Cinematographer Sameer Arya has always pushed the conventional boundaries of Hindi cinema to create something extraordinary. After working on some remarkable films like Shootout at Wadala and Jazbaa, he is back with the recently released romantic drama Sanam Re.  In a chat with Pandolin, the ace cinematographer talks about creating a picturesque romantic world for the film, the difficulties of shooting in some unconventional locations and much more.

Sameer Arya

Sameer Arya

How did your association with Sanam Re happen?

I had done Yaariyan with Divya (Khosla Kumar, Director), which was a great experience; therefore, she called me for this film as well. When Yaariyan was in the post production stage, I had asked Divya about her next film and she said to me that she was a newcomer and things doesn’t happen so fast for newcomers. But I knew that it would not take her a long time because she did not behave like a newcomer and I think within four months she had her next script. During the beginning stage of Sanam Re, she called me and narrated the story and that was it. I don’t think I came on board because Yaariyan was a success, it was because everyone liked my work and especially because Divya liked my work. We had a chemistry and that is what mattered. You need to have an easy relationship on the set, especially with regards to a director and cinematographer.


What was the brief that you received from director Divya Khosla Kumar?

Divya wanted to go one step ahead of Yaariyan. Yaariyan had a young vibe but here we were making a love story, which spans over a couple of decades. Hence, she wanted to plan a different look. Therefore, we gave each age bracket a distinct look. Location wise also we have treated the film differently. Divya was very clear about what she wanted. And you will clearly see the difference between Yaariyan and Sanam Re. You will see the winters looking different and when the characters come to Mumbai, you again see a different look. The city scenario is treated with more warmth and a lot of hustle-bustle.

Can you tell us which cameras and lenses were used in the film and how was the setup done?

For the camera we used the ARRI Alexa XT, which is a digital camera alongwith Ultra Prime lenses.

Usually, there was one camera, except for some of the song sequences. Plus, we had a lot of aerial shots for which we used different cameras and different lenses.

Still from Sanam Re

Still from Sanam Re

Tell us about the equipment used while shooting the aerial shots.

We have used a lot of different equipment when we were shooting in Canada because we were shooting in a lake. For the aerial shots, we have used specialized drones, which have small specialized cameras. We had to be extra careful while shooting with the drones because we shot in places like Ladakh and Canada where the winds were really strong. Plus, Divya is very particular about her close – ups and long range shots. Since we were shooting in so many mountainous regions we ordered some specialized zooms as well.

So overall which locations did you’ll select and on what basis? 

Divya was very particular about the background and location, therefore we did not stick to one place alone. According to the story, we needed a mountainous background. We shot near Shimla and places like these have a lot of difficulties. Most of the places are not very shooting-friendly as the roads are very narrow and you can’t park the equipment. For some locations, we had to carry the equipment on our shoulders and walk for a couple of hours. Divya loved the idea of showing the cold look for one part of the movie so we went to cold places like Ladakh and Alberta in Canada. In some places, it was snowing and in some places, the winds were 80 kms per hour.

It was not only the weather that we were battling. We were battling wild animals as well while shooting in a national park in Canada. The forest ranger, who is provided by the government for safety reasons, came and told the crew that a wandering black bear was spotted. She did not want us to panic and told us that if we saw the bear, we should call her. She was wearing a holster, so I thought that she might have a dart gun but it turned out that she was carrying a spray. When I asked her how this worked, she said that if the bear came within around 6 feet, she would use the spray. I found this idea really absurd, but she was very calm about it and ensured us that they were used to such situations. So I suggested that even the crew should be given some of those sprays as we were a group of around 30-40 people who were spread out. But she refused saying that it was dangerous. The entire crew was nervous and we would be concentrating on the bear more than the shoot (laughs). After much talking, she finally called for more rangers, but thankfully the bear did not make an appearance during the shoot.

That is some experience. Since you’ll were shooting in mountainous regions, what was the lighting design you adopted?

A large part of the movie was shot in the mountains and Divya wanted to treat this part with a feeling of coldness, loneliness, and gloominess, but there are parts where winters were treated in a different way to create happiness. In the film, we have shown winters depicting both happiness and sadness. Creating both these aspects outdoors was not easy. Moreover, accomplishing this in a month was extremely difficult. You can create perfect lighting during indoor shooting. But creating the right lighting for outdoor shooting, even during the day and in different locations was challenging; but I was up for it. We have used a lot of greys and blues. For the indoor sequences also we maintained the same kind of  lighting, be it lonesome or happiness.

On location of Sanam Re

On location of Sanam Re

Could you tell us more about the color palette you have worked with?

When we shot in Mumbai, we were shooting with warm colors. But when we were shooting in the mountains it was different shades of greys and blue because we treated winters in two different ways.

So how would you describe the look of the movie in one sentence?

I think Sanam Re is simply beauteous!

What was the treatment employed for the songs in the film? 

There were some happy songs that we shot outdoors. When you see the film you’ll realise that two songs are shot in similar backgrounds but look very different. One song that features Yami (Gautam) will appear very different while another happy song featuring Urvashi (Rautela) in the same mountains will appear completely different. But both songs were shot keeping the winter look in mind. So one has a greyish winter while the other shows a blueish winter.


What was the most challenging part of shooting the movie?

The most challenging part was the weather. There were some locations where winds were picking up and the equipment was flying off; people were almost flying off. We were taking breaks because it was pretty dangerous and unsafe. The temperature had fallen to sub-zero and it was heavily overcast because of which we had to light up the outdoors as well. But our lights wouldn’t remain steady because it was so windy. Moreover, for shoots aboard, you don’t have the luxury of taking many crew members and we would need at least four people to pull out one light from my truck. So we had to deal with such things.