Recapturing the emotions of ‘The attacks of 26/11’ – Harshraj Shroff and M Ravichandran Thevar
[dropcap]C[/dropcap]apturing a real life incident on celluloid is always a challenge that comes with a benchmark of expectations. And it’s an even bigger challenge when the concept is a touchy one and has several emotions associated with it. Ram Gopal Varma’s recent film, ‘The attacks of 26/11’ is one such film that has layers of sentiment, challenges and expectations associated with it. The crime thriller has been shot by the cinematographer duo of Harshraj Shroff and M.Ravichandran Thevar.
The cinematic experts speak to Pandolin about recapturing the trauma, feelings and events of the attacks of 26/11. Shooting the film has had its share of complexities but the ace cinematographers have used their flair and creative proficiency to delicately recreate the tragedy and emotionally arouse the audiences.
How did you approach the shoot of a sensitive film like ‘The attacks of 26/11’?
H – The main perspective was to show things as real as possible. So everything including camera movements, the lighting, locations etc were kept as close to reality as could be managed.
R – RGV called and told us that he was planning to make a film on 26/11 which is a sensitive and religious/communal topic. He also said that it would not be like the regular entertainment films. So we thought it was a unique concept and instantly agreed.
RGV has said that the film is focused on capturing the emotional aspects. How was the experience of re-capturing this tragedy on camera?
H – RGV was very clear about his thoughts and ideas on the shot – taking methods. So before going to any location or shoot he knew what to look for and the things we wanted to do in that area. So it was very easy for us to give him the output he required.
R – Overall it was a difficult experience. Like for example shooting the high sea sequence where the Pakistani men cut the neck of the boat owner or the Taj sequence where people and children were shown getting killed, was challenging. The shots kept getting intense from the high seas to Leopold to Taj and so on and we kept thinking about the victims who experienced the real situation.
Did you visit any of the real sites before beginning the shoot to draw any references?
We did a technical recce at Leopold, CST station, Chowpatty and other places where we were allowed to go. So we tried to understand the lighting of the places, the kind of people, the things present there and made a note of such details.
How much percent of the shoot was on real locations and sets? Has it essentially been shot in Mumbai or other locations as well?
We have tried to shoot most of the film on real locations. Except for Taj Hotel and Cama hospital, most of it has been shot on real location. Taj and Cama too weren’t complete sets as they were recreated on real locations. For instance, we have used a hall in Tulip Star Hotel and recreated it as the interiors of the Taj. It was shot completely in Mumbai only.
Has the film been shot on film or digital? Which camera was used? What was the maximum camera set up used?
We have shot the whole film on digital as it is an easier format and RGV prefers the digital look. 90 per cent of the film is shot on Red Epic and 5D. Red Epic has been used more. We have used a 4 -5 camera set up depending on the requirement of the shot, like there was a multi – camera set up for the first shot, the high sea chapter.
How have you used lights to treat the various scenes?
H – We wanted the film to look very natural so we have tried to use available sources of light like street lamps, lights from shops etc. We have tried to mimic the effects in our scenes. Around 85% artificial lights were used but they have been used in a manner which looks real and natural.
R – We used basic lights like HMIs, kinos etc. The most difficult part was shooting at CST. Most of the shoot has taken place in the night, so it was challenging in terms of the lighting and hues. For CST, we had permission to shoot only between 11.30p.m. to 4.30 a.m. and would just get around an hour to light up the entire 5000 – 6000 sq feet area. For shots in Leopold, since we had to capture the ambiance, we did a rough shoot a day prior to the actual shoot wherein we took photos, analyzed them and accordingly lit the place.
What technique have you’ll adopted to treat the action scenes with the bloodshed and the emotional scenes?
H – Through this film RGV wanted to show people the things that no one has seen, that not many know about. His main purpose was to try and show what the victims must have gone through and what happened at the various places. We have shown some bloodshed because we wanted people to feel the emotions. The first half shows bloodshed but the latter half focuses on Kasab’s character, how he was interrogated, how information was obtained from him and so on. Every scene has a different treatment. Sometimes it’s a tight close – up of people while at times it is a wide angled shot, depending on the requirement of the situation.
R – We had action shots like the terrorists opening fire, people being killed etc. but RGV was clear that he mainly wanted the expressions. For example, in a shot where Kasab was firing, he wanted us to focus on the actor’s expressions, capture the intensity and try to portray what is going on in his head whilst killing innocent people. We have used a majority of close- ups to capture the emotions of the characters.
What are the challenges of re-creating a real life situation and capturing it on film?
H – The most challenging aspect of the whole film was shooting it in a very short span of time. The other hard part was the high sea chapter which shows the terrorists entering Mumbai via boat. It was the most difficult part as we were shooting in the middle of the sea. Some of our team members got sea sick and even I was going to lose my hand while taking a shot from below, between the two boats. The boats were together and whenever the waves would come they would bang against each other. Luckily I escaped in time.
R – Shooting in the Arabian Sea in the month of March in a temperature of 45 – 50 degrees was the toughest shot of our career. Also shooting at CST and capturing the ambiance of such a large area in a very short span was difficult. We had permission for barely 5-6 nights, so each night after the last train, we would have to set up the place and before the first train, clean up everything, every single day.
How was the experience and working relationship with the art director, Uday Singh?
H – Uday has done a fantastic job, especially in some shots where the real locations had to be recreated. Mainly the Taj Mahal hotel set which was recreated at Tulip star. When we saw the hall at Tulip Star it had nothing but Uday designed the entire set brilliantly and that too in a very short span of time.
R – We have worked with Uday in several movies earlier so we have a good rapport with him. Plus we all knew that the concept was such that it had to be kept as real and natural as possible and he has done that very well.
You have worked with RGV on several projects. How was the association with RGV on this film? What was his brief to you?
H – Before every scene, RGV would call us and discuss our views on its treatment. He was open to accept new suggestions and try them out. On the other hand, he is also very clear about his requirements. So he would tell us the shots that he wants and was then open to trying new shots as well.
R – RGV had told us that the filmmaking style for this film was very different from the other films we have done. For instance, Department was stylized cinematography but for The attacks of 26/11 he wanted us to be subtle and focus on capturing emotions.
What is the role of VFX in this film? Who has done the VFX?
H – We have used VFX mainly to amplify certain scenes like the blasts and firing. Also, there were several scenes wherein we have used day to night conversions like the scene where Kasab and his gang are passing the Gateway of India in a dinghy boat and some other instances. Jishnu P Dev and Karan Kapoor were the visual effects supervisors.
R –The VFX team at FX School was very good. They would be with us on the sets and discuss how best to capture the shots and optimize quality.
Where has the post production of the film taken place?
The post production was done at FX School.
What was the duration of the entire shoot?
We completed the shoot in approximately 40 days. But the schedules were spread over 6 months. The high sea chapter was shot first and then we had a gap before we shot the other parts.
Tell us about your working association? How would you say that you’ll complement each other’s working style?
H – We have been working in partnership for over two years now. We have a very good understanding, so if he is taking a mid shot or wide shot I take a close – up or vice versa. We divide our work in such a manner that we capture the shots in the best manner and if there are any problems discuss it out and find solutions.
R – We started working together since Ragini MMS where we were assisting Tribhuvan Babu and have worked in several films post that including Not a love story, Department, Bhoot Returns etc. We have a great working rapport wherein we see the requirement of the shot and plan and divide the shoot amongst ourselves.