Ad filmmaker Prasoon Pandey says there is an "incredible back story" to how a dozen of India's top actors, including Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth and Mohanlal, came together for "Family", his virtually directed short film on the importance of social distancing in times of coronavirus. Pandey said Bachchan was most excited about the idea of the film and also came up with the idea to include an appeal about helping the daily wage workers in the film industry while Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt suggested the director to not limit it to just the Hindi film industry.
"Family" features Bachchan, Rajinikanth, Ranbir, Alia, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Diljit Dosanjh, Chiranjeevi, Mohanlal, Mammootty, Sonali Kulkarni, Shiv Raj Kumar and Prosenjit Chatterjee. All the stars speak in their respective local languages, giving it a pan-Indian appeal.
The film chronicles a family's effort to find a misplaced pair of sunglasses belonging to Bachchan's character. "The back story is incredible. Amit Ji's portions were shot by Abhishek. Nick Jonas shot Priyanka's segment, Rajinikanth ji's was shot by his daughter Soundarya. Ranbir and Alia went behind the camera for each other. Everyone was so gracious. They didn't come into the frame, but they were simply helping. They were so selfless," Prasoon told PTI.
The director even toyed with the idea of releasing a behind-the-scenes but it could not be possible in the short time he had.Prasoon said he first came up with the idea when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has praised the film on Twitter, announced the nation-wide lockdown of 21 days. He discussed with his brother, renowned adman Piyush Pandey, about making a short film that is shot, edited and acted while staying at home.
They called up Bachchan who was "the most excited." "But he said why just stop at giving message to people. We should help daily wage workers also and do something," Prasoon said.
The 77-year-old actor then undertook the initiative to provide ration for daily wage workers, which was supported by Sony Pictures Networks India and Kalyan Jewellers.
"People were not just becoming a part as actors, they were becoming part of a project. Then I talked to Ranbir and Alia, who gave me another idea: why stop at only Mumbai film industry? Why not make it pan-India. So everyone started contributing to the idea, it became even bigger."
The filmmaker added more characters to his story and got Bachchan to speak to all the other stars, who instantly agreed to come on board. As there was no physical meeting, Prasoon shot a template film at his house where he played all the characters. His son shot the template film.
"We sent that to all the actors so that they could see each shot precisely, how to frame, which direction to look, so that it connects to the next shot. I sent it on April 2 and told them it'd be great if they can shoot it by the next day and they didn't bat an eye lid. They started shooting on April 3."
Still there were glitches and retakes but all the actors cooperated without any hassle. "Their families were shooting them as they were inside the house.
I had made the template so simple, that even a 10-year-old kid could shoot it. So their own families started shooting and that's when I thought this film can be called 'Family.'"
It was harder to coordinate with Priyanka, who is currently in Los Angeles, because of different time zones, but the "Quantico" star sent in her clips just in time: day before the final submission of the film. "We started working on the music even before the film was ready. Because the film kept changing with more shots coming in, the music kept changing too. My editor, music director were working from their respective houses and all through the night we were on call, doing back and forth on the film, making the final cut," he added.
The director is relieved and overwhelmed with the response, with even PM Modi tweeting about the short film. "When you're in a project, there comes a time when you suddenly get cold feet. We were with the story right from the beginning but just before I shot the template film, as a team we started having butterflies in our stomach.
"We thought will people think that we were making a light-hearted film in these dark times? We called up Piyush and he assured us to not worry at all.
He said, 'That's the job of artistes. In dark times we have to lift everyone's spirit, so don't lose your heart'. Hence the response is so heartening," he added.