe damage.and the cinema stopped for few years. They had to wait and after Qatar's independance, Govt. planned to buld new theatre complexes with modren facilities which provided better screening for all.

In the mid part of the documentary, to enhance the situation and convince more to the viewers about the burning of theatre, Hafiz has been incorporated few shots of 'Cinema Paradizo' within a frame.

Few writings of Hafiz Cinema apperaed in one English magazine have inserted here:

The approach of these Arab Qatari Film and Documentary makers towards the subjects are very realistic and highly spiritual and philosophical. Even though their living styles have been changed to ultra modern and highly materialistic; about the culture and traditions, they are aware and preserving it as well as following the tradition in few occasions. Religion is their way of life and what ever subject they select, that religious part will focus in some where in the scenario. Now these people are planning to build a Film Division with the help of Cultural Ministry and Qatar Television. Shortly, we can see that, there comes the first feature-film of Qatar.

Following comments appeared in Qatar news Agency regarding ‘Garangao’

Al Jazeera Children’s Channel produces film on Garangao

Article Date:

19:17 2008/09/13

Article ID:


DOHA, September 13 (QNA) - Al Jazeera Children’s Channel has produced a film entitled / Garangao// to be screened from tomorrow, Sunday, the 14th night of the holly fasting month of Ramadan every hegira year. Garangao, a 54-minute-long film depicts festival of children that is celebrated on the 14th day of holy month of Ramadan, is used as a motif by famous Qatari filmmaker Hafez Ali Ali Abdullah to honour the role of children in preserving Qatari culture. It depicts how tradition bridges the past to present. All cultures evolve and change, but it is important to identify the heart and soul of a culture; that part is irreplaceable – this the message conveyed by the film Garangao. The 54-minute-long film, produced by Al Jazeera Children’s Channel, was screened before a packed audience at City Center Cinema yesterday. A scene from the film Garangao, which was screened at the City Center Cinema yesterday. "My attempt was to pass on Qatar’s rich cultural past to the new generation. We want our younger generation to know how their forefathers had lived in this tiny island and how strong they were in their faith," Hafez Ali Ali Abdullah told reporters after the premier screening. The plot revolves around the dialogues between nine-year-old Dana and her grandmother. Dana, who accompanied her parents to Souq Waqef on the eve of Garangao, returns home with a lot of queries to her grandmother about the festival. Qatar’s past is thus unraveled through the memories of Dana’s grandmother. The grandma’s role was played by famous Iraqi actress Hana Mohammad. After a break of seven years, this is the first film she chose to act, Hafez said. The nine-year-old Najla Al Hashimi, who acted as the grand daughter of Hana, is a VI grade student of Al Bayan School. Ali Al Maliki, Imam Diab, Fatima Hamad Al Marri, Muhammad Al Bakri, Hamad Bawzir and Ali Zanal were among others who were cast in the film. Hafez and his crew selected Zikrit to recollect Qatar’s invaluable lore and the wisdom of the peninsula’s early generations. The filmmaker Hafiz Ali Ali is an active member of Qatari Cinema Forum and Gulf Theatrical Group. The 33-year-old film maker has more than six other works to his credit, including the award-winning documentary ''The Oryx Return", which is a path-breaking work in the history of Qatar’s documentary saga. (qna) MD

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  1. WOW NANDA, you have some patience and time to write all that. I would take a lifetime to write all this. But why? Whats the idea? I remember that letter you wrote to me. You are a star man.

  2. Great to see your blog and your work here,Good going