The camera is an observer in The Path Of Zarathustra
FTII graduate Subhadeep Dey talks exclusively about his experience of shooting Oorvazi Irani’s soon-to-release film The Path Of Zarathustra.
How did you get on board The Path Of Zarathustra?
I didn’t know Oorvazi Irani. I had watched one of her short films, Mamaiji at FTII (Film and Television Institute of India). One day, I got a call from her asking me to meet up. She probably saw my films and got to know of me through FTII. That’s how we connected.
What brief did Director Oorvazi Irani give you regarding the visual treatment of the film?
She narrated the story and explained the mood of the film. The Path Of Zarathustra is about Parsi culture and the crisis that especially the young generation goes through. We wanted to keep the visuals pure. We arrived at this conclusion after many discussions with Oorvazi, Production Designer Pooja Shetty and Costume Designer Suvarnareha Jadhav.
Oorvazi had showed me many Parsi books and photographs for references, and that inspired us to go with a pastel colour palette and have soft lighting. We decided not to use any primary colours. Also, white is a very symbolic colour for Parsis so we used a lot of whites in the production design elements and costumes. But we didn’t have a big budget so we shot on a DSLR camera. Sadly, it isn’t good at handling whites. We chose one shade darker than pure white as it looks white on film.
What camera and lenses did you use for shooting?
We used Canon 1DC camera and CP 2 regular lenses. We had a single camera set up.
Can you tell us about the shooting style adopted for the film?
Throughout the film you will notice that the camera is static and calm except in the climax sequence – where Oorvazi is overlooking the sea and going through internal realization. The idea was to make the camera an observer and not force itself in the scene. But in the last scene we wanted the camera movements to underline the internal turmoil of the character and capture the wind, energy, waves, etc. Nowadays a lot of filmmakers like to constantly move the camera because they are worried that they will lose attention of the audience. But it is important to realize that the motivation of camera movements depends on the mood of the scene. So, I discussed all this with Oorvazi and decided to keep the shooting style static and simple.
What light design did you follow for the film?
I didn’t follow any particular lighting style. All I wanted is naturalistic lighting, but because Canon 1DC has limited range I had to use artificial lights. I had to create a natural feel with ambient light. For day time scenes I used day time balance lights like HMIs, Joker lights, etc. and Babies, Softies etc. for night scenes.
Can you tell us a little about the kind of framing and angles you did for the film?
I eliminated how I didn’t want to shoot, in terms of framing and angles, as it becomes simpler. The camera hasn’t gone low or kept at odd angles. It is more at eye level. The current trend is to keep the background out of focus or have shallow depth of field, but this film didn’t demand such treatment. In fact in this film the atmosphere and surroundings are crucial as it also conveys the mood of the scene.
What are the locations used in the film?
The film is shot at real Parsi locations across Mumbai and Maharashtra. I enjoyed the location recce as we went to several interesting places. We liked many places but had to reject quite a few either because of budget constraints or permission problems. We shot the film in 22-23 days.
What kind of challenges did you face while shooting in real locations?
A lot of our locations were small so we did face some challenges. For instance, there’s a sequence inside a Parsi temple where fire is the only source of light. One isn’t allowed to take artificial lights inside so I placed lights outside the temple and bounced it inside to lighten up the temple. Then, in a shop in Chor Bazaar we had to shoot a dreamy sequence. It was a tiny place so the camera was handheld. We needed smoke in the scene. So, managing the camera movements, limited lighting and smoke was tough, but we achieved what we set out to get. Nothing was impossible.
Can you tell us who formed the camera team?
We were a small crew of three – Gaffer Amit Kumar, Focus-Puller Ratan Da, five to six light boys and me.
What about the visual post-production for the film?
When you shoot on a DSLR there isn’t too much opportunity for color correction or fancy visual effects like one gets to do in high-end Canon or ARRI Alexa or Red cameras. So, I had to achieve all that I wanted on-screen while shooting itself. In post-production we only balanced the color between two shots/scenes. Only after editing can one see the sequence of scenes and adjust it accordingly.
Is there any scene or sequence that your personally enjoyed shooting?
I love to play with faces. There is a scene where Oorvazi’s grandfather dies, which is shot over a hill. Her face has a painful expression as she looks in the sky. I enjoyed capturing that moment. Though it was outdoors, I had to use artificial lights to capture the sharpness and face properly. Also, when Oorvazi is with Rushad (Rana) in a happy space, we have shot her face differently expressing that mood. While the camera and lenses are the same, the camera’s position, proximity, lighting, lenses and framing changes the faces to suit the scene. Oorvazi is present throughout the film. So, I wanted to explore her face in different emotions and capture the varied moods of the journey. I really enjoyed that aspect while shooting the film.