Five years back, I read a book titled ‘Directors’ Diaries: The Road to Their First Film’. Apart from introducing me to the various facets of the filmmakers whose interviews it featured, the book also introduced me to its author Rakesh Anand Bakshi. All his three books’ introduction and acknowledgments, are a deep insight to him and his world.
I was briefly aware of who Rakesh was but after reading this book, I had my first interaction with him on social media. I, then, read a book he had written and published earlier and liked it as much as I had liked this one. He has, so far, written three books. His second is perhaps the first book in the world on radio presenters, aka radio jockeys. I got inspired by a lot of different work he is doing, the enriching material he posts on his blog and social media handles (@RakBakX, X being a hug he says) and the 18 years of effort he put in to archive the work of his father, the lyricist Anand Bakshi.
I met him for the first time earlier this year. His most recent work as an author, ‘Directors’ Diaries 2 Conversations with Filmmakers: Their Path to Filmmaking’, by Penguin India had just come out and I had reviewed it. I was invited to his home and we had an elaborate conversation with him about his journey as a writer, author and filmmaker, successes and failures, how it felt to be the son of a legendary poet and lyricist, thoughtful perspectives on life, ‘Bicycle Angels’, upcoming work and a lot more. The following is a very tiny slice of the memorable conversation we had.
In the late ‘90s, you went to film school. Is that when your tryst with filmmaking begin?
Actually, I attended film school in the 2000s. In the ‘80 and ‘90s, I tried my hand at business but failed at it. Around the same time, my marriage also came to an end. Initially I felt I had failed, later I realised we do not fail if our business or marriage fails. We never fail, our deeds fail. I thought my life has become zero and so now I must press the ‘restart’ button. I thought of doing something which I liked or would enjoy doing. That is when I thought of getting into writing and filmmaking. I assisted Mr. Subhash Ghai for 6-7 years beginning with ‘Taal’ (1999). Mr. Ghai used to tell me that it is great if you have practical knowledge of filmmaking but having an understanding of its grammar would prove to be an added advantage. Mr. Ghai had studied in FTII, so he was a firm believer in formal education when it comes to filmmaking or any other discipline for that matter. You can break any rule of filmmaking as long as you can justify it. But to break the rules, you need to be aware of them first. Since I was working with Mr. Ghai on his subsequent projects, I did not have the luxury of doing a long term course in filmmaking. I got to know about this two-month long course which was being conducted at the London branch of New York Film Academy. I did that course and made two short films there which received a lot of appreciation. After that, I did a short-term course on digital filmmaking in another institute. When I was working as an assistant director, I would always feel intimidated by the actors on the set. I was comfortable talking to everybody else but was always conscious around actors. I thought if I learn acting, I will understand how the mind of an actor functions. I went back to New York and did a brief course in acting. Doing that course made me realise actors are as nervous as anybody else working on the sets. It is just that with time they learn to camouflage their nervousness (laughs). My father once told me that before every song he wrote, he felt he did not know anything about writing or poetry. When I was interviewing directors for my books, they said the same thing. They told me they gained confidence from cinematographers, actors and other people on the sets. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort and there should be no shame in asking for help. I think all people must learn acting in school itself. It made me confident for life to be able to approach anyone and have a conversation.
In 2003, you wrote your first film ‘Out Of Control’.
Yes, that was my first film as a writer. A couple of years after that, I wrote the Hindi dialogues for Walt Disney’s ‘Million Dollar Arm’. I choose to work with people whom I could connect on a personal level. I try to collaborate with people who are positive-minded and are generally nice to hang around with, people you have a first cup of tea or coffee with and can’t wait to have another one with them.
Why has the volume of work been so less?
I was always interested in writing. I wrote a lot of scripts over several years. I wrote the scripts for feature films, pitched shows for television but most of it did not take off. At one point of time, I felt very dejected. That is when my sister suggested that I should write a book. I liked the idea and I started thinking about what I should write a book on. I had a fair amount of knowledge on filmmaking, so I thought maybe I should try and write something on the subject. I realised there were many books on foreign filmmakers but none on Indian filmmakers. I wanted to write a book that would inspire people who want to become filmmakers. I tried to write a book that had inspired me over the years – real people’s real stories of how they arrive at the threshold of their first film.
As for authoring books, it took me 4 years to publish the first, two to publish the second and two for the third. That’s a lot of years, so do not count the volume, count the hours of rewriting and how challenging it is to meet and be able to spend five to seven hours with your eminent subjects.
Did you ever feel the pressure of living up to being lyricist Anand Bakshi’s son?
Yes. Initially, I used to feel bad about the fact that I could not write songs. I felt something was lacking in me that I cannot write songs like my father. A lot of my father’s friends from the industry would be surprised at the fact that I did not write poetry. When I was interviewing directors for my books, I realised they became filmmakers because of their experiences. Similarly, my father became a poet and a lyricist because of the kind of things he learnt from his experiences. He lived in Rawalpindi, Punjab for seventeen years. He worked in the Royal Indian Navy and later Indian Army for about ten years. He travelled all over north and south India in the army. It enriched him as a writer. I grew up in Bandra and got attracted to the medium of cinema only at a later stage in life in my 30s. My experiences are vastly different from that of my father so naturally I cannot write like him. Writing three biographical books made me realise there is nothing wrong with me. I am unique just as you are. We all are. Moreover, my father discouraged us from being in films, “iss line mein mat aana, yahaan film flop ho jaaye toh tumhaari barson ki izzat raaton raat khatam ho jaati hai, yahan chadte suraj ko hi salaam hai. Tum doctor, engineer ya air force pilot, fauji bano. Those are more secure professions.”
So, you never tried your hand at writing poetry?
I have written lots of poetry in English.
Would you like to publish them someday?
I don’t know. Right now, all the poetry I have written is lying in my laptop’s hard disk (smiles).
Which is your favourite song written by your father?
I love ‘Gaadi Bula Rahi Hai’ from the film ‘Dost’ (1974). “Gaadi bula rahi hai, seeti bajaaa rahi hai, chalna hi zindagi hai, chalti hi jaa rahi hai….”, I have faced many rejections and failures, like so many of us have. This song tells me successes and failures are just stations or stops. They are not full stops. One has to move on like a train keeps moving to the next station.
Do you still wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning and cycle from Bandra to Colaba?
No, I have stopped doing that (laughs). Actually, I have stopped cycling for three years now. I have someone to look after who is unwell so I cannot risk getting hurt. Riding is risky. The roads have become very bad and I see most people driving rashly. I used to cycle extensively. I have cycled from Lonavala to Bombay three times. Riding a cycle made me realise there is a world beyond your closed air-conditioned rooms or the confines of your car. You can see the skies clearly and smell everything that passes by you. When I used to cycle from Bandra to Colaba, I used to notice the birds that rested on many of the trees I passed by. You experience so many wonderful things while cycling around and that is the reason I miss doing it. Last month I began riding again.
Did cycling put the idea of starting Bicycle Angels?
I am not sure how I got the idea to start Bicycle Angels but I am glad I did (smiles). It is a non-profit organisation that I run. Lots of friends, relatives and strangers from across the world have made contributions for it. I am the CEO, vice-president, founder, peon…..everything (laughs). I serve as the link between the people, less privileged, who are in need and people who want to serve the society. We have given bicycles to those who use a cycle for running their livelihoods, wheelchairs and walkers to children who have cerebral palsy. Now we also provide computer literacy to the visually impaired, the blind.
How does somebody, who wishes to contribute, get in touch with you?
Anybody who wishes to contribute can call me or send me a message on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. If I find the person is genuine, I will connect him to the vendor. I do not keep any money or books of accounts with me. I provide them with the details of the person who needs a bicycle or a wheel-chair and ask them to transfer the amount to his account directly. I have learnt something or the other from every single donor. I have written many of their stories and the things I have learnt from them on my blog ‘Bicycle Angels’. https://bicycleangels.wordpress.com/
What is the biggest challenge you faced while writing your books?
Meeting these people was the most difficult thing. Time is the most valuable commodity. Somebody told me that I must have got the opportunity to interview these people easily as I am Anand Bakshi’s son but that is not true. It was difficult to get an appointment with most of the filmmakers I interviewed but I am glad they made time to speak to me.
What did you learn while writing these books?
The best directors are the ones who are well-versed with the art of communicating. They speak to different people on the sets in the language they understand. I distinctively remember something which Farah Khan told me. She said “never go by what people say. That is their opinion and not some advice which you have to follow. You must always follow your heart and do what you really want to do”.
Your first book ‘Let’s Talk On Air’ was based on the conversations you had with radio jockeys. What did writing this one teach you?
I learnt a lot about the art of conversation. A radio jockey must know how to hold a conversation. You might be in a bad mood or some unfortunate incident may have happened in your life but you still have to go on air.
You are writing two books on your father now.
Yes, one is a book on his unpublished poems. Another one is a biography on him. I have also been working on a book on music which I am very excited about. I have prepared a 1200 plus pages PDF that lists nearly all the 634 films/3000 plus songs written by Anand Bakshi, with links to his songs from YouTube and Spotify. I will share it with anyone who will email me (email@example.com ) and ask for it. In fact, I will share it here for your readers:
Anand Bakshi’s filmography, updated on 19th Aug 2020, Google Drive Link to document:
Anand Bakshi’s @ Spotify playlist
Anand Bakshi’s @ YouTube playlists:
YouTube playlist no 1
YouTube playlist no 2
You have worked as an assistant director for years but as you said you did very little work in films after that. A couple of months back, you shot a bunch of corporate film for a Non-Banking Finance Company. Do you want to be more active as a filmmaker now?
After spending three years in writing books, I thought I must do something that, apart from taking my passion for filmmaking or writing forward, should help me make some money as well. Making these corporate films was a wonderful experience and I hope I get to do more work in this space. I would not mind directing a web series or a film but it has to be on a subject I feel connected to.
Do you think people are reading enough today?
Yes, people read and they read a lot. Reading is a very intimate experience. Whether you read from a book or a kindle, it is the same thing. When you watch a film, you also want to spend some time with the person you are watching it with. That is not an intimate experience. You can carry a book anywhere, pause at any moment and re-read it as many times as you want to. When I read something, it creates images in my mind based on the things I have experienced and not necessarily from what the book is trying to tell me. You are reading the book from your views and experiences and not from the author’s.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt in life?
Being grateful for everything you have is the most important thing to do. My successes and failures have equally contributed towards making me the person I am today. They have also made me understand and respect people better. Thank you for all my failures, they were the fuel that propelled me to move ahead. If I think of the rejections I faced, even from my ex-wife as we divorced, I used them as stones to build steps that can take me higher, be a better person that I was before, become a more wholesome being, more self-reliant and more confident.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
When I was in my ‘20s or ‘30s, it was wise to look ahead by 10 and 5 years. Now I do not look ahead more than a day, week or month. During this pandemic it is best to see each day and week and month through – one day, one week, one month as a time. I do not think much about how people see me, I hope to see myself as a better human being than I was yesterday, who is contributing something which is going to benefit my family and society apart from myself. We cannot build good standards for the world, or even the building we reside in or office we run or work at unless we first build good standards for ourselves. Another motto I have is, ‘Some Think Differently’.
You can access Rakesh’s books here:
Directors’ Diaries – Conversations with Filmmakers – The Road To Their First Film
(Volume 1, May 2015, Harper Collins India
Volume 2, December 2019, Penguin Random House/Penguin India)
Let’s Talk ON AIR – Conversations With Radio Presenters
February 2019, Penguin Random House/Penguin India