Production Posts – Dhanak
The technicalities of a film are what strengthen its creative vision. In conversation with the team behind Dhanak, Pandolin discovers the fragilities and challenges that determine the journey of a film from script to screen.
Music Director Tapas Relia, Editor Sanjib Datta and Director of Photography Chirantan Das, talk about the struggles of filming with child artists, the thrill of redefining a classic composition and the ease of working with Nagesh Kukunoor.
Tapas Relia, Music Director
How would you describe your style of music and the overall music of Dhanak?
For me, it is easier to do music that is emotional. That comes naturally to me. Be it folk or rural, or semi-classical. Something that is soft and connected to the roots. I personally feel that I am not very good at item numbers or dance, or really loud music. I would love to try it out but at the moment they aren’t my cup of tea. In fact, I keep saying this to a lot of people – that I love music that shows ‘Musicianship’ and not just production or glamour or loud beats.
The album overall is essentially a folk fusion album. Indian folk arranged in a contemporary fashion. Not necessarily western, but modern Indian contemporary. The sound palette is very organic. There are hardly any electronic instruments. The singers were also cast in a way that they don’t sound too western. It was important that we had singers that sounded Indian, if not entirely classical or folk.
What was your most important brief for the film and the inspiration behind the music?
The brief is always situational and it changes from song to song. As far as Dhanak was concerned, Nagesh (Kukunoor, Director) always had a very clear sound in his head when he came to the studio. For example, with Jeene se bhi jyada jeeye he wanted a song that was inspiring, uplifting, energetic; and he gave me a reference from one of his own movies, Iqbal saying that he wanted something like Aashaien. So talking to the director about what he wants and what he is looking at gives me a lot of clarity.
Also I insist on reading the script before I even start. The script is the reference that tells you that where there is a song, and you get to know the prominent situations where the director is looking out for songs. Once you are done reading the script, you sit with the director to discuss these situations. Sometimes you feel that a song isn’t required at a certain situation mentioned in the script, instead a nice instrumental background montage could be enough; and there are times when you say that here we can have a lovely song, despite no mention of that situation in the script. So you draw inspiration from both the director as well as the script.
One of the most prominent tracks in the film is drawn from something that already existed. How difficult is it to do justice to something like that?
The pressure for Dum-a-Dum was intense. When you google a song like that, there are a billion versions that come up and you’re left wondering if there is anything new that you can bring to the table. You wonder, why am I even attempting this? But I took it as a challenge. I knew that there is going to be a hippy in the film, and that the song is a jam between the kid and the hippy. I drew from that. Secondly, I consciously chose to keep the arrangement a bare minimum; because from whatever I’ve heard in the different versions of the song available, I found that either it is a simple Qawwali rendition or else a full-on hip-hop dance production. I decided to go with something more organic. We used just basic guitar and Dhol, and that was about it. And that’s what I went to Nagesh with and he really liked it; I personally also felt that the track was good enough to go to the public with (smiles).
Lyrics and music go hand-in-hand with each composition. How do you think do lyrics add to the basic music, to the core melody?
I am one of those composers who needs lyrics first. Even if the lyrics are not locked, I need the mood. I need eight to ten lines to begin my composition. Because without that I am staring at a blind screen and I don’t know how to help that really. Lyrics motivate me and give me a clear direction about what the song is trying to say. In fact, the entire album of Dhanak has been composed on the lyrics.
Sanjib Datta, Editor
What is the most important thing for an editor to keep in mind while taking up a project ? What were Nagesh’s requirements from this edit?
Honestly, I don’t have to think twice before saying yes to a Nagesh Kukunoor film. I have known him since 1998, and worked as an assistant to Renu Saluja (Editor) on Rockford and Bollywood Calling. Since 3 Deewarein, I have been editing all his films. I gel very well with him and understand his mind set. I know exactly what he expects from his actors and try to portray that on screen through my edits.
What software do you generally edit on and what was used for Dhanak?
This film was edited on the final cut pro (FCP). I cut a rough version in Kolkata and then got the material back to Mumbai for the final cut.
What was your biggest challenge while editing Dhanak? Also were there any changes made to the script on the edit table?
For me, the biggest challenge was to make sure that Chotu is portrayed as a blind kid and to get the best out of his performance. Being a kid, he would lose concentration at times, and I really admire the way Nagesh managed to get the desired performance from him. The rest we managed on the editing table. As for changes in the script, we had to make a decision as to which scenes could be deleted from the film without tampering the flow of the story.
How long did the edit take? Also do you normally visit the sets of the film you are working on?
The rough cut took me about four weeks and then the final cut was done in roughly two weeks. In India, the culture of an editor visiting the sets does not exist, so it is very rare for me to be on them.
On the whole, how would you define your style of editing?
I wouldn’t say that I have a typical style of editing. Each film and each script requires a different style of edit. For the conversational scenes, the style pretty much remains the same. It is the action and song sequences that are treated differently.
Chirantan Das, Director of Photography
How would you describe the overall look of the film and how did you and the director decide upon that?
When I heard the story of Dhanak for the first time, I could almost see the film. The danger and loneliness of the kids traveling alone, the arid terrain, the heat, barrenness. When we went for location scouting, we found exactly the locations I had imagined. We shot in summer, the kind of heat that people suffer strokes in. But we also knew that such harshness was needed to evoke sympathy for the two children protagonists. Luckily Rajasthan’s landscape is sparsely-populated, outside the main cities. This made the road trip element really stark.
Most of the film is shot on the go. How would you describe the locations you shot in?
We have shot in locations starting from Jodhpur right upto Jaisalmer. A lot of the movie was shot in Dechu and areas around it. Rajasthan is a stunning location to shoot in. Many films showcase the old-world charm of the palaces etc., but Nagesh has always presented Rajasthan in a way that gives the audience a glimpse into the lives of the common Rajasthani folk.
What was the camera setup like? For a movie like this which involves travel, what are the equipment’s that one uses most?
For Dhanak, I used an Alexa XR with Master Primes and Allura Zoom. Initially we planned on using a lot of steady-cam, since a lot of the movie was on the go. But, as we started the schedule, we realised that maintaining a distance from the children made them look more helpless and lonely in the frame. We then used tracks to accompany the characters and shot on tele-lenses.
Tell us about the lighting design adopted for the film.
For the exterior portions, the season that we shot in was what made the moods come alive. As far as lighting was concerned, Nagesh and I decided to keep a minimalist approach. The extra touch was to add in some way the impression of a children’s tale coming alive out of a storybook and we tried to achieve that through lighting. The different people and situations that the two children encounter on their road trip, are all adventures of different kinds. They are all treated differently, be it the Rajasthani marriage lighting, or the God-woman encounter.
What were the overall challenges that you had to overcome during the shoot of this film?
As anyone would expect, shooting in Rajasthan during summer was the biggest challenge. The script and the film demanded that kind of harsh heat. We were shooting at about 50 degrees and shooting with children made everything even tougher. They were quite young and the unit had to take a lot of care and keep them comfortable. The thirty-seven day schedule finished on time simply because of everyone’s focus on getting everything just right, both in front of, and behind the camera.