I don’t look at it as just a romantic comedy but a dramatic piece – Manoj Lobo
[dropcap]”I [/dropcap]have always wanted to get into the feel and pitch of the scene and then accordingly find a way to express that through the light and the camera,” says cinematographer Manoj Lobo. His latest release, Nautanki Saala is a romantic comedy set in the world of theater. His visual flair and technical prowess is evident in the treatment of this film that transports the viewer into the colorful world of theater.
Manoj speaks to Pandolin at length about his vision for this light – hearted film, the elements employed, working around challenges and the technical nuances that have gone into the making.
How did your journey in Bollywood begin?
I studied in FTII, Pune where I did my course in cinematography. I received the National Award for ‘Girni’, the first film I worked on. That is where my journey started. I was doing independent work like commercials and promos while I was a student. But the first major break I got was ‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’.
[pullquote_left]People take light – hearted too seriously and use a lot of light in their comedies. So there is never any sense of mood in those kind of films.[/pullquote_left]
How did your association with Nautanki Saala happen?
Rohan Sippy’s company had called me for an ad film shoot with Salman Khan for Suzuki Hayate. It was a difficult shoot as we had to shoot at night and make it look like day as that was the only time Salman could spare. The commercial was set in the day and that too on the street. So I had to create this whole world outdoors during the night and make it look like day in the limited time we had. We pulled off the shoot with an efficient crew under Rohan’s direction. Rohan enjoyed that process and that is when I think he decided to work with me for his next film.
Since the film revolves around theater, what approach did you adopt?
I was one of the first people on the film. When I got on board, the script was still being written. So when the script was first narrated to me, I had time to prepare a visual design of the film. Rohan had given me a brief of what he was looking for and basis that I prepared a visual design that comprised of multiple options as to how to go about doing the art and costume. The look and feel of the film was decided way in advance, right at the beginning of the film. Then the art director and costume designer joined in and they were given that brief.
While shooting a light – hearted comedy film, what are the elements that a cinematographer needs to keep in mind?
I have noticed that most light – hearted comedies are very brightly lit. People take light – hearted too seriously and use a lot of light in their comedies. So there is never any sense of mood in those kind of films, it’s just riding on the dialog. I have always wanted to get into the feel and pitch of the scene and then accordingly find a way to express that through the light and the camera.
Nautanki Saala is a dialog film as romantic comedies are essentially films that rest on dialogs and not on visuals. Visuals are an add- on, it is the dialogs which take the film through. So to break that monotony of dialog and not distract the audience is a difficult thing. I felt that keeping it in a nicely moody world would work for the theater portion and keeping it realistic for the house and other places would work well in the film. I don’t look at it as just a romantic comedy; I look at it as a dramatic piece. Because the moment you say it’s a dramatic film, there is scope for different types and styles of lighting. The minute you say it’s a rom – com it becomes caught up in the existing genre of films.
[pullquote_right]Most of our films tend to use telephoto lenses because it makes everything else out – focused and the actors look very glamorous in a certain kind of way. I wanted to show the world around these actors and have used wide angle lenses through the film.[/pullquote_right]
Nautanki Saala is inspired by the French Comedy – Apres Vous. Have you drawn any inspiration from the original film? What would you say are the technical differentiators between both the films?
‘Apres Vous’ is set in a fine dining restaurant and is based in a completely different world. It follows the same plot points, but in terms of the treatment, the way it plays out, it is completely different. The look of that film is very standard, the rom com look and it is an almost 10 year old film so there is another time setting in the story.
Where has the film essentially been shot? How much percent of it is was shot on real locations and sets?
The entire film is shot in Mumbai except one day of shoot which we did on the way between Mumbai and Pune. That portion was shot without the actors, just the camera and the car. 65 to 70 per cent of the film is shot on sets. Hardly 25 per cent like the night exteriors, few road shots etc is on real location.
What format have you shot on? Please can you tell us about the lenses used?
The film is shot on Arri ALEXA with a CODEX recorder in raw format. I have used Ultra Prime lenses for this film.
What angles and frames have you largely employed in the film? Can you give us a few examples?
Most of our films tend to use telephoto lenses because it makes everything else out – focused and the actors look very glamorous in a certain kind of way. I did not want to approach the film in that manner; I wanted to show the world around these actors. Earlier on itself I had taken the decision that I would use wide angle lenses through the film.
So if you see the portion shot in Liberty on the stage or the action sequences, most of them are shot with very wide angle lenses. At the end of the day it is a film about these characters either in the world of theater or on the streets of Mumbai, so we wanted to show the whole surrounding as well. The street shots are huge; you can see the entire Metro Cinema with four roads around it and so on. We wanted to capture Mumbai, the theater world and the world around the characters, so we adopted this approach.
Can you tell us about the lighting design adopted for these sequences?
In an earlier discussion with Rohan I had suggested that for the world of theater we should use LED lights. We wanted this world to look different, not how a theatrical production looks normally. These lights are not used in your everyday world; they are only used for special occasions like a wedding or at a night club etc. Also, if you see, the streets of Mumbai don’t look yellow; they have an orangey yellow light. So to get that particular color for the street shots, I had to mix 3 lighting gels. We had decided well in advance, that we need a halogen look for the night exteriors and the house of the protagonist will be shot like a real house with lots of light coming in from the windows, making it a homely space.
The credit of getting the whole lighting design in place and supporting me goes to my gaffer, Abdul Hamid.
What look and feel have you adopted for the songs in the film? How did you recreate the iconic song, ‘Dhak dhak karne laga’?
The ‘dhak dhak’ number was shot very quickly and did not involve much processing. But we knew that we were shooting an iconic number and had to do justice to that. The actors were briefed to have fun and enjoy themselves and look good in the process.
The romantic number ‘Sadi gali’ had a very simple approach and the idea was to keep it real and natural. It did not have an elaborate setup. That song was shot by a dear friend and DoP, Sudhakar, as this song happened later and I had committed my dates to another project. He has done an exceptional job on the song.
[pullquote_left]For the first time in India, we have used a 16bit process called ACES which gives you the full color rendition of the way you shot it on your camera.[/pullquote_left]
Were there any challenges faced during the shoot? Any complex scenes and how did you overcome them?
One of the key challenges for me was that the film had to be shot in 35 days. Most films which have complicated setups have a schedule of 45 to almost 60 days. Also our first day of shoot was the biggest day of shooting in the entire schedule. Normally you start with an easy setup but we started the first day of shoot at Metro Cinema. All the scenes at Metro were done in one day; the opening sequence when Ayushmann comes into his car, the closing sequence when Hanuman breaks the car, the sequence when Kunal comes back from Pune and is sitting on his suitcase and some more sequences, all of that has been done in one night and in the morning we did some other parts. But since the start was so heavy, the rest of it fell into place.
Art direction and costumes play a key role in this film. How was your working relationship with Saini Johray and Priyanjali Lahiri?
It was a sheer delight to work with Priyanjali because she has an immense body of work and talent backing her and she brought all that to the film. We had a very tight schedule. So once she got the brief from Rohan, she had every single scene, every costume planned on paper for the entire film. So Rohan and me could sit with her and figure what colors were working depending on the mood of the scene, the kind of background setup and so on.
Saini comes from film school so he has a technical approach to art direction. He’s not the kind of person who puts things together at the last minute. So he also planned the whole thing very well as he was working with a tight budget. He was able to change each item to look different. If you look carefully at the film, at how the house is planned, the makeup room, corridor etc; it’s all shot on the same floor but looks different due to art direction. Saini and Priyanjali have extended themselves creatively and technically to support Rohan in what his vision was.
How was it collaborating with director Rohan Sippy? What was his essential brief to you?
Rohan is a very open and trusting director. He wants the best out of people. He shares his ideas, as to how he is looking at things and then wants you to take those ideas forward thus adding to the film. Instead of just one person thinking, you then have 4 or 5 people who are getting a direction and then adding their own vision to it, which becomes a more exciting collaborative process. Everyone then makes the film their own. He is a great people manager. The important thing is, if you’re going in the direction he has envisioned, he is there for you, but if you’re not going in that direction, he clearly tells you that this is not where he wants to go. His thought process is very clear.
Can you throw some light on how VFX has been employed in the film?
There was not much VFX used in the film. Mainly two parts – one is the car shots that were done in the studio, all shot with green screen and then we later added the background shots. But we did shoot the background shots as well. Secondly, in the protagonist’s house, you can see Mumbai city as the backdrop from his balcony, that is all created on the computer.
Where has the post production of the film taken place? Who was your team?
The color post was done at Futureworks by Rahul Purav on Quantel Pablo Neo using Arri RAW and ACES color space. For the first time in India, we have used a 16bit process called ACES. In this process, you take your image into the software called ACES and it gives you the full color rendition of the way you shot it on your camera. So this is a platform by a company called Quantel. The specialty is that it has a 16bit pipeline for color. Futureworks are the people pioneering this in India.
Rahul, my colorist, has done a fantastic job and brought richness to the scenes, which have been shot well but he has added to them. DCP mastering and film prints were done at Reliance MediaWorks.
How much time did you’ll take to complete the shoot?
We had a shoot schedule of around 35days.
What are your future projects?
I am currently working on Shaadi ke side effects. I continue to do commercials in the break between two feature films.[box_info]
Behind the scenes:
Manoj shares some interesting information on the making :
– In the beginning of the film, the two actors are shown going to Pune. The fact is that the actors never went to Pune. We shot the actors in a studio with a green screen and my right hand man Sudip Sengupta, went and shot the background stuff in Pune and we put it together in the post.
Shooting the scene was a difficult process because your actors are sitting in a static car in a studio, there are 4-5 light boys who are moving the lights around, 2-3 art department people who are pushing the car to make it look like it’s real and I am keeping the camera floating so that it doesn’t look like we are shooting in a static block and all of us have to coordinate.
There are points where the actor applies a brake to the car and the light men also have to brake the lights accordingly. So the scene had to be highly coordinated.[/box_info]