Making of Rockstar
Away from the set conventions of theatrical structures and story development, Rockstar seems to be an inspired journey through a mélange of various ideas and impressionistic scenes that focus on a single moment to delve into the true depth of the characters as well as the story. As the name of the film suggests, the story revolves around the protagonist (Ranbir Kapoor) and his journey towards rock stardom, shedding the innocence of his college life to become an international icon, but the real intensity in the film is brought by the rock star’s personal life and how it takes a different graph which is where cinematographer Anil Mehta who has earned great acknowledgement for his previous work like Khamoshi, Lagaan, Saathiya, Veer-Zaara etc and won a National Film Award for the Best Cinematography for his work in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, feels the change in the visual imagery of the film comes into place. “Pleasant natural tones, easy going imagery and then as his life takes on a harsh, a more troubled phase, we visually also take it there by pushing the edges a bit with more contrast and deeper tones. Also, keeping in mind the Indian audience and usual projection system problems in India, we had to keep that too filed away on the back of our minds towards the look of the film which will work on every aspect well” he says.
The making of the movie began with the Director, Imtiaz Ali’s vision of how the story should unfold. It was not a very definitive idea but rather a set of thoughts, a collection of essences that constituted the concept of Rockstar. “He did have very specific idea of how he wanted to treat the film in the sense that it was not a simple linear narrative but a story that unfolds over time. I read the script and brought in my ideas and luckily they were in sync with the director. It was uncannily in sync,” reflects Anil. An enduring theme of flashbacks played a major role in the film with the same moment being captured in different ways so as to suggest unique perceptions or show various sides of the scene to the viewers as Anil puts it “we filmed the flash back of the same moment differently so when it reappears in the movie it’s not the same shot. Same shot but shot differently.” The director adds, “When the same shot appears it’s not just the same shot but an extension of the same moment. There was a lot of back and forth, and subtle variations in these moments showing the protagonist’s journey and what he goes on and therefore a visual arc that follows him.”
Imtiaz Ali’s vision and technical prowess was very clear as he writes his own material. Mehta adds, “That clarity is very necessary. So that helped a lot. The conversations on set were usually clear. He knew his dolly shots it was always filled away. We were still finding our palette during coloring. Finding things after knowing your subject very well and knowing the integrity of the film made the process easier”.
The production designer Sumit Basu who brought his ingenuity to the table soon joined the director and cinematographer duo. “We worked together, finalized things and walked that extra mile to get things sorted before we started shooting. One of the things was that our protagonist is a performing musician. He has small gigs once he is through with college, which was shot in the Central Park in Delhi, and several colleges in Mumbai. The stage design and propping was not native to us. So we had to develop this indigenous stage design, which would fit into what we see around us. All that emerged gradually and naturally. Imtiaz and we would discuss thoroughly on the character, what he’s going through, the subtext etc. After that all the small elements would fade in on the location.” Says Anil. When asked about his experience with working with Sumit he says, “My relationship with Sumit became a very integral part of the movie. The film was shot on live location and not on set so it required a lot of work for the Production Designer to design the place so that it fits into the film unlike on set where you have the liberty to create whatever you want.”
The movie was shot over 120 days and when the schedule was fixed, it seemed as if it was not a huge film, but as the shooting progressed, the numerous locations and long hours of shooting meant little breaks for the crew. As Anil explains “The way Imtiaz has written it, the scenes are not very elaborate but there are lots of vignette. The film travels a lot in terms of spaces. For e.g. Montage shots of the protagonist selling his CD in a mall its just 5-6 shots but we had to stay there in the mall the whole day to shoot it as he is mobbed by his fans etc.” The film is shot at several breathtaking locations ranging from Kashmir to the Himachal, to the streets of Old Delhi, and crowds of Mumbai to the old world charm of some European locations such as Prague and Verona in Czechoslovakia.
Most of the scenes were shot in real locations as opposed to film sets to give certain originality and authenticity to the film but with the pros there are always the cons. The problems of shooting at real locations are numerous: Limitations of lighting and space for e.g. a restaurant. We had to understand what was naturally inherent in the space, lighting within the space and then fine tune and supplement it in a minimal way. We just changed few practical lamps and tried to make that work first. We were going through lots of real spaces for e.g. the nightclub in Prague. It was a very funky place made of junk materials, machine, electronic, machine board junk, and canned, automobile junk. It took 10 yrs for the owner to build that place. The whole space was naturally lit with LED’s. So for me to get even one unit was tricky as it would kill the whole feel of the space. So what is the point in shooting here if I can’t see the space the way it is?” To this I brought in LED par lights to supplement the already inherent LED there. To see the LED sculptures the owner had built, I had to shoot wide open and push the processing and tried to fine-tune the grade on it. This principle was very much applied to the whole film whether we were at an open or enclosed space or in a hotel or attic. It was sometimes just to push in a Kino, a few small units and try to hang them outside frame. It was not a film with mega setups, which required 3 days of pre lighting. It was about finding a new space everyday and finding lighting solutions peculiar to that space.”
The locations in India were not any easier to shoot “even if it was a hospital scene, Imtiaz wanted it to be a real location. Real ICU – Now in a real ICU there are patients around you that are very serious. Going with minimal crew, maximum 3 people, tape on one tube light and you have to shoot it. So that was the spirit of the film. And I think everybody went with it. This is what Imtiaz wanted, he wanted the character to walk the Kennedy Bridge and walk into the old streets of Delhi. If it was a scene in a hotel he wanted a real room in Prague whatever the limitations may be. So if we are looking for a haveli in Kashmir then it has to be a real haveli in Kashmir. We didn’t try to cheat the set in Delhi or Mumbai. So we found the old haveli in Kashmir, which was very run down, and we had to bring it up to a level where a huge Indian wedding is taking place. It was not a easy space to shoot in.”
Due to such unique locations and unique lighting, camera work and adjustments were made to incorporate the right look and feel of the film, the crew had to give their creative best to come up with solutions to all the challenges we face during the shooting. When shooting outdoors, Anil says “I was finding it on the move. It was not that I had built any packages of my own. I was always keen to find the practical light that was built in that space. Just to try and change those practical lights so that at least the right color temperature fell into that space.” Adding, “In that sense, this movie is not lit like a typical Hindi film with big stars. I would also leave Ranbir in and out of light. He was quite easy with that. It flows with the character of the film.”
There were still some complications with the lighting and Anil remembers that “There have been situations when we were shooting exterior and I had addressed that in this landscape the light is going to move from back to being completely in front of us so should we split up the day and do it in 2 days. But it was never in Imtiaz’s scheme. He always wanted the continuity and integrity in the performance. So then you move in that flow and yes the light moves from back to becoming frontal. So I have shot the film this way and it’s there for everyone to see because it was important to be in that moment of the performance rather than worrying about the lighting continuity. So that’s also something the cinematographer has to think about to what is more critical in that moment for that particular scene. That was the spirit of the film and then when u follow that spirit you stop quarreling about these issues.”
It is this spirit that shines through in the way the cinematographer describes how they shot some important scenes in the film using special techniques and equipment to get the most out of the shot. For example Anil speaks of the song sequence of ‘Saadda Haq’. He states “the song plays out over string of performances across cities. It was scripted that way but it would not become so apparent while filming. It was suppose to be a 6 city tour but we ended up shooting in a school in Mumbai, for a small level concert, central park in Connaught place which was a big deal for the production and we shot at Taragarh close to Mcleodganj. So with these limited locations we had to make it feel that he traveled several places. So when we started shooting the first round of this song, Imtiaz came in with specific shots and specific camera moves for certain moments. After 2 days of shooting I realized that the song is generating so much power and the way Ranbir is performing that we should let it flow more, instead of trying to structure it so much. Let the moments fly. So the next day we ended up shooting much longer takes with steadicam and a complete section was shot handheld. Like in Mcleaodganj, the filming became more real like a real concert because the kind of energy Ranbir brought to the performance and of the strong play back. The entire crowd came with the music and it became part of a live concert. So I began filming an event not a film.”
He also speaks about a sequence shot in the Nizammuddian Aulia Dargah describing how “you are not allowed to lay down tracks or put anything on wheels like dolly as it was restricted. So every track trolley shot in the ‘Kun faya Kun’ song is taken with a steadicam. Shots in that song were also taken from jimmy jib and crane.” Here he appreciates an associate steadicam operator Bablu who helped them shoot these difficult sequences. We also used a Canon 5D early on in the movie, in Verona, exterior European city. A pre concert ‘mela’ feel where we see the crowd, which is the opening sequence of the film. We wanted it to feel as if it was shot on a handy cam. I was quite impressed with the footage, which later on had to be degenerated in DI (digital intermediate) to make it look like handheld. I have pushed the footage in that video territory by adding grain and the contrast. We had 2 – 3 camera setup just for the rock concert. Used Strada crane for one setup and 16mm was used for coverage which produced good quality even in a pushed environment where the lighting was low and it worked very well.”
Anil says, “Minimal VFX was used as the film is realistic and we intended to keep it real. But having said that there is a concrete restriction to the number of people you can gather in a film shoot so in a rock concert you can bring in only limited people even if a producer stretches his resources, which we did. So we brought in a lot of people from various cities. It was not enough so we stretched that in VFX. The extension of the crowd has to be real considering the feel of the film. The VFX team really tolerated us because we kept it at it till we felt that the scale was right.” Prime Focus did the VFX and Colorist- Tushar Desai and Ken from Adlabs did an extremely realistic interpretation of a huge crowd as fits a true Rockstar.
The grand landscapes and palatial surroundings have added to the quality of cinematography as Anil was able to capture the beauty of Prague in scenes such as one in which “the girl leaves the hotel room at dawn, she is running back to her house and the guy follows. It’s just a basic scene of a girl and by running in this openness with a wide frame, made it dramatic.”
Rockstar is not only force of collective movie-making skills, combined with scenic locations but the realization of a dream, rendering of an imagination into something tangible that showcases the trials and tribulations in the life of a young man, seeking to be a Rockstar.
Lenses: Arri master primes, Optimo zoom
Aspect ratio: 2:35
Super 35, 3 Perf
Film Stock: Kodak Vision 3 5219 – 200 D and 500 T
Fuji negative 500