In an interesting tête-à-tête with Pandolin, Cinematographer Manoj Lobo speaks about the colour palette, lighting style and composition techniques adopted for his recently released film Shaadi Ke Side Effects and expresses his love for babies with whom he shot a major portion of this film.

on set- shotsetup

How did you decide on the look of the film?

Most of the film was shot inside a studio because the story is essentially based in the house of a couple played by Vidya Balan and Farhan Akhtar. As the script is dialogue heavy, our focus was on how to make it interesting in terms of visual representation. We discussed basic issues such as how to open up the film and how to let the audience have a bit of relief from just being inside the house. We adopted a glossy, high key, sharp, colourful, happy and bright tone, and in a way, it’s naturalistic too.

What was your reference point for the visuals and the lighting design of Shaadi Ke Side Effects?

There are many Hollywood films, which in spite of being in the romantic comedy format, have broken traditional rules and held interesting pallet in terms of art direction, costume and cinematography. Few of those films include 500 Days of Summer and The Royal Tenenbaums. These highly styled and designed films were my references. Our film is much simpler and does not have that level of style, design or construction, but these films formed a template for us.

with saket director

How did you make choice for the camera format and the set of lenses?

We chose to shoot on a 35 mm film camera and used Master Prime lenses. It was a difficult decision to make and the producer, director and I had numerous rounds of discussion but there is a strong reason why we finally chose to shoot on film when the entire industry was opting for digital.

Many international sitcoms such as Friends and Big Bang Theory are shot inside a studio and have a certain atrifical look to it. You’ll always face such problems while shooting on digital, as  it cannot capture highlights like film cameras.

So, while digital has evolved in many ways, it still does not match the level of film. If we were to shoot on digital, it would look like any another American television series. However, the film camera allowed us to be more cinematic, organic and real.

On which locations have you shot and how was your collaboration with the production designer, Sukant Panigrahy?

Eighty per cent of the film was shot inside the studio and the remaining on real locations in Mumbai. Vir Das’ character has a house that was set in an old village next to Hill Road in Bandra. We shot some street sequences and building exteriors around Bandra. Apart from this, we shot the honeymoon sequence in Australia for a week. It took us around 62 days to complete the movie.

Last year, Sukant and I had a good time working together on Nautanki Saala. So I had an understanding with him and knew how he works. He has an artistic bend, as he does installations and experimental films, which is quite fascinating. There were no problems on the sets, as we openly communicated with each other.

This film is about a couple and how things around them change as the relationship matures. This formed the basis of our discussions and we wanted to create a living space. We were limited to shooting on one set — the couple’s house — that goes through a transition over a few years. With the presence of new people in the house, the space changes and we wanted to tap into that aspect.

Besides, Farhan as his character and as a human being has different aesthetics. So we created a space around him that looked like an extension of his character. He is a musician in the film and has a studio in the house. We discussed different aspects such as how would the studio be like, which musicians would he listen to, what kind of posters would be on his walls — all of this had to be integrated with the story.

the best actors

What was your composition and framing technique executed for the film?

We would block the scenes with the actors and then break down the scenes considering different angles that would have a maximum impact on their dialogues. It was simple shots and nothing spectacular because we wanted the audience to connect more with the story. We didn’t move or play around with the camera too much so that the performances could stand out. Besides, master primes are fast lenses that have a special capability to shoot shallow depth of field and wide-open spaces with minimum lights. We tried to use that end of the camera and the rest was limited to standard equipment.

How have you conceived the lighting for Shaadi Ke Side Effects and what was the idea behind that?

We were lighting for a huge 18th floor house, which is a set built inside a studio. My major concern was to make it more believable. I wanted to create an effect that was authentic as well as natural. We had to have a sense of the sunlight coming in, the skylight bouncing inside and the light falling on the characters. The direct light, soft light and the bounce light had to interact with each other to make it appear as a real space.

I preferred an easy, fuss-free kind of lighting for this film because a lot was relying on the performances. I didn’t want the lighting to be a nuisance or to overpower the act. In fact, all my work till date has only served the purpose of the story. If the story demands me to be more complex with lighting, I will do it. But if the story demands otherwise, I will be invisible.

I don’t want to be associated with a particular style of shooting. It limits your possibilities and you are left with only one skill. There are certain cinematographers who are very good but they have a certain style and they can’t work outside that. Being versatile appeals to me and I keep working on projects that are not mainstream.

2 camera-song in da club

Many portions of the film involve shooting infants. How have you dealt with it?

I was actually the nanny on the set. Whether it was one baby or eight babies, I could handle all of them. I had been proficiently trained by my daughter to do this film very well. She is now three years old while shooting, she was only one and a half. I knew everything about them, i.e. what they do or what time they will wake up. I was able to bring my experiences as a father into this film and it was wonderful to work with babies. I actually find it easier to work with them than with adults because babies have only one response — either they like it or they don’t. But adults will never tell you what is on their mind and that makes life complicated.

However, you need to take few precautions while working with children. You need to ensure that the child is comfortable in the environment that you are shooting, which means you need to know their schedule — when they sleep, what they eat, what time they wake up and what they like to do when they wake up. Secondly, you need to make your shooting environment familiar for them by getting their toys and clothes on the sets. Also, the sharpest sense of the babies is smell, as they can smell their mother, the clothes that the mother has worn and even the bed sheets that they have used. So you need to think in a different way and change your mindset accordingly.

I made sure that my entire team understood this, as they are young and most of them are not married. So, they had to be made aware that there are things that you need to do and there are things that you cannot. But once you make the environment comfortable, the baby will respond magically.

before an intense shot

What was the most challenging part of the shoot?

It was the climax scene of the film, which was shot in a balcony. I don’t think that this kind of scene has been attempted in the history of cinema till today. That was the most challenging scene both in terms of shooting and post-production. It took 20 days for the entire VFX team, who worked round the clock, to make that scene possible. At the end of the day, when you see that sequence, it is so smooth and beautiful that you wouldn’t know why it took so long to come out. It is simple but there is something magical in it. And I think the real magic happens when it is invisible. To me, it was the place where the script, the performance, the camera work, the VFX, everything worked out perfectly. You take one element out and that magic will vanish.

Please talk about the postproduction process and your team.

The VFX of the film was done by Famous House of Animation and the person heading it was Jayant Hadke. It is their first Hindi feature film where they have done such an extensive work — around 450 CG shots, which is a lot for a romantic comedy. But they have done an exceptional job! They supported the film and brought in energy and spirit. I am grateful to them for being a part of our team.

DI happened at Reliance Media Works and my colourist was Nilesh, who has worked on blockbuster films such as Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani. I also had a very good associate cameraman, Sudip Sengupta, a SRFTI alumnus. He is my right-hand man, who actually runs the show, and I am just face of it.

Also, I must mention that the driving force behind all the post-production and back-end activity was none other than Ishita Nandy from Pritish Nandy Communications. From the grading to the VFX, to the branding, titles and to the entire packaging in the film, she was the heart and soul behind everything. And it was amazing to work with her.

on set shaadi

Links to Manoj Lobo’s latest work: