Acute Angle – The Camera and Cinematic Precision in Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh
What ideas did you approach the shoot of Chakravyuh with?
After I read the script of the film, we went for 5 or 6 reccees of the locations. The ideas for filming Chakravyuh were primarily dictated by the script. We wanted to push our audiences in the middle of action and drama. The film had to look as if it’s not been shot, but handpicked from the repository of real life. Our overarching idea, therefore, was to create the effect of an action-packed documentary that could immerse the viewer in the drama of its happenings. We needed to play with the camera in ways, which could hide it, and make it unobtrusive and secret.
What kind of camera angles and perspectives did you bring into the shoot of Chakravyuh?
The perspectives that I enjoy working with are not fixed. The things and the subjects I am capturing cinematically govern them. Chakravyuh required a witty, realist, and stark visual treatment. If I’d shot it the way I shot Luck By Chance, a happy-go-lucky film, or The Blue Umbrella, a film that required a fairytale treatment, it wouldn’t have done the film justice. The likes and preferences of perspectives and camera angles should never be fixed for any cinematographer. They should always be dictated by what he’s about to shoot.
What kind of light set-ups did you use?
Chakravyuh is a very heavily lit film. We have used massive light set-ups in exterior shots in night. Even the day shots in the film have been lit up. I lit the film, as I wanted adequate exposure. But I endeavoured to light it in such a way that it would appear raw, unlit, and shot in available light. Therefore, I didn’t use any diffusion in the film. I wanted to retain as much sharpness as possible. I think that to some extent I have succeeded in my attempts.
Apart from its intrigues of created realism, how does the cinematography in Chakravyuh stand out?
The cinematography in Chakravyuh does not stand out in any way and that is the good thing about it. If the cinematography of any film actually stands out, it’s a sure sign of bad cinematography. Spectacular cinematography that stands out can be had only if the cinematographer does not do justice to the textures in a film while shooting it.
Conceptually, cinematography is a supporting art. It is meant to enter a story, and emphasise and highlight it, not stand out on its own. As long as the cinematography in a film merges with its other vital elements, it is good cinematography. A successful film and a successful attempt at cinematography depend upon a well-knit screenplay, powerful, meaningful and contextual dialogues, and an exciting and impactful story. These are the elements that need to stand out in any good film. Films whose cinematography per se has stood out generally haven’t done well.
Instead of looking for superlative though isolated cinematographic feats in a film, people should try and see if the cinematography of a film has dovetailed with its script and its story seamlessly.
What was the director’s brief to you?
This was the third film I was shooting with Prakash Jha. The more you work with a director, the more you understand his aesthetic and what it demands. When we shot Rajneeti, our first film together, it required a lot of regular exchange of ideas. By the time we did Chakravyuh, our understanding had already shaped up and we didn’t have to share briefs. But we did go on reccees of our locations and discuss them. Once we started shooting the film, we just went ahead with our instinctive understanding of what it required.
Could you please shed some light on the locations the film was shot in?
While 20 percent of the film was shot in Bhopal, 80 percent of it was shot in Pachmarhi, the only hill station in Madhya Pradesh. We shot mostly in forests and other places that were really difficult to access, especially with all the equipment we had to carry.
How was it working with the actors of Chakravyuh? Did they contribute creatively to an aspect of the film other than acting?
It was a great learning experience for us all. I’d done a couple of films with Arjun before this. It was great to work with him once again. Working with Abhay, Esha, Manoj, and others was very good too. We had a very friendly unit. When we weren’t shooting, we were partying and hanging out. If there were creative and constructive contributions from the actors, Prakash and I generally took them in. Any sort of creative interference though was totally out.
Could you please shed some light on your associates, gaffers, and colourist?
I have a regular set of people that I have been working with for quite some time now. My assistants multi-tasked as my gaffers too. My associate, Arup Mondal, focus-puller, Gopal, colourist, Prakash from Reliance, deserve special credit. Prakash was instrumental in producing the kind of look I’d always thought the film required. In today’s times, shooting a film is one thing, getting the DI (Digital Intermediate) right, quite another. Lots of films that are shot well today go haywire at the point of DI. Prakash deserves credit for milking the negatives perfectly and giving me exactly what I wanted.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered while shooting Chakravyuh?
The biggest challenge in shooting Chakravyuh was the inhospitable location. It was a very difficult terrain. For it to be accessible smoothly to the unit that moved with all kinds of equipment, it must have taken massive amounts of efficient pre-production. I must commend the production team for that feat.
Did you do a lot of handheld shooting?
As Chakravyuh always required us to be on the move on a rocky and imbalanced terrain, we shot a lot on Steadicam. By using Steadicam, we could avoid the classically framed, beautiful lighting look. It, therefore, also contributed stylistically to producing a gritty, emotional, action-oriented, and intensely dramatic feel to the film.
What kind of camera equipment did you use during the shoot and why?
Being cinematically complex, the shoot of Chakravyuh required both freedom and ease of expression. I used all kinds of camera equipment. There were times in the film when 3, 4 or even 5 cameras covered the action simultaneously. We wanted to capture a whole variety of footage and shots to have a plethora of choice and options for editing. I, therefore, used Kodak motion picture stock, 2 Arriflex cameras—Arri 435 as the main camera and an Arri 235, Canon 5D Mk II cameras, and 2 GoPro cameras.
Do you have a scene from the film that’s your favourite?
I don’t know if I have a favourite scene in this film or in any of the films that I have shot. Either I like the look of the whole film or I don’t like any of it. It seems to me that if a cinematographer has a favourite scene in a film he’s shot, he might not have done justice to the film cinematographically. As far as Chakravyuh is concerned, I am quite satisfied with the look that I have created for it.
How long did the filming and DI of Chakravyuh take? Where did the DI happen?
The filming of Chakravyuh took about two months. I think that that’s very fast for an action-packed drama. The DI happened at Reliance and took around 35 days.