My film-making and all other work has been on hold for a couple of years. As has been all travel, public interactions at screenings or any lectures/ seminars/ public meetings. As part of the same process, my online presence has at best been erratic - sometimes none for weeks or even months. This blog has suffered as well.
For those who know of it - the explanation is in the form of a seeming code: L5S1! For the 'unaware' - it simply means that my spine decided to throw major tantrums, finally registering its strongest protests against all the abuse and stress it has been subjected to for several years.
The problem first surfaced in late 2005, in the form of serious, recurring lower back pain, and the consequent sleep deprivation and chronic exhaustion. But there always was so much to do - more screenings, more editing, more versions, more research, more travels, more filming! And all that extraneous activity - battles with the Censor Board, another with the Ministry & the National Film awards organised by it and the big one - with NYPD and NYC. Though we prevailed each time, it took up much physical energy, mindspace and a ridiculous amount of time, stretching over a couple of years. Tackling it all with recurring spasms/pains that curtailed movement and many of the everyday functions also took a serious toll, esp since many of legal actions were time-bound and had to be dealt with despite the lower back problems. (It always brings a wry smile when some of my critics accuse me of "doing it for publicity" when I take on NYPD or the Government of India or the rightwing attempts to prevent my screenings! Not only it is publicity I don't actually need, it is something I'd rather not be drawn into at all - it is sapping beyond description!)
In 2006, the problem became so severe that everywhere I travelled, friends always had to pick up my bags! Filmfest volunteers'd be extra careful during their airport pickups and despite my embarrassment, I'd request the airlines for assistance, a couple of times on wheelchairs! I had to stop all international trips post Apr 2007 (all domestic travel too came to a grinding halt since Feb 2010)! Since then, its only been short car rides, that too only on the rare good day!
To rewind - by early 2007, I began suffering excruciating pain/ spasms and though I did consult doctors and do some token physio, I actually inflicted great damage by soldiering on. I filmed and edited throughout 2007, Modi's re-election year in Gujarat. Much of it involved rough travels in the rural and tribal belts. And all of it involved what the doctors later forbade absolutely - bending, crouching, imbalanced postures - all of it a multiple occurence daily (after all, one can't use the camera and not bend/ stretch, tilt/lean to get the right frame!).
By end-2007, after filming the Modi election campaign, the pains became so unbearable that I was bedridden for 2-3 months in early 2008. Doctors who examined my earlier reports and x-rays etc told me that I had been filming. travelling and editing long hours throughout 2007 with a slip disc (the famed L5S1 - the lower back vertebra), inflammation of the sacro-iliac joint, malalignment between the spine & the pelvic joints and some tissue damage in the lower back. Thus began a cycle of consultants, physio, a cocktail of pills (antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, painkiller, chemical vitamins, antacids and some SOS drugs!), MRIs, X-Rays, multiple hospitals, doctors, specialists etc. The lumbar spinal belt (what I call my 'corset') became a regular accessory!
During the next couple of years, 2-3 senior doctors advised me to have lower back surgery (and each time "immediately"), a leading hospital suggested ozone injections to the spine, another suggested laser surgery. And all sorts of physio, biomechanics, corrective/ remedial accesorisation (one physio insisted I wear elevated insoles inside all my footwear - it led to even greater pains!) and so on. Finally, in late 2010, I decided to ignore allopathy altogether, decided to ignore all advice for surgery [it was invariably qualified by the recurring refrain - "it may not make the pain go away and may cause newer pains in some cases" and the "you will now need to live carefully from now on", implying no bending/crouching/ incorrect postures (ie, goodbye to camerawork), no rough travels, esp no rural roads (ie, goodbye to my kind of film-making, which gets much of its depth only through the on-the-road shoots in cities/bastis, villages and tribal areas) and no long working hours (ie, goodbye to any editing)].
I first turned instead to Iyengar yoga under an MD, but it proved to be far too rigorous and vigorous, especially since we were sticking to known templates. I finally turned to a surgeon who gave up surgery 30-odd years ago and opted to cure people through customised yoga, often modified for the specific set of problems. After 6-8 months of a disciplined regimen, I'm now able to sit up once again for more than 2-3 hours at a time, travel at least locally and finally go and do simple things like watch a movie inside a cinema hall (instead of watching it on DVD, being horizontal) or go grocery shopping or browsing in bookshops. And I'm finally and formally commencing the editing of my new films.
Throughout the above chain of events, I contributed directly through my own idiocies. Each time I felt I'd recovered a bit, I'd try to resume work, only to collapse within days. Even this didn't deter me from still taking off on shoots, only to return and be horizontal, groaning for a couple of months, gritting my teeth through yet another cycle of bedrest, more pills and physio etc. The first time - in end- 2008 - the doctors had pronouned me recovered enough to be 'fit', advocating caution though. It was while filming in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks that I had to abandon shooting after 15 days, a first for me. Yet another first since 2007 was staying back in the hotel room while on location, sending my crew helmed by an AD or a friend instead, as some days it was impossible even to get up and stand, let alone film for 12 hours!
After taking 3 months off, I once again decided to shoot in early 2009 - my crews filmed in Kandhamal, Ahmedabad, Azamgarh and Vidarbha - I co-ordinated all this. I personally filmed through the pain, first in Mangalore and then in Malegaon during the 2009 parliament elections. Once again, a post-collapse recovery ensued and yet again, in late 2009, I was back filming in Malegaon and Pune etc. It again took its toll. But it was in mid 2010 that the worst of the lumber locks happened (I'd ignored the first one in mid 2007 and two subsequent ones as these were episodic, ranging from a few hours to a few days). This time, I was absolutely unable to stand, or sit, or even recline. Taking an unassisted step was out of the question, even an assisted single step seemed herculean! After being totally bed-bound for weeks, it was a major accomplishment to negotiate a flight of stairs to come into my own living room to be able to watch TV or a DVD! I still gamely tried to direct a small, young team, mostly from a horizontal position, trying to kickstart the postproduction and editing processes. It was another mini lumbar lock that led me to completely abandon any work (editing/ filming or anything else), disband the team and focus solely on yoga, healing and recovery.
So, do forgive me for being erratic with my blog or emails etc - I was sometimes unable to log in for weeks/ months to even read my emails. Even when I did read, responses had to be indefinitely postponed, half-replies sitting in the drafts folders, especially since online (or rather sitting up time) was often rationed to an hour or two on a good day!
Lest any of you get alarmed, I'm now commencing work only after consultation with my doctor-cum-yoga guru and only after spending a couple of pain free months (for the first time in 5-6 years!). We've very carefully monitored the progress, increased activity levels gradually, and on a very moderate scale. I've now been cleared to work for upto 8-9 hours a day in bursts of 3-4 hours followed by long breaks. Even been cleared for travel and filming as long as I don't do my usual 14-16 hour days but a more modest 8-9 hours with a break in-between.
First on the agenda is editing (details on https://www.facebook.com/groups/rakeshfilm/
) and next is followup filming required for the completion of the ongoing films. I expect to have 2 films ready next year and another 2 the year after. If and when I can get more active, I'll return to blogging and writing etc. For now, this blog will remain inactive. Those interested in my work and updates should send me requests on the facebook group page.
ps - The editing process has commenced, but as you can imagine, 4 years of no travel etc and indefinite postponement of work have resulted in low/no income years - and I'm strapped for resources. Some friends have pitched in with help, but midway through the process, I'll definitely need to raise more resources to complete the films under production. Those who wish to help should definitely join the group as I'll circulate any updates/ appeals in the group itself, instead of circulating them randomly, at large.
pps - Those who're upset with my for not posting their comments online, please be assured that I'm not 'censoring' you. I've now published most of the harsher comments; the only ones not published are those that are abusive in nature, with rather colourful, graphic language. I've also chosen to ignore some of the more direct threats and abusive cautions.