Saturday, August 7, 2010

Self or Film

Three years ago,I had met a producer from regional cinema, he had produced a commercial film with "an award winning film maker". I was pitching my film to the same producer. When he heard my script he loved it a lot, but flatly refused to produce it, even though a star was attached to it. I respect his decision on not to produce, but I was curious to know what made him produce the film with the award winning film maker? The answer gave me an insight into the film industry, that cut through like a disease among all film makers and producers. Everyone here has personal gains from a film, I would be lying if I said I did not have. His concern was promises made by a film maker before a film and eventually what the film becomes when it is ready for release. Because this Award winning film maker was so famous, the producer was excited when this particular film maker had come to him with a commercial idea. The film maker boasted of the most novel concept, inspired by a Spielberg idea, film had fights, actions, visuals, songs and everything under the sun a great film should have. The film maker also made promises, because of his name, multiple festivals around the world will pick up his film very easily, also they might even find a foreign distributor who could give them a release in mainstream American and International markets. What more the producer was also offered a role to act with the star who they will later approach.All big promises by a very well known film maker. So the producer thinks why not, after all he too wanted a share of international recognition and the big money. Among all this discussion, there was no script or story discussed, it was always about the film maker and how much will his name sell. Ask them today how the film fared or ask them about each other, they hate each other.

Film makers in the Indian film industry, barring very few, definitely does not beleive in cultivating relationships with the producer. Most Indian film makers have never worked under one producer for long. If you look West, a Nolan or a Tarantino, or other film makers have mostly worked with the same producer right from their first film. Producers and film makers here think they both are from a different race. They hate each others guts, most film makers are immediately willing to bitch about the producer and same goes for the producer. The common goal about together achieving a great film is absent in most productions here. Most of the associations end with one film, the producer never goes on to repeat the film maker, the film maker never goes back to the producer. A producer is seen as an enemy among film makers, they are idiots with lots of money and will put money in any film, other than the film you just pitched. The new film maker just wonders why his second project was rejected.The key problem is they have damaged a working relationship on the basis of promises made and what is delivered is nowhere close to what is promised. The problem is largely communication gaps or (gas), hype that follows a film maker and the contacts he can pull. Also, the big names he has relations with. Notice, how every film maker in Bollywood, has a great working relationship with everyone from the cast and crew, he'll repeat them for every project maybe, but never the producer. Same goes for the producer, he does not want to work with the same film maker again. He has his own set of belief systems and personal interests vested in the film. His goal is different in the film he is producing

The standard process for most film makers is simple, fix rounds of meetings with a producer or a production house, and make all the biggest promises under the sun about your film. The script is the last discussed factor here, while every producer knows, without content all these don't mean anything. The producer does not bother about script developement, for him writing is just someone who is hired to type words, because they can't find a typist to type 120 pages with words. Most producers do not want to work a professional way, starting from a story thread, and working with the writer and director in fleshing out of the concept. They want ready made blockbusters like Sholay from a hungry writer, who is thinking about paying his next cell phone bill, and all the writer cares is somehow finish the screenplay. Why give his best, when his function or contribution is fully ignored.The writer too has needs and personal gains in the film, his goal is different with the film that is going to be made, somehow it should be on floors. There exists no working relationships, or mutual respect among the producers with writers, they are the most detached with the writer. The concept of script development is non existent in Bollywood for most producers. Most directors pay from their pockets for script developement with the writer, I have the utmost respect for such directors who value this process and understand the importance of feeding your writer, so his imagination is in your film and not on the cell phone bill. All the producer is interested is when the director will lock the script. He will rarely read the script. He has also locked his finances, his interest rates are soaring. Get the script done, somehow.

Then comes the crucial question during the meetings with the producers, "Why should the producer invest in this film?". Some standard answer given by directors , because it has so and so star or it has known faces and music by blah. That answer is enough, cause the game does not end here. The producer all he cares about is selling his film, like a vegetable vendor he wants to make sure he gets out his stock before it begins to rot. Eventually who is bearing the loses, the distributors. Their revenue stream is popcorn, samosas and movie tickets sold. This cycle has been abused so bad, new film makers are not given a fair chance in the process. So content repetition is bound to happen, we will be seeing the same recycled love stories and crappy stories featuring stars, because that's play safe. The distributors will buy if they have a star, and for the distributors having a star means more sale in their samosas and pop corns . Most productions manage to make just about money to break even. Everyone is covered. It was the case till Kites and Raavan happened. Now I am interested in hearing from the producers who think this model is safe. So getting to basics again, even the Producer does not care beyond his personal gains.

For most film makers they think their job ends with making the final cut. The rest of the release, promotional activity etc is the producers headache. They'll give interviews because they are supposed to do it. Most new film makers don't care about a release, as long as they have a film to their credit, but it's lying in the cans. They think the producer is not doing anything for the film, there is definitely no concept of working together in the same boat and making it to land. Once the film is made the producer is in a different boat. Post the film release, the director moves on with other producers, for his own personal gains. He has made his film, don't care what happened to his film, it's now the next producer to axe. As for the producer, he is looking for the next film maker who can give him a killer deal to axe the next set of distributors. Eventually in the whole axes that are grinded the audience are the biggest losers, where is the great film that was so talked about and promised? It's just random stars, songs, half hearted plot and a convulted ending. They go back cribbing another weekend money is wasted on samosas, popcorns, parking, movie tickets for a pointless film.

As for the regional producer, he said his film had miserably bombed, leaving no money for his own acting fees, that he had to do it free in his own film. Some random festival in Korea had picked it and 5 people turned to see it. The film maker thinks it was a super duper hit in one part of the state, it failed in the other because it had religious undertones. In the whole process of getting the film made, it was about money,stars, numbers, relationships, marketing, contacts, PR, all the associated blah blah and never about the actual film. The common goal about a good film was lost. Who had it in the first place ?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Rocket in You

" Risk tho Spiderman ko bhi lena padhta hai "

Rocket eventually learns a lot from this line in the film and I was thrilled to know that once upon a time I was Rocket, except no one told me that line. Rocket Singh - Salesman of the Year is a film that I personally connected and felt nostalgic about by "non-filmy" days. We see these characters in everyday lives, yet few stories have been written about them. Jaideep Sahni and Shimit Amin deserve full marks for believing in the story, and for bringing it to life. It does not aim to be clever or gimmicky, yet communicates with a powerful message. Rocket does not take a safe path, infact he does not have a safe path, since he failed. He takes up a career in sales considered risky by everone else, he eventually goes on to become an entrepreneur. There was a message unknowingly deciphered by Rocket in the film, like a clarion call.

Rocket finally decides he wants a change of industry using his sales skills. When Rocket enters the new indusrty, he realises everyone in this indusry knows how the product should be made. Rocket learns the ropes around the organization with time. Film industries also functions like an organisation, so for someone like Rocket how is the film industry an organisation or like an industry. When Rocket first enters the industry he studies his products. He begins understanding his product is a film, there are multiple companies making films. Rocket by conditioning of his Dadaji realises that Ramayan and multiple stories told to him are good stories. A film is a good story and good stories have soul, becomes his mantra.

So Rocket starts with his R & D department to develop a good product for the market, he decides to have everyone on the same strategy as he formed Rocket Sales corporation. He decides all partners work in profit. Rocket applies the strategy and a system from his sales organisation. Rocket meets a passionate director who has a vision and a story to tell. Together with the director, Rocket hires a writer. Rocket trusts his writer and director to spend months doing R & D on the product. Rocket moves on to find other people in his team. Rocket makes sure that his marketing team, stars, actors does not influence the script and his R & D dept, their work is to their respective functions and not to write scripts. He makes sure people hired for different functions stay within their skill set.

Finally the day arrives, Rocket realises his R & D department is ready to move to implementation and developement phase. Rocket spends months raising funding and selling his product in the market, finally a buyer surfaces. Rocket treats his every pitch as cold calls and sells his product with passion to every investor. Rocket convinces his investor that he will give the ROI (Return on Investment). The film audience is Rocket's consumer, he realizes the value of 150 bucks spend by the consumer while consuming his product. He has to give them an satisfying experience, that they keep coming back for more. Rocket begins implementation with the rest of the team, backing the director at every step. Rocket realises the importance of support to the director and his vision, The director goes on to direct everyone from the script writer, actor, cinematographer, musicians and technicians, fully supported by his producer. Months later, Rocket makes his product for the consumer, he is happy he has made a good product that he would consume himself.

He continues selling his product at each stage hoping one fine day, his product will be consumed by his target consumer, when it is out in the market. What happens next stays unsure? Rocket either goes on to start a production house, churning quality films after films, since his organisation works like a proper organisation or Rocket initially finds a lots of hiccups, ups and downs and finally wins, but as of now the story is still under developement. Importantly, after every step Rocket remembers Spiderman.

There are many Rockets in every industry, but how many Rockets can sell their products with conviction at every stage. Many Rockets become disheartened, loose hope and finally return to a no risk arena. How many rockets are able to think independent ? Many Rockets bringing in new knowledge to the industry are afraid to challenge the existing norms. Many Rockets simply deliver a product in haste without thinking twice, eventually their products fail and they discourage other Rockets. Some Rockets go with vengeance, some with indulgence, some miserably fail, some fail to understand their own product. Some are selling it because their families are selling it. In the whole scheme of things, only few Rockets really stick it out like our Rocket Singh, because he knows his product and believes in it, more importantly he approaches his work with integrity and that's what brings out the soul, Every step rocket is independently thinking every moment on he can get his product or service out there.

Surprisingly and maybe unknowingly YRF, Jaideep and Shimit, have given out a clarion call. If you can find the Rocket in you, very soon, you will be out there selling your product or your service, doing what your beleive in, cause that is the only thing you can sell best. So be it an actor, doctor, writer, musician, journalist, scientist you need to know how to sell what you beleive in. So taking this forward, I shall remember the spiderman quote.

"Risk tho spiderman ko bhi lena padtha hai, main toh phir bhi Salesman hoon "

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Bollywood landing on Moon

It's been forty years since man landed on the moon, then considered one of the best achievements for mankind. There were talks then that in twenty years man would colonize the moon, travel to the moon would be a regular affair and all that futuristic science fiction stuff. They were excited..

Cut to

..I am still excited thinking about it. Forty year's have passed, I haven't found a colony yet, forget getting a visa to the moon. Somewhere a future prediction went wrong, a prediction that could have been possible if there were enough studies, research and funding diverted towards it. There was just talk, not much done in terms of action. Today we could have been sitting on the moon and could have dealt with global warming with a larger perspective. Hopefully in my life time I get to see that happening.

So with that thought I hope population will grow, they will be need for entertainment in Moon. As you read on different newspapers everyday, everyone quotes the same thing, Indian cinema today is going through a wonderful phase, amazing time for Indian cinema, I am fortunate etc... By the time we land on moon, I am hoping entertainment would have evolved in India and the content that goes out of Bollywood to the moon. I am so thrilled to be part of this growing process. There are great plots, almost every movie seems to be great films. Alternative film makers are slowly becoming mainstream. With so many great films, Bollywood today is no more known only by song and dances, but a unique form of cinema from India has evolved and found a voice. Actors are now supporting alternative cinema because the artist in them thirsts to be creative with their work, so they support off beat film makers. In fact the word "off beat" will be outdated. I am so excited. Wow, my phone's ringing, a production house has just decided to give me an offer to make our first film..... Strange sound. Poof. Flash of Lighting. Gone.

Flash. WTF ?

Bollywood Division, Mumbai Dome, MOON TERRITORY

4 hours since Earthrise
I am in front of a mob holding placards. That man on the placard looks familiar, there is some protest. The police arrive in some flying ships open tear gas. Part of the crowd disperse, I move through the crowd and reach a clearing. Oh shit I recognize that face on the placard, it's one of the alternative film makers of our times. He is been publicly executed. There are cheers. A group of women break into a a Bollywood dance, in the end, the film maker is killed.

I continue running, this is a different world, i see an old face begging, he used to be one of a fellow writers during my struggle years, what happened? There is poster of a movie produced by some Kumar clan called "Galatic Ishq", wow and the poster is playing a song, it a remix that played on radio, sounds familiar. Oh my Gosh, News flashes in a signboard. SRK and GURU Dutt to team up? Technology has made it possible.

The beggar comes behind me and speaks to himself " They don't need stars anymore, there are lots of virtual stars everywhere. All created by the Clans, Bollywood is now ruled by clans who are off springs of the Bachans, Khans, Chopras, Roshans. UTV buildings have been bombed, Hollywood is waging a war of creativity with Bollywood. War Against Creativity. The rest of the world only gets Bollywod films and other markets have their own versions of bollywood films. Even the Chinese have broken into the territory. Every movie is the same plot, with different faces. Writing job does not exist anymore. The alternative film makers have been arrested and executed. Some still teach the craft, they are branded as terrorists and revolutionaries for thinking different. They run these training centers in some remote places hard to penetrate. Some underground market sells those films like drugs peddled in the crater areas of the moon. Very expensive, good cinema is illegal. Youngsters roam about with blue tooth enabled phones, downloading stuff (films) from the peddlers. Writers are been executed." A chill runs down my spine

I am still trying to grasp on how I landed here, I walk away from the beggar, I walk down the street, people begin staring at me. I receive an MMS. LAST WRITER SPOTTED. He looks familiar. It's me. I am surrounded by the cops in the small space ships. The cop points something at me. A jolt.. Black Out.


Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon

For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win

For the times they are a-changin'.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Fire Still Burns with AGNI

Fire Still Burns in a campaign initiated by Artistic Revelations to bring change by doing what you know to do the best.

AGNI- the organisation who introduced the concept of Advanced Locality Management in Mumbai; one of the first propagators of the Clean & Green Mumbai idea; an organization that challenged strikes of essential services in Mumbai; an early starter to utilize the power of media to spread their message…

To cut a long story short - a visionary team who has withstood the test of time in working towards creating a better tomorrow.

And we are thrilled to announce that this visionary team is partnering with our movement to combine the energies of the youth with the expertise of the elders. A wholly voluntary association, AGNI is operated by citizens like you and me.

The details of the association will follow as we go along – as always ideas to make the association meaningful are welcome…

Keep the fire burning.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thinking without Thinking

(First Published on

Thinking without Thinking and Visual Language in Indian Cinema.

Disclaimer: I am a student of Cinema, for a lifetime. I have not attended any film school so whatever expressed on the article is based on my observations and understanding of this medium by watching movies. I just have two short films to my credit and currently writing for someone detested here on PFC, every thing expressed here is purely my opinion, meaning no offense to anyone.

Recently I came across the trailer of Dev D on PFC, after watching the trailer on the comments section I impulsively wrote “Reminds me of Requiem for a Dream.” Later on however I thought, I should not have made the comment without seeing the whole film. It set me thinking why that happened. If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, he puts forth the theory of “how we think without thinking”; it was a similar situation, impulsive reaction. The whole thing nagged me and later that night I sent the trailer link to a friend in US to get a different point of view. He immediately responded after watching, it reminded him of Trainspotting. My immediate retaliation- why can’t two directors have the same idea while making a film? They can result in different stories, both original. Does watching a huge collection of foreign films give us a right to compare a genuinely original film to some foreign one? It could be a mere coincidence that the trailer reminded you of a particular film. His answer was pretty interesting “thoughts and ideas can be the same, but not the same visual language”.

Another incident, on a TV show, Anurag Kashyap recommends “Battle of Algeirs.” I managed to get hold of that film and watch it; the opening scene of the film has soldiers questioning a bearded man in his underwear shivering, not able to speak. The soldiers are trying to get some information out of him. The soldiers even offer him water. Déjà vu !!! Black Friday, Mumbai cops questioning the Memon’s manager in the jail cell. It could be tribute, inspiration or a sub conscious decision to do it that way. What stood out was what my friend called Visual Language, it was similar. Tribute and inspiration is acceptable, but if it’s a sub conscious decision to attempt it, the problem needs to be addressed.

Being original in your scripts and stories is not enough, it is fine as a writer, but a director needs to approach his original work backed with original execution of visual language. Other examples, which I would like to point out here, the last scene of RGV’s Bhoot reminded me of Exorcist, many scenes from Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan had a Godfather hangover, Bhansali’s BLACK had the Road to Perdition look, there are countless examples if you dig deep. Again I emphasize on the point on having a tribute or inspiration, with due credit, but if it’s a sub conscious decision to execute it that way I am not sure what the solution to the problem is. Are the directors aware that they are following the same visual language of the originals while trying to be an original film? Are we pushing the craft in terms of visual execution or is it cool way of doing it because “I have seen it in this film” and “I can work it into this film I am making”?

Visual Language, of what I have to come to understand over the years, is the use of all elements of cinema and creating the visuals within the rectangular frame in front of you. Placement/actions of actors, cinematography, editing cuts, props, lighting etc.

At the Screenwriter’s conference Sriram Raghavan spoke about the Cinema greats of India who brought in a particular persona to their films over the years and through their works. Abbas Tyrewala spoke about the last of the Giants of Cinema and how we no more have them as times pass, which I disagree. Over the time in search of finding true Indian stories Indian film makers forgot the importance of visual language or execution. The Giants and the greats were also original in their execution of visual language with respect to their stories, be it in India or abroad.

When I asked a director on visual language problem, the reply was “A new visual language is extremely hard to invent.” Hard not impossible. As much as there is talk of craft developing in Indian cinema, barring a few, most film makers who talk of their craft are already doing tried and tested methods set by the giants, or because it is not done before in the Indian scenario. I refuse to believe that new methods and craft in film making are no more possible, it’s firmly about pushing the craft from the seed idea. As much as we are progressing towards better stories and content, there should be more focus on developing the Indian film making technique along with the stories. And I don’t mean the use of songs into films, the so called Bollywood films, but visual styling is lacking in India; I am also talking of the niche, alternative wave of cinema that’s mostly discussed in these forums. Visual language is the last factor paid attention to in those movies and they seem to be inspired originals in terms of visual execution. I am not sure how many directors get their cinematographers to read the script, sometimes cinematographers seem remotely disconnected from the scene. Directors are not able to create original visuals by the references of countless films provided to the cinematographer to achieve a look, maybe not time invested to work out a visual language for the entire film. There could be mighty budget restrictions, but even budget restrictions can be used to an advantage in achieving unique visual language, thinking original in these circumstances. In the broader sense, somewhere in execution and in production values our films are lacking and are unable to raise the bar while competing internationally.

I do not claim to have the solution to this problem, merely pointing it out as a problem. If people think it’s alright for film makers to attempt already attempted visual techniques because their stories are original. The cleverer ones build it into their narrative making sure even the original film maker who first attempted the techniques cannot figure it out. It might be something that we need not worry at this stage since we are waging a war with the commercial star driven format for now; we have a long way to go before our film makers try stuff like Citizen Kane, Forrest Gump etc. The larger implications of this problem is that we might never really have the so called “Unique Indian film” as times pass, just Bollywood musicals without soul and alternative, different cinema with techniques tried, tested and aped from the west or set by the Giants, we will just have content imitations of world cinema and Hollywood visually. An example of a seed idea pushed by craft of film making to final execution is Sholay. Wikipedia quotes “The Indian film Sholay (1975) borrowed its basic premise from Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. The film was declared BBC India’s “Film of the Millennium” and is the highest-grossing Indian film of all time.” We might never find an original visual language in future, but as an independent film industry we definitely should try to find one.

So coming back Dev D, I haven’t seen the film, read it’s an adaptation of Devdas, definitely not Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream, but the visual language definitely reminded me of other drug movies I have seen. Now why did I think before thinking?

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Year Later...

Nothing can be worse, like a power cut when you have just typed out what you wanted to say on your next blog entry. I did not save it while typing. Lesson learned , there is no perfect order for the things you set out to do, circumstances change. That's what been happening over the year. "Life is what happens to you when you are busy making plans"

A lot has changed in the year that went by, I was surprised to see the date on last entry in the blog was last November. There was a reason that it was not updated simply because we did not know such things had to be ever updated.

Grown wiser, know to read people and judge them better, taking them at face value , "sab log bolta hai". The past year has been impressive for me with the number of people I met and networked. Directors, Producers, actors, writers and of course my partners in crime in Bollywood, the eternal struggling souls that I gain inspiration the ones up there, who have managed to sell their souls to the devil.

I managed to get my first contract as a writer with a very established Director/Producer. Honestly, after the contract was signed there is now, a famous name tag in my resume, the project has to be still on floors. People are more accessible, willing to meet and yes willing to hear me out. I continue pitching projects. For those who asked me about The last Painting project, it has finally been shelved, due to various issues.It won't be made in malayalam, with the same budget we could even make it a multiplex film in Hindi. Who will fund you? No one to blame, but sometimes my own choices. Why would anyone want to fund a new director, who claims to know to make films, without working under anyone as an assistant or a bollywood set. A question that bothers many, few ask me and the only answer is the confidence in my script and my vision, because I am yet to make that film.

With ' The Last Painting' not happening, I decided to boost my resume with some names, not knowing whether it would be possible. More the names, better for investors, " "Aah this guy has worked under so and so...he has written so and so ...project etc". I collected contacts from all possible sources , started messaging and calling up the established names in the industry, asking if they would be interested in hiring a writer for their projects. I actually started with the Director for whom I am currently working. After numerous messages, he finally gave me a meeting. From there on after multiple meetings and discussions, he finally signed me in March. I ACTUALLY RECEIVED MY FIRST INDUSTRY ADVANCE. My Cheque!!!! Thursday the 13th of March, 2008!!!

During that period I had also pitched to other directors, so ended up making multiple plot lines during those pitches. Some producers even made me work for six to seven months, but when it came to the money, they simply vanished. I was Cuba Gooding "Show me the money Jerry!!! "..only problem is Jerry hung up the phone other end.

What came out of the meetings, is some great ideas, concept notes, treatments that lie in my email Inbox waiting to take off someday into the celluloid. Someday I wish to start a production house, happy, that I have original concepts and stories, I finally have my own bank, that I can either pitch, produce or direct, the ones that I beleive in. I have registered all of them in my name.

Yesterday I had a meeting with a director at CCD near Fame andheri. I reached there and waited for sometime for the director to arrive, I kept looking around the tables, what I saw models, an actress, glamour, the usual show shining, contracts being read, a group discussing song lyrics, lifestyle week been discussed, a college couple smoking a hookah, a casting guy looking at a model's snaps, someone saying he knows the A list stars and can get them. I suddenly felt very alien to that world, I don't belong there, the worse part Bombay has banned smoking in public spaces, that makes me a full alien in public place. Dunno, how many of them are actually telling the truth, how many are serious and how many meetings there will finally take off into something concrete.

The Andheri west belt scares, that is not the real Bombay, that is reality for some, not for me. I prefer taking a rickshaw ride to andheri from chembur, enjoy the sights and sounds of bombay, including some of the traffic, except when I am in a hurry. The rickshaw rides gave me numerous ideas, concepts, plots, gave time for prep before the pitches and I also met a rickshaw guy who worked for TCS in Oklahoma as a Java consultant, he has also passed Police Service exam, did not get a job because they demanded bribe from him to be a cop, he thought investing on his business was a better decison than paying the bribe, now works in a factory as a skilled turner( dunno what exactly it means) and invested, rents out and himself drives the rick for four hours daily, finally makes it home on time to watch BIGG BOSS. How inspiring, modern india, post liberalisation !!!!

I paid him, said "thank you", he replied " welcome". Something that struck me as I walked away " We are all part of some vicious system struggling to fight our circumstances and outcome of the choices." Sorry for this preachy shit !! I wish I could have sold my soul to the devil, but something that comes to my mind is when the Oklahoma school bomber Timothy MacVeigh was executed, he wrote a note to the people who insisted on seeing his death execution " I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul." He is not the right example here, but what I loved was you couldn't break his spirit, causing the people who watched his execution more grief.

Over the year we have become more adamant, stubborn, maybe focussed...and it's next to impossible to break our spirit, no matter how the circumstances changes.

Orson Welles advice to Ed Wood Junior in the movie Ed Wood (1994) " Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else's dreams? "

Goodluck and Best wishes to all.

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