Man with the Movie Camera: Rajeev Ravi on seeing Gangs of Wasseypur evolve through the lens.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he camera sees more than the human eye. It can make unreal what is real and vice versa. It can lead one onto tangents away from the narrative or propel one directly into its churning vortex. It is the pen that scripts the director’s style and vision on film. It is the magic machine that translates the production designer’s ideas into effects. The camera, therefore, is a wicked mirror that can either bend impressions into distortion or render them straight and identifiable for one and all. For Gangs of Wasseypur, the camera did not need to see more or less, but just enough. It had to film with precision. Minimalism and chronicling people in their environment were to be the key. If psychological and social realism had to reach its peak, storytelling was to gain precedence and style was to be had spontaneously, evolving with the evolution of plot and narrative. Only then could the imperative of capturing things as they were be realised. Only then could the plausible be used with clear-headed precision. In Rajeev Ravi, the film had its man who would put storytelling at the helm and let the camera talk through the movement of the narrative, rather than vice-versa. In a speedy tête-à-tête, this filmmaking genius speaks about the designs and ideas he had for shooting this most thinking of popular Hindi films.
What was your principal idea for filming Gangs of Wasseypur?
Naturalism! I focused on capturing the environment and giving it a coverage king of feel. I shot even as things kept happening around us. There was no discussion on it per se. I tried being as realistic as I could.
How did you plan the look and the feel of the film?
I didn’t plan the look or the feel of the film. Quite literally, we just captured the unfolding narrative in its real unhampered environment and put them into the film in ways that suited storytelling best.
What were you lighting set-ups?
We generally had very basic lighting throughout the film. Almost always, I shot in available light. Only in some places did we use specific lights, but those too were minor light sources.
How would you describe your relationship with the production designer and the costume designer of GOW?
The three of us have worked together in four films. We’re used to each other and it feels very smooth, very comfortable working together.
Did you alter your style of cinematography for GOW?
In spite of pushing in stylistic imperatives of my own, I tried being as realistic as possible as the subject-matter of GOW was steeped in realism. What I try to do nowadays is to not give style a separate thought. I have come to believe that effective and precise storytelling is essentially what cinema is. If you tell your story right, your style would flow in by itself. You wouldn’t have to put an extra effort into it and it wouldn’t look superadded, forced and contrived. As a cinematographer, you should just follow a film’s story and everything else that forms a part of its plot, and let your style evolve naturally.
Did you use special gels to achieve effects of warmth and coldness in the film?
No. We just used the regular gels. You must understand that we were constrained with a lack of time and not much money, and therefore, used whatever we could get hold of. Our emphasis was on bringing the story out in all its depth, rather than being sensational.
Did you do a lot of work in post-production or did you do almost everything on the set?
As the film was shot naturalistically, it retained its environment as footage. We merely did enhancements in post-production.
Did you use special lights to capture shots in closed spaces in the film?
No. Those shots too were taken in natural, available light.
Did you consciously invent certain frames and camera movements for the film?
No. I did it quite naturally, spontaneously, with a free flow of how I saw things on the spot.
Could you please talk about your relationship with the team, e.g. the gaffer, the assistants, VFX guy?
They were all friends of mine. There was no gaffer as such. They were people who’ve been working with me for years. I had a lot of assistants, e.g. Pappu, Jayesh, Mahidher, Suresh, etc. They were the gaffers, and the second operating cameramen, too. We did things easily and spontaneously as we were very comfortable with each other. VFX was done by Gagan Vishwakarma.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered during filming?
The biggest challenge was the death of a colleague of ours, assistant director Sohil Shah, on location. He met with an accident. Otherwise, the shoot was smooth. As Anurag and I have worked together for a long time, we could be spontaneous with each other and understood each other well. We managed to tide over tough situations easily.
Could you please share your favorite shot or scene or element from the film?
No, I don’t break down things like that. I don’t even watch my films once they are out after print. I shoot them for once and for all and then let it be.
What cameras and perforations did you use? Did you go digital too?
The first film was shot on 35mm cinemascope, with hawk lenses. Second film was shot completely on Super-35. We went digital only when we required it. Of course, all the sets had 5D Mk IIs, and 7Ds. I also made use of Sony CineAlta F900 R, an HD camera on which I had shot That Girls in Yellow Boots. I used it extensively for capturing the climax of GOW. Therefore, everything was mixed with 35mm cinemascope. Cinemascope does not have 3 perforations. Its lenses are different. It’s an old technology. Nowadays, no one talks about cinemascope, but we used it effectively.
What are your thoughts on using digital along with film?
See, there’s a lot of debate on this topic nowadays. There is 35 mm, 35 mm cinemascope, Super-35, 16 mm, mini DV, video DSLRs, micro four-thirds, and much more that’s available. Effectively, these are merely the tools of a cinematographer, tools of a filmmaker to be precise. If you want to say something, if your content is strong, and if you know how to communicate it effectively and precisely then whatever you use is fine. Even a film shot on VHS or iPhone would look great if it is conveyed immaculately.
How did you handle ‘rolling shutter’ and ‘motion blur’ that come in with the use of DSLRs?
No one pays attention to these things if the film is good. Audiences bother checking up on peripheral technical details only if the film isn’t sufficient in itself, if there is something lacking in its story, plot, drama and tension. Rather than bothering about these technical elements, a filmmaker should shoot on whatever he gets and convey his narrative with convincing strength.
How much time did you take for filming, post-production and DI?
We took around 100 days for filming. The post-production, which is what my DI is, had to be done in a hurry as I got it at the last moment. It happened in about a month.
What was the film stock that you used?
We used both Kodak and Fuji.
Where did the DI take place?