The biggest challenge was to make the film look moving in terms of cinematography – Tushar Kanti Ray
Shooting in one location for a long period of time is no mean feat. And who would know that better than cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray who shot the recently released romantic comedy, Khoobsurat.
In a chat with Pandolin, Tushar talks about the challenges of shooting in one location, playing with lights while on-location in Rajasthan, working on his first lip-sync song and more.
How would you describe the visual imagery of Khoobsurat and what is the tone lent to this film?
Khoobsurat is a love story. I prefer to be in a realistic territory while shooting, so though the film required a little brighter look we have kept it as natural as possible. When you are shooting in places like Rajasthan and are shooting royal families, there is definitely a kind of tonality that comes into the picture. There is a warm zone that is created as you are shooting sandstones, warm light, a palace or any place that is really old; all these elements bring in a certain tone. But costumes done for Sonam are in a completely different space because of her character and the kind of background she comes from. They are extremely colorful and it goes very well with the character she is playing. Other than that there is a nice warm look to the film because of the production design, the natural light we shot with and the place we were shooting in.
What were the kind of references with which you’ll approached the shoot of Khoobsurat? What was your approach to the framing and angles and what was Shashanka’s brief for the same?
This is the first time that Shashanka and I are working together and for this film it was more about concentrating on the character who is talking. So you don’t do much with your camera and try and hold the frame and make it look nicer. For this he showed me some references. We then went to the location around 15 days prior to the film (in addition to the recce), broke down the script and Shashanka made me understand what he had visualized.
If you see any film with a lot of dialogues, you need to get into close-ups and keep cutting to close-ups one after another, because the dialogues are leading the scene and one scene is leading to another. We too have a lot of dialogues and hence have lots of close-ups.
The film is largely shot in one location – the palace. Does that pose a challenge in any way and how do you then make that one location interesting?
It is very difficult when you are shooting in one place for more than a month. Mostly the scenes are happening inside the rooms and whether it is day or night, there can be no details like afternoon or early evening and so on, it becomes tough to showcase the difference. So it was difficult but we planned accordingly and have tried to balance the scene as much as we could in the available space. We have tried to use all the areas – the terrace, around the palace, different rooms, a lovely corridor where we shot and even a kitchen, which was tiny, but we shot an entire song there.
When shooting in one location you need to find different corners, different time spans during the day, different kinds of moods and work with them. So for example, if a character is happy you light her in a particular way and if she is sad, the same corner is lit up a little darker and moody to make it look different. The production design was also decided accordingly because you know that one room is going to be shown for 15 -20 minutes in the whole film so you need to make it as interesting as possible.
Since a large portion of the film is shot indoors, what was your scheme of lighting like? Which scene had the most elaborate lighting set up?
The construction in Rajasthan is such that there are barely any windows or they are too small so there is barely any natural light coming in. All the exterior scenes have been shot with available light but interiors were a challenge, especially because of the kind of film we were shooting. In romantic comedies you need to see the space and face. I personally don’t prefer to light things up especially during day shots so I’ve worked with 90-95 per cent of the light that is coming from outside the room. I tried to mould the light from inside with the help of supporting lights to match the mood of the scene we were shooting. But some rooms had just a single window or a very small one so it was difficult to manage the light from outside. But I cannot go beyond logical lighting. If there is a window and it is daytime, the light has to come from the window. So then the question was how do you mix it? So we had some lamps inside the room, mixed the color temperature and created a lighting scheme accordingly.
We had one or two exterior shots of the palace that were huge lighting setups. It was a night shot where you get to see the entire palace along with the lawn and you have people facing it so we tried to get the depth of the palace as much as possible. There is another scene that is in the middle of nowhere, it is after the kidnapping sequence when the characters meet, a night scene with nothing around. We pulled it off using helium balloons and lots of additional lights. We also shot in City Palace in Jaipur in a room that is filled with mirrors and gold work. It was a very difficult room to light up as you get to see the lights everywhere. So we have lit up the entire scene using only candles.
There is a particular scene where Sonam and Fawad are on a drive on a highway. Where was this sequence shot and how did you’ll go about shooting it?
That is around 35-40 kms away from Bikaner and there is a junction where we shot quite a few scenes. We fortunately got a road that was wide and less busy. The car was with a low loader and the low loader had to gain a certain amount of speed. I had to skim the sunlight that was falling to maintain the continuity we needed because they were dialogue scenes and Shashanka needed a certain amount of takes to be done. That whole set up was a little too big so we needed a smooth and empty road and luckily we got it.
How have the songs in the film been visually treated? Tell us about the making of the most challenging song and why was it so?
I only shot one song in the film, the other songs are montages. When you are shooting montage you are shooting the film, so you need to understand the mood, if it’s a separation song it has a particular mood or a happy song has a different mood. Also the character performances lead you, so you understand the feel.
‘Engine ki seeti’ is the only song that we shot and it was a bit of a challenge because if you look at the kind of films I’ve done, I’ve never shot a lip-sync song. This was the first of its kind, a complete Bollywood song with people dancing. Also the space we were shooting in was a Bombay kind of space – tiny with low ceilings, but we managed amazingly. The song was shot in one day. The situation basically has the staff partying in a somber way but Sonam comes in and cranks up the party. So when the song starts, it has a little darker feel but as Sonam comes in things become brighter. To sum it up, the scheme for this song was to get the ‘Bollywood gloss’. The rest of the film is nice and fresh but we haven’t given it the ‘gloss’. Feroze did a fabulous job with the choreography, we broke down the song a night before and he was accommodating to give me my space and plan before hand. So I knew the exact dance movements and worked accordingly. We had a lot of practical lights stuck to the wall because it is a kitchen set up. We designed some ceiling lights, put wall brackets, lit candles and all this became our source. If you see the frame of the song, it is divided into three sections. So we created two different zones with our source of lights– tungsten through candle light for the middle section while the outside sections are florescent. So you have a blue light coming in which creates a differentiation.
The song was shot with a single camera. I have used only single camera throughout the film except for the paintball sequence, which comes towards the end. We used a two-camera setup as we had only one day to shoot and had to capture a lot of things.
When you read the script, what aspect did you think would be most challenging? Also how did you work around it?
I think the biggest challenge was how to make the film look nicer and moving in terms of the cinematography, the speed of the film and the movement. When you’re in a single location for so many days, making it look interesting is another challenge but we worked around that.
How long did the shoot of the film take and who was your team?
We shot for approximately 60 days. Shaumik Mukherjee was my key, Jishnu my second, Pradeep from Monalisa lighting was the gaffer and Ravi the focus puller.[box_info]
Master Prime lenses.
For the day scenes:
18K par, 12K tungsten, 6K pars, 4Ks, Kinos, softies, Didos, Dinos, normal tungsten lights etc.[/box_info]
Photo Courtesy: Anil Kapoor Film Company Pvt. Ltd.