The job of first assistant directors in Bollywood is riddled with challenges and frustrations. It also brims with the potential to lead them to the directors chair.
Karan Talwar remembers how director-producer Prakash Jha explained his work profile to him when the former turned the first assistant director of Raajneeti.
Filmmaking is a lot like cooking. A number of ingredients go into making a satisfactory dish with the glory of all its flavours. You are like the sous-chef of my kitchen, Jha had said to Talwar. This has stayed with this assistant director,popularly known as AD in Bollywood parlance. This is what motivates me to go out there every single day, says Talwar,who is currently working with Jha on Chakravyuh.
Although the job looks exciting to outsiders,the primary challenge of first ADs is to bring method to the madness. Working as a first AD is a great learning curve for those interested in understanding the nuances of filmmaking. From daily progress of the production schedule,arranging logistics,preparing daily call sheets,checking cast and crew and maintaining order on the set the job varies from a glamorous one to downright strenuous. The job profile,however,is a fairly flexible one in India. Certain first ADs work during pre-production and shoot,others prefer being part of the core creative team involved in the project from ideation to release.
The biggest challenge is the job itself, says Talwar,who also worked as a first AD with Prakash Jha Productions for Turning 30 and Aarakshan. An AD has to understand the directors mind completely. One has to be flexible and make things happen, explains Talwar.
Chetana Kowshik,who has worked as a first AD for several years on Shabd,Ghajini,Teen Patti,Jhootha Hi Sahi and Agent Vinod,has a simple description of her job profile. The first ADs primary job is to execute the directors vision within the producers budget. By the time the film comes to set,the first AD is essentially the drill sergeant,sometimes benevolent,sometimes not, says Kowshik. According to her,every day comes with its own challenges.
The journey to the position of first AD can be different from one individual to another. For instance,Kowshik started at the bottom of the pecking order,as a clap-continuity assistant,whereas Rukhshida David who has worked as first AD on Udaan and English Vinglish was one of the many assistants on the 2007-film Marigold,which starred Salman Khan.
Kowshik says the current trend is to graduate from assistant director to first AD,before becoming a full-time director. There have been several directors recently who have debuted soon after their stints as first ADs. Karan Malhotra,Ali Abbas Zafar,Maneesh Sharma and Kiran Rao owe their first films success to their AD experience. Malhotra,who directed his first feature film,the remake of Agneepath,confirms his experience as a first AD to director-producer Karan Johar helped him a lot. I pre-planned all my recces and everything was on paper even before we took the first shot, he says.
Despite the advantages,the idea of a career as first AD a well-respected profession elsewhere in the world is fairly alien in our filmmaking culture. Most use it as a stepping stone to direct a film one day, says David. Talwar and Kowshik,however,say that being an AD is seen as a training ground,to eventually helm a feature film. But then,Talwar says thats the Indian mindset. In one of my earlier jobs,we had one production manager and one office boy and they both wanted to be directors, he says.