The difficulty always increases when you are shooting travel
Ace Cinematographer Sameer Arya gives us a low-down into the making of the recently released family drama All is Well. He talks about the natural approach adopted to shoot this beautiful film, the challenges of working on a travel story and more.
As a cinematographer, what was your core approach to shooting All is Well?
The overall approach was to shoot it as naturally as I can without stylizing it. I had asked Umesh (Shukla) how he sees it, because it is his story and it is unfair for me to just do what I want. After I finished my discussion with Umesh I decided that I would keep it as simple as possible, not taking it away from the narrative at all because it’s a wonderfully sweet and emotional journey. We have shot in beautiful outdoor locales etc. but I have just stuck to what I decided in the beginning of the film, and no where did I waver from it, though it was tempting at times.
How would you describe Umesh Shukla as a director?
Umesh is exactly what he is. There is no ambiguity in any of his processes. I have never met such a simple and wonderful human being and director.
Did you’ll work with a specific color palette or tonality for the film?
Yes, we decided a couple of things regarding the color palette. The movie starts in a different place and then it’s the journey of Abhishek’s character that is settled abroad and comes back to his parents’ house in India. The palette of first portion, which is outside India, is different. And when Abhishek comes back to India, the tone is different. Also, when he comes back, there is a lot of travel in and we shot in different kinds of terrain. There were several challenges in this movie, especially for me, since we were shooting outdoor and were to finish the shoot at one time but it got delayed. When we went back to shoot, couple of months later, the season had changed. And it became very difficult to match the look and palette. I’ve tried to manage as much as possible with my camera and filters and match as much as possible in post. Since it was a very simple treatment, we couldn’t change much; it would have been easier if it were fully stylized because then I could tweak colors and change many things, which I couldn’t do in this. But we have tried our best.
The film has some stunning locations. How did you’ll zero in on the locations?
The story is based in the mountains, which is where Abhishek’s parents’ house is. First and foremost we were looking for mountains. So we went up to Mashobra, which is above Shimla. And when we saw the place, Umesh instantly said, “this is it, this is the place I want.” He was very happy with the greens and the browns of the location. Usually when you go to a place you either like the greens or the browns, but here everything was beautiful.
Since the film is largely shot on outdoor locations, what was the approach to lighting?
Since we shot in different months, it was extremely difficult. There was bright sunlight for some portions and then in the middle of a scene, if you have left half a scene or a connecting scene that was supposed to be shot on the same day, there would suddenly be an overcast sky. But we knew that we would have to face it and we managed. We shot a little indoors, did a little mix and match and achieved it.
And the indoor shots; were they real locations or sets? What was the lighting design for the indoor sequences?
We have shot in real locations, which you can clearly understand when you watch the film. In many of the interior shots, you can see the mountains outside, the streets and so on. We just put up small portions of the sets in places where it was necessary and places where something had to be changed, for example, when a few of Supriya Pathak’s scenes had to be reshot.
You have to do a mix and match (of lighting) in a situation that has indoor and outdoor. But I personally preferred working with natural light, especially for this movie. So we used the natural light that was coming in and have mixed it with a few artificial lights on the inside. But it is done in such a way that it shouldn’t look like you have mixed light from inside, the outside light should be more than the inside light to look natural.
Since travel comprises a large part of the film, what was the camera set up like? Where was the camera mounted? Which camera and lens did you use?
It was mostly a single camera set up. We used a multi-camera set only in the action sequences. By action I mean the travel sequences, there was lot of chasing going on. At one time there were around 2 to 3 cars or more, so for those sequences it is advisable to use multiple cameras. Otherwise for such a simple story, a single camera is sufficient.
We shot with the ARRIFLEX ALEXA XT and Ultra Prime Lenses.
The camera is mounted on various places. Sometimes it is mounted on the same car in the front or back or sides, sometimes it is mounted on another car moving parallel to you or in front or behind you. Sometimes it is on the ground and we have used a telephoto lens, following it (the other car) from far. That has its own charm. It is an amalgamation of all these angles that are cut together according to the sequences on the editing table. When you have so many travelling sequences, it is always better to give the audience many more angles to see.
Which would you say were the main set pieces in the film and what kind of a set up was needed to shoot them?
There is this portion where Abhishek comes back from abroad to meet his parents. We had put up a huge set of Rishi Kapoor’s house and bakery in Mashobra in an existing marketplace. So we basically put up our set in this real location and it blended so well that it didn’t look like a set. Our Production Designer, Muneesh Sappel, has done a fabulous job.
Do the songs have a distinct feel or do they flow as part of the story?
Most of the songs flow with the narrative. There is a slow song, ‘Baaton Ko Teri’, which is my personal favorite. There are popular songs like ‘Chaar Shanivar’, which were approached differently because we knew they would be popular songs. So it has a little more color in it. There is another song called ‘Nachan Farrate’ that is also dealt with a little more color, though it is a part of the film. That was one of the last things we did in the movie and we said this is the ‘item’ song in the film.
What are the challenges of shooting a film revolving around a road trip? Your favorite scene from the entire film?
One of the main challenges was the season change like I mentioned earlier. The other thing is that the difficulty always increases when you are shooting travel. Everything needs to be handled at a more professional level, starting with logistics. Sometimes while shooting on the road, you wouldn’t want any other car to pass by depending on the scene. Then you have to lock off the entire road. You also need to mount cameras on different places on the car itself. It is very exciting but just becomes a little more tedious.
It would be very difficult to pick up one favorite scene because there are so many of them. The best thing about the film is that it makes you laugh and cry and that’s a wonderful combination that Umesh has written and executed. One or two of the confrontational scenes between the father and son were very interesting because on one hand you have Abhishek giving an outstanding performance and on the other you have a stalwart like Rishi Kapoor who is undoubtedly brilliant.
Tell us about your team. Where was the Post Production done?
My Focus Puller, Singh Sahab and my Gaffer, Prabhakar Shetty, have been with me since more than a decade. I have my personal light man as well.
The Post Production of the film was done at a new lab called Vikrant Studios and the Colorist was Pranab Manna.
Your last films, be it One by Two or Shootout at Wadala and now All is Well, all belong to distinct genres. How do you go about choosing your projects?
The story has to appeal to me and the people also matter a lot. I firmly believe that the journey is very important. We will always make films, some may do well and some may not. So it’s very important for me to choose the people I am working with. If I have committed to a film like this, I have to make sure that I have fun with Umesh and with Abhishek and Chintu ji and all concerned because this becomes your family.