Young cinematographer Vijay Mishra talks about the visual treatment employed for his first Hindi horror flick 3 A.M., which stars Rannvijay Singh and Anindita Nayar.


How did you get onboard with 3 A.M.?

The film’s producer, Siddharth Atha, is a dear friend and was an assistant director on a few films on which I assisted the cinematographer. So we know each other for a while now. One day, he called me to ask if I would be interested in working on a horror film, which was being directed by Vishal Mahadkar. I took the script and finished reading it in one-go and called up Vishal and told him that I liked the script and would love to work on it. I think in horror films there’s a lot of creative scope for cinematography.

What brief did the director give you regarding the visual treatment of 3 A.M.?

Vishal was very clear that he wanted a realistic look for the entire film. Obviously, he didn’t want the visuals to be too bright, but he didn’t want it to be darkly lit like a typical horror film. He asked me to keep the lighting mood in sync with the emotions of the scenes and story. So I showed him a few lighting set-ups and he was happy.

Can you elaborate what camera and lighting set-up was used in the film?

As I said the lighting is in accordance to the script. The film opens with happy scenes and songs for which we used sufficient lights to create bright imagery. For instance the party song, which appears in the beginning of the movie, we used a lot of Chinese lamps and glamourous lighting to bring out that mood. In the climax sequence, which happens in a shutdown mill, we had very limited lighting. In fact my source of lighting was the torch and camera used by the characters in the scene. We didn’t use any additional lights.

The film is shot on ARRI Alexa with Cooke s5i lenses. I wanted the softness in the look that one often notices in Hollywood films. In our country the sun is too harsh and Cooke lenses lend that softness to the image.


Can you tell us the locations and shooting duration of the film?

We had limited locations in 3 A.M. It was shot mostly in Mumbai and the songs were filmed in Goa. Most of the interior scenes were shot in a bungalow at Madh Island, Mumbai. The climax sequence was filmed in a mill at Byculla, which lasted for 15 days. The film was shot overall in 30 days.

What was the most challenging sequence/scene to shoot?

The mill sequence was a real challenge to shoot. It was naturally a dim-lit location and we didn’t want to light up the place either. So the struggle was to ensure we get sufficient lighting for proper exposure to shoot. Since the torch and camera that the characters use in the scenes were our lighting source too, we had to brief the actors to stand and perform in a way that would provide lighting for the camera too. At the same time we wanted the characters’ movements and actions to look natural and not staged. So we went through a couple of briefing sessions with our actors as it was not a normal way to shoot. Actors are used to having additional lights. Thankfully they got it and the sequence has turned out well.

How did you plan scenes that had VFX in it?
That was a slightly tricky part. It’s difficult to incorporate VFX in footage that is shot in low light. Usually such scenes have to be sufficiently lit so the details are visible. However we were using minimum lighting for most part of the film. So the post production head Eklavya, from Prime Focus, and I discussed how we would overcome this limitation. We shot a few scenes and he said they would manage to add the visual effects in it.


What is the one genre you enjoy shooting?

Personally, I like to work on horror and art films as there is scope for creative cinematography. You can show your skills in these genres. In a regular film, like comedy, the visual treatment is typically bright and glossy. Horror films give you the freedom to play with lighting.

According to you, which is a well-shot horror film?
From recent times I really liked the cinematography and story of The Conjuring. In Hindi films, I thought story-wise Raaz 1 was good.

What are the other projects you are working on?

Currently I am shooting a love story in Telugu for Suresh Babu Productions. I have been talking to people from the Hindi film industry, but haven’t signed any film yet.

Please tell us about your journey into cinematography.

During my childhood I enjoyed photography so I wanted to get into cinematography. Originally I hail from Allahabad but moved to Mumbai to do a course in cinematography a year ago. When I applied to FTII for the course I was too young. So a friend advised me to start working in the light department as it was the best training ground for cinematography. For the first two years I assisted in lighting and after that I assisted cinematographers like Diego Romero (National Award winning Marathi film Shala), Neelabh Kaul, Vikas Sharaf, Pankaj Kumar, etc. for four years. Three years ago I started out as an independent cinematographer. Apart from 3 AM, I have shot the yet-to-release The Maya Tape (starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vishaka Singh), Telugu film Boochamma Boochodu and 3:56 Killari (he also directed it).

– Rachana Parekh