Cinematographer Santosh Thundiyil talks about 2014’s first mega-starrer release Jai Ho. The risky bike chase sequence in the film that Santosh describes gave us a rush. Pandolin on a one on one with this contemporary camera maestro discussing the action sequences, lighting design and the camera setup while shooting this highly anticipated film.

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What was the director’s brief regarding the look and the feel of Jai Ho? What were the references you worked with?

Jai Ho happens to be an action drama film, so the director wanted a very vibrant and dynamic feel for it. We referred to some pictures and discussed colors, brightness and contrasts that would suit the content of the film. Particularly for the action sequences, we looked at a few Hollywood films. For the other scenes, I had a general brief as per the requirement of the script.

What was your primary understanding towards the treatment of this film?

Every film needs to be treated in a different way. The first step is to understand what the script is about and then work towards enhancing the mood and the emotions in it. For example if you listen to the background score of any film without understanding the logic behind it, you would get the feel of it because the music is tailored according to the mood of the script. Likewise in cinematography, we use elements that affect the human mind in oblivious ways.

Each shot in a film can be taken from different angles and varied perspectives. It can be presented with a number of tones and color palettes. Since there are a lot of variables attached to it, a cinematographer must be able to decide and pick the elements that would be good for a particular story or a scene. You have to make a choice in consideration with the narrative style . On Jai Ho, I worked according to the mood of the scene-emotional, dramatic, action or romantic.

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What was your approach while shooting the action sequences in Jai Ho?

There are different kinds of action sequences in Jai Ho. These were all supposed to look different and treated exclusively. We have five main action sequences in the film and they were being shot with different action directors, at different locations, with different looks in mind. The two main action directors in the film were Anal Arasu (Dabangg 2 fame) from Chennai and Ravi Varma (R…Rajkumar fame) from Bangalore but as the shooting progressed, a few other action directors also came on board.

Tell us about the shooting locations. 

We started shooting in Dubai, then a few parts of Europe before we came back to India and shot in cities like Mumbai, Lavasa, Kolhapur, Goa and Hyderabad. Thirty percent of the film was on the sets while 70 percent was on real locations.

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What was your camera setup like-which lenses did you use? How many days did it take to complete the film?

We shot on Arri Alexa and most of the time we had a two-camera setup. For action sequences, we would have five cameras on the sets. We employed a combination of all kind of lenses including Ultra Primes, Master Primes, shot zooms etc. It took us around 150 days (spreadout over a year) to complete this film.

Tell us about the lighting design adopted for Jai Ho.

I approached lighting based on the requirement and the ambience of the scenes. We had a lot of outdoor sequences in the film where we shot with natural light. Basically, we had two sections in lights i.e. HMIs and tungsten.  I generally don’t use the HMIs for indoors. I prefer them for exterior scenes. For interiors, I would sometimes use the regular 100-watt bulbs in bulk quantity. For one of our song sequences, approximately three thousand bulbs were fixed up on the sets.

What was the most challenging sequence for you to shoot in the film?

There were some really difficult situations and tough action sequences to shoot in the film. There’s a bike chase sequence in the film that was shot on the main road amidst heavy running traffic. It was very challenging and risky to shoot in the real time. It actually looks very scary when you see Salman riding at such a high speed in between moving traffic.

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How much VFX is used in the film? Where did the postproduction happen and who was your colorist?

A lot of VFX has been used in the film-basic wire removal and adding the backgrounds. The post-production was done at Prime Focus and Ashirwad was my colorist.