Though the film is set abroad, we wanted an Indian look: Ravi K Chandran
Baar Baar Dekho sees Ravi K Chandran return to the romance genre after a while. The ace cinematographer who has created magic on screen for films like Black, Saawariya, My Name is Khan and many others, has wielded the camera for this unconventional love story that travels through various time periods. From deciding a distinct look and feel for every period, to shooting without HMI lights, using a two-camera setup for maximum coverage and treating the songs in a fresh manner, Chandran has left no stone unturned to give the film a distinct visual appeal.
In an interesting chat with the master DOP we get to know more about his experience of shooting his first digital film, working with debutant director Nitya Mehra and more.
What drove you to become part of Baar Baar Dekho?
Ritesh (Sidhwani, Producer) called me one day and told me about this film. He said that I hadn’t done a film for them in a long time, after Dil Chahta Hai. I wasn’t able give my dates for many of the films like Don, Rock On, etc. that they offered, as I was already shooting other projects during that time. Excel (Entertainment) plans their projects very well in advance. And we are very close friends. So I immediately agreed to do this film (Baar Baar Dekho) and asked him to send me the script. He told me that it’s a new director with an interesting script.
How was the interaction and association with first-time director Nitya Mehra?
I’d never met Nitya before and had no clue who she was. When I called her, I got to know that she was getting married, but she told me that she would send me the script. Once she sent me the script, I went through it and called her back. At that time she was on her way to her sangeet. I told her that I liked the script and found it very interesting and new. And that I’d like to be a part of it. So she told me that she would get back to Bombay and call me.
After reading the script, I waited for Nitya to come back, because, before a DOP forms a vision for the film, he needs to listen to the director’s vision. See, when you read the script, you form an imagery, but that could be opposite to the director’s vision. So it’s better to first hear it from the director.
Nitya had a very clear vision for the film – from the visuals to the color palette, everything was very well thought out. She has been with the script for many years, so she had a very clear idea about the film. And that made my life easier. Once the production designer and costume designer were on board, we all sat together and read the script with the director. And as she was reading it, she was sharing the kind of visuals that she had thought for each part.
From there on, we also shared our ideas, there were a lot of discussions on the look and feel, whether it should be dramatic and over the top or subtle, and other things.
I waited for Nitya to come back, because, before a DOP forms a vision for the film, he needs to listen to the director’s vision
So what was the visual treatment that you’ll finally adopted? Since it’s a love story, what was the color palette like?
The one thing that was very clear was that though the film is set abroad, Nitya wanted a very Indian look. Foreign-based films normally have a very cold tone, but Nitya wanted very Indian colors. Because Indians living abroad are more Indian than us, they follow all the norms and celebrate every festival religiously.
So the production designer, costume designer, director and I sat together and arrived at the color tone. This film has almost 6-7 different periods of time going into the future. We had to set a tone for each period and a style for the visuals and each character, which would repeat in the other time periods as well. For instance, when we were showing the younger period of the characters, their college days, we wanted the camera to be free-floating, movement with vibrant colors. Then there is a song shot during their honeymoon period where Nitya wanted very saturated colors – blue skies, green water, a very Hawaiian feel. Though we shot it in Thailand, we wanted it to look like Hawaii. Thailand is a place where everyone goes to shoot. In fact, I myself have previously shot 7-8 times at the same location where we shot this song.
It was very difficult for us to shoot a song, which is different but in the same location. So we started thinking about what tourists like a honeymoon couple, would actually go and do there. Nitya wrote a screenplay for the song and the song is used like a storytelling device rather than just a song. While shooting, I kept the framing tighter to the actors, so you don’t get to see the wider shot of the landscape. If you see the song, you will not see a long or extra wide shot at all. Everything is up close and front, just between the characters. Otherwise you could identify the location that it is shot in. After seeing the song, a lot of people called and asked me where in Thailand did we shoot it. And that is a good compliment (laughs). Because that was a regular place where everybody shoots. So the trick was to not show the location (laughs).
Since there are various time jumps in the movie, how have you maintained the flow in the narrative?
At the start itself, we clearly wrote down the color palette, costume design etc., for every time period. The daily call sheet had all the details of the period that were going to shooting. But we couldn’t go back and forth because a lot of prosthetics, bodily changes for the characters and so on, were involved. So we had to finish one period and then move forward. For instance Katrina (Kaif) put on weight for the older period but she reduced a lot for the song that is shot during her younger days. We had to shoot in order.
What camera and lenses have you worked with and why?
I chose ARRI Alexa with Cooke S/5i lenses. We used this combination because this is my first digital film as a cinematographer. I’ve previously shot only on film. I’ve shot many ads on digital, but those are only for television, so you don’t see them on the big screen. If there is an issue with exposure or anything in an ad, it can be corrected in post. But for this film, I had to unlearn and do new things. So I tested a lot of cameras before choosing this one.
Also, I reduced the number of lights that I used for this film. I didn’t use any HMIs at all for almost 99 per cent of the film. Instead I had two units of the Celeb Kino Flo. I mostly shot day and night with these lights. That also reduces the stress while shooting in a crowd as the cutters used to cut the light are also reduced. I wanted the light to be free-flowing as the film is shot in real places, so we had to capture the weather, show the time etc. I also checked various lenses but I liked Cooke S/5i because of the out of focus elements it creates, what it does for the skin etc. Also it isn’t too sharp like digital and the transition of the shadow detail and highlight is very smooth, gradual and film-like. Though the lens is heavy to handle, it’s a great lens.
This is my first digital film as a cinematographer. I’ve previously shot only on film
And what was your camera set up like?
We had a two-camera setup throughout the film. I normally use two cameras for all my films. I find it very useful since it helps cover the entire axis. In a film like this where there is a first-time director, complex hair, make up and costumes; we couldn’t afford to miss any shot. Luckily, we haven’t done a single day of patchwork on the film. That is the kind of coverage we got. We managed to shoot the entire film in time, which is also due to the coverage.
Songs form an important part of this film. What was the approach to shooting Nachde Ne Saare, which is a wedding song?
These days, almost every film has a marriage song, which has the entire cast of the film wearing good clothes and dancing. This is the regular format. And we wanted to break that format. So for ‘Nachde Ne Saare’, Nitya told Katrina to just be the character and interact with Sidharth’s character, rather than focusing on the dance steps. The song was shot in a very handheld, close up manner instead of using the jib, or any regular style. It is a not a typical group song where everyone is looking at the camera and dancing. The camera was moving between all these characters, so there is a lot of energy in the entire song. When you see it on the big screen, it creates a lot of impact.
Where has the film been shot and what determined the choice of location?
We shot in Glasgow because it was the demand of the story. Glasgow has a mix of futuristic buildings as well as old buildings. When you pan the camera, on one side you get to some places that look ultra modern, and when you pan it the other way, you will get very Victorian kind of architecture and feel. Also it is not a very crowded place. The film is more about these two characters and human emotions, so we did not want a lot of crowd. Glasgow served as the perfect character-driven location.
Glasgow served as the perfect character-driven location
According to you, what is it that sets Baar Baar Dekho apart from other love stories?
This is my first romantic film after a very long time. Saawariya (Which was shot by him) was a romantic film but it was a period film. Baar Baar Dekho is a new age film and I haven’t done anything like this before. When I read the script, I told Nitya that if we could achieve even 70 per cent of whatever she has written, it would be a remarkable film. It’s a very unusual story. Sidharth (Malhotra) and Katrina have carried the film very well, and it’s probably one of Katrina’s best performances till date. You feel for both the characters. It makes you think about how you miss out on your loved ones and important things in life, because you are chasing your dreams. So I’d say that this film would take you back to your loved ones. It’s a very slice of life story.
Tell us about your team for this film.
Aashirwad Hadkar from Prime Focus was the colorist. I have a habit of grabbing images from the footage and sending it to the colorist, before I show the full film to him. It helps to discuss the look and feel. Any corrections that need to be made by the director or me can be sent to him. Once the new EDL (edit decision list) is sent to him, he sets the tone, so we can then finish the grading. It is an ongoing process.
Rahul Dharman was my associate. He was the second unit cameraman and did all the second unit shots in the film. He assisted me for 6-7 years and has now shot two Tamil films independently. Kalyani Puranik and Dhanush were the other ACs. Dhanush is very good with digital and was fully in charge of DI.