“Abhinav’s vision was not dark at all and he wanted to see very happy images. Basically, it’s an extremely feel good film with bright and nice look,” says ace cinematographer Madhu Vannier as he talks about the making of his recently released film, Besharam. In an exclusive interview with Pandolin, this talented cinematic technician who has worked on countless commercials and television shows, shares his shooting experiences, working relationship with Abhinav Singh Kashyap and the major challenges faced while filming Besharam.

You have worked on many television serials plus advertisements and recently you had your first film release. So, how did the shift happen and what’s your opinion about the difference of working style in all the three streams?

I have done more than ten years of television and worked on various big shows for different channels. I am one of the topmost cameramen on TV so I didn’t want to do a small film project. I was always looking for a big film and then one fine day I met Abhinav. We did a show together, around 6-7 years back and he loved my temperament, speed and quality of work. That’s when we became good friends and finally ended up doing Besharam together.

TV is a totally different ballgame and the toughest among all, mainly because of the low budgets and the time constraints. But it teaches a lot and needs you to be utterly open and be on your toes all the time. Ads obviously are completely opposite to TV. They are entirely quality-oriented and gives you lot of lighting time. There, you shoot 30 seconds in 5 days and get decent budget also. You get exactly what you want and there is no compromise on any part.

Now films, I would say, are a mixture of both TV and Ads. We do have deadlines in films too, especially on a film like Besharam that we shot entirely on real locations. As compared to other two, Films give you a lot of satisfaction in terms of creativity, as there is no restriction in films. You can create whatever you feel like, as there is no creative interference. At least with Abhinav, I got to do what I wanted to do and that was wonderful.

How was your collaboration with Abhinav Singh Kashyap on the sets and what were his expectations from you regarding the look and the feel of the film?

While we were shooting a pilot, few years back, Abhinav said that whenever I would do my first film, you are going to be there. So, I was supposed to do Dabangg too but then Abhinav and I, both were new and Salman Khan was not very comfortable with it. He wanted somebody little more experienced, hence that didn’t happen for me and then Besharam happened finally.

Abhinav wanted a completely realistic look for the film and that’s why it has been shot mostly on real locations. However, at the same time, I didn’t want to make it look very dark considering it’s a comedy film. Generally, when it comes to real location cinema, people try to make it very dark. For example, directors like Vishal Bharadwaj, Ram Gopal Varma, including Abhinav’s younger brother Anurag Kashyap too; they all tend to make very dark films. But Abhinav’s vision was not dark at all as he wanted to see very happy images. Basically, it’s an extremely feel good film with tremendous bright and nice look.

photo 2(1)What was your primary understanding and creative approach towards the visuals required for this film?

My own approach was to follow what director has said and achieve whatever I can within the given limits, be it locations or actor timings. I tried my level best and all thanks to the producer who gave me all the equipment I needed. We used almost all the possible equipments that could be available in India. I used to design my lighting, share my idea and Abhinav gave me his approval. I think, that’s how a great director works by giving freedom to the technicians so that they come up with their best.

What was the camera format and lens kit employed for this film? How did you make this decision and what were the technical factors considered by you before filming?

I tested a lot of digital and film cameras before finalizing on this new camera called Sony F 65, which was not available in India at that time. So I requested Mr. Gauri Shankar of Prime Focus to get me this camera, as I wanted to shoot the film entirely with it. Within three months, he got me two F65 cameras from Japan and trust me its the best camera available with 4K resolution. After we shot with this camera, lots of people bought it and now I think almost all the big budget Hindi films are getting shot on it. It is the future of digital cinema as the film is now outdated. In fact, we tested this camera against the film, just to convince my guys and make them comfortable with it.

Sony F65 has got an 8K sensor, which is two times bigger than the regular 35mm film sensor and hence it is as good as 70 mm sensor technology. Now, that’s why this camera is excellent in terms of the results and the sharpness. However, unfortunately we don’t get the 4K post-facility here because none of the theaters are playing the 4K projections in the country. Moreover, the lab guys are not comfortable doing it on 4K because then the workflow becomes very slow. So, we ended up doing everything on 2K since we had a deadline. Though, I am sure in next few years, workflow should be set for 4K in India too.

Besharam is the first big-budget movie that’s been shot on 100 percent digital and the results have been truly fantastic. Depending upon the sequence, I used Ultra Primes, Master Primes, and sometimes Cooke 4s lenses too. For action sequences, I used Phantom high-speed camera.

photo 1(1)What kind of camera movements and compositions you tried to incorporate for Besharam and what were the rigs or special equipment used for it?

We had all the regular equipments such as Jimmy Jib, Panther Dolly, Steadycam etc. on the sets. Apart from that, we used Strada i.e. a very heavy crane, which goes to the height of 80 feet and we got it from Ramoji Rao Studios, Hyderabad. It’s like Akela only a bit steadier than it. And for one of the songs, we used MILO i.e. a motion control crane. Also, we used toy helicopters, the 8 feet ones, on which I used 5Ds and took some aerial shots.

Elaborate on the lighting design adopted for this film. 

We shot during winters hence the lighting was very soft and diffused. We shot 90 percent of the film outside of Mumbai i.e. mostly in Delhi and Chandigarh. The weather was freezing cold in Chandigarh but by the time we shifted to Delhi, it was April and the climate was extremely hot. So, I tried my best to manage and match the look for both places. In foggy situations, I used to overexpose sometimes in order to crush the black levels and make it work somehow.

For interior day sequences, I used HMIs and Kinoflos while for the exterior scenes, I used Power Max and similar sort of lights. We had one long road chase sequence at night for which I used 100KW light named SoftSun. This light starts with a 500KW generator, goes to the height of 40-45 feet and comes on a hydraulic crane. We shot in areas like Paharganj where there are lots of hotels and we get lots of Neons. So there, I tried to keep it quite real by making use of available lights only. For the songs, I used LED balls in the film and interestingly for the Besharam’s title song, i.e. a disco song, I didn’t use any extra light for Ranbir‘s face. Only intelligent disco lights were used.

How many VFX shots have been put together in the film? Where did the postproduction happen and who was your colorist?

There is no VFX in the film except cable cleaning. The post happened at Reliance Media Works and my colorist was Makrand Deshpande.

photo 4(1)What were the major challenges that came in your way while shooting this film and how did you overcome them. What was your key learning throughout the film?

The major challenge was weather obviously. In Chandigarh, it was so unpredictable, as it would suddenly turn from sunny to foggy and vice versa. Every time I would light up the sets according to the sun, by the time actors came and we were ready for the shot, it would turn foggy. Similarly, in Mumbai, when we did the recce, it was summer, and by the time we came for shooting in this huge Mill of Byculla, it started raining. One of our set got flooded and it became extremely challenging for me and my lighting crew as they were getting electric shocks and we had no choice but to shoot. We used to pump out the water from our sets but decided to continue shooting. Though we went 5-6 days over the schedule, but we managed.

Every film is a learning process but on-location shoot happens to be always challenging. There are lots of restrictions, traffic and people involved in it. You cant go your way because you have to work according to what people says and often you have to modify your creativity according to them within the given limits. There are lots of sequences in the film that are shot inside a small room, where you have Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh and Ranbir Kapoor, all together in one scene. There is no working space as the room is filled with three superstars, their staff, my camera attendant, focus puller, and then there is director. So where will you place your light, becomes a huge challenge. But because of my television experience, I tackled all these problems easily as I have done it before.