There is a choreography between the camera and the actors in the film – Tushar Kanti Ray
[dropcap]”T[/dropcap]here are loads of scenes in the whole film where I haven’t used much of light,” says Tushar Kanti Ray as he elaborates on his shooting style for the upcoming action thriller, D Day. Having shot visually appealing films like Dhobi Ghat and Shor in the city amongst others, Tushar has now lent his expertise to the high-octane entertainer. The ingenious cinematographer speaks to Pandolin about recreating Karachi in India, shooting in the Rann of Kutch, working with Hollywood’s finest action directors and the techniques involved in the making of D Day.
How did you approach the shoot of an action thriller like D Day?
From the first day itself, when I met Nikhil and we discussed the script, the story and the wholesome approach to the film, he wanted the film to have an almost voyeuristic look. When I say voyeuristic I’m trying to say that there is a person who is standing and watching it happening, there is not much of an involvement from the camera, the camera is a viewer. I guess this was something that we started with, but we drifted and we drifted for good while the shooting was happening and we started realizing the style of the film. We had some other films in mind for the referencing, the initial references happened with a documentary called ‘Secret Pakistan’ by BBC. So we watched that and a couple of other films and got the initial design in mind.
How have you incorporated Nikhil Advani’s vision with yours?
When a DoP meets the director, the director is already living with the script for a long time, he has a visual understanding and I would like to take this opportunity to mention that Nikhil is a very visual director, so atleast at the beginning of the film he knew exactly what he was talking about. But again as the collaboration started we both started realizing something else, which was not something completely different but going ahead from that, so we got into that mode. If you see there is a lot of involvement of the camera happening, there is a kind of, I wouldn’t say dancing, but there is a choreography that happens between the camera and the actors throughout the film.
[pullquote_right]When I say voyeuristic I’m trying to say that there is a person who is standing and watching it happening, there is not much of an involvement from the camera, the camera is a viewer.[/pullquote_right]
Have you employed a specific color palette to distinguish between the various moods and locations in the film?
Most of the film is set in Karachi and there are some portions of India too. For India we have tried to keep it as real as we could and even Karachi so to say. But in Karachi there are different locations and we did a lot of research on it, on how the place should look, so our production designer – Sukant Panigrahy, me and Nikhil, as a team sat on it, exchanged notes and decided what should be the look of the space, what kind of color and so on. There is no particular look and color as there were so many locations and we were concentrating on each location separately and trying to be as naturalistic and realistic as possible to give the real feel of that kind of space. The costumes also happened brilliantly, and I am sure when people watch the film, one will wonder if we have really shot in Pakistan or recreated it in India, I think that’s a great achievement that we managed.
What format have you shot the film on? What kind of angles have largely been used?
We shot on Alexa with a Gemini recorder which gives you ARRIRAW 4:4:4. There is no particular type of framing or lensing, I would say, the scene, the space and the actors were the guiding factor. For example, if you see Arjun, you will get to see a lot of dynamic shots being framed for him. He’s a mercenary, a soldier, a person with lesser emotions though there are some emotional parts in the film, but he is not a family man and basically focuses on the mission and that is his top priority. He has been shot accordingly and we have tried to shoot him as dynamically as we could. While if you see Irrfan, he is a family person, going through a lot of turmoil as he is very concerned about his family. He loves his son and his wife but he is also very concerned about the project to happen, so he is in a state of confusion. So while shooting him you don’t see too much of dynamism, mostly eye level shots, not a lot of wide lensing or too many beautiful things happening on the side of Irrfan.
How much of steadicam and handheld have you used?
Almost 95 per cent of the film is shot handheld. There are some steadicam shots used for a few hours of a day, where we initially thought that the steadicam would do wonders for the shot that we wanted to have but later realized that it was probably not the best idea to go with but that also worked. There are some Jib shots, because in some places we wanted the camera to be on a higher side , so these shots had to have immediate operation. Otherwise, 95- 98 per cent is handheld.
The film has largely been shot in Ahmedabad. Can you throw some light on the kind of locations used and why? Have you’ll largely shot exterior or interior?
Around 50 per cent of the film is shot in Gujarat – Ahmedabad and the Rann of Kutch. We had some references for Karachi and different places of Pakistan, so we were trying to get locations that looked like Muslim dominated areas where you get to see skullcaps, a masjid or dargah around, the eateries are of that kind, you get to see a lot of women wearing burkhas and so on. We were trying because if you get those then naturally your production designing starts falling in place. There is a lodge that we shot in as we wanted to have a lodge which is not convenient at all for a person who is living in luxury to go and stay in that place. There is a barber’s shot in Mumbai and a beautiful house, Irrfan’s house that we found in Ahmedabad was very close to a dargah we shot in. It’s an old and beautiful dargah and was fascinating to shoot there. All these locations are very close to the reference pictures we had. We did not have any sets really except for the wedding sequence at the beginning of the film that we had to create. We have shot around 35-40 percent exterior and the rest interior.
[pullquote_left]There are many smaller locations that we had to choose because they were giving us the right feel and I was very happy to shoot in those locations without using much light.[/pullquote_left]
Some of the scenes have been shot on challenging terrains. Did you’ll face any challenges while shooting there? What sources of light have you used for these shots?
Those scenes were shot in the Rann of Kutch and there was no lighting used. 90 per cent of the scenes are shot with available light. And it is a beautiful location, you can just go with the camera and start capturing, it is so beautiful. The biggest challenge was to reach there as it is time consuming; the roads were not in best condition, getting things over there was difficult for production. But otherwise shooting was managed quite well.
Can you tell us about the lighting design of the film?
There are loads of scenes in the whole film where I haven’t used much of light be it exterior, night exterior, day interior etc. I had a light package including a couple of 6ks, 4ks, 9 bank Dino, and lots of smaller lights which I could place anywhere I wanted. If you see Irrfan’s house it is a very tiny location, even the barber’s shop and the lodge are all small locations. There are many smaller locations that we had to choose because they were giving us the right feel and I was very happy to shoot in those locations without using much light.
What was the thought process employed while shooting the songs of the film? Which was the most challenging or interesting song to shoot?
We were extremely adamant as a team that we didn’t want to shoot a song which didn’t make sense to the film. Those days are gone in Bollywood, fortunately. Most of the films today are using songs in a nicer way. We need to agree that we cannot really chuck all the songs out of a film because we have a history behind it, our audiences love to hear songs and songs form an integral part of any film in Indian history. But we really wanted all the songs to work for the film, to take the story ahead.
There is a portion where Arjun is falling in love with Shruti. The discussion about this love aspect in the film started from the beginning and I didn’t want to drift away from my style of shooting and lighting from the rest of the film, this part couldn’t just look very different from the rest of the film. So we had to get into a design which looks as a part of the film and still looks beautiful as we wanted to see moments between two lovers. It was fantastic production designing done by Sukant and his team for the particular place and there was a lot of lighting involved for this bit.
[pullquote_right]The multi-camera set up used to capture the blasts is something you cannot avoid. I normally don’t like using multi-cameras but in such scenes, you need to use multi-cameras to capture as many angles as you can.[/pullquote_right]
How was the association with the action coordinator? Since there are various stunts in the film, could you tell us about the kind of rigs you have used? Any special rigs that you’ll fabricated?
We haven’t really used any special rigs. Tom Struthers was there and we had all become his students and learnt a lot from him. We all knew that to begin with it is going to be a handheld film, and it cannot happen like any Hollywood film action as we didn’t want that. We wanted the action to be as normal and naturalistic as possible. Irrfan is a barber for the last 9-10 years and Arjun is a soldier, so they can’t fight alike. Irrfan couldn’t have fought as well as Arjun. There was a training happening with Irrfan but Tom and Irrfan too didn’t want to fight as a soldier. If I started shooting that with the understanding of a classic Hollywood action film it would have actually fallen in a different space. The camera angles were different and Tom was continuously telling me what angle would help to capture a particular action. Those things were kept in mind, otherwise it was all very organic.
What technique have you used to show the various bomb blasts in the film?
Most of the blasts that you see have been done in real locations. Tom and the entire team worked really hard to create realistic blasts. We were capturing it on more than a single camera most of the time and in VFX we would try and enhance it sometimes. There is a car blast happening and it has not been touched by VFX, it was beautifully done on location. There are some blasts that have been enhanced by VFX but some haven’t been touched at all. The multi-camera set up used to capture the blasts is something you cannot avoid. I normally don’t like using multi-cameras but in such scenes, you need to use multi-cameras to capture as many angles as you can.
What was the most challenging aspect of the film and how did you overcome it?
Initially it was a little challenging because you want to give the actors a free hand and don’t want to tell them to hit a particular mark. I really appreciate when Nikhil told me that this is a very important part for our film. So in the beginning it was a little challenging for me and my focus puller as well as it was a handheld film and I chose to shoot full open, chose to shoot with as minimum lights as possible. But then we started growing with it, I started realizing that it is also helping me as the camera is on my shoulder and I can do whatever I want to do. So they were doing their thing and I was doing my thing and at the end, it was fantastically jammed together.
How was the overall experience of working with the cast of the film?
I think it was a great learning experience. Sharing the same space with Rishi Kapoor Sir is amazing because of the experience that he comes with. An actor of Irrfan’s caliber teaches you so many things. Being the DoP, you are the first person who is watching the film and you get to see a person who is doing absolutely nothing and giving you all the emotions. It was fascinating to work with Arjun too who has a great physique and has done some brilliant action. Working with everybody for that matter was a great experience all together.
What was the shooting schedule like? Where has the post production been done and who was your team?
We shot around 58-59 days. The post production was done at Prime Focus. Sunny Singh was the colorist and he is absolutely brilliant to work with. He added to the film amazingly, without him, the look would have been totally different. Merzin Tavaria is the VFX head at Prime Focus and there were lots of other people involved. I didn’t have a gaffer per say. I had a great team which included Jignet Wangchuk who was the first AC. We are working together for some time now and he is a delight to work with. Rangoli Agarwal was the second AC, Rais Ansari was pulling the focus, Pradeep who was the best boy from Monalisa was promoted to the gaffer by the middle of the schedule and he did a good job at it.
Photo Courtesy: Emmay Entertainment