…Jayate – My First Film (with a link to the entire film)

Here is my first film … Jayate uploaded by Rajshri Films for free viewing. This film produced in 1997-98 was never released commercially but it had a small festival run through the Indian Panorama of 1998-99. Made at a meagre budget …Jayate marked the debut of cinematographer (director, Antardwand and DOP Laaga Chunri Mein Daag), writer Anurag Kashyap, editor Girish Madhu, sound engineer Arun Nambiar, actors Sachin Khedekar and Kishore Kadam. It was produced by R.V. Pandit, a big hearted producer who risked his money on a nobody like me. I got this film because Mr. Pandit was impressed with my work on the promos of Maachis and Darmiyaan. I owe this film to Vishal Bhardwaj who introduced (pushed) me to Mr. Pandit and because of whom I met Gulzar saab – an association that will remain my most precious one forever. However, the music score was by the violin maestro Dr. L Subramaniam on the insistence of my producer.

On hindsight …Jayate was a wordy, good hearted, often amateurish first film with some wonderful performances and dialogs. The film’s first cut was nearly 3 hours 40 minutes which we cut down to its current length of approximately 2 hours 20 mins.  Despite its many flaws it remains my debut feature film and very close to my heart. In many ways my recent film Shahid (2013) is a result of some of the lessons learnt from …Jayate – particularly the courtroom scenes.

…Jayate was also special because it was made at a time when the old fashioned film editing era was about to end. I was adamant about using the Steinbeck to edit this film and I think this process taught me a lot. The entire sound post-production was done using analog media and the final mono mix was done in two nights. Carrying reams of magnetic tape, film positive and audio tape in my old car from studio to studio remains an experience that I will cherish forever. This film taught me about how technology could not substitute simple story-telling – a learning that I have tried to incorporate in my better films with or without success.

This film was made at a time when Mumbai had no multiplexes, no studio system and when the old territorial distribution system based out of Naaz Cinema was in full swing. Distributors would leave my previews either mid-way or without saying anything about the film. Nobody was interested in a songless film without major stars at the time. Friends from the industry often derided me for making a film like this as my debut vehicle. It took me nearly 2 years and massive financial / personal burden post …Jayate to put my next film Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar!(2000) together.

I look back on …Jayate as one of my earliest attempts to break free from a populist mainstream system that I did not belong to. With Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar and Chhal I tried to continue with that independent streak but somewhere in the ensuing years I lost that drive to strive on. Shahid marked my return to roots and my return to a path of making films without fear of stars, returns or flak. Shahid and its success has given me the impetus to continue my aborted journey of which …Jayate is a humble beginning. Do watch it…

Independently Yours!

(This piece appeared in Indian Express Play on Friday, 27th December)

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I made independent films much before they became fashionable and remotely feasible. Let me also clarify that i am personally against this branding of films and filmmakers as mainstream and independent. I am a filmmaker. Period. My job is to make films. And i love my job. For me independent is a spirit and not yet a refined business model.

Also let me clarify that it is too early to celebrate. The game has just begun. Change is still around the corner. It is still not there. Hence, I would throw in a word of caution here. We should not jump at the success of Shahid, Ship of Thesus and The Lunchbox. Not yet.

The exuberance and excitement around gems of the 70s-80s such as Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala, Shyam Benegal’s Manthan, Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya, Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro died when a lot of trash was passed off as ‘parallel’ or ‘art’. Parallel soon turned into a movement that created poor clones of celebrated works. It almost became formulaic. Which is why I recommend caution while being optimistic. The focus has to be on content, passion and fearless spirit. There is no place for conservatism in this climate.

This year was iconic in that respect as what won over was the audience was presentation and content of independent films. For me Anand Gandhi emerged as the voice of this nascent movement. He is fearless, subversive and a unique story teller. I hope he continues with more striking work in the years to come.

IN order to sustain this emergence of independent cinema we need to come up with stories from the heart, stories that reflect a deeper collective consciousness. We must throw caution to the winds and exercise our creative freedom through our films. We are by nature complacent creatures and we seek comfort in the ‘formulization’ of content. Any attempt to do so will lead to an eventual decline and finally demise of independent cinema. The creative challenges are great and it is very encouraging to have big studios like Disney coming forward to give our films a respectable outlet. It is a step in the right direction. But I feel independent content must be created without studios at the helm while making the film. We will need to find more avenues for funding and completing our films before we take them for distribution or acquisition to the studios. My belief is that studios with their current rigid corporate structures and creative mandates are not equipped for producing such films. The way forward in the short term is to produce content independently and then seek partnerships with studios for promotion and distribution. I say this from my experience with Shahid – the independent producer and the studio have to share risk. At some stage it is imperative that the careful corporate culture will seep into the independent space. My contention is that it should be nearer to completion of the film than during development. The two entities have yet to understand each other better and until then they must cooperate with an understanding of the others strengths and weaknesses. But we are making a beginning in this area as Citylights, my next film (produced by Fox Star Studios and Vishesh Films) is being made with the fearless spirit of Shahid. Both of us are learning in the process and hopefully this cooperation will open doors for more audacious content from studios in the future

2013 could also prove to be a game changer if we learn from our experiences with festivals, sales agents and studios. Most of us were basically wide-eyed greenhorns at international festivals, trying to find our feet in a vastly competitive and mostly alien space. The Lunchbox was an exception and there is much to learn from its success. There is also much to learn from the release strategies adopted by Disney for SOT, Lunchbox and Shahid. Rational publicity outlays, limited release and focus on sustained runs might be the way forward. Time will tell.

Honestly, I don’t see this as a movement. I see this as a system arising from creative bankruptcy inflicted by self styled blockbusters and an unwieldy star system. I see the success of our films as the rebellion of a section of audiences that crave for greater intellectual, emotional and ideological stimulation than what is supplied to them in the name of ‘mainstream cinema’.

On a personal note 2013 has been a year of redemption for me. I have finally exorcised the demons of my past by making Shahid. I made some terrible films and succumbed to a system that thrives on mediocrity. My producers Anurag, Sunil and Sid have played important roles in this self styled resurrection. Anurag Kashyap was my voice of conscience when I faltered in the past. He backed my conviction with his belief. Sunil Bohra invested in my madness and trusted a failed man. Siddharth Roy Kapur is truly a CEO with heart and I will always remain grateful for the passion that Disney UTV poured into acquiring and releasing my film. The road was tenuous at times but eventually it was very satisfying. I discovered a young team that matched my passion and selflessly strove to make the film. It is in these young men and women that the future of our cinema rests. The onus is on us to take that leap of faith.

Khursheed Mistry

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I’ve watched Shahid thrice; the last time, I even paid to see it!  What can I say about Shahid that hasn’t been said already and by many, far more eloquently than me? This time around I had half my attention on the reaction of the audience as well. They laughed when I did and cried when I was weeping copious tears (I promise I heard many sniffles during some overwhelming moments in the film). At the end of the film, we all cheered for our 2 hours well spent and worth every rupee!

I must admit rather candidly that I am guilty; of the same prejudices that most of the population of this country have towards Muslims. However, when I was watching Shahid, I forgot about his religion or his faith and could only focus on his zeal. What made Shahid tick? How did this young man so full of life and such goodness, deal with all the adversities in his life? The answer is simple. Shahid Azmi was a man of choices. Even the wrong choices made by him, he endeavoured to rectify. At every crucial juncture in his life, Shahid chose to listen to his instincts and heart. This man of internal steel weathered every storm in his life stoically and in a matter of fact manner, that warms the cockles of the heart. He never bragged about his achievements nor cursed fate for his problems. This country needs more people like him who turn to education to beat jingoism and the system rather than beat up the people.

Hansal Mehta has proved his worth by rising from the ashes like a Phoenix. By showcasing and with such skillful accuracy as well as sensitivity, the life of Shahid Azmi, a lawyer who was mercilessly killed for helping innocent convicts, he has shown one and all, the depth of his capability and evolution. From raw intensity, emotions, subtle humour and Shahid’s passionate belief in righting the wrong, Hansal has drawn out nothing short of natural and perhaps some of their best performances from his cast and crew.

There are some actors who define the roles they play so strongly that audiences find it unimaginable that another could have played it better. Raj Kumar Yadav, the unconventionally attractive actor lived and breathed the life of Shahid and infused a freshness that was very refreshing in the way the story was told. So convincing was his performance that he had me crying and laughing in the film. This multi-talented and gifted actor will go a long, long way!

In all this, due accolades must be given to the ENTIRE crew and cast of Shahid without whom this success would not have been possible. Baljinder Kaur, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Prabhleen Sandhu, Kay Kay Menon, Vipin Sharma, Shalini Vatsa, Yusuf Husain and many more, complemented and enhanced this labour of love with their contribution and presence.

Sameer Gautam Singh has expertly woven an excellent and well researched story. He painted it lovingly with myriad emotions and some unforgettable moments which had me spell bound!

No story is every complete without the contribution of the Editor. Apurva Asrani’s crisp and ever definitive cutting edge style leaves us with a visual delight beyond words. Precise and beautifully timed, this brilliant and talented Apurva has contributed greatly to the success of Shahid by also Co-writing the screenplay along with Hansal Mehta. No one tells a story with such purity as this award winning Editor!

Mercifully, this movie was devoid of raucous and idiotic songs. The music by Karan Kulkarni resonates hauntingly in the mind long after you leave the cinema hall. Anuj Dhawan’s cinematography is truly gasp-worthy. The capturing of iconic streets by day and night, opening credits of the film are only some of the many good scenes captured on celluloid by this bright professional.

As I left the cinema hall last night, on my way home it donned on me that all those, including me who saw and understood Shahid Azmi better could in fact actually change the system by drawing some inspiration from this larger than life man! Mr Shahid Azmi, you have our respect; your story will live on forever…

SHAHID IS NOT A 100 CR FILM; IT IS PRICELESS!

Shishir Gupta on Shahid

Shahid – one of the most honest efforts of cinema I’ve ever seen. I won’t go into the details of how truly the plot relates to the real case of Shahid Azmi but it truly represents how, in order to make their job easy, our police system has wrongly been accusing the Muslims(those who aren’t wealthier) as terrorists just because of their stereotype. Be it a Christian, Hindu, Muslim or any religion – belonging to a particular religion can never be a basis of any kind of accusation. You can see many people who are Hindu and not an indoctrinated RSS member, Sikh and not a chauvinist, Muslim and not a Sharia-law supporter.

At the same time, I’d emphasize that I’m not an admirer of religious system, which tends to make you an extremist, sexist and what not! You can never be truly liberal and religious as well. And that’s my answer to the question, the protagonist asks in the movie, “Why can’t we associate Islam(read ‘any religion’) and liberality?”

Shishir Gupta
Business and Systems Integration Analyst
Accenture Services Pvt. Ltd.
Bangalore

Rag Mayur – on Shahid

We’ve had enough of the manipulative biographies. We’ve had enough of the made-up ‘reality movies’. We’ve seen only fancy courts with freshly painted walls and the judge saying ‘Order Order Order’. But have we seen the real court sessions where there is only chaos, where lawyers sit on Nilkamal chairs and not on polished plywood cushioned royal chairs? Time to look at the reality! ‘Shahid’ does that in every aspect, be it a court, be it the attitude of media and the society, or be it the ways of how the system works. ‘Shahid’ is that authentic biographical film that is brave enough to portray real things very really!  The movie captures the various phases of Shahid’s life, crisply yet seamlessly. Raj Kumar Yadav is brilliant. He is a One size-Fits all actor. He can do an LSD;he can do a Gangs Of Wasseypur;he can do a Shaitaan;he can do a Kai Po Che. With ‘Shahid’, he has gone 3 more levels higher! Shahid firmly believes that religion cannot be associated with the doer of the crime nor the victim of that. Raj Kumar lived that in the movie! Kay Kay Menon was very graceful in a brief appearance. Zeeshan was good as the supportive elder brother; again very realistic unlike the usual Bollywood brother who says “Bhai tere liye jaan bhi dedunga”. Not to forget Prabhleen Sandhu, who played the role of Mariam so naturally. Director Hansal Mehta and his team deserve a standing ovation for this masterpiece. Shahid is an eye-opener showing the true picture of the prejudiced and parallelized society we live in, where a selfless savior, who goes out of the way to save the innocents, has no right to live! SHAHID IS AN IMPORTANT MOVIE WHICH WILL CHANGE THE FALSE MINDSETS OF MANY!

 

Lamb Chops Masala – Without a drop of oil!

I am battling with three issues : 1. Weight management  2. Withdrawal symptoms from quitting cigarettes and 3. Stress. To manage stress I usually cook. But this stress management method sometimes plays havoc with issues 1 and 2. Particularly when issue 2 plays havoc with issue 1. This is a recipe that partially dealt with all the issues.This is a recipe I adapted from two recipes that I read and tried with varying degrees of success. Most importantly, this is a healthy recipe that was a major hit with my guests! The recipe is simple, hassle free and very importantly has no added oil!

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Ingredients

24-25 Lamp Chops, cleaned
4 Medium Onions, chopped
4 Medium Tomatoes, chopped
1-1/2 cup Yoghurt
3 tbsp Garlic Paste
4 tbsp Ginger Paste
2 tsp Red Chili Powder
4 tsp Coriander Powder (Dhania powder)
4 tsp Cumin Powder (Jeera powder)
2 tsp Garam Masala Powder
Salt, to taste

For the garnish

Ginger juliennes
Lemon juice
Chopped Coriander (optional)
Garam Masala Powder

Procedure

  1. Clean and dry the lamp chops
  2. In a pan mix the lamb chops with all the ingredients except cumin powder, garam masala powder and the garnish.
  3. Place the pan on the gas and cook on high flame until the mixture comes to a boil.
  4. Cover and simmer until the lamb chops are half cooked. Add cumin powder and garam masala powder. Mix.
  5. Continue to simmer until the gravy thickens, envelopes the lamb chops. Cook until the lamb chops are fully cooked.
  6. Garnish with ginger juliennes and chopped coriander. Sprinkle lemon juice.

Serve hot with rotis/phoolkas/parathas or simply devour as a stand alone protein fest – without the guilt!

A Time for Audacity

I saw the honest, deceptively simple and thoroughly engaging Kaipoche last week. The film has apparently opened well at the box-office. It’s producers UTV seem to have backed a film without stars and without ‘safe’ ingredients to the hilt. Kaipoche is a triumph of conviction and a celebration of audacity. I believe this is the time. A time for the mavericks to shine. A time for the mad to blossom. A time for the honest to express. A time for the artist to create. A time for the fearless. A time for audacity.

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4 reasons for me not watching (or not being able to watch) the increasing number of films released every week –

  1. I am perennially broke
  2. I am lazy
  3. I need to work
  4. My wife is not in the mood
  5. I am hoping I get invited for a preview/premier.

The past few weeks have been different though. The spate of films released and due for release stared at me in the face because

  1. They featured friends in lead roles
  2. They were directed by friends
  3. They were produced by friends
  4. I was looking forward to the films
  5. I felt compelled to watch them

I am going to limit my post to the Hindi films I saw because in the case of foreign films:

  1. I feel inadequate commenting about commenting on them
  2. I did not feel like watching many of them
  3. I am waiting for uncensored DVDs of some of them
  4. I don’t get invited for previews of these films

In the past few years, most significantly 2012, I am seeing a pattern in films that are successful (relatively) and appreciated. A majority of them stand out for their choice of actors, their choice of subject, their non-formulaic narratives and a host of other similarly intellectually stimulating reasons. One factor that has begun to increasingly stand out in these films is sheer audacity. The more I think about what drew me to watch the films, to like some of them, to dislike some of them and to find some of them memorable was the lack of apologetic film-making that has mostly led our films towards pathetic levels of mediocrity.

I’ve noticed that many film-makers no longer feel pressured to make the same formulaic nonsense with the same boring people over and over again. Many of the older directors also seem to realize the futility of formula and are trying hard to reinvent. Those who aren’t will soon be history.

Ever since I made Shahid I’ve been asked over and over again about how the trend of biopics is on the increase. The media unfortunately reads trends very poorly and looks for convenient analysis. Trade pundits who have in the past thrived upon silly generalization are very shallow in their understanding of artistic/creative decisions taken by film-makers or in analyzing the success of films that don’t fall into their formulaic comfort zones. The truth is that book adaptations, biopics and stories inspired by true events are an indicator and not trends in themselves. We now have film-makers looking for newer stories to tell. We have film-makers looking for new ways to tell stories. We have film-makers who are fearless. We have film-makers who are not afraid of audacity.

Whether it is Talaash, Gangs of Wasseypur, Ek Main aur Ek Tu, Vicky Donor, Special 26 or Kaipoche I notice a fearless streak in the directors and the team that has made these films possible. Even potboilers like Dabbang or before that Wanted or the recently released ABCD have displayed a certain audacious vision. Rockstar had the audacity to be deeply philosophical and sometimes meandering while pretending to have commercial trappings. A certain Anurag Kashyap whose films either got banned or termed as jinxed is now celebrated because of his delightfully indulgent Gangs of Wasseypur or his subversive take on Devdas. Sujoy Ghosh redeemed himself with the surprising Kahaani. Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Pan Singh Tomar was commercially successful. English Vinglish marked the successful return of a Bollywood diva who churned out some of the most cringe-worthy films of my growing up years. Tanu weds Manu with it’s unconventional cast, relaxed pace and fresh music created a new benchmark for the romantic genre. The list could be exhaustive and I’m sure it will soon dominate successful box-office lists. On the other hand there has been a steady increase in films (Ship of Theseus, Miss Lovely, Peddlers etc.) that have found appreciative audiences in international film festivals and critics. These films have shown a fierce independence in their making while giving alternate Indian cinema a new lease of life and an unpretentious, fresh form of expression. They have been audacious in their abandonment of what we perceived as ‘art-house’ or ‘parallel’ cinema in India. They were unabashed in their treatment, style, narratives and expression. These and many other films that I have viewed over the past year and this year have challenged audiences, provoked critics and subverted formulaic convention with amazing audacity. Even more encouraging is the fact that producers, actors (including some stars) and trade have begun to embrace the audacious breed, backing them to the hilt.

So what is the point I’m trying to make? It’s simple. Audacity is in. Safe is not safe anymore. Take the second installment of Dabbang. It disappointed because it succumbed to ‘ingredientization’ and failed to live up to the fearless audacity of the first part. Films like ‘Zilla Ghaziabad’ or ‘Jayantabhai Ki Love Story’ are passé. They will continue to get made. They will continue to remind us of everything that is unimaginative and about how we have allowed ourselves to be taken for granted all these years.

So here is my two bit gyaan. Whether you aim for the mainstream or the alternate space, make it audacious. Just making it big will soon cease to work – neither for the makers or the audience. Yes we will have regular installments of successful franchises. We will have ridiculous remakes. We will have mindless, storyless films – but my guess is that all of them will work for their audacity and not for their adherence to convention.

Audacious will soon be safe. Safe is already dangerous. It could soon be suicidal.

Rape and Outrage

One more rape. And yet more outrage. Newsreaders screaming louder and louder. Social media reeking of anger. Newspapers filling up space. Houses of Parliament spewing rhetoric. The noise, the din, the unbearable torture of a nation that is clueless, helpless and directionless. Yet again. The carnage continues. A nation is caught reeling under one more heinous act. One more brutal display of inequality rears its ugly face upon us.

Rape is despicable. Yes. Rape deserves severe punishment. Yes. But do we need more rallies? Do we need more rhetoric? What about long-term solutions? What about trying to identify the root cause of these atrocities? What about trying to eradicate these?

How about bringing up our boys better? How about teaching them that being macho means being cultured and treating women equally? How about sensitizing men and mobilizing them to ensure gender equality?  How about doing away with regressive traditions, cultural norms and rituals that are blatantly discriminatory to women? How long will we keep a ‘giving’ attitude towards women?

I despair because of the gravity of the crime. But I despair more because of the way our nation reacts. Every cruel action has a jerky response. We ask for the death penalty or something even more severe for the perpetrators. Has severe punishment ever deterred a criminal mind?

We hold rallies, candlelight vigils, hold bombastic placards and strut through the streets in ethnic outfits asking for change. And we resume our lives soon after. Until the next crime.

We are an impatient nation on the lookout for overnight solutions. Result : Nothing is solved. The problems persist. Gender bias, inequality, human rights violations, corruption, discrimination, segregation, cruelty, violence continue to be rampant as we await the rise of messiah after messiah – only to be thoroughly disappointed.

Long-term solutions, positive change can only be possible when we as citizens put our faith, time, resources and energy in initiatives for systemic change.  Solutions are possible only if we change. Eradication of societal evils will happen when we recognize and eradicate our own inner demons, when we become the change.

We expect Narendra Modi to usher in an era of progress while feigning amnesia over his atrocious human rights record. We look upon Rahul Gandhi as a vehicle of change because of his impressive genealogy and cute demeanor. We look for others to bring about transformation while we continue our apathy towards ourselves, our people, our surroundings and our conditions. We will continue tolerating red tape. We will find illegal short-cuts for short-term gains. We will let fascists reign in the name of democracy. We will let our women get raped. We will continue to vote for gangsters. We will continue to follow illogical rituals hoping for instant karmic rewards. We will allow our fundamental rights to be violated. We will suffer in stunned, scared silence. We will fast. We will rally. We will strike. But we will not change.

Sorry, but we have been raped for many generations. And we will continue getting raped for many.  Rape is inevitable as we continue to exist in contempt, disrespect and lethargy.

Until the next rape.

The Stink Operation

I was in a meeting with two friends this evening. We were talking about getting another friend’s film made and about how there was a businessman who wished to invest in the film. We had no idea about the business of this businessman. We had no idea about whether we would get money or not. All we wanted was to get the film made.

As we spoke I got a call from my father. He told me there was some sting operation on CNN-IBN exposing black money in bollywood. That conversation with my dad had me intrigued enough to trudge back home with the ‘noble’ intention of deriving some vicarious, voyeuristic pleasure from this sting operation.

I normally sleep by 10.30. I stayed up to watch the drama unfold. I wish I’d watched Bol Bachchan instead.

I was expecting a potboiler spiced with titillation, drama and some comedy. Instead, I was subjected to a cheap tragedy. Here was a stink operation that looked for an unidentified, unbearable stench in lowly gutters of the neighboring slums without bothering to flush its own toilet.

An aspiring movie mogul, a director on the decline, a producer who was once big, a producer who wants to be big, two starlets and a faceless voice that did most of the talking. Correction. A faceless voice that put words into their mouths. The ‘sting’ exposed desperation of people either on the decline or people on the periphery of an imaginary land with an unfortunate name – bollywood. This was not an expose on black money or the dark underbelly of bollywood. Once again our news channels bereft of ideas and anchored by brain-dead loudmouths subjected us to a shoddy operation without investigation, research or basic understanding.  It is disturbing that an opportunity to expose those who exploit this desperation for money (black or white or any color/currency/form) has been totally wasted.

A system has been in ruin with tainted money from politicians, brokers, gangsters, betting rackets being laundered in films (also perhaps in property, but that is another story).  The film industry in particular has always been an exploitative place. Stars have exploited producers. Producers have exploited workers. Financiers have exploited producers. Distributors have exploited producers. Producers have exploited directors. Directors have exploited writers. The list is endless. The web is complex. Corporatization of the industry is simply the introduction of management jargon to justify traditionally exploitative practices. Here is an ecosystem in total ruin. Lack of transparency, mistrust and manipulation form the core values of the film business. Lies are freely traded. Nepotism thrives. Sycophancy flourishes. This is a safe haven for a larger system that creates unimaginable sums of ill gotten wealth. This larger system will continue to flourish while our government will continue floundering, while our fourth estate will continue regressing, while our desperation will continue increasing.

I have a lot to rant on this but I will stop. But this much I will say… Hamaam mein sab nange hain

Friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anger. Disappointment. Desperation. Envy. Pride. Resentment. Joy. Melancholy. Love. Hate.

Friends. All of them.

Available. Ever present.  They crowd. An abyss. Called the mind.

They occupy. A meaningless chasm. Called life.

Their party. Never ends.

The chaos. The noise. The deafening silence. Never leaves.

They envelope. My existence.

Like. A band. Of hooligans. That I can. Neither ignore. Nor tolerate.

Without them. I am nothing. With them. I am nothing.