Kashmir is not just a backdrop; it’s a character in Fitoor
Cinematographer Anay Goswamy is adept at creating magic on screen. In the recently released Fitoor, Anay picturesquely captures the white snow, red chinar and the graceful Kashmir that comes across as a character in itself. Hailing from Chandigarh, Anay who is a product of FTII came in the limelight when his short film Chabiwali Pocket Watch won a National award and became India’s official entry to the Student Academy Awards. So far the talented cinematographer has grabbed eyeballs through his work in films such as The Japanese Wife, No One Killed Jessica, Mumbai Cutting and Kai Po Che. Here Anay shares candid moments from the shooting of Fitoor.
How did Fitoor happen? And why did you agree to be part of it?
Soon after we did Kai Po Che, Abhishek (Kapoor, Director) shared Fitoor’s story with me. He was writing it for a while and it was meant to start earlier than it did. But we only started in November 2014.
It was definitely my association and belief in Abhishek that made me do this project. A lot of things about it were luring. For any cinematographer, this would have been a great canvas. At the same time, some of the characters were inspiring. Particularly Tabu’s character and the children’s section is very beautiful. There were certain qualities in Fitoor which you don’t find often in many scripts.
What kind of pre-production did you do before starting Fitoor?
I have been working on it since July 2014. A fair amount of in-depth preparation was done. The film is shot in the autumn and winter of Kashmir. Even though we started shooting in winters, I had already done a scout with Abhishek during previous winters. He did a detailed scout with music director Amit Trivedi, lyricist Swanand Kirkire, the production designers and myself to feel and get inspired by Kashmir in winter. That is something that we did as a personal homework.
When you are shooting a love story, what kind of a role does a scenic place like Kashmir play?
Whatever you say about Kashmir, you still can’t say enough. Kashmir is awe – striking and inspiring. I fell in love with the place. Like the quote by Amir Khusro says “If there is paradise on earth, it is Kashmir”. Obviously, when a film has such a backdrop, the romanticism that a place can bring along is just unparalleled. At the same time, a place like Kashmir is such a conflicted land. Kashmir is not just a backdrop, it is a character in the film.
Was a conscious and deliberate effort made to showcase the beauty through the visuals and composition?
Of course! Gattu (Abhishek Kapoor’s nickname) wanted to approach it a certain way and so did I. We have always seen this film quite similarly. We definitely wanted a fantastical surreal quality. With all the ingredients that we have brought, I think we have been able to achieve that visually.
Where all has the film been shot?
It is been shot in Kashmir, Delhi, a lot in Mumbai on the sets and has also in Poland.
Did you follow a different approach to shoot at these places?
Yes of course. The film spans three decades and it has various seasons such as autumn, fall, dry winters and winters. So obviously there has been a fair amount of deep thought that has gone into the visual language of the film, which is emerging from the decades – be it costumes or production design or lighting. So it is something that changes from season to season or decades to decades, character to character and their emotional turmoil. We have given their emotions a certain language – be it through lights, costume palette or background palette.
Kashmir has also been used as a backdrop for many films and the number has seen a rise in recent years. Haider happens to be one of them. Will Fitoor show it differently?
I loved Haider. It was beautifully written, executed and shot. But of course, even though Haider had a personal story, it had politics as the backdrop whereas Fitoor stays as a love story and primarily a tale between the three main characters. It explores the visual splendor of Kashmir more than the political angle or turmoil. We were conscious of exploring the physical beauty, not just in a superficial way but in a way that the romanticism of the time and place is felt in the script.
Abhishek Kapoor recently mentioned you as ‘his teacher, an incredible human being and how he has spent close to 300 days with you, making Kai Po Che and now Fitoor’. Tell us about your association with him.
In our heart of hearts, we know that our souls connect. We have grown together. It was quite humble of him to call me his teacher but I think that we have learnt from each other. It has been a fulfilling journey. A cinematographer-director relationship is like that of a husband and wife. It requires a deeper understanding and just being able to trust the other person completely. And that’s the relationship we have with each other. Though we also had lots of difficulties in this film.
What difficulties did you encounter?
There are all sorts of pressures when it comes to the production schedule. Even though it is a big budget film, the budget is never enough because you always want to do more. The odds were against us when we were starting the film because we started in November when we were actually supposed to start in Autumn. But the floods in Kashmir had completely overthrown the project and it got delayed. So we thought that we wouldn’t be able to shoot that year but by some stroke of luck, we were able to enter Kashmir. Then there were so many locations that we had seen but they got affected due to the floods. So we had to rethink certain strategies. Also, the weather in a place like Kashmir is unpredictable. Such difficulties make you rework your plans and try different ways and finish the film in a particular timeline because the clock is ticking and the producer is paying for it. Gattu and I take our work seriously when it comes to production because it might be his vision supported by mine, but at the end, someone is paying for it. You can’t be disrespectful towards it.
Since the film is said to be based on ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens, was the novel a reference point?
No. The script was my reference point. The same was with Kai Po Che as well. A novel means too many things to too many people but a screenplay is different. And a script is a more defined vision of what should appear on the screen. So it is always the script and not the literary text.
Does that also mean that there were no other creative references in your mind?
Obviously for me, there was certain kind of visual palette that I had in mind – be it Kashmir, interiors of Delhi or Begum Hazrat’s palace. We have done elaborate look tests with the actors and lighting to be able to arrive at the right look and feel that we wanted to achieve. It was difficult to marry Begum Hazrat and the little boy’s world and then transport the audience to Delhi. It was a tricky proposition to switch the visuals.
What was the color palette that is used in the film?
Katrina plays Estelle from the book and we know that her character can be hot and cold with the boy. Light plays a certain role in elevating our mood or make us sound not so lively on certain days. So light is energy and it lifts or drops your energy on different occasions. Katrina has been written in a way that when she is either warm or cold, you feel that energy. When both the energies come together, there is a conflict that arises. And when both the energies come together in the same frame, they create an opportunity for conflict visually as well. Tabu is also very hot and cold with the boy. So there is a mix of the cool light of winters and then some kind of warmth in her mansion.
Tell us about the experience of shooting with a commercially successful actor like Katrina Kaif, a brilliant actor like Tabu and promising actor like Aditya Roy?
All of them are really hardworking. They come with certain kind of experiences, which differ from one film to another. But no matter what your experience, when everybody approaches it like your first film, that’s when you get to see honesty in the performances. They were all so dedicated. Somebody like Tabu is a legend. While shooting the climax, I had goosebumps when she was performing and I was operating the camera hand-held. It was so stimulating and moving to see her perform.
Tell us about the camera and set up used to shoot the film.
Ninety percent of the film has been shot on the Red Dragon and some of it have been shot on the Sony F65. And I have a mix of lenses. It is a very classical way of storytelling so there were a lot of dolly moves, some crane moves, a fair amount of steadicam and as well as hand–held.
Which was the biggest set piece in the film and how did you shoot it?
We had some elaborate sets in Mumbai. Even Begum Hasrat’s mansion is a set. The production designer and the art director have done a splendid job on that. We worked quite closely on the color palette, furnishing, fabric, property, styling etc. So it is a collaborative effort. There is no such mansion in Kashmir, even in the interiors. Only large homes existed but they were not large enough in the setting that we wanted. The most challenging thing was that the house was constructed as a miniature to be shot in Mumbai. And eight months later when we had filmed autumn, fall and winter are when we shot the house as a miniature.
It was like matching and marrying the geometry of the house from the various angles that I had shot in various locations with different lensing and camera heights, speed, tilt or even the ratio of light on that particular day. All of that had to be shot and matched eight months later on a studio floor. It was the most challenging thing to shoot. Nobody so far has asked me whether it was a miniature or not because it marries the milieu well.
Was there anything more challenging other than this?
The other challenging part was to be able to give Begum Hazrat’s character a certain amount of believability despite her madness. The most important thing was how to block the scene with the actors. And then the weather was never easy. We shot in Poland for England and even there the weather was never consistent. There was an instance where I shot four scenes in Kashmir with the children and Katrina and I had to eventually shoot the scene in sunlight and clouds because the sun was moving every five minutes. At that time, your continuity goes for a toss. Even though I may have conceived the scene as cloudy but suddenly it would get sunny and vice-versa. Since you still have to meet the timeline and continue with the production schedule, I suggested to the director that we keep shooting each time the light changes. And then scan the scene in both kinds of light, which was extremely tedious.
While shooting Fitoor, was there any fitoor in your mind in respect to the cinematography?
We all are obsessed when it comes to filmmaking. I have given more than one and a half year of my life to the film. I have dedicatedly worked on it and didn’t even look in the direction of commercials. Fitoor was offering me so much to do on the canvas for which I’m grateful to Gattu because you don’t often get such visual canvases.