Bang Bang was an extremely pressured shoot – Sunil Patel
Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif’s latest action flick Bang Bang was shot by three cinematographers. In an exclusive chat DOP Sunil Patel reveals why the film had three cameramen and the hard work that went into bringing alive the action dhamaka.
Three cinematographers (Vikas Sivaraman, Ben Jasper and you) have been credited as DOPs of the film. Can you throw some light on it?
Bang Bang was an extremely pressured shoot because of actors, locations and the fact that it was an action movie. Hrithik (Roshan) wanted it to be perfect! I think the standards were very high for everybody. The film is shot in places like Abu Dhabi where the temperature is 50 degrees in the morning. You can imagine how difficult it is to shoot in such extreme weather. Then Andy Armstrong, who has done stunts for films like The Amazing Spiderman, was consulted for this film and that further raised the standards. Back in Hollywood he has a certain way of working and we (Hindi film industry) have a certain way of working, so these inconsistencies, weather and locations in alien countries, put a lot of pressure on everyone. Everyone’s personalities didn’t match. So I think at some point things didn’t work out with the earlier DOPs.
The first DOP Vikas Sivaraman backed out because there were certain things he couldn’t agree with. One day I got a call from Siddharth (Anand), with whom I have worked on three films in the past (Hum Tum, Salaam Namaste, Bachna Ae Haseeno), asking me to bail him out of a tricky situation. He had the actors’ dates and locations for the song Meherban. Siddharth didn’t want to cancel it, especially since it was Hrithik’s first day at shoot after his surgery. I was in the middle of shooting a feature film but managed to take time off for three days. So I shot Meherban and went back to the other film.
Then they got in an Australian cinematographer, Ben Jasper. But there were some differences with him too. I got a desperate call from Mark Rao, the EP on Bang Bang, to help them complete the film. I was in the midst of finishing a film. Eventually they returned to Mumbai and I joined them soon after and completed the film.
How much of the film did you shoot?
I did a lot of patchwork for Abu Dhabi and Shimla sequences where I wasn’t present. I shot the entire Prague sequence, the climax and most of the green screen scenes which were done in Mumbai. I wouldn’t know the total extent of footage I have shot, but I know I had to reshoot a lot. There were shots from the earlier stock that they liked but didn’t like the close-ups. So we took wide shots from the previous stock and reshot the close-ups. A lot had to be worked upon in the post production. I was very unhappy to shoot in such a way but they had been pushed into a situation like this. So sadly this was the way it had to be done.
Also, you’ll be surprised at the amount of green screen (Chroma key scenes) footage the film required. The reason was that there were difficult scenes like a blast that is happening three feet away from the actors. Obviously the blast couldn’t be shown with the actors in place. So we shot the actors and blast separately. Then there was a scene in which a resort is blasted in Abu Dhabi. We had huge aerial shots of the real location. But again one couldn’t blast the resort. So we made a model resort and shot several ingredients of the scene separately. We shot blast with smoke, then blast with iron and blast with just the air blowing so the debris could be shot. All of that later was married into one blast together.
Unlike your earlier projects, you joined Bang Bang mid-way. It was your first hardcore action film so what was the experience working on it?
I wouldn’t say it was very different as I had done a few action movies, but not so intense. I think one of the reasons why the film became a rigorous exercise for everybody is that after doing rom-coms Siddharth attempted an action movie. I think it was more like a collaborative effort from every department. It was time consuming and tedious but a lot of fun.
This is your fourth film with Siddharth. What kind of association do you share with him?
On the face Siddharth comes across as a very difficult director. A lot of people who don’t know him and haven’t worked with him will think he is arrogant, selfish and inconsiderate. He had no qualms about admitting it, which he did in an interview after Bang Bang released. But I had been through my exercise of misunderstandings and reworked my opinion about Siddharth. Now I know him much better. When I came onboard, Siddharth had that sense of peace. Mamta, his wife is very crucial in his life and is one person who can anchor his life. She was also very happy that I was back on the project and told me that Siddharth was more relaxed.
In usual scenario the film’s look is discussed etc. Did that happen even though you joined the project mid-way?
Most of my films have been with Siddharth. And having worked together I knew what he expected of me and he knew what I was capable of. But as a DOP, who is joining mid-way, my responsibility without anyone telling me is that the footage should be in sync with what was shot earlier. Most of the times when you work on films with star actors you know that they have to look good and glamorous. They are emulated and copied everywhere. So, one more or less knows the kind of look to give to the film. I think in that sense things were pretty much in place. They had already worked out the visual look of the film and my job was matching that.
Can you elaborate on the lighting employed for Bang Bang?
Like I said the film had to look slick and glamorous so at no point did we want it to appear dark and have shadows. The action scenes were reworked upon with the intention to make them slicker. Hrithik and Katrina had to look glamourous on film. So we had to work upon and redevise ways of lighting while they are moving, running and jumping. I would always get someone to jump with the lights with Hrithik and Katrina.
Then the action sequence in Abu Dhabi with Hrithik or the body double was obviously done in a particular style and time. You start the shoot in the morning and by the time you finish it is evening. The sun and natural lighting had changed. So you realize that the lighting and timing is all over the place. These things had to be manipulated later in the Digital Intermediate process.
What camera was used to shoot Bang Bang?
The entire film was shot with a set of 3-4 Sony F65s, which is a deviation from most normal film cameras (the Alexa) that we have been shooting on. It was Vikas Sivaraman’s choice to shoot on Sony F65. When Ben (Jasper) came in he wanted to shoot on Alexa. Even when I joined I put my foot down and said I want an Alexa. So Siddharth and the producers agreed to get it. We almost booked a set of Alexa camera and lenses. But there was some footage I had gone to see in the lab. When I saw the colour, texture and rawness that F65 captured I was actually happily surprised. I immediately called up the Prime Focus guys and told them that I’d like to continue with Sony F65 for one more week. Within that one week I realised that this camera was brilliant. It’s a slow camera. If you shoot at high speed then you have to switch off and reboot the camera. There was a standing joke on the sets that three months out of the 18 months spent to shoot Bang Bang, went in rebooting the camera. In spite of all of that it was a very good choice to shoot with Sony F65. Most of the film was shot with two cameras but sometimes we had 5-6 cameras. We couldn’t always source so many F65s so we would get a Red Epic or an Alexa.
In which cities/countries has been the film shot?
Abu Dhabi, Shimla, Prague, Thailand, Greece and Mumbai. Every country they shot in, I did the patch work in Mumbai on the green screen. All interiors were shot in Mumbai.
What process did you follow to shoot green screen scenes which would later incorporate computer graphics (CG) and special effects (VFX)?
Basically, we had the master shots with us and Siddharth wanted to cut it with close ups and other shots so we set up accordingly. We had a huge green screen studio where we moved things as and when required. I must mention Keith Devlin, the VFX supervisor on our film who did a brilliant job. He wouldn’t say no to nothing.
For instance in the song Uff there is a maze sequence where there is a snowy portion and the lighthouse in the background. All of that was shot in Mumbai where the lighting and everything was controlled. Again, we had very good visual reference for it and mixed and matched many things. We constructed a bridge leading to the lighthouse, created snow, made trees and props hanging from it. Then we had huge rose petals coming out of the trees. The rose petals were created in the post and added on later, except for the one petal falling on Hrithik and Katrina. This gives you an idea of what Devlin was able to do. Every song and scene is filled with minute details and that has taken it to another level.
Can you tell us about the making of the Bang bang title track?
Bosco had referenced the visuals for Bang bang, which is a tribute to Michael Jackson and showed the footage to us (director, art director, actors and cinematographer). He had worked out a brilliant choreography, but Hrithik felt that he had done it earlier. So he said, “I will take two hours to rehearse and do it so why don’t you make it more difficult for me”. Hrithik wanted to do something spectacular with it as it was a tribute to Michael Jackson. He told everyone, including me, that we have to take it to the next level. So I decided that the lighting had to be slightly over-the-top and loud for the song. I devised three concentric circles with more than 200 sharpy lights on it. The producers were freaking out as it was costing them a bomb. But it was a tribute to Michael Jackson so money shouldn’t matter. Siddharth supported my vision and eventually the Fox guys agreed for it. The song was shot over three days. Every day after wrapping the shoot we would change the lights, go home, sleep for a few hours and come back on the set to start working so that we were ready to roll with Hrithik by 9 am.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while shooting Bang Bang?
More than a challenge my biggest concern was to match everything to the footage that was shot by the previous DOPs. Of course the green screen scenes too. For example a lot of Hrithik’s close-ups in the sea plane sequence were shot in green screen with water being forced from various sides on Hrithik. The concern was to make it look correct. A lot of car shots, where you see him sleeping and see the moonlight travelling over him were shot in green screen. All of that had to be stimulated in the studio.
Also the Al Qasar area sequence which we shot in a resort had to be matched to Mumbai indoors where we made a set. Then there’s a sequence in the climax scene with a sea plane where Danny (Denzongpa) sir gets thrown into fire. We had to build a sea plane and light it up in fire. So the entire plane had to be made of metal and there was so much electricity passing through it. I had to make sure it was properly insulated or it could kill 50 people in one go. The actors and everyone took a lot of risks. Imagine being in a metal set and tied down with chains and fire that is three feet away, with four cameras rolling. Danny sir, Hrithik and Katrina all were part of it. We actually have a shot with Danny sir being thrown in the fire with our guys throwing gel on him. There were many such interesting engagements that I encountered on this film.
Did you attempt any new or interesting techniques in Bang Bang?
For the first time I did a lot of handheld camerawork. Siddharth wanted the camera to be in the scene rather than being 40 feet away. He wanted it to look very organic so often I was carrying the F65, which is a heavy camera, with long zooms. At times one camera was handheld and the other one was on the steady cam like the prison scene with Danny sir which was shot in Mumbai.
– Rachana Parekh