I simulate reality in a glamorous way – V Manikandan
“I don’t do many films, just a few now and then,” says the highly proficient cinematographer, V Manikandan. He may be selective about the films he does but has to his credit some of the biggest films in the Hindi and South Indian film industry. His filmography boasts of titles ranging from Tamil film ‘Anniyan’ to ‘Raavanan’, ‘Main Hoon Na’, ‘Om Shanti Om’ and many more. The latest film that showcases his phenomenal skill and expertise is Ayan Mukherjee’s ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’.
With a career spanning over two decades in the film industry, V Manikandan is a master of cinematographic nuances. He normally doesn’t like giving interviews but Pandolin had the good fortune of meeting with him. He shares with us the making of this youthful & glamorous film, the hurdles they had to cross to make it what it is, the distinct treatment meted out and the overall experience of ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’. Accompanying him is the Gaffer of the film, Nilesh Chaubey, who gives his valuable inputs on lighting.
How did your association with Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (YJHD) happen?
Ayan called me almost a year before starting the film and was constantly in touch and wanted me to do the film. I don’t do many films, just a few now and then. But I had liked his first film, Wake Up Sid, and that’s how I decided to go ahead with this film.
Since YJHD is a youthful, romantic film, what was your approach towards the treatment of the film? Did you choose a particular color tone?
The first thing that we wanted was that the characters should look good. The real feeling is one thing but what I normally do is simulate reality in a glamorous way. For certain scenes, where it is absolutely necessary we have gone into a moody zone but we do moody stuff also in a glamorous way. There was no particular color tone I had in mind; it was as per the requirement of the scenes. The film is in two halves, the first half is in Manali and it is more of a flashback. The rest of the film is set in a marriage where a reunion of all the friends takes place. So the two zones automatically create different color palettes.
[pullquote_right]The Manali schedule was very hectic as we were shooting in places where normally people do not go. People prefer comfort and don’t go to such places but we did not stop.[/pullquote_right]
Your shoot schedule involved some challenging locations and temperatures. Could you please tell us about the places where you’ll shot? How much of the film is on sets and real locations?
We shot outdoors in Manali and in Kashmir. The other outdoors are in the hotel where the marriage takes place. The whole second half is set in the marriage which is a destination wedding that takes place in Udaipur. The film is completely shot in extreme weather conditions. For one entire schedule of Manali we were shooting in snow and then we shot in the scorching heat in Rajasthan. But we managed inspite of the conditions.
Which format have you shot the film on? Which camera and lenses were used?
We have shot both on film and digital. We used ARRICAM for film and the ARRI ALEXA and RED EPIC for digital. We used Ultra Prime lenses.
How much per cent of the film is on digital and film? Were there any challenges faced while shooting on film?
We shot only 20 per cent on digital. I wanted to shoot digital but Ayan wanted to shoot on film as film is slowly diminishing and he wanted to make the most of it. While using film there are many unexpected things that can happen, like, some cans that we shot were fogged and we had to reshoot it. In digital you can shoot and go to sleep, you don’t need to be worried. But since we were shooting in places like Manali, we thought digital would be difficult for everybody in terms of the battery dying and also overexposure due to so much of white around us. But the ‘Ghagra’ song and whole of France was shot on digital.
What kind of framing and camera angles have you used in the film?
There are a lot of close-ups in the film. Ayan prefers close-ups, so except for the functional shots everything is in close-up. For example, if one character is talking, the reactions of the other character will also be covered in close-up. Normally people break it down but Ayan likes to cover every person’s reaction. The main thing is that every character in the film is important, though Ranbir and Deepika are the leads but as characters all the four characters are equal.
In this film we have used a mix of handheld and dolly. We also have lots of smooth movements, steadicam, jib and so on. In some scenes, for example, when the friends are talking we used only handheld. I personally don’t like to shoot steadicam unless it’s a moving shot. I like to shoot myself so most of the scenes are handheld as we really wanted to be with the characters. So if one person is moving we are with them. We have used handheld for some fun scenes and some very serious scenes too.
[pullquote_left]While using film there are many unexpected things that can happen, like, some cans that we shot were fogged and we had to reshoot it. In digital you can shoot and go to sleep, you don’t need to be worried.[/pullquote_left]
Can you tell us about the lighting design employed in the film?
We used common lights itself but have used them in a different way. Some scenes have a tinge of warm, high key, while some scenes are really moody. For example, when the friends are walking together on the street after the Holi song, they have a conversation and get to know something about Ranbir. So for this shot we have created a darkish set up. Everyone is standing under a street light. Post that shot everybody leaves and only Ranbir and Deepika are left. So the lighting changes and has a more romantic, soft feel. And as they keep talking, the dawn breaks and it’s a beautiful morning.
For the outdoor scenes, especially in Manali it was very tedious taking all the lighting equipment as we faced very bad weather. Every day we had to sacrifice almost half the day due to the cloud cover or melting snow, hailstorms, rain, one thing or the other. But we had kept extra time just to get the equipments in place. Wherever lights could reach we have taken them and had to use portable generators in many instances.
These tones are in two distinct halves so we didn’t have to match it. No scenes intersect between these zones. There were two distinct periods of time that have been shown in the film.
Nilesh adds that the constant shifting of the sun was a challenge in the outdoor sequences. “We had to plan our shots as per its varying positions. When the sun was down or it was overcast we would have to take a break from shooting and wait for it to pass. But we were prepared for it so did not face much of an issue. We have shot mostly in available light and used a lot of bounce. In some situations like the market scene of Hadimba temple we have used some additional big lights like 12k, 6k etc. For bouncing light, we have mostly used silk and muslins.”
The movie has several visually appealing songs. What was the treatment adopted for these songs esp. dance numbers like Badtameez Dil and Balam Pichkari? What kind of lighting have you used for the different songs?
Every song comes in a different situation. ‘Badtameez Dil’ is actually set in a regular dinner gathering which Ranbir coverts into a dance party. So we took some liberties with the lighting. It’s supposed to be a 5 Star hotel banquet hall, normally it would be very boring. So we had to create spaces like a bar with nice lighting, dance spaces etc.
For ‘Balam Pichkari’, we wanted to use a lot of different colors rather than sticking to one. Because after seeing a color for some time you get used to it and you don’t feel the vibrancy of the color anymore. There has to be another color to break the monotony. For example if I’m shooting with tungsten, I’ll get used to it. But suddenly if I switch on an HMI you will be able to notice the difference. So we have adopted the approach of using multiple colors.
[pullquote_right]We used common lights itself but have used them in a different way. Some scenes have a tinge of warm, high key, while some scenes are really moody.[/pullquote_right]
Which was the most challenging scene to shoot? What techniques did you use to overcome it?
The entire film has been very challenging mainly due to the weather conditions. The Manali schedule was very hectic as we were shooting in places where normally people do not go. People normally prefer comfort and don’t go to such places but we did not stop. We have gone to the Manali ranges which no one has visited. So the entire crew and the equipment had to be airlifted. But with advance planning we managed to pull it off.
It was challenging to shoot at a height of almost 2500-3000 feet, do the cabling and take the lights there. We had a lot of help from production in transporting the equipment so could overcome it without much problem. We faced the same issues even in Kashmir, infact in Kashmir it was more difficult as there was more snow, says Nilesh.
How was it collaborating with Ayan Mukherjee on his second film? What was his brief to you?
Ayan had his own story vision which had friendship as the main underlying aspect. There are these distinct characters that we had to clearly establish. They have different looks in the first half and the second half, so identifying the characters was important. Ayan likes to see the faces tighter and that is why we have largely used close-ups. It was a collaborative effort with Ayan. We would discuss the scenes, call the actors and get their views too. If someone suggested something great, we would try and incorporate that into the scene. Ayan would also discuss with me what is comfortable in shooting, the lights, best angles etc.
Which aspect of the film did you enjoy the most? How was the experience of working with the young cast of the film?
We had our share of fun throughout the film. We had a very young crew. The entire cast has been extremely good. They were very co-operative and do not crib about anything. Ranbir is a lot of fun but when the take comes he gets serious and focuses only on the shot. So everyone had fun but they knew their duties and did it well.
How much time did it take to complete the shoot?
The shoot happened for almost a year and a half and the pre-production happened for around 6 months. But post production happened quickly in about 3 months, leaving very less time for grading.
Lastly, we quizzed Nilesh on his collaboration with V Manikandan.
He is my Godfather whom I’ve learnt everything from. I was training under him while working on films like Om Shanti Om, Billu Barber and so on. The best thing about Mani Sir is that he is constantly improvising on his ideas so you cannot predict what comes next. Even if he does change a particular thing in the shot, it surely adds to the beauty of the entire shot. That is when you realize why he took a particular decision and also get to learn something new from him every time. He is constantly looking for better tones, colors etc. Whenever Mani Sir is shooting, he likes to take various types of light with him, so if he decides to change the look of a particular shot, he is always prepared. His way of lighting is totally unique and it is a great experience working with him.