“Senor DeWoo, what should we expect next from the mind of this extraordinary director?” the reporter asked cheerfully as he shoved the microphone in Senor DeWoo’s face and send him reeling backward. But instead of glaring down this unknown reporter from an obscure magazine, with a press pass that read Pratap, Senor DeWoo smiled, almost in apology, and spoke. “A homage to the film that inspired me to make films. The greatest story ever told. I don’t think anyone can ever remake this masterpiece. So I won’t even try. It will be just a tribute to its genius. My next directorial venture will be an homage to Casablanca.” This news alone was enough to send shock waves across the entertainment world, but the greedy reporter was not satisfied. “And when shall your legions of fans expect to see this ‘homage’ on screen?” Senor DeWoo sighed, unimpressed by the theatrics of this lad barely out of journalism college. “On this very day, my dear Sir, on this very day next year.” He gave the reporter a pat and walked off with his film’s lead.
Ulanova DiMario, his wife, lawyer, and financial advisor, had already braced herself for the impact this announcement would have on their married life. But even she wasn’t prepared for the barrage of phone calls, emails, and DMs she was subjected to in the next twenty four hour. The cronies from production companies and super-celebrities wouldn’t leave her alone. The production almost came to an impasse, but for Senor DeWoo to put his foot down and threaten to go indie. A compromise was reached to co-produce the film between the top 3 companies.
“Now comes the hard part.” Senor DeWoo said to her, sitting in their garden. “I have stopped using my phone. Send a mail informing everyone of the blind auditions.” She spoke while rolling a blunt for him.
Senor DeWoo’s assistant and DoP, John Smith, and Raman decided rather naively to organize the casting audition at his villa in Goa. It was a disaster. Vehicles lined up outside the mansion as far as the eye could see, and celebrities stood in front of the iron gates anxiously waiting for a shout announcing their name. One reporter described it as, “A reality show audition but instead of jobless bums, the contestants have all come in their luxury vehicles.” But he was wrong, because along with them also came thousands of struggling actors, some on foot from the nearest bus stop, 10 km away, who could kill each other even for an uncredited role. The ones who had aspirations of playing Rick or Ilsa had even brought their own gin to get character. Not an hour passed before everyone was drinking and shouting at the top of their voices, while the car speakers blared ‘As time goes by’ on repeat. “What in Citizen Kane’s name is going on?” Senor DeWoo, who swore in the name of Orson Welles, roared in anger as John and Raman scrambled to get the situation under control. “Next time, do it correctly.” Warning the two minions, he drove out to the apartment of his mistress.
The next auditions were organized a week later at the Palais Garnier and ran for three days. Every aspirant was meticulously grilled by Senor DeWoo, and his sharp words hurt many egos. Many were ejected in seconds, reduced to sobs and tears. A throng of reporters swarming outside the gates of the old opera house ensured that every swollen red eye of an A-lister coming out of the enormous gates was shared with great uproar and anger online.
But Senor DeWoo remained unperturbed to all the hate and trolling he was receiving. In fact, he looked even more motivated to complete this project. He watched countless hours of the original “Casablanca,” glued to the 8mm screen installed for this purpose. After ten days, he emerged from the projector room, dark-eyed, unshaven, and unkempt. “The filming starts next week in Casablanca,” Senor DeWoo barely spoke before collapsing. Ulanova DiMario dropped the glass of lemon-water she had at this sight. The reporters she had painstakingly arranged for captured it in tweets and insta stories, making everything related to the film trend in minutes.
On the first day of the shoot, Senor DeWoo’s grand project ran into a big problem. Throngs of people followed the crew wherever they went, not allowing them a moment of rest. It went on like this for three days, during which there were many scuffles, things were stolen from vanity vans, four cameras were broken, and a bar got vandalized. On the fourth day, a man was crushed to death in a stampede when Johnson, emulating Bogart, went to sign some autographs. The government finally decided to put the foot down, and force was deployed. They went to work with their batons and restored normality within two hours. One month into the shoot, Johnson was found half-dead from consuming too much gin. “I wanted to method act Rick Blaine, and I think I went overboard.” Filming had to halt for a few weeks during which the lead actress, Kapur, had a falling out with her partner over issues of infidelity and a bitter divorce ensued. And thus, the shooting dragged on way longer than expected it seemed one year was too short a horizon. But a two months later, the crew disappeared overnight, and very few reports emerged for the next three weeks. At the end of the month, Senor DeWoo and his team flew out of Morocco with five hours of footage, having worked overnight to complete the film.
One month before the stated release, Senor DeWoo sat down with Lisa Jaine for an exclusive interview. “So, Senor DeWoo, why have you decided not to release any trailer for your film?” Lisa Jaine could barely hold the excitement in her voice. “I say ‘your film’ because you haven’t even shared ‘your film’s’ name, let alone a poster.” Judging from her laugh, she found her own comment quite funny.
“Lisa,” Senor DeWoo’s was disappointed, “Stop doing air quotes twice. In fact, stop doing them period. It is cringy.” He paused to light up a blunt and then exhaled onto her face, who greedily inhaled it like a closet smoker. “Senor DeWoo’s Casablanca, that is the name of my film. And I will not release any trailer because I don’t want to spoil the audience’s experience with my magnum opus. I am an artiste, Lisa. And people form opinions about a film, positive or negative, based on trailers alone. Trailers, sneak peek, pre-screening are marketing tools that take away from the intrigue of a film. I don’t want to surround my film with such gimmick. Just a poster, take it or leave it.” With a triumphant smile on his face, Senor DeWoo walked away mid-interview, leaving Lisa and her producers dumbfounded. They had not been notified of this plan all along.
After a year of speculation, rumors, and controversies, legal issues, personal problems, and twitter trends – Senor DeWoo’s Casablanca had its world premiere at a gala ceremony at his $50 million in the French Riviera. Everyone from Billionaires to Best Boys, Politicians to Producers & Actors to Activists duly attended. It was a cultural event of the highest magnitude.
The next day, Pratap was called into the office of his editor-in-chief.
“Pratap,” the veteran journalist looked him up and down with the notorious glare, “I have your review for Senor DeWoo’s Casablanca in front of me. What the hell am I reading?” He threw away the Pratap’s copy in disgust.
“It is what it is.” Barry shrugged.
“But it is the review of the original Casablanca from the Times, Pratap. Word for Word. Did you think I wouldn’t notice? I read it as part of my curriculum, so do not make me say the lord’s name in vain !!” The editor-in-chief stood up in a rage, “Do you want to get fired, young man?”
Pratap didn’t flinch. “But Jack, it’s the same movie. I can’t do anything about it.”
Jack’s face was still red as he continued to shout, “What do you mean, it’s the same movie?”
“I mean Senor DeWoo’s Casablanca is the same movie as the original Casablanca Jack. And sit down for a second.” The shock made the old man obey him. “It’s not a homage. Not even a remake. The same freaking movie. He literally just picked up the original reels and processed them digitally. The guy didn’t shoot a single new frame, let alone a scene.” Barry tapped his editor’s desk and gave him a wink. “Why the hell should I spend my time writing a new review then, right?”
Jack’s mouth dropped to the floor as he tried to make sense of the whole thing. “But, but…. It’s…. how….?”
“Nobody cares about the what they get anymore, Jack; it’is all about the hype. All about the hype, Jack.” Barry waved as he left the office. Jack had to later published the review overnight as Senor DeWoo’s Casablanca broke all the opening day box office records.
One month later, Senor DeWoo was sitting in his garden while listening to his assistants present some financial numbers. He looked at Ulanova DiMario lying next to him, completing the purchase of a new island in the Caribbean for vacations. She smiled back at her husband. “Leak the news that I will retire after one more film,” he instructed them and left the meeting. A blood red sun drowned in front of his eyes, the ocean turned a little darker and the adrenaline of victory rushed through his veins. “We’ll always have Hype,” he murmured and laughed.