Having made it to the morning show of Shuttlecock Boys through Delhi’s rush hour traffic, made worse by the rain, the question that came to mind was, “Would it be worth it?” The low-budget, 76-minute movie had an unheard of cast, was made by an unheard of director and the storyline was far from extraordinary.
Shuttlecock Boys is the story of four friends who meet every evening to play badminton in a dimly-lit, narrow lane in a middle-class Delhi locality. One of them is a chef, the other a credit cards salesman, the third a call centre employee and the fourth a student preparing to become a chartered accountant. Each of them is trapped in a life which is not of his choice. Their only joy in their otherwise mundane existence is badminton. Then one day they decide to break free and chase a dream. What follows is an all-out struggle for which they put everything on stake — their few worldly possessions, their security, and a good night’s sleep.
In many ways the story of the four friends is the story of the film’s director, 32-year-old Hemant Gaba. A software professional in New York, he gave it all up and moved back to India in 2008 with one aim: to make a movie. After dipping into all his savings and with help from friends and family, Rs 35 lakh was all he could muster. Two other first-timers, Pankaj Johar and Thakur Dass, came on board as producers. Now began the search for actors, through online advertisements and posters put up, among other places, near the National School of Drama.
On the very first day of the shoot came the first hurdle. Half the scene had been shot in a park in Delhi when the police shooed the crew away. The film was finally ready in 22 days flat. Shot in 18 locations across Delhi (mainly west Delhi which is the director’s home), Gurgaon and Noida, it captures the colour, flavour and chaos of the capital’s bustling vegetable markets and its impossible traffic, the insensitivity of Gurgaon’s call-centre culture which has no time or patience for “personal problems” of its employees and the world of cut-throat competition we live in.
The film’s crew of 30 new-comers encountered all this first-hand every step of the way, even after the movie reached the post-production stage. The post-production lab in Mumbai managed to damage the film’s negative and demanded to be paid extra to restore it. It took about 10 months to get the matter sorted. The movie which was ready four years ago was finally shown in some film festivals last year. “A theatrical release appeared impossible until PVR stepped in,” says Gaba. After few ups and many downs, Shuttlecock Boys was released yesterday under PVR Director’s Cut Rare Initiative.
Shot on a hand-held Super 16mm camera with Chinese lanterns used for lighting, Shuttlecock Boys opens on a slow pace. In the beginning it even appears as an amateurish attempt at film-making. But give it a chance and stay with it. It soon picks up and grows on you and the characters’ struggles become your own. There is no melodrama as the men go about giving up one thing dear to them after the other to realise a dream. Shuttlecock Boys is instead an honest, organic film of life as we live it and deal with it.
Like the film’s characters, Gaba too has taken a big risk. Explaining his decision to be a filmmaker to his father, a banker who now teaches mathematics for fun, was easy. “I told him, ‘It took you 25 years to start doing what you love. I took seven’.”
So, is his effort of four years worth 76 minutes of our time? I would think so.