Country of Blind: A dreamer is a dreamer, they say. Manifestations of dreams into realities happen not for those few lucky ones but for those who also make way for it.
This is the story of a young journalist Avalokita Pandey, who, after having started as a cub reporter, ventured into an area of film writing and translations out of sheer grit and determination to keep going despite odds.
With a ‘never-say-die’ attitude, literally, after a near fatal accident which confined her to bed for months with nothing to do but thank her stars for her saved life and recouping time.
A small-town girl from Bihar, making her way to dream industry called ‘Bollywood’ as a writer/translator, taking on challenges of age-old stereotypes of family against girls working in films and travelling solo is nothing but an inspiring tale for those souls who have similar dreams somewhere embedded deep in the contours of heart.
The story in her words…as told to Binny Yadav
While taking up an assignment to interview some film personalities as a reporter of an online portal little did I know that this one project could prove a catalyst for change in my professional life, change for the better at that.
After the interviews, I added them to my social media profiles, tagged them in the published stories, and attended the film’s premiere screening to write a review. Responding to my gesture, they too shared my review and news. After this exchange, we became casual friends on Facebook.
As part of the assignment, I interviewed Director Rahhat Shah Kazmi, Costume Designer and Producer Zeba Sajid, Actor Shoib Nikash Shah, and Producer Tariq Khan during the promotion of their film ‘Identity Card’ in New Delhi in 2014.
It was in 2017 when a near-fatal accident left me bedridden. Lying in bed all day long and doing nothing… I was missing out on action. At this juncture, film director Rahhat Shah Kazmi contacted me to inquire about my activities during my recovery. I explained to him how I had lost my job after the accident and was doing nothing professionally.His few moments of pause after hearing my plight was translated into his offer to me to join his company as a news writer.
Nothing better could have happened to me at that time….and I lapped it up.
My life after the traumatic experience of the accident had been divided between ‘life before the accident and life after accident’. Before the accident, I had a busy lifestyle. Post accident lying in the bed all the time and doing nothing, I was not only feeling missing out on action but also becoming nervous. Desperate to find something to distract my attention from the pain and deprivation and keep myself busy, the offer came my way as a bolt from the blue. I lapped up the offer, and joined the production house – RKF Studios – and started writing press releases for his films.
Once into the job, I got into a routine conducting interviews and obtained quotes from the star cast on phone for my stories. Once ready, I would send the stories to PRs, and got paid per news. Perhaps, I was able to impress upon Rahhat Shah Kazmi., and there it was, ‘Country of Blind‘ (COB) project, for which I was his first choice as a Script translator from Hindi to English.
My journey of evolution through COB
Rahhat Shah Kazmi had written the screenplay of the film in Hindi and wanted someone to translate it into English. For the sake of authenticity he didn’t want it to be dubbed in English hence asked me to translate everything into English to match the time of story set-up.
COB is inspired by a short story written by H G Wells in 1904 titled ‘The Country of the Blind’. Although the plot is picked up from the book, Rahhat kazmi added his own and also introduced additional characters, new story lines, white experimenting with style of storytelling.
For me, accomplishing the project was literally burning midnight oil by going underground for almost three months, constantly typing day and night, coordinating with Rahhat ji frequently, cooking and eating God knows what, with only small breaks for sleeping and resuming again.
Changes of Improvising on Shakespearean linguistics
This has been revisiting the classroom once again. Reinventing the nuances of Elizabethan era English to suit the needs of the plot was a challenge. One thing was certain, expecting people who lived in the forest in 1904 to speak fluent English seemed implausible.
That’s when the notion of incorporating ‘Shakespearean English’ struck me. I inquired about it, discussed it with the team, and received unanimous approval. With their nod of approval and creative freedom, I embarked on the experiment, infusing a touch of Shakespearean language. It was truly a fantastic experience to witness everything falling in place!
Shakespearean readings of high school came handy. Characters and times of Julius Caesar, Macbeth etc came alive and I was as if reliving this Shakespearean dramas all again.
Blending and switching into the language of the yore
The story of COB didn’t want its characters to be fluent in Elizabethan era language which Shakespeare has used. For us the aim was to portray a group of people detached from modernity, incorporating a blend of old English and picking up a few new words here and there. They had no connection with the outer world and were essentially oblivious of what was considered right or wrong, despite having a basic village school where only the fundamentals were taught.
Switching over to ‘thou, thee, thy, thine, thence, whence’, was challenging indeed! It was a complete revision of my linguistics textbooks. Although certain words like ‘henceforth’ are still in use, evolution and practice of modern English is way different from its archaic style.. ‘Hark’ for ‘hey,’ ‘nay’ for ‘no,’ ’tis’ for ‘it is,’ ‘ere’ for ‘before,’ ‘anon’ for ‘very soon’— are some of the simplest words you’ll encounter.
Experience of Set
Once the most daunting task of paying up with Shakespeare’s language for translation was done, the next one was to get the actors adopt the phonetic and speech adaptations. It was an experience of sorts given the diverse background of the cast. Rehearsals, enthusiasm to get the best accent did the part.
Travelling to locations for rehearsals to the location for me was a life changing experience. Not only in terms of the work experience for a person of non-fim background but convincing the family for a girl from a small town of Bihar to travel to Doodhpathri (Kashmir) was no mean task. The stereotype against the film-industry plus the gender played the part.
It was the director Rahhat Shah Kazmi who not only assured my family but even came to meet my husband in Pune over lunch with his family. My parents and in-laws who were not in the loop now know my ‘secret’ work as the film is getting a good response.
The film was shot in two languages. The Hindi version was released in the US on October 6 while the English version is slated to be featured on OTT platforms. The film’s motion poster was unveiled by Reliance Entertainment on September 30 while the teaser launched on October 2, both received widespread acclaim for the script, costumes, star cast, and cinematic development.
Every maiden work is of love but for me entering into a new arena of Bollywood writing is indeed a turning point and I just wish to keep writing away from limelight as this is what has been what I am and I also wish that many more girl from small towns with much creative leanings are inspired. “ I would say It is just dreaming the part, some toiling during night hours and word of opportunities are waiting with open arms”
(Avalokita Pandey in conversation with Asian News Makers)