Breaking conventional norms of creating a thriller – Sunil Patel on Murder 3
“This Valentine’s Day, love will be murdered” reads the sensuous poster of ‘Murder 3’. Though the third installment of the successful thriller franchise, Murder 3 helmed by debutant director Vishesh Bhatt promises to be different and mark a new beginning with its emotional depth and fresh treatment.
Aptly supporting and taking forward the vision of the filmmaker is acclaimed cinematographer Sunil Patel who has rendered his expertise, top notch technical flair and artistic finery to weave the intriguing mystery, passion and drama in Murder 3. Here in conversation with Pandolin, he talks to us about the making of a thriller which refrains from conventional norms, the subtle treatment of intimate scenes, the experience of working with the Bhatts, doing away with the mundane language of suspense and more.
What was the thought process with which you took up Murder 3?
It is the first time that I am working with the Bhatt’s. They are known to have very economical and tight budgeted productions. I have always worked on projects which have had bigger budgets, more elaborate shoots etc. So it came as a bit of a surprise to me, when I was offered the film but it all worked perfectly and they also agreed to my budget without any negotiation.
I took up the project because I knew it would be a great experience to work with them and also that I would get to learn many things like the budgeting of films and more.
[pullquote_left]The stories of the best films are very simple storylines but finally what matters is how you treat them.[/pullquote_left]
You have earlier shot genres like comedy and romance, how was it shooting a thriller?
Though I’ve largely done comedy, it’s not like I haven’t watched thrillers. As a cinematographer it’s the first time I’ve made a mystery, thriller, slightly scary film but I’ve seen so many other films that it wasn’t much of an effort trying to get into the skin of a thriller.
Since this is the third film from the franchisee, did you have to keep the look similar to the earlier films or you’ve tried something different?
Not really. Though it is the third film of the franchisee, it is also Vishesh’s first film. And it was a conscious decision for him to take up the Murder series as opposed to Jannat which he had written. His ideas and the way he wanted to portray this film were absolutely different.
At some point before I met Vishesh I thought the movie will be gory and have a lot of bloodshed but there was not a single drop of blood happening in the film, so in that way it is very different.
Also, Murder 3 is said to be inspired by the Spanish film ‘La Cara Oculta’. Are there any similarities between the two films?
I knew that the film is inspired but the story was told to me through the script of Murder 3 rather than us going and watching the Spanish film. I was aware that the original Spanish film was made by Fox themselves but at no point did we see the film and compare. There wasn’t any pressure to make it similar.
Infact we have shot three different options for the end of the film and those are all shot within the few days that we were on the set. Some versions were taken by people’s suggestions and we actually made efforts to shoot the best suggestions. Ultimately what survived was of course in consultation with the studio and with the producers. So, though it was inspired there is nothing in common between the two films.
Most films are inspired by something or the other and whatever you do has always been done by somebody or somewhere. The stories of the best films are very simple storylines but finally what matters is how you treat them.
Where has Murder 3 essentially been shot? How much percent interior and exterior?
The film was shot in Cape Town – South Africa and Mumbai. The first half of the film was mostly exterior. I would say we have shot almost 50 per cent interior and 50 exterior.
Have you shot on film or digital? Which camera did you shoot on? What was the largest camera set up?
We shot digital on the Arri Alexa. We have mostly used single cameras set ups.
What was the kind of lighting set up?
Most of the outdoors sequences have been shot in available light supplemented by little extra light that we arranged. The outdoor shoots were slightly complicated. Some of the locations that we selected were difficult ones like the sand dunes etc where lugging of lights was a problem, so we actually mounted lights on vehicles and just drove them around to wherever we wanted to shoot. In that manner the lights were easily mobile within the sand dunes.
Mostly the outdoor package was very small as we had a lot of available light. We had also planned the shoot reasonably well so there were no hindrances.
Murder 3 involves several intimate scenes. Can you tell us about the treatment of the scenes?
Once you see the film you will realize that there is not much nudity. A bit of bare back, the sensual way of removing clothes etc is present but the elements are more suggestive than actually being shown. It was all more implied and the manner was teasing rather than actually portraying. We have used the normal techniques of using little things that cover up at the right moment.
At times we have been conscious enough and shot alternate scenes or versions of the same scene for the satellite viewers also. We have made sure that we cater to their sensibilities.
Also, the film itself has a much darker tone in terms of human nature so we didn’t really need to resort to skin show.
The Bhatt camp films are known for their songs. How was it shooting the songs?
The songs are beautiful, very hummable and phonaesthetic. We have woven the songs into situations unlike the normal practice where you have a situation to make a song. A lot of the songs were in the background and only one song was lip synced. Vishesh has tried to be new and different and deny the normal jargons of songs and film making.
Also there aren’t any elaborate sets for the songs. We shot them normally, naturally. For example, the protagonists used to live in South Africa, so I had expected an elaborate disco number but there was nothing of that sort.
What are the challenges faced in shooting a thriller on digital?
This is my first digital film; Teri Meri Kahaani which I did earlier was shot on film. I have done a lot of work on Alexa in the advertising industry but that is different from the big screen.
When I tested the Alexa for its features, even on 2k projection, I found that there is far too much detail. My biggest concern was that so much detail was not desirable. In my film there is a lot of proximity of the characters to the walls, mirrors of the house etc. So if someone is standing at a dressing table, he needs to obviously be close to the mirror, I can’t keep them 10 feet away. So that was a bigger concern as then the detailing of the walls and everything else had to be perfect.
As digital images have too much detail in them, far more than what I would love to have, art direction was very important and Rajat Poddar took care of that very well.
How would you differentiate the shooting and treatment of your thriller as compared to other thrillers being made in Bollywood?
I wouldn’t claim any big firsts that we have done. But the biggest claim is that we first convinced ourselves that this is what is required and then we did it. We have tried not to ape general normal ways of creating suspense or scary sequences. Like for example, though the protagonist was an animal photographer, we didn’t have pictures of scary animals looking into the camera or we didn’t pan into a statue standing with a gory knife in his hand. These is the regular language of horror and suspense films and we have tried to stay away from it.
[pullquote_left]Vishesh is a young filmmaker, who wants to push the envelope and try to do newer things. He didn’t want to do things that had been done before or were run of the mill.[/pullquote_left]
We have used suspense in a more subtle manner. For example, if you are taking a dip in the tub and you hear a sound and see ripples in the tub, which you know cannot happen unless there is something, and yet the camera points and you see nothing – it is these kind of techniques that we have used to create suspense and a little bit of scare. The menacing element is more implied rather than a technique of the camera.
Many times we also argued on the fact that Vishesh didn’t want the camera to follow someone from behind and I would say that this is what everyone else does, but we have consciously tried to avoid that as well. Other than the fact that you have to point the camera to the subject, we haven’t followed anything else.
How was it working with debutant director Vishesh Bhatt?
I have known Vishesh from quite some time since we have worked together. Vishesh was assisting Prahlad Kakkar and I used to shoot a lot for Prahlad. So we had met, but it was regular as he was one of the many AD’s that Prahlad used to have. He then called me for this film and that is how we got started.
Vishesh is a young filmmaker, who wants to push the envelope and try to do newer things. He didn’t want to do things that had been done before or were run of the mill. That created a good working environment. Also, everything was openly discussed, there were no hierarchies. He also made it a point to explain to everybody the logic and rationale behind what he was doing. There was lot of scope for us to discuss and what I liked about him is, being of the younger generation, he is less egoistic, more open. There were times when we didn’t agree with each other but that was not a problem but a good thing indeed as the outcome was good – though the audience will give the final verdict.
How many VFX shots does the film have? Who was your team for the VFX and DI?
There aren’t many VFX shots. But for example you cannot create ripples in the water without actually throwing something in it or someone beating up the sides of the tub. We could obviously not do that since the entire tub is in the shot. Hence such things have been created via VFX. But there is no green screen, no wire removals, no doors/ windows opening and shutting on their own – so barely any VFX.
Prime Focus has done the VFX and DI. Ashirwad Hadkar was the colorist. Devendra Murdeshwar is the editor of the film.
How much time did the entire shoot take?
We shot the film in 55 days spread over a couple of months since we had a gap in between.