Notes & Conversations

The Notebook: Issue 01

Hi there,
I have taken this decision to write a monthly email to all my friends and acquaintances.
The email is a list of books, movies, blog posts, interviews, video clips and other stuff I found interesting and feel worth sharing.
I am not very active in social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook ( I find those addictive and distracting ).
I think, email is the perfect medium of personal communication.
And this is my way of keeping in touch with all my friends and acquaintances.
I hope you’ll like some of the stuff I am sharing.
Please don’t hesitate to give me your feedback.
Okay! Here it goes…
A Book Worth Sharing –
I am a fan of Keigo Higashino for a long time.
A Movie Worth Sharing –
‘The Handmaiden’. I really enjoyed watching this erotic thriller from ‘Oldboy’ director Park Chan-wook.
It’s a must viewing for all movie buffs.
Two lines from Mark Kermode’s review
‘Park’s film takes great delight in wrong-footing its audience, peeling away layers of mesmerizing misdirection with delicious cinematic sleight of hand. As the serpentine narrative spirals back and forth upon itself, we witness the same events from multiple perspectives, each one more revealing than the last.’
An Idea Worth Sharing – 
‘Someone says, “Write me a piece of music. Anything. No restrictions. Go!”
You’re stumped. The blank page syndrome.
Instead, someone says, “Write me a piece of music using only a flute, saw, and this broken toy piano. You can only use the notes D, E, and B – but never all three at the same time. It has to be in 3/4 time, start quiet, get loud, then get quiet by the end. Go!”
Aha! Now you’re cookin’!
For creative inspiration, give yourself restrictions’.
A Quote Worth Sharing –
“To simply wait and be bored has become a novel experience in modern life” – Cal Newport
Random Stuff –
I like reading Seth Godin’s Blog. Here’s one of his blog titled ‘The Middle Of Everywhere’
‘If the railroad didn’t make it to your town, or if the highway didn’t have an exit, or if you were somehow off the beaten path, we wrote you off. Your town was in the middle of nowhere.
Now, of course, if wireless signal can reach you, you’re now in the middle of everywhere, aren’t you?’
Thanks for reading.

The Notebook: March 2018

Hi there,
I’ve been pretty busy these last three months and I have missed my monthly newsletter ( Few of my friends actually called me up for this! And I really didn’t expect that! ).
I am really sorry about it.
I’ll try to be consistent from now on.
Now, on to this week’s newsletter…
I am calling my newsletter: “The Notebook”.
Because, I love taking notes and this is like a personal notebook of mine where I collect books, movies, blog posts, interviews, video clips and other stuff I find interesting and feel worth sharing.
I hope you’ll like some of the ‘notes’ I am sharing.
If you have any feedback, please drop me a line…
A Book Worth Sharing –
I have recently read this wonderful novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas.
It is a historical novel set during the late 18th century Japan.
It tells the story of a Dutch clerk Jacob de Zoet’s love for a Japanese midwife Orito, who is abducted by a sinister mountain temple cult.
And it is true!
When is the last time I have read such an extraordinary novel?
A Movie Worth Sharing –
It is a coming of age story of a 15 years old British girl Mia Williams who lives with her single mother, Joanne.
It won the jury prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. It also won the 2010 BAFTA for Best British Film.
One line from film critic Peter Bradshaw’s review:
“Having now watched Fish Tank a second time, I am more exhilarated than ever by Arnold’s idealism, and in a movie marketplace where so much is vapidly cynical, this is a breath of fresh air.”
An Idea Worth Sharing – 
Philosophers and mystics have long contemplated the disconcerting notion that the fixed self is an illusion.
Neuroscientists now think they can prove it or, at least, help us glimpse this truth with some help from psilocybin, the psychoactive property in magic mushrooms.
Our awareness of existence—the ability to distinguish between the self and others—is created by the brain, neuroscientist Anil Seth explains in his TED talk, “Your brain hallucinates consciousness.”
He says, “Right now, billions of neurons in your brain are working together to generate a conscious experience—and not just any conscious experience, your experience of the world around you and of yourself within it.”
Yet when you are unconscious, you continue to exist without perceiving your own presence.
You cease to participate in reality but continue to live. When roused back into consciousness, you lack a narrative to explain the time away.
The narrative of the story that seems to be your life is just a function of your brain’s mechanisms, not who you really are.
Still, the hallucination of consciousness is one we’re all having in tandem.
When we agree about our hallucinations, we call it “reality,” according to Seth.
In this agreed-upon reality, we are each separate individuals, whose stories begin with our births and end with our deaths.
But there are other ways to experience reality, which you may have already glimpsed, even if only fleetingly.
Sometimes our consciousness shifts.
The boundaries of the self, seem to become less rigid and we commune with another person or thing, as can happen during drug-induced epiphanies, sure—but can also happen when people fall in love, meditate, go out in nature, or experience a great meeting of minds.
In The Book (pdf), philosopher Alan Watts writes that we aren’t individuals existing in lonely bodies.
We’re a flowing segment in the continuous line of life.
He and others—mystics, monkspoets (pdf), and philosophers from numerous traditions—argue that people are sad and hostile because we live with a false sense of separation from one another and the rest of the world.
“This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences,” Watts wrote in The Book.
“We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.”
Read this fascinating article here
A Quote Worth Sharing –
“A fit body, a calm mind, a house full of love. These things cannot be bought – they must be earned.” – @naval
Random Stuff –
In this brilliant interview, Quentin Tarantino clears all the doubts.
Quentin Tarantino talks about spitting in Uma Thurman’s face and choking her with a chain during the shooting of “Kill Bill” and Harvey Weinstein affair.
Don’t miss it…
Thanks for reading.
Take care and have a great month…

Conversation With A Film Editor

"Do things that make you indispensable" - Shan Mohammed
“Do things that make you indispensable” – Shan Mohammed
Shan Mohammed is a film editor who has worked on Hindi, Tamil and Telugu language films. Originally from Kerala, Shan studied film editing from FTII, Pune. Shan’s portfolio includes The Great Indian Butterfly (2007), Frozen (2007), Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na (2008), Wake Up Sid (2009)Jhootha Hi Sahi (2010), My Friend Pinto (2011), recently released  Gurgaon (2017 ) and the upcoming Saif Ali Khan starrer “Kaalakaandi“.
Shan is my batchmate from FTII and he is incredibly inspiring. His wisdom on continuing creative work is something almost anyone can relate to. He currently lives in Mumbai, with his wife, and their two children.
1. Tell us a bit about your path to becoming a film editor and what you did before?
I was always interested in creating tales. Had a close school friend who would draw panels for the stories. We would spend hours and hours, in the school making up new stories…
One of our favourites was about a small tadpole called Maakri. And his adventures.
We would also look at the small pocket sized poster cards of Hindi films and work out what the stories could be about.
These were the small mental escapes during school life.
2. What are the films you have edited?
Around 20 of them and counting…
Started with The Great Indian Butterfly, that fell into my lap because the makers had already shot and were looking for an editor to work for very little money. I was at FTII, and had just finished my Second-year final exercises. I just jumped at the opportunity.
That led to another called Frozen, that I started around a year later. That then led to ‘Jaane tu ya Jaane na’. That led to Wake up Sid. And on and on and on…
And now Gurgaon, and Kaalakaandi, coming out in Aug 2017 and Sept 2017.
3. Tell us about the process of editing a film – how do you prepare and what are the
criteria you follow while editing a film?
There is no fixed preparation as such.
I start watching the rushes and making points on the computer or on paper. Then afterward, I watch the rushes all over again in a scene-wise collection.
Of course, I have already read the script multiple times, made my own notes, discussed with the director about his/her take on it, on a scene to scene basis ideally.
Once I start watching the rushes, I barely refer to the script. I already know the subject and the perspective.
What I need to know is whether the shots can help support a better narrative than what was originally envisioned.
Then I start figuring out my ideas and how to string the whole film like beads in a necklace. And start carving.
4. What are some of the challenges that you’ve been facing over the past year and how did you overcome them?
I was doing a film that had a very sweeping saga with a linear timeline.
The first two cuts were good versions of the script. But then for some reason, in my mind, I began spinning the tale on it’s head.
We had taken a break from the post-production. It being an independent film, had limited resources. During this time, I came up with some new narrative ideas that would change this linearity and make it into a sort of thriller… a noir.
I bounced it off the director and found him receptive to it. He being an old friend, had
complete faith in what I was doing. And that brought more confidence in me to delve deeper into taking apart and resetting the overall narrative structure of the film.
The final film is very different from what we all set out to make. And it is something we all are proud to put our names to.
Just another day in my life as a professional.
5. When editing, are there any periods where things don’t go as expected or as planned? How do you mentally pull yourself out of that situation and get your back on track?
There are times like this, both on a micro level as well as a whole.
Maybe some scenes don’t work out when edited. Then the approach needs to be changed to get what is required from that scene for the overall story to hold up.
Then there are times when my vision and the director’s (vision), does not coincide. I try my best to convince him and he, vice versa… but it’s really about faith at the end of the day.
If the director trusts that where I’m coming from and where he is, leads to one and the same, then a solution is found that works for both of us and the film.
Personally, I’ve never had much trouble pulling myself back up in my professional capacity.
There are enough will-power and discipline to re-look at the same set of rushes till a solution is found.
6. Define creativity
To me it’s creation.
A new and engaging story to tell one’s kids, to read a recipe off the net and improvise, to figuring out how to stop a leaking umbrella using nothing, to be able to sell your confidence to that next producer and director, to wrap a blanket in such a manner that it fits that small place in the cupboard, etc etc.
Creativity is not exclusive to certain activities. Each one of us chooses to apply it in whatever we may want to solve a problem, or for enrichment.
7. Do you have any specific processes or routines that you go through to accomplish all things you need to do in a given week or day?
I know that I need to progress a certain way with the work… but there are no hard and fast rules to finishing that… so long as it is in time.
It’s not a 9-5 job for me, but neither is it an all-nighter. When the need arises, I manage both situations with equal ease.
But I also need time away from the work to bring more to it. And that I do not compromise on.
8. Choose one film director/editor ( living or dead ), that you would like to have dinner with?
Kamal Haasan. But then I’ve already had the privilege of having many lunches with him.
9. One non-tech thing you can’t live without?
10. What message would you put on a billboard for millions to see?
Do things that make you indispensable.

Haruki Murakami On Writing

One of my favourite books is “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running“.
I have read most of Haruki Murakami‘s books.
I especially enjoyed “Norwegian Wood“, “The  Bird Chronicle“, “Kafka On The Shore” and “1Q84“.
But this autobiographical non-fiction book is my special favourite.
I have read it maybe 4 -5 times.
Here he chronicles his journey as a marathon runner.
It’s a training log and memoir.
And he also talks about his writing process.
I am always interested in knowing the rituals, habits and practice of creative professionals.
And we get a glimpse of precisely that in this book.
He talks about two critical ingredients necessary for creating memorable works.
Here, in his own words…
“Focus: The ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever critical at the moment.
Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value, while if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it.
I generally concentrate on work for three or four hours every morning.
I sit on my desk and focus totally on what I am writing.
I don’t see anything else!
Endurance: If you concentrate on writing three or four hours a day and feel tired after a week of this, you’re not going to be to write a long work.
What needed for a writer of fiction – at least one who hopes to write a novel – is the energy to focus everyday for half a year, or a year or two years.
Fortunately these two disciplines – focus and endurance are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training.
You’ll naturally learn concentration and endurance when you sit down at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point.
You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to write every single day and concentrate on work on hand.
And generally you’ll expand the limits of what you are able to do.
Almost imperceptibly you’ll make the bar rise.
Add a stimulus and keep it up.
And repeat.
Patience is a must in this process, but I guarantee the result will come.
Writers who aren’t blessed with much talent – those who barely make the grade – need to build up their strength at their own expense.
They have to train themselves to improve their focus, to increase their endurance.
To certain extent they are forced to make these qualities stand in for talent.
And while they are getting by on these, they may actually discover real, hidden talent within them.
They are sweating, digging out a hole at their feet with a shovel, when they run across a deep secret water vain.
It’s lucky thing, but what made this good fortune possible was all the training they did that give them strength to keep on digging.
I imagine the late blooming writers have all gone through a similar process.”

Ryan Holiday’s Notecard System

I like taking notes. It helps me to remember stuff.
But I am not very methodical about it. And I don’t do it frequently.
But somehow I like the process.
In my previous two blogs, I talked about note taking habit Francis Ford Coppola and Akira Kurosawa.
And now I have found this amazing article by Ryan Holiday.
Ryan Holiday is a writer and media strategist.
He has written several best-selling books including “Ego is The Enemy“, “Trust Me I’m Lying” and “The Daily Stoic
In this article, Ryan Holiday talks about the system – how he takes notes and keeps track of everything he reads.
Ryan Holiday learnt this from Robert Greene when he was Greene’s research assistant.
This system changed his life and helped him to write five best-selling books.
Here is the system in his own words…
“If I have a thought, I write it down on a 4×6 notecard and identify it with a theme–or if I am working on a specific project, where it would fit in the project…”

“…the key to this system is the ritual: Read a book or an article and diligently mark the passages and portions that stand out at you. If you have a thought, write it down on the page (this is called marginalia). Fold the bottom corner of the page where you’ve made a note or marked something (alternatively, use post-it flags).

-A few weeks after finishing the book, return to it and transfer those notes/thoughts on to the appropriate note cards. Why wait? Waiting helps you separate the wheat from the chaff. I promise that many of the pages you marked will not seem to important or noteworthy when you return to them. This is a good thing–it’s a form of editing.

-In the top right hand corner of each card, put a theme or category that this card belongs to. If a card can fit in multiple categories, just make a duplicate card. Robert uses color coded cards for an extra layer of organization.”   
“Some categories I currently use:


*Life (General advice about life)

*The Narrative Fallacy (Something I’d like to write a book about one day)

*Strategy (Examples of strategic genius or wisdom)

*Post Ideas (Many cards here have been turned into articles you’ve read)

*Animals (Weird stories about animals. For instance, according to the book One Summer by Bill Bryson, the hotel that Babe Ruth lived in for most of his career had a live seal living in the lobby fountain)

*Trust Me, I’m Lying (Media manipulation)

*Writing (Wisdom about the craft)

*Education (Wisdom and ideas about learning)

*Misc (Naturally)

“-Originally I would do one set of note cards for a whole book (numbering the cards 1,2,3,4,5 etc–but I found that limited my ability to move the pieces around because unrelated but important ideas were wrongly joined together.”
And what I like the most about it? It is not a digital system!
He perfectly nails it here…
“Wouldn’t digital be easier? Yes. But I don’t want this to be easy. Writing them down by hand forces me to take my time and to go over everything again (taking notes on a Kindle is too easy and that’s the problem). Also being able to physically arrange stuff is crucial for getting the structure of your book or project right. I can move cards from one category to another. As I shuffle through the cards, I bump into stuff I had forgotten about, etc.”
“But wouldn’t Evernote be better? Maybe for you but not for me. If that’s what you want to use then go for it. But I think there is something irreplaceable about the physical aspect. Physical books, physical notecards, that’s the best in my opinion.”
True. There’s something about physical books, physical notecards.
After reading the article I am inspired to do the same.
But I don’t know whether I’ll follow through on it or not!
Read the full article here.

Francis Ford Coppola Advice

Legendary film director Francis Ford Coppola talks about his habit of note taking in this interview with ’99u’.

“With a novel, what I can recommend is when you first read the novel, put good notes in it the first time, right on the book, write down everything you feel, underline every sensation that you felt was strong. Those first notes are very valuable. Then, when you finish the book, you will see that some pages are filled with underlined notes and some are blank.In theatre, there’s something called a prompt book. The prompt book is what the stage manager has, usually a loose-leaf book with all the lighting cues. I make a prompt book out of the novel. In other words, I break the novel, and I glue the pages in a loose-leaf, usually with the square cutout so I can see both sides.
I have that big book with the notes I took, and then I go and I put lots more observations and notes. Then I begin to go through that and summarize the part that I thought was useful. And quite naturally you’ll see that the parts fall away, or that you have too many characters, so you know that you have to eliminate some or combine some. Working on it this way, from the outside in, being more specific as to what you think… then when you finish that, you are qualified perhaps to try to write a draft based on that notebook.
In the case of “The Godfather” I did that, and although I had a screenplay, I never used it. I always used to take that big notebook around with me, and I made the movie from that notebook. In the case of “Apocalypse,” there was a script written by the great John Milius, but, I must say, what I really made the film from was the little green copy of Heart of Darkness that I had done all those lines in. Whenever I would do a scene, I would check that and see what can I give the movie from Conrad.” 



Akira Kurosawa Advice

This advice comes from the book “Something Like An Autobiography” written by Akira Kurosawa.
One of the most revered film director in the world Akira Kurosawa is still relevant today.
Here he talks about the importance of note taking for active learning, record keeping, studying, skill building, writing and creating memorable works.
Some of his acclaimed films are Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Ran.

“I‘ve forgotten who it was that said creation is memory. My own experiences and the various things I have read remain in my memory and become the basis upon which I create something new. I couldn’t do it out of nothing. For this reason, since the time I was a young man I have always kept a notebook handy when I read a book. I write down my reactions and what particularly moves me. I have stacks and stacks of these college notebooks, and when I go off to write a script, these are what I read. Somewhere they always provide me with a point of breakthrough. Even for single lines of dialogue I have taken hints from these notebooks. So what I want to say is, don’t read books while lying down in bed.”