Wrap Up 2011
[dropcap]2011 [/dropcap]saw some great movies. From Dobhi Ghat to Shaitan, Saheb Biwi Aur Gulam and more. Pandolin wrapped the year with the men and woman who have captured captivating moments with their cameras.
[box_light]Dhobhi Ghat [/box_light]
Usually when conventions are broken people resist but gradually grow to adopt, and sometimes even embrace the dismantling of the status quo. Kiran Rao’s cinema verite style art-house film, Dhobi Ghat (also known as Mumbai Diaries) is a breath of fresh air for Indian cinema and certainly attempts to shake things up. We sat down with the film’s Cinematographer, Tushar Kanti Ray to discuss his approach and experience while shooting this offbeat film.Surprisingly the fundamental concept from the project’s inception was minimalist. The filmmakers wanted to let the story flow organically and not over design anything. Tushar explains, “Everything was supposed to be shot as if we were documenting a certain moment.”During pre production numerous discussions and location scouts were completed before designing the look and feel relative to camera and production design. Tushar adds, “Every character in the film has a different story, living in a different space with different energy. We designed the spaces accordingly.”For most of the team, it was their first film and they wanted to ensure they could deliver exactly what Kiran wanted. “It was challenging,” says Tushar, “But very exhilarating to work with a star like Aamir Khan and shoot guerilla style.”Tushar’s favorite scene was the rain montage sequence which featured shots of Aamir Khan painting and drinking, Munna returning home to cover his rooftop, and Shai contemplating in her apartment. “That was the zone in the film that really worked and I loved it.” Tushar smiles.
The majority of the film utilized natural lighting, which includes the rat killing sequence – an exterior night scene. However some sets required varying degrees of augmentation. Amir Khan’s character lives in a single room apartment with 2 main doors and 8 windows. For scenes shot during the day, Tushar explains, “There was a lot of natural ambient light entering the space so I ended up cutting the lights inside. The main challenge was to maintain lighting continuity. There were two houses beside our set and I used their rooftops to place reflectors and mirror boards on them. Inside I used mainly kino and jokers.” For night sequences Tushar used Chinese lanterns, kinos, 1Ks and 2Ks.For the entire movie Tushar wanted to stick with one concept he learnt in film school; he explains, “We need to light up the space and not the face.” He was thankful to work with Aamir Khan and others who allowed him the freedom to light the way he wanted; “There are moments in the film where the characters are not catching light at all.”
Shot on Super 16 with an Arri 416 and Ultra prime lenses.
[box_light]Yeh Saali Zindagi[/box_light]
A movie that fetched rave reviews for its twisted plot, great performances and compelling script, Yeh Saali Zindagi seemed to have lived up to its no-nonsense title. Sudhir Mishra, known for his unique story-telling style, stirred interest among critics and aam janta, bringing forth the importance of every aspect of filmmaking from gritty camera work to real dialogue. We chatted with cinematographer Sachin Krishn about his approach towards shooting this movie, working with Sudhir Mishra and his perspective on Indian cinema.Sudhir’s direction comes alive with Sachin’s camera work, which is not surprising considering the duo has collaborated in the past. “This was my third film with the Director and after you’ve worked with the person a couple of times, you automatically get tuned to his style, ideas and approach. Sudhir and I don’t have many elaborate discussions before the shoot. We just discuss the script and form a basic approach to the film and how to take it forward. Eventually it takes a solid form when we are on location. It’s spontaneous and with Sudhir it’s always emerging and evolving,” says Sachin.
The charming winters in Delhi were a highlight and supported the look and feel of the film. Sachin explains, “The whole point of shooting this film in Delhi and Gurgaon in January and February was to get the feel of winter. Delhi in winter is absolutely gorgeous and the Gurgaon belt takes it a notch higher. The weather was appropriate to match the look we had in mind besides it aligning with the story. Everything was of course well planned and we made sure the essence of the season was left untouched.” He adds, “There is a scene where the goons are waiting outside the Chattarpur farm house about to execute a kidnapping. That scene defines the kind of look we desired. All the fog you see in the film is real. It felt surreal, something that couldn’t have been achieved with a fog machine.”Half the film was shot on steadicam and Sachin describes the planning process. “All the steadicam shots were pre planned because of the kind of locations such as Chandni chowk, Gurgoan; it would have been impossible to set up tracks. Besides, there were so many spectators that crowd control would have been tricky. We also wanted the sense of a lot happening in the movie, the kind of overflowing energy that comes with movies that involve a lot of tension, the feel that a thriller gives you. Hence the choice of a steadicam; it was the highlight of the film.” He smiles adding, “We had a wonderful steadicam operator – Pranav Rawal, a youngster who did an incredible job. Fifty per cent of the film was on steadicam.”Sachin ensures his technological knowledge is kept current. “When I shot with Red, the video technology was still new in India and it was one of the first films to be shot on a digital camera. I was apprehensive and wanted the film to be more conventional but it was Sudhir who pushed me to try this format. Although I was quite happy with the process of filming, I didn’t enjoy post-production because I was shooting Aarakshan in Bhopal and couldn’t be as involved in it. But because I know what I shot and saw the rushes in a DI theatre, I wasn’t happy with the outcome. I knew it would have been better if I was present,” he says.
Challenge is a part of any great project and so it was with Yeh Saali Zindagi. “The entire film was pretty tough to shoot because access to the locations we chose was difficult and it kept us on our toes. Every day was a challenge, as it was not a big budget film and we had to really push ourselves hard to try and achieve what we wanted. Sudhir and I are so in sync that we hardly need to have any conversations or discussions while setting up a shot,” explains Sachin before telling us one of the most challenging scenes in the movie. “The kissing scene between Arunoday Singh and Aditi Rao in the auto rickshaw worked out very well but was crazy to shoot. We were shooting in Delhi, the equipment was locally hired and that scene required a rig to be placed in the auto rickshaw. It was more of a plumbing job because of the tacky rig that was brought. It took us almost two hours to correct the rig to be able to use it. We had to take off the roof of the auto rickshaw for lighting purposes. We were riding ahead of the auto rickshaw in an open tempo looking at the monitor. The camera attendant was scared of the camera falling off. Eventually things fell into place and we were happy. There was a very surreal moment in that sequence when the rickshaw enters the tunnel. My assistant was crouching right next to the auto driver operating a dido light, which was on a dimmer. When the auto enters the tunnel he would slowly dim up the light and then dim down when they are out.”
The film was shot on Red one (1st generation) using Cooke lenses.
[box_light]Dum Maaro Dum [/box_light]
A potboiler that revolves around a bad cop turned good rescuing the innocent and convicting the guilty, Dum Maaro Dum might be quite a cliché with a standard plot. What makes this film interesting though is the smart storytelling, the sincerity with which it connects to the audience and its impressive treatment. We connected with the film’s cinematographer, Amit Roy, to find out more. Amit discusses the approach on the movie and the unpredictability element he used for one of the characters. Amit explains, “The story is about 3 characters whose lives take a distinct journey. I wanted to film Prateik’s character in a very unpredictable manner; where the compositions were not precise and the camera was more fluid. I wanted the audience to be in suspense by not knowing what the character was about to do or which direction the camera would take. It was almost like the camera was responding to the character.” Amit goes on to explain his breakdown of the other characters and the lighting technique employed in the movie. “For the next character Kamath (played by Abhishekh Bachan), there was a lot of precision in how I framed him or used the lenses to shoot his scenes. There was a certain larger than life kind of portraiture I wanted to give the character. The character Rana (Goving Namdeo) sort of had two pasts. A romantic past followed by his dark experiences. My concentration was more to play with the colour space he was in with appropriate lighting. I played more with mid tones, blown out highlights and for the latter part I played with dark and deeper shadows for more contrast. Even the mid tones were slightly under exposed. So there was a certain approach that I planned out and followed for my characters. I would describe the fourth character – Goa. I wanted to get the essence of Goa and portray it differently; it’s not the stereotype view of the beaches, tourists, old Goa etc. I wanted to show Goa that belongs to the Goans, which is how Prateiks and Rana’s story unfold. My intention was to get an interesting mix of all these elements. In fact Rohan (Rohan Sippy, Director) and I spent a considerable amount of time just looking around Goa. We went on 4 to 5 extensive location scouts. We hired two bikes and went around trying to get the real essence of the city. We figured that it’s all about getting into the right frame of mind, seeing a particular place in a particular fashion and then making decisions of whether or not to go with it.”The film has some impressions of the 70s wave that hugely impacted the world’s socio-political-cultural outlook.
Amit gives specifics and explains their exact reference points. “We wanted the film to look and feel very organic. There was no precedent. Our references came from a lot of old photographs; especially for the back-story of Zoe (Bipasha Basu), which was edited in the film. The story of her father coming to Goa, marrying her mother; the whole hippy flower child period of the 70’s which was a strong visual reference but we knew could get very restrictive. So we turned to music for references and inspirations. Rohan has a very strong music sensibility. So we picked out a lot of Goan singers, some of the bygones of Goa who weren’t commercially known. We went back to the 60s. There’s an incredible Goan song sung by Mohammad Rafi, which we used as a reference for our work. Rohan also bought rights to a lot of these pieces. We found our references through music and I realized that’s our starting point as music is very tangible and you can define moods through it. A lot of our references also came from the Terry Gilliam film, Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas,” he says.The most elaborate and intricate shot of Amit’s career was part of an action sequenced filmed in a real flea market. He explains, “It was really expensive to create a real flea market. Rohan was very clear to set this sequence in a real location. It was a logistical nightmare. We were clear that we didn’t want to recreate the location. We designed the sequence in such a way that we could actually shoot from a tower. So with the actors doing their thing, the camera is precisely panning from one person to another and then pulling out to reveal the space they are in. We rehearsed a lot and thankfully I managed to get it right in the first take. We rehearsed with stand-ins first and then placed Abhishekh and just shot it. The second part of the shootout was filmed the next day. We had blocked two lanes of the flea market area and the more extensive action sequence happened right there. It worked out nicely. I shot it with an Optimo zoom and Kodak 500T. I wanted to expose the whole shot at an F4 but I realized that obviously rating my emulsion at 500 wouldn’t have enough depth, as we wanted to light it naturally. At specific points I asked my gaffer to rig up certain light sources. There were clear bulbs and halogens, which blended in with how the flea market is naturally lit. I pushed processed the emulsion by 2 stops. We were considering going with digital formats but at the time there was nothing more than 320 ISO available. When I got Red, the older sensor was rated closer to 250 ISO and the Arri D21 when tested was also 320 ISO. At that point I felt that the film still had an edge over digital. We could take 500 ISO emulsion and push it by a couple of stops and therefore increase the rating to 2000 ISO, which is quite a huge thing. This shot has been the most planned sequence in my entire career. I went over it so many times in my head and I had charts drawn out where the shops were and the precise actors’ positions,” reminisces Amit.For a cinematographer lighting is everything. Amit’s lighting sensibilities are clearly demonstrated throughout the film especially his lighting design for the flea market sequence was. Explains Amit, “Even when I was working on the second day, I actually worked with whatever was pre rigged, I just added a 5k without using any supplementary lighting for fill. I added some edge lighting as well. For the rest of the sequence I never shied away from hard lights that would create multiple shadows because in a flea market it is quite natural to have them. Every shop had halogens or naked bulbs hanging. My focus was to keep it natural and real. I was careful not to hold myself back when it came to getting these precisely the way I wanted.” Amit’s favorite sequence in the film is when Bipasha gives Rana the pen drive. “You almost feel the sense of renewed hope her character feels. She feels she can go back to the way she used to be. Starting with her in front of the mirror, to the carnival to the part where she gets killed – that entire sequence looked great in terms of editing, music, etc. I loved the way it made me feel. It was one of those moments in my career where it was about how I felt about the character at that point. I really managed to translate it on screen.”Amit explains switching from Panavision to Arri, “I started shooting with a Panavision Millennium but there were minor glitches with the camera. The problem couldn’t be resolved because Panavision India doesn’t have the resources that are available abroad. With resources I mean that there are limited millennium bodies available in India, so if I had an issue it couldn’t be resolved so easily. I switched to Arri.”
The film was shot on Kodak Stock with a 235, 435, Arri cam LT, Master primes and Optimo lenses. Several montages were shot on the Canon 7D.
[box_light]Mujhse Fraandship Karoge[/box_light]
This romantic-comedy centered around a bunch of youngsters active on social media networking sites is a light watch. It’s a new age love story that has a complication that did not exist in yester years. Interestingly captured and finely executed, Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge Cinematographer Neha Parti talks about being a part of this project.
“Our approach was to have the camera play the role of another person and not really be looked at as a camera. So we were always moving around and had very few static shots, of which those too were handheld. We wanted the camera to take on a human quality; we wanted it to breathe,” smiles Neha adding that the idea was to see the camera as another character in the room and thus not letting it take over the story. In short Neha’s idea was to not let the visual have power over the story. “I experimented a lot with the lighting too. I had leverage to play with lighting as the cast was new,” she says.Neha’s aim was to keep the movie real so people could relate to it. A lot of her work was spontaneous depending upon the location they were shooting in. “I went with the location I was shooting at. In the girl’s house we had lamps, so that was my main source but in the boy’s room I kept it bright just like how generally boys leave all the lights on. While shooting the road sequences I didn’t light up the street to make it look bright and completely lit up. I just lit my actors according to the natural setting on the street. We had a lot of budget constraints too. So I didn’t have too much liberty with things and we had to work around with what we had. Of course it’s not all dark through the movie. When we had a bright day outdoors it appears bright even when the character is sad. I was more motivated with the locations, the space where the characters were in and we went with that feeling,” she explains.
Stop motion sequence in the end– “We initially shot a day and a half in the studio which is the final video that you see. We did about three days of exterior work. It was divided in two stages – the first being the outdoor shots of the actors on the beach etc. Every frame was printed in a 4*6 size and then we took it into a studio room as you see in the video; the photo travels on the bed to the table and to the floor, which was shot frame by frame again. We essentially shot about 6,500 – 7,000 frames for the whole song in a single frame. It was shot on a 5D with original Canon lenses,” describes Neha.Inquire about her favorite shot in the movie and she’s quick to admit that it’s the opening song at the rock concert. “We used trusses with black cloth in the background. That was one sequence we all enjoyed including the Art Director. We wanted to shoot that sequence in the beginning of our schedule but it ended up being last. Everything including the color palette was decided for this. The minute you have disco lights in your hand, you tend to go crazy with colors. When you are shooting it all looks good but later appears mushy. To avoid this, we decided on three colors for the song that included white, green and yellow. I loved the experience. It was great. It was a 2 camera set up and primarily was lit with disco lights and par cans. The day before our shoot we had the entire thing planned with the music including the choreography for the lighting. We wanted the whole camera to flow organically. I did a lot of handheld. The treatment was for a real rock concert,” she ends.
The film was shot on Red MX and Ultra primes.
This Tamil remake released in early October 2011, is a hardcore action movie intertwined with lighthearted romance. Perhaps Ghajini jumps to your mind? Interesting fact: In the South, Ghajini was an offshoot of Khaakha Khaakha, which has been remade into Force. Ayananka Bose’s skillful camerawork, a definite highpoint of the film, comes through as something to watch out for. We caught up with the talented Mr. Bose who spoke about his treatment of the film.
With Director Nishikant Kamat’s commercial approach and Cinematographer Ayananka Bose’s Noir sensibilities the film manages to capture multiple perspectives while maintaining and underlying congruency. “We both knew that Nishikant wanted the film to be slightly commercial. While I have been known to do only these kinds of films, with this one I wanted to go slightly darker and give it a Noir feel. We met half way and decided that all the action sequences would be realistic, raw, and organic and wherever we had the love track with Genelia we’d give it the more conventional, beautiful spin utilizing a flowing camera. In the action sequences we kept it shakier, more frenzied. We concentrated on what the script demanded and balanced it out with both perspectives,” explains Bose.Bose’s approach towards lighting strikes a balance too. “I wanted to go a little dark but at the same time I didn’t want it to be dirty dark. Sometimes the darkness doesn’t really flatter the face and I am a person who definitely knows how to flatter a face. So at the end I just struck a balance between the two. Even with the faces looking beautiful, you’ll still notice a lot of darkness in the frame, which gives the raw and gritty feel. So I’d like to sum up the approach as a marriage of gritty and glamour. The grittiness came from what the scenes required but the glamour was a product of our taste. I strongly feel that at the end of the day characters in the frame should look nice,” he explains.His favorite shots are parts of the sequences that portray the vengeance of the officers. “When Mahesh dies, the vengeance that it brings in every officer was a personal high for me. That portion was mine as well as Nishikant’s favorite. We had decided that the tone of the funeral would be white and clean with static cameras. We also wanted the intercut scenes to be shot in an energetic and frenetic manner. I think it really worked out well. The whole sequence was shot over three months. When you decide how you want a scene to look, you have to stick with it because only then do you get the desired output,” says Bose, adding that another favorite was the part of the funeral scene – the 3 of them (John, Mohnish and Kamlesh) are sitting next to a burning fire. They were silhouetted and while shooting it started to rain and every light fused. So we had one 5K which I placed and focused on Kamlesh. Because of the rain there were small electrical fires and hence a lot of smoke. It was a magical moment and it looked beautiful. So we just rolled on it. It was shot at Mud Island by the sea.”
Bose adds that there were no references used or any specific research conducted for the movie. “I instinctively know what works for the film and always go with it.” When asked about the action sequences and how they were shot, he replies “John chasing Vidyut was a mixture of steadicam, crane and handheld. Full marks to the editor for taking that scene to another level with various intercuts.”The most challenging shot for Bose was the one that wasn’t well planned. “We had a few difficult scenes; one of them was where Vishnu (Vidyut) returns on a boat. That scene wasn’t well planned and we shot it near a lighthouse. I had 4 dinos and just shot it like that. For close ups, I had one china ball, that’s pretty much it. It was dangerous and hence challenging to go near the water with electricity running. The worst part was that once we were down, close to the water, high tide hit and it became difficult to manage because we had very little time. I rushed with the camera and shot the whole thing. We just went with the flow,” he reminisces.
Film was shot on Arri 435, Ultra primes and KODAK.
[box_light]Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster[/box_light]
A contemporary revisit of the old classic Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, this movie whips an identity of its own although it also has some of its roots in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Setting a good mood and a mystique around the plot, this movie did win the hearts of its audiences. We met Aseem Mishra, the Cinematographer who worked on the film and got some fascinating insights into the making of Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster.
Fighting against budget issues by finding alternate creative methods, Aseem’s sincerity and passion reflects in his work. “Since there wasn’t enough money to set up the kind of lighting that I wanted to, I played a lot with different ASA settings. I used a lot of practical sources. If you see Mahie’s room, it’s all lit with bulbs. I made my own Chinese lantern with a 500w bulb. We used that for lighting and also used a lot of conventional old school lights like solar babies, which people don’t use now. These were comparatively cheaper. You’ll see a lot of the scenes in the movie shot in natural light that had high contrast. I crushed the blacks in post. My highlights, background lights and shadow areas had 2 to 3 stops difference. I set up a rhythm so my team knew exactly what I wanted. And then I started correcting in DI. A lot of the film is high contrast and I used limited light sources for shooting those particular scenes. Most of the film was shot in daylight. At night I used Chinese lanterns and created small bunches of bulbs that were placed together along with heat shields and diffusion (gateway /216),” explains Aseem.Aseem kept the rugged toned down look throughout the film. “Given that there wasn’t a huge budget for the film, this look helped me. I used whatever resources were available. In post I reduced a bit of green and red throughout the film because the Alexa tends to saturate colors. In specific scenes such as Mahie’s bedroom, corridor, Shreya’s room, Haveli which are shot in the evening, you will notice a blue saturation which we have retained for early morning shots to give a slightly twilight kind of feel,” he explains.For Aseem, the challenging shots included the song Raat mujhe kyun sataye. He says, “We shot a bit of the song and it wasn’t working. We thought it might get boring in twilight because we were short of days. So we started shooting on a boat, which got difficult to handle because of its size and shape. We then fitted batteries onto the boat and I shot it with a battery-operated light (Sungun- 1kw filament light. The boat was placed at the shore so we had total control over it. In the close ups you can see the rock in the background which was lit in a certain way giving an impression of the house where she stays. We had two people moving the boat round and round on the same axis to give that illusion of the boat moving.” Aseem adds, “For the ending item song, I used naked bulbs to light and that became the main source. I also had 1 or 2 dinos for ambience.”Aseem has worked a lot with Alexa. “I would use Alexa for a certain kind of film. It is essentially good for a certain type of Cinematography. What is important in Alexa is the kind of lens that one chooses. It gives the depth of field you’d want because in digital the depth gets compressed. So your background looks very immediate. It gives you a 2D impression, whereas in film because of different elements you get a 3D impression. You start seeing things, which are beyond your ear. In digital, what happens is you are dealing with a 2D image and you are trying to make it a 3d image. Both have positive and negative sides. It is futile to compare Alexa with Film. I have shot a lot of scenes in this film with Alexa that I wouldn’t have achieved with Film even if I used Kodak 500T film stock. Alexa has a very good low light acceptability. Alexa can take soft light situations very well. Film can take harsher light,” he ends.
ISO – 800 and 1600 for twilight scenes
Rarely did I go beyond 800 because of the noise. For harsh daylight I went to 100 ISO, and for interior days I kept it 500 ISOLenses – Ultra primes
This movie has been one of the highlights of 2011. From the storyline, to the way it was shot to the star cast, everything about it is special. Madhie, the Cinematographer who worked his magic on the film gave us his insights.
Madhie’s working relationship with the director Bejoy Nambiar was simple and smooth throughout. “Bejoy had a very clear vision about his movie and I justified his vision. We decided to go for digital, adopting all formats in the film. This helped us since it was a low budget film. It was thrilling to be challenged on that level and to pull through it successfully. We used all the possible equipment and sometimes created our own to suit the requirements of filming. I think this gave the audience a different experience.”Madhie gave the movie a classic, high contrast rustic touch. “Since it was a dark film, I thought that look would work best. The nature and pacing of the film required a lot of shots and angles that came out really well. I used plenty of practical lamps in the entire movie giving it a natural look. All the night sequences were lit with DINO 12 bunch lights, which are my all time favorite. Sometimes I used 5600k , 3200k balanced lights for high speed shots,” says Madhie explaining all the lighting techniques he applied in the film adding that nothing too special was used for the underwater sequences. “I worked with Weiss cam HS2 (which was used for the first time in India) and filmed at 1000 fps. It came out nicely only because of how it works and because of the manipulation. The slow motion shots in the film were all shot with the same camera that was used for the underwater sequences except that each shot had a different frame speed according to the look we wanted.”Ask him about the tricky looking chawl sequence that looked like it had a lot of movement and he says, “When we went to see the location I was surprised and shocked at the condition in which people live; without sunlight or ventilation. I tried to replicate the Mohammad Ali road but wasn’t really satisfied because there was heavy movement required and due to lighting equipment and space constraints, we could only achieve eighty per cent of what we aimed for.”While Madhie’s favorite scene in the film was the Malvankar investigation scene with the friends on the rooftop, his most challenging one was the gunfight sequences between Tawde and the two African Americans. “I usually go by instinct for tough sequences and did the same for this one. Rajeevan Nambiar, the Art Director did a wonderful job recreating the narrow corridor of the lodge,” he smiles.
Shaitan was shot on Red One, Weisscam HS2, and the Canon 7DCooke S4i and Optimo zoom lenses was used for filming.