When you hear a script of a feature film, how do you prepare yourself for its lighting Scheme?
As a cinematographer, I don’t try to intellectualize the idea at all because I am more impulsive the very first time I try to hear the script from the director. When the script is narrated then the image truly starts forming within me, I start imagining, I start creating a space and I start thinking that the character will be like this. And when you create the space then automatically comes a certain kind of color or certain kind of a feel in me and for some strange reason I stick to that. If I have taken up the film, I discuss it with the director that this is how I see the film. When I do that I generally don’t pull out references from other films.
What you see in cinema creates an imprint in yourself and that is what makes you a cinematographer. It’s a mixture of everything what one has seen all life. It comes together and one creates something. One is influenced by a lot of cinematographers. For example – “Kagaz Ke Phool”, what I remember from that film is a huge dark space and an old man walking in the light shaft. This was a kind of image which just gets into you. Hence, one tries to create not by looking at what that image has created, what impression has been created, what feeling has been generated when one first saw it feeling that one is trying to reproduce. Hence, when one hears the script, one creates the space, the mood and the light. I try to follow that first impression which happened to me and it gets modified a little bit in the film.
You have worked with various directors, veterans as well as newcomers. Who are the directors who have really inspired you to come out with something which you wouldn’t have done otherwise ?
My first feature film was with Mani Kaul “Naukar Ki Kamiz”. It was in 1997. He is a master and a guru and one always looks upon him. It was great opportunity for me to have worked for his film and it was one of the greatest things which happened in my life because he inspires you. I have worked with so many directors after him but I never seen anybody so inspiring because every moment he makes you think. Hence one starts looking up to it like ” a feel ” in everything. The way light falls onto something, one doesn’t look at the light, one looks at the feeling which gets evoked. He made one think like that. He made one think more about the vision and how certain kind of light is going to create a certain kind of a feel. This is what I learned working with Mani Kaul.
Do you remember any particular sequence from “Naukar Ki Kameez” which you would like to mention?
When you are working with a person like Mani Kaul who has got certain ideas for the film. He had a lot of theory and sometimes he was obscure and difficult to understand. He would make a cinematographer work not in a very traditional way. Normally, there is no time for us to think about the pure aesthetic of the movements but in Mani’s case, he inspires you to think about simple things like why to move the camera. He makes you think about everything of film making as if you are not just a cinematographer, he makes you feel as a contributor in the entire film making process. There is a very beautiful sequence in the film where three characters are being followed on the country road as they are cycling. They come to a basketball court, open a thing and then tear their shirts apart. Mani wanted to shoot that particular shot in a certain way. For it, he came up with the idea that he’ll shoot it from a car. At that time, Mani had a premiere Fiat car. We mounted the camera in the boot. The actors continued as a long movement and the best part was that Mani was driving the car ! It was then I realized that Mani had a sense of maintaining the timing as he was looking at them in the rear view mirror and adjusting the speed and then took full circle over there and everything was done in one single shot. I think that he edited the shot in a certain way to reduce the length but when we saw the rushes, we found that the shot which we took was amazing.
Q: You have shot hardcore commercial films like Don, Talaash. When you worked in those kind of films like “Talaash” which is a hardcore commercial film where gloss is very important. Did you carry out some experiments in such films which are not glossy images and yet they serve a purpose?
It is films like “Don” where they will be investing so much money and it is all for business purposes. They are making a product which they could sell in the market. Hence, they will go with glossy thing. When somebody hires you for something like that and you also agree to do it then you should always keep that in mind .Actually, Don was a different approach. We did it very glossy but not in a conventional way. We used certain kind of angles and lens and even it is not very flatly driven as we used a lot of darkness. We, the core team, sat together including production designer, director and costume designer. We decided on the kind of green or gray which could be used by us. That was the idea on which I bounced. Director Farhan Akhtar liked the idea. His reaction was let us give it a try. Hence, nothing was done in post production stage. Everything was done in shooting phase. In order to make the difference, I was using certain kind of lenses and angles. Nothing was in a typical way. Rather, it was in a different way to make it look like a thriller. Later, it became a kind of style or a trend.
When you shot films which were of a different genre namely a comedy like Fukrey, how did you try to distinguish it in terms of a cinematographic approach?
When Mrigdeep Singh narrated the script of his film “Fukrey” to me, I told him that I would be doing it. I liked it so much for being absurd and there was no agenda of comedy in that film. It is not stupid rather it has a certain kind of thought to it. I told him not do this film in a conventional way but to do it rather like a documentary film. Hence, I advised him not to do set up like it is a master shot and over the shoulder stuff, though eventually it turned out to be like that but main thing was different. My idea was to do it like let us just take the characters look the way they are. Hence, it would have a very authentic feel. One should think that the camera would become another Fukrey in the film !!
Can you talk about achieving 360 degree in Mirror gym in Fukrey ? How did you manage to do it ?
One day Mrigdeep asked me whether I can do 360 degree in the mirror gym. It was set. Hence, I told him that we would try. There was a grip boy called Bidhan Chanda. I told him that we would want the camera to be rigged from top. He got the hub of truck wheel. We put the camera on a remote head. In this manner, we could decide the diameter of the camera movement. The camera could be operated from outside all tilt and pan. we also made the mirror box of which only lens is out. This is how we got the shot. All the lighting was done from top.
There is a film like “Miss lovely which was a different kind of a subject. What interested you as DOP to accept that film ?
After “Naukar Ki Kameez” Miss Lovely is another film which is very close to my heart. After Mani kaul there is Asim Ahluwalia who is another director I really like. Actually his film making sensibility is so great and he doesn’t get in to this clichéd kind of film making so that other kind of cinema art cinema. As a film, Miss Lovely has no narrative nor any story. The cinema is not always about story. If one wants to tell a story then one has to write a story. But I think Miss Lovely is more of a form and than the content of what cinema is.
Coming back to a film like “Aaja Nachle” which has been directed by Anil Mehta with whom you also worked as an assistant cinematographer. What was your experience working for someone who was a director but basically a DOP ?
With Anil, I worked for many years. Even after becoming independent, I used to go to him once in a while when there was some big setup. When he was doing HUM DIL DE CHUKE SANAM, LAGAAN and AGNEEVARSHA all those kind of films. We had a very good understanding of work and I think that is the reason why he actually called me for AAJA NACHLE as he believed that I would take care of cinematography department as I understand him very well and I know his kind of taste. Hence, I never thought of how he would judge my work. We understand very well each other’s positive as well as negative points.
Coming to documentaries, you have shot many documentaries. What you find so exciting about shooting documentary films ?
When I graduated from FTII Pune, I was assisting RANJAN PALIT. He is one of the best documentary cinematographers in our country. I am amazed by the way he looks at the light and his sense of understanding of the subject . Hence, I was working with him for KAMALA BAI. It all started with RANJAN then I shot one schedule independently and then he shot two-three schedules in one night. In this manner, I learned a lot of things from him namely the way he looks at the subject and his way of controlling light as in documentary most of the times one is shooting in available light. One has to strike a fine balance between the subject and how to look at it and without any manipulation because one doesn’t get time to manipulate too much. Hence, this is what one has to learn. It should look aesthetically appealing too and without interfering too much into it really. KAMALA BAI was shot entirely in a house. At that time, we were shooting in 16 mm and there was no artificial light which we could carry. We could use only whatever light that was there in the flat through the window. We used to control a lot using curtains and adjusting the curtains. This is from where I got my basic training and one thinks a lot say for a documentary work for a cinematographer. Thus, one is almost like a co-director. One has to be the co-director to understand what is happening in the film. When one is shooting the film then the ears should be very sharp. One should hear everything as well as know what is happening here and there.
Today at a time when technology has changed from film to digital format, do you think that the mystery of image formation has gone ?
If you ask me I would say that I still like film stock. When the technology changed from black and white to color, it was a challenge for cinematographer at that time You have to have a work around always. I think the convenient is always the keyword for the film making. Hence for the sake of convenience one is ready to compromise on the quality. When the video came, the demystification process had already started.
Currently there are big brands like Sony, Alexa, Red etc. Do you have specific priority ? AJA has now introduced Cion and also Pansonic in 4K recording domain. Would you ever like to use them ?
Until now I Prefer Alexa. For me, color space is more real and Sony F-65 is also good. Red has more electronic feel in the image. At some point of time, I would like to test and compare Cion and its quality. Till this moment, Alexa’s image of 2k image looks better to me than the 4k image of the Red. I did the comparison test of RED image and ALEXA image and I like Alexa more. To me the color reproduction is not correct in RED. I think that it is a very personal taste. Many cinematographers will go with the red.