For the filming of The Lunchbox, several scenes had to be shot in public spaces across Mumbai, including crowded local trains and on Hill Road in Bandra. While the crew had permissions from government agencies, it still wasn’t easy to pull out a camera without attracting attention and disrupting life. To execute such scenes, the team decided to shoot guerrilla style, where Irrfan, its lead actor, hid near the location, waiting for the director’s cue. Cameras hidden inside or atop buildings in the neighbourhood would then capture them in action.
Within a minute or so — before the crowds would know there was an actor amid them — he and the crew would finish and leave, capturing the activity around them.
Such shoots were tough for the entire crew; a large part of the responsibility lay with the film’s location manager Pramod Navinder Singh.
“I’m incharge of helping the direction team find the perfect locations for the film. My team also has to seek permissions from building societies for installing cameras, and take responsibility for the safety of the actors,” says Singh. He has been in the industry for 16 years and worked on films such as The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Don (2006) and more recently, Qissa (2013), which has been doing rounds of the festival circuit.
According to Rajveer Gaur, finding locations is the easier part. The location manager talks of his interactions with the owner of the house in Dadar Parsi Colony, which was Emraan Hashmi and Vidya Balan’s residence in Ghanchakkar (2013). “She was an old lady in her 80s, living alone. She feared that the shoot was a ploy to take over her property,” says Gaur, who has also worked on Special 26 (2013) and Shootout at Wadala (2013). He is currently trying to get the Haffkine Institute in Parel to allow the crew of Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! to shoot at the site.
Dealing with the police, local politicians and party workers, while the shoot is on, is another hassle. Vishal Agarwal, who often works with Dharma Productions, says, most location managers develop a working relationship with the staff at local police stations where they regularly shoot. “But that doesn’t stop traffic police and other officials passing by to make a quick buck,” says Agarwal, who has also worked on Fukrey (2013) and recently, 2 States. A crew often ends up paying up to Rs 12,000 a day in bribes so a shoot isn’t stalled midway.
The challenges also keep a location manager’s job exciting. They have to find new locations last moment and take tough decisions at the risk of incurring huge losses. For instance, Singh got a 300-people crew for the French film Rani to change a shoot location overnight. “It began raining in Udaipur where we were filming. Keeping weather forecast and expenses in mind, overnight, I got the crew to move from Udaipur to Bikaner and start shooting at new locations while maintaining the film’s continuity,” says Singh.
Therefore, it’s important that location managers keep a data bank of locations ready. Most have database of photographs with details of most common locations — public places, monuments, interesting-looking streets and even places that can double as airports, railway stations and residences. While such places are shared knowledge within the industry, some are exclusive. “We are always searching for new places and alternatives to common locations to ensure a film doesn’t look jaded. When we come across a place that looks interesting, we click pictures and enquire around. I chanced upon an office space in Matunga recently. I am waiting now for a project where I can use its lobby as an airport waiting area,” says Gaur.