Shooting the cricket scenes in Azhar was challenging – Rakesh Singh
Capturing the life of one of India’s most prominent cricketers Mohammad Azharuddin, is certainly not an easy task. But Cinematographer Rakesh Singh has attempted to do so in the film Azhar and looking at the trailers, he seems to have successfully represented the essence of the 80s and 90s. The talented DOP has used his expertise and camera work to stay true to the story. In a chat with Pandolin, Rakesh shares the challenges of filming the cricket sequences, his joy on finding the perfect houses for Azhar and the contribution of his excellent team.
Take us through your journey so far in Bollywood.
My journey in Bollywood has been great; I have met some good people and that is the reason that I’ve reached this success rate. I started as a camera guy at Binod Pradhan’s company and found people like Laxman Utekar over there. So I was blessed from the day I joined his company.
What were the factors that encouraged you to be part of Azhar?
I know Tony D’Souza (Director) because Laxman shot his early films and I’ve also worked on some scenes for his movie The Boss. Plus, Jasmine D’Souza, Tony’s wife, was the director of One Night Stand, which also happens to be my first film and released just last week. I think Tony liked my work in that film and that is how I got Azhar. The story along with the cast and crew was one of the major reasons that I came on board the movie.
What were director Tony D’Souza’s expectations from the cinematography? And how was the rapport between the two of you?
Tony was very clear that the visuals were my responsibility while he would handle the direction. He has always supported me, for instance, during the recce if a location did not work for me, he would be open to the idea of finding something else. It happened while we were looking for Azhar’s houses, both the old and new house. A lot of Bollywood films are shot in London, therefore there are some typical locations that one would find. So during our initially recce we were only looking at those typical locations, which I did not find exciting. I told Tony and he supported me saying that he will push the production people to find new locations.
For me every film is a new journey, so you can’t be repeating your work. Also every film has its own way of telling a story. And it’s the camera that should tell the story and not my work. I don’t want to show off my work, I want to tell a story through my camera, which is very important otherwise it is very easy to put a graphic frame, but if the story doesn’t come out in the frame it doesn’t make sense. To make this happen, Tony supported me a lot since day one.
Can you shed some light on the cameras and lenses that were used?
I’ve primarily used a Red Dragon (6K Resolution), as I love that camera. The narrative keeps going back and forth between the past and present therefore I thought that instead of mixing too many lenses, it’s better to go with one lens. I’ve shown the difference in the portions through DIN and filtering. We’ve also used Canon 5D to shoot the cricket portions, time lapses and for taking shots of the crowd.
There is a lot of action taking place on the cricket field; can you tell us how you captured this action and whether it required special camera set ups?
It was really difficult to capture the cricket scenes; we had around 14 to 15 days of cricket shoot as there were three matches. We were shooting in London where the weather is unpredictable, so that was also the difficult part. It would be sunny one day and cloudy the next and these conditions made it tricky to shoot the scenes. Also, the actual matches, back in the 90s, took place in Sharjah, which is a hot place. But to create a Sharjah-like atmosphere in London is difficult because of the contrasting weathers.
I’d made some rigs like a helmet rig and a bat rig so that the camera could catch Azhar’s point of view. I am blessed as my camera team was great; they all supported me as it is not easy to shoot sports like cricket, especially when you are telling a story through it.
Shooting the crowd was also tough as the stadiums were mostly empty and had a crowd of just 60-70 people at a time because you can’t get 50,000 people together. Therefore, we used to place them in portions and then shoot and the rest was managed with VFX. But that again was tough since you don’t know how the VFX will finally turn out. But again the team I had was excellent so it worked well.
Did you also refer to Azharuddin’s previous matches to capture the cricket sequences perfectly. Did it help?
Yes. I’ve seen his matches earlier too but for this movie we made a series of his best matches. His cover drive is what we know him for, and the main thing is the flick, which only he can do and nobody else can match that. I remember that before starting the film Emraan Hashmi used to practice and initially he couldn’t get the flick. Azhar bhai helped him practice, but we weren’t sure if he could pick it up. But eventually he became very good at getting the flick without the ball.
Can you tell us about the color palette that was used and more specifically how was it different for Nargis Fakhri and Prachi Desai?
I didn’t want to do typical things like sepia tone, which was widely used in the past. I have used greens and blues wherever possible, particularly in his childhood. Since he was born in 1963 I’ve shot that timeline with some flair and made it look grey and also added green. The court portion has a lot of blues because it was raining outside. For the later court scenes I go into a harsher zone while the climax is in a softer zone.
Coming to Sangeeta and Naureen’s color palette, I have made sure that both of them are completely different. Prachi Desai’s character Naureen, who was Azhar’s first wife, was someone who most people did not know. She was a peaceful and quiet person and therefore I’ve used subtle and soft colors for her including a lot of greens and blues. On the other hand, a lot of warm colors were used for Sangeeta. Her portion has a lot of gloss and we used warm and neon colors for the portion where Azhar and Sangeeta get close.
‘Bol Do Na Zara’ and ‘Itni Si Baat Hain’ are both romantic songs, but they appear quite different, can you tell us the experience of shooting the songs?
I really enjoyed shooting the song portions; the locations were so beautiful. ‘Itni Si Baat Hain’ was shot in London in an area called Canary Wharf. I stumbled upon that place during a recce, we were just walking and I saw a tunnel that lead to a metro station and I instantly liked the place and felt that something good could happen there. The production people told me that it may not be possible (to shoot there) but I insisted and even said that I won’t use any lights and just take the camera and around 10 people and shoot. Since it is a business area, getting permissions was difficult. There were some more locations in that same area that I wanted to use. Also there was a shot that I took during day break. I wanted to capture the exposure from the sky because it would look really magical, something surreal. I have shot the songs in a montage manner, which I absolutely love shooting.
The other song which is ‘Bol Do Na Zara’ was shot in Golkonda Fort (Hyderabad) and in the house. I was extremely happy with the house that we found. It was a 90-year-old house and looking at it I thought that we’d finally found a house that looked completely different from the typical Bollywood houses.
What was the most challenging part of shooting the film?
The whole movie, from day one, was challenging. But the most difficult part was the cricket. Shooting that part was challenging, because were we shooting with four different cameras so four different people were required. Fortunately my assistant operator knows my style. I don’t think the movie would have been possible without the team. From the light boys to the operators, second cam operator, and my assistant everyone has helped in achieving this vision.