“[dropcap]It’s[/dropcap] not the medium but the passion that you bring to the table,” says cinematographer Adil Afsar who has proved his prowess in television and made a smooth transition to the big screen. Having worked with MTV for 3 years, he has honed his exemplary cinematographic skills and experimented with the latest technology to produce outstanding outcomes be it in television, commercials or films.

As he lends his technical expertise and artistic finesse to his second Bollywood outing, family entertainer, ‘Mere Dad Ki Maruti’, Adil tells Pandolin how television and films have their distinct charm, how the flavor of a film is of prime importance, why one must continue educating himself even after school and gives interesting insights into the making of Mere Dad Ki Maruti.

Adil Afsar

Adil Afsar

Tell us about your background. How did your foray into television and your Bollywood break happen?

I belong to Delhi and have done my Bachelors in Fine Arts and a degree in filmmaking from Jamia Milia. I passed out in 2005, came to Mumbai and started working as a freelancer. I then joined MTV as a DoP and was with them for 3 years. Post this, I got an offer from YRF for the film called ‘Luv Ka The End’ under their newly launched division called ‘Y  films’. So that is when I made the move from TV towards films. From there on I have been shooting films and also do commercials and promos for TV.

[pullquote_left]The biggest reason in difference of quality between our shows and shows abroad, according to me, is the budget.When the budget is a constraint, everything gets affected.[/pullquote_left]

As a cinematographer, how would you describe the treatment of films as compared to TV shows?

I have never shot a TV fiction except commercials and promos. But I feel that people pay a lot more attention in creating the flavor of a film compared to TV shows. In films, people focus on the mood and the ambiance you create is of utmost importance. The entire team works towards getting that right.

Also, in reality shows, reactions are of prime importance, you cannot miss a single reaction. As a DoP, you are working with a team of 10-12 cameramen and your role is more of an administrator who plans and designs the show in terms of placement of cameras and position of cameramen. So the key difference between reality shows and fiction like films is also that, in reality you have to anticipate what is going to happen next and hence plan it well in advance. If you miss something you will never get it back. Films give you more liberty in that sense.

How different is the lighting for TV shows as compared to films?

Lighting for reality shows is far more different as compared to films or even fiction shows. You light it in a way that it should look real and normal. You cannot over beautify it because it takes away from reality. It is lit in a very normal way, the intention is not to make it look scenic. The exposure is enough that you can shoot. Whereas in films you have to create a mood, for example, if you are showing a sad situation, the framing, lighting etc. should depict the sadness.

What are the kind of cameras and camera set-ups used to shoot for television? There is a huge difference in the quality of our TV shows as compared to international ones, what do you think is the cause for that?

In television, I have shot on every possible camera, from the smallest ones to the biggest ones including 5Ds and 7Ds to Arri 435’s and 535’s. I was lucky enough to get a chance to use every single format that was available in the country. There are huge multi – camera set-ups in television especially in reality television.

The biggest reason in difference of quality between our shows and shows abroad, according to me, is the budget. The budgets are quite different and so are the economics. When the budget is a constraint, everything gets affected, the kind of cameras you are using, the amount of time you get to shoot, lights used etc. So people then make a safe platform and everyone continues to follow it like an autopilot system which happens in our television scenario. However in terms of aesthetics, I believe that we have the best of the lot. Be it artists, directors, cinematographers etc, we have everything.

Experimenting with technology

Experimenting with technology

How has your stint with television helped you in films? How would you describe your transition from one medium to the other? 

The stint of MTV has really helped me. I have shot so many various formats like reality shows, commercials and promos and even events like big awards. As a DoP, I’ve shot fiction in the form of commercials and promos, non-fiction in the form of reality shows, and then these live events which have huge multi-camera set – ups.  All these things helped me understand the medium in a bigger way. So those 3 years in MTV have given me a lot of exposure on various formats in the field.

Also, I haven’t faced any difficulty in shooting a film because I have been trained in that as part of my degree in filmmaking. Jamia has been a great help and so have both my degrees that helped me understand the medium and the art. Fine arts taught me color theory, composition while the other degree imparted the knowledge of filmmaking.  So I have had a smooth transition.

 Which is a more challenging medium, Television or films? 

 Both the mediums are very different and they have their individual charm and challenges. In television, like reality shows, you have those moments which you cannot miss while films, which are like a painting, there is a color palette, a mood and setting. Reality shows were more of an administrative job while films are an artistic job.

[pullquote_right]When you decide to shoot without light you have to be very disciplined as you are utilizing the sun, which is not in your control, as your main source.[/pullquote_right]

Tell us about your upcoming film, Mere Dad Ki Maruti? How did you bag this project?

I had done Luv Ka The End with Y films earlier. So one day I received a random call from them for ‘Mere Dad Ki Maruti’ and I was asked to meet the director. I met Asheema and we instantly got along like a house on fire and that’s how the film happened.

What was your thought process towards the shoot of the film? What is the primary look and feel adopted?

The director, Asheema, made me a part of every narration and we discussed each and every aspect of the film. She was very particular in terms of the flavor of the film and wanted it to look real and natural.

The film is based in Chandigarh in a Punjabi setting and so we have adopted  a bright and happy look. The entire color palette of Chandigarh is like terracotta color with a reddish tinge and we have maintained the same palette in the film keeping it light and vibrant.

Punjabiyan Di Battery

Punjabiyan Di Battery

Where has the film been shot? How much percentage on sets and real locations?

The entire film is shot on real locations. Not a single set has been used apart from one song which is shot on a set, that is the promotional number ‘Punjabiyan di battery’. We have shot around 70 per cent of the film in Chandigarh and some indoor sequences in Mumbai.

Which format have you’ll shot on? Can you tell us about the work flow of the cameras used and why did you choose this particular format?

I have shot the film on two cameras, a major part of the film, almost 85 per cent has been shot on RED MX and the other part on RED EPIC. The reason being, any of these cameras, be it RED, ALEXA or Sony F65, are digital film cameras that have been designed to compete with the old film negative cameras. Initially people were very wary of compromising on the quality as digital wasn’t that advanced and hence they were using film. But now with new technology that these cameras employ, the quality is excellent and on par with film cameras.

Work flow of the cameras is fairly simple and exactly like film. The only difference is that earlier the film used to get processed and then we would scan it and do the Digital Intermediate. Now, we do not need to process the image as it directly comes to us in a hard drive and goes in for DI.

[pullquote_left]As a DoP you cannot restrict yourself to a particular format. You need to keep experimenting as to what will work best.[/pullquote_left]

What was your lighting design?

In all the outdoor sequences, I have tried to minimize the lighting. Asheema and I both wanted the film to look as real as possible so we didn’t want it overtly lit and unnatural. Even the indoor sequences are lit with minimalistic lighting in a very natural way.

In the song, ‘Haaay’, I haven’t used a single light and relied completely on available light. We shot in available light for two days and  followed the sun and decided the angles accordingly. When you decide to shoot without light you have to be much disciplined as you are utilizing the sun, which is not in your control, as your main source. If you are well prepared and you are using sunlight, you are faster because the changes are lesser. The sun will change in a particular time, so you time your shoot accordingly. For example in the opening song, I divided my day into 3 parts. So I told the director and choreographer about the angles I would adopt in each part and that is how we went about the shoot.


A still from 'Haaay'

A still from ‘Haaay’

The film has various genres of songs. What are the kinds of look rendered for them ?

All the songs are in the same zone as the film, they are rich, bright and peppy. The only song which we did differently is the song, Haaay. You will understand the reason for this difference in treatment when you see the film. This is the only song that is graded differently.

How was it working with Asheema Chibber? What was her brief to you?

Asheema is a fantastic director who was living and breathing the script. She said one line which I vividly remember, that she loves long shots. It’s a boon for a cinematographer when the director likes long shots as all cinematographers love long shots. Also she was very clear about not wanting to sacrifice the flavor of her film for over lighting. She was happier with a gritty image than an artificial image. It is always great to work with a director who is so clear about the film.

You have worked with debutant directors in both your films. What are the advantages working with debutants?

The good thing about working with first – time directors is that they are open to experimenting and trying new things. They are ready to go all out and there is nothing called as ‘playing safe’.  The director is also doing new things for the first time, so that is always an advantage. Like my first director, Bumpy was also very open and a passionate director willing to experiment.

Shooting MDKM in Chandigarh

Shooting MDKM in Chandigarh

Where was the post production of the film done? Team? 

The post production was done in Reliance Mediaworks. The colorist was Tushar Jadhav. He has understood the flavor well and delivered a very good grade.

How much time did the entire shoot take?

We shot the film in around 45 days.

Any challenges faced while shooting the film?

The opening sequence was a challenge. We were shooting in summer in Chandigarh and it is definitely not the best season there. The sun would be at the top by 9.30 a.m. which made it difficult for me to maintain  the light as it was an outdoor sequence. As a DoP you would want angular light coming in but a major portion of my shoot was happening in top light so that was challenging. Also since the film revolves around a car, there was a lot of rigging etc, so maintaining the light then was also complex.

What would you like to tell cinematographers wanting to make a move from TV to films?

[pullquote_left]It’s a boon for a cinematographer when the director likes long shots as all cinematographers love long shots.[/pullquote_left]

Honestly, it’s not the medium but the passion that you bring to the table. Everything you do, should be done wholeheartedly, with complete effort. I have worked in every manner with complete hard work, be it promos, commercials or anything else. You have to be passionate about your medium which will help you move on.

Also as a DoP you cannot restrict yourself to a particular format. Most directors are not technically strong and are mainly interested in their story being translated into images in a nice manner. So you need to keep experimenting as to what will work best. You also need to keep yourself updated and constantly educate yourself.

I love technology and keep reading and testing new cameras and equipment which helps.