Grandeur was the brief for Happy New Year – Manush Nandan
Cinematographer Manush Nandan takes us behind the scenes on the making of the year’s much awaited film, Happy New Year, which is ringing cash registers at the box office. He speaks to Pandolin about the larger than life treatment, the extravagant sets and the detail with which each frame of this multi-starrer has been designed and shot.
Happy New Year has a larger than life look. What visual treatment did you’ll set out to achieve?
Happy New Year doesn’t fall in a particular genre; hence we have not stuck to one particular look. In terms of the treatment, the grandeur was the brief. It was more about showcasing things larger than life, be it the actors or the setups. And in terms of overall look and feel, I have essentially gone by the script.
Did director Farah Khan have any creative references in mind? What was her brief to you?
We did not have any particular references, again, as the film wasn’t falling in any one specific space. The only thing I referenced was how to shoot with six characters in each frame. That by itself was a challenge. So I saw a lot of films with multiple characters, how the scene is brought in, introducing the characters in each scene, composing the scene and so on. Other than that, Farah was very clear about what she wanted as a director as well as a choreographer. For the WDC (World Dance championship) too, we looked up a lot of reality shows and concerts to understand the scale, as it had to look Indianised yet larger than life.
What was your approach towards lighting since you were almost always working on elaborate scenes?
One of the sections of the film, SRK’s introduction was shot extensively with Phantom Flex4k. This was the first time that this camera had been used so extensively. The challenge in that portion was that it had to look like a grungy mud pit fight but at the same time the moment the Phantom comes in we need to pump in lights. That was the highest lighting requirement in the entire film and was a difficult sequence to create. I had already placed lights in the frame to get a dramatic feel. But the moment you have lights in the frame, the face lighting has to overpower that or else the actor’s face won’t be visible. So I ended up pumping a lot of light and that was a little tricky.
In Dubai, around 80 per cent of the shoot was indoors, on sets. The godown was one of the biggest chunks where we shot for almost 20 days. We had to shoot day, night and evening with all kind of lighting changes. Usually when we have just a day effect or a night effect, I stick to Tungsten lights as that helps in production budget too. But in a situation like this where you had to show differentiation in the same set I have used daylights for day and Tungsten for night. That helped me differentiate both the looks easily. Daylight looks more real as it creates great contrast in the overall scene .
Other than that, I’ve approached the lighting as per the script. The only challenge I had in terms of lighting was working with six different characters together. They have different heights, complexions etc., so getting them in one frame, going with the mood of the scene and sticking to the brief was a challenge.
In terms of locations, why did you’ll choose Dubai?
We shot largely in Dubai and Mumbai. Farah had placed the story in an international city like Dubai, so it was more like a part of the script. We were initially contemplating between Abu Dhabi and Dubai but everyone felt that Dubai had a better character to it due to the sea, the palms etc. Also most of the story was set in a hotel like the Atlantis and we liked the look of it more than the hotel in Abu Dhabi. Creatively these were the reasons we stuck to Dubai. Logistically too they (Dubai Government) were very welcoming and Atlantis was very co-operative and gave us a free hand to shoot wherever we wanted.
In Dubai, the ‘India Waale’ song was shot on a set but apart from that we shot extensively on real locations including the introduction of the characters in Dubai, the hotel room & corridors, the night jetty scene and so on. We were there for around 20-22 days.
Which was the largest set piece in the film and what went into the set up?
In terms of space everything was large. Between Shashank Tere (Production Designer) and me, the godown set was huge even though it did not have many props. We had to create an entire warehouse and all the effects in that. The next challenging sequence was the ‘India waale’ song where we were shooting a party sequence. We are showing it as a ballroom of a 7 star hotel so we had to make it look glossy and wanted to do something that was not done before. So Shashank suggested that we use lots of crystals but putting them up was tricky. Also lighting up the crystals evenly was complex . All that had to be planned.
What is the style of shooting that you have adopted? What was your framing and lensing approach?
Even though you have six characters in the frame you need to underline someone who is important for a particular shot. In terms of lensing, even the close ups were shot with wide lenses keeping the important character in the foreground and others in the background. Normally people shoot a wide shot and then punch in to a close up but we didn’t want to do that. We choreographed it in such a way that whoever was making a point in a particular scene would come into the place of importance. Also in all the scenes we had either the camera or the characters moving. Farah didn’t want any shot to be static.
We have also used a lot of handheld. Handheld gave the feel that you are with the characters especially in the heist part. So from when he tries to decode the safe to the final picking of the diamond, including the escape at the jetty, we have stuck to handheld. All those sequences were shot in close up, as we wanted to be more intimate with the actors.
The film sees to have employed several visual effects. How did you shoot the scenes where VFX was to be incorporated later?
In this film VFX has been used to enhance the film and it has helped the narrative. For the WDC, we needed VFX for two things – to juxtapose the whole stage in front of Atlantis and secondly for crowd multiplication. The moment you went wide, both came into play – so the crowd and background had to be there. We had given a definitive ending to the stage, so VFX could fit the Chroma screen exactly to the edges. The difficult part for them was that we had several intelligent lights that were moving throughout. But they did a great job. Also we had shot the palms and Atlantis in the day and the VFX team then added the fireworks element and the stage to the shot. So it was multiple VFX and real shots put together. For this scene we have used the Galaxy, which is the largest crane available in India operated by Nitin Rao. Though we wanted to shoot with a Chopper or Octocopter, internationally also there is a restriction to use them above crowds.
How did you go about shooting the Helipad sequence?
The whole helipad was an outdoor set in Film City since we wanted to shoot it against the real sky. There was a 360-degree Chroma set up and the helipad was life size. We wanted to shoot the sky in reality and the background had to be that of Dubai. We also wanted to have a shot of a chopper flying around but instead of a chopper we opted for an Octocopter. In India at that point of time, we didn’t have any Octocopter that could take a Red Epic. We didn’t want to shoot with 5D or a GoPro because we wanted high-resolution footage since it involved VFX too. We knew exactly what we wanted from this shot and SRK himself had designed the helipad fight along with the action director.
So the fight sequence was shot in India but the challenging part was to shoot the background plates in Dubai and that had to exactly match the background of this shot. Fortunately we had decided the building where we wanted to place this shot. So Harry (Red Chillies VFX) came up with this brilliant idea of using Google Earth. We had the building on Google Earth and he made a rough comp (comprehensive layout) of all the characters and placed the Google Earth visuals behind them to know the exact angle and placing. It was a great reference, something that they did for the first time. So when we went to shoot we knew where to place the camera and we also knew the path along which it has to be moved. I don’t think we would have managed to match the place perfectly without the help of the VFX team.
There is an underwater sequence in the film with SRK. Please tell us about the equipment used and where was it shot?
We shot this in a pool at at Khopoli near Lonavala. It is one of the largest and deepest pools near Mumbai where several underwater sequences have been shot. Dave Judge (Action Director) choreographed the action for this sequence which had water filling the entire vault. But in actuality filling up water to that level would have taken a lot of time and wasn’t really achievable. Also Shashank rebuilt the entire vault on location as it couldn’t be carried from Mumbai. He made the vault cylinder set into two halves, top and bottom separately. The entire set was then with an industrial crane and we immersed it in a swimming pool so you feel the water is coming up. Logistically it made things easy because it was just about moving the crane in and out of the water. But everything had to be suspended from the crane including the lights, camera etc. Shashank had to give leverage to accommodate all the light and also carry so much weight – two actors, the camera, 5-10 lights on top. Also there was a high element of risk as active lights and wires were going into the water with the actors. We used lights that would work even in water, which included a blue strip of LED lights around the wall as part of the set design. These lights were waterproof and we tested them for quite a few days to be sure. My gaffer Prakash Shetty’s experience was very helpful. The LED lights went under water and above that we used conventional Par lights. So we had to ensure that the crane stopped at a particular level so that the Par lights don’t get into water.
The songs have all been shot in an extravagant manner. Take us through the making of ‘Lovely ho gayi’.
For ‘Lovely ho gayi’, we got a small floor due to logistical reasons. So Shashank suggested doing a set in perspective. He constructed the set from wall to wall and scaled it down so that in perspective it looks big. Usually you never see the top and bottom of the stage but Shashank made it small, as he wanted it to be shot in a way that in cinemascope the whole stage can be composed well. And that idea worked out. So it looks huge but is actually a small floor. Another thing was that, story wise, it was a local bar but had to look good. Shashank came up with this idea of mixing Bhandup with Moulin Rouge. So we stuck to Bhandup in terms of props and extras and stuck to Moulin Rouge in set. The set was made a little grungy, like a run down space where they have made a makeshift bar. And that was the brief from Farah too. We wanted to initially shoot in Capitol Theater in Mumbai but logistically it wasn’t possible. In terms of color, we stuck to a single tone and a more warm color palette. All the junior artists were asked to come in black so that only Deepika would be projected in the crowd. And Deepika was largely wearing only silver or gold.
We shot in a conventional way using only Jib and Panther. Since the set was a complete 360 set, which you normally don’t have, I was able to freely move anywhere. Also since we scaled down the set it became more convenient. When Deepika was doing the aerial moves, the camera always moved in the opposite direction. So you get a perspective that something is happening.
Which was the most challenging sequence/ song to pull off in the film?
The WDC championship was the toughest one. Since we were talking about a World Dance Championship it became very easy for anyone to compare them to today’s dance and award shows. People are used to seeing these elaborate shows and we didn’t want WDC to look any less than that. The set was made in Film City and we had around seven cranes to hold the entire thing. We had LED screens also and the panels come in particular measurements, so we had to keep that in mind or the image gets distorted. I didn’t want the LED screen to overpower the actors, so we had designed it in a way that the LED screen was placed above them and would be seen only in wide shots.
There were a lot of things that had to be shot in this one set as it was used in the semi finals, climax and several other scenes. We needed to differentiate all of that as there was no time to change the set for all the things. So for ‘Nonsense ki night’ we didn’t open up the stage much and were always on the actors but for ‘India wale’ in the climax we went all out. We always wanted to show a differentiation but without changing anything element wise. It took around 20 days to plan the entire set and we shot with a minimum 4-6 camera set up at any given time.
Camera: Alexa XT
Lenses: Master Prime
VFX Supervisor – Harry Hingorani, Red Chillies
Gaffer – Prakash Shetty
Associate – Harish Krishnan
Assistants – Rohit, Santana Krishnan (Ravi K Chandran’s son) and Parvez
Second Camera Operators – Sooraj Nallusami and Aakash
I’d like to thank Varun Lalwani, the AD on the film. We had worked together on Ishkq in Paris and he recommended my name to Farah as she wanted someone relatively new for the film. When Farah got to know that I was Ravi K Chandran’s assistant she checked with him and he strongly recommended my name. These two people are responsible for me getting this film.
Photo Courtesy: Red Chillies Entertainment