[dropcap]The [/dropcap]Tiger is off to a roaring start at the box office.

Hardly surprising, given that the magic began ever since the promos of ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ hit screens earlier this year. This highly anticipated Salman Khan-Katrina Kaif starrer transports fans on an action-packed adventure around the globe as two star-crossed lovers who take on the world to be together. With the movie grossing a record-breaking Rs 32 crore on the first day itself, it is well on it’s way to becoming the highest grosser of all times.

And why not? Salman and Katrina romancing each other around the world’s most picturesque locations is the perfect recipe for a blockbuster. Add to it some mind boggling action sequence that pan across land, water and air and you have a mega-blockbuster.

Pandolin speaks to Cinematographer Aseem Mishra about what it took to bring such a grand vision to life…

Aseem Mishra

Lot of semblances of Bourne Identity can be felt in this film. What was the principle idea that you wanted to apply for filming “Ek tha Tiger” as per your discussion with Mr Kabir?

(laughs) That’s what people are saying, but I think ‘Ek tha tiger’ has its own identity! Since Kabir and I both come from a documentary filmmaking background it wasn’t at all difficult for us to achieve the feel the film has. The idea behind it was to capture the events without interfering too much with the set up and artificially stylize it. So you will see a lot of documentary style camera movement. Always edgy, yet fluid. It was like going back to our documentary filming days!
It was great to collaborate with Kabir again after New York. I love the way his mind works. Clean, undisturbed and aesthetic. He is absolutely sure about the content.  Kabir and I also share very similar interests in sociopolitical issues. We’re always keen to know what’s happening around other parts of the world and that’s something that comes across very strong when you see the film. You cannot make a movie of this scale by staying blind to reality and what’s happening around you.

How was it shooting across the different locations and what were the looks you applied to them?

‘Ek tha tiger’ was shot in New Delhi, Dublin, Istanbul, Anatolia, Mardin, Havana and Phuket. Everywhere we went it felt like the weather was against us! It was really cold and rainy in Dublin! Mardin, which is an old Mesopotamian city on the border of Turkey and Iraq, was supposed to be dry and normal, but while we were shooting a storm came over from the Syrian side and the temperature dropped to 2 degrees C! Likewise, we reached Havana thinking it will be sunny, but by the second day of shoot it became cloudy! And finally when we reached Phuket, monsoon was in full swing!

Although there were really odd situations, we shot this film. And that is the beauty of filmmaking. It was a tough shoot, but very satisfying. Since it was largely an action-oriented film we shot with 3 Arri flex cameras, a 535,435 and a 235. We used the Phantom for few high speed shots.

As for the looks, I gave Mardin a nice warm look. I went for a little cooler European look for Dublin and Havana, well, I gave it a look that I call the Havana look! I can’t really explain it but the goes really well with the place and the scenes we shot. You need to watch the film to see what I mean. (laughs)

We didn’t do much work in DI as most of the places had that inherent tonal quality.

There are a lot of exterior shots. What was your lighting design like?

True that. Most of the shooting was done in daylight and I shot a lot with the Kodak 50D and 250D. However, in daylight too I got a lot of variation to play around with. In Dublin it was a bit difficult, as it would become cloudy and then sunny all of a sudden. It reminded me of typical day in London!

There were huge lighting setups in Turkey. For example, the UN party sequence where all diplomats meet was a big lighting set up with 6 Dinos and 18ks. I remember it was very cold and breezy the night we shot. All the lights were on rostrum and were tied to the ground. I used a Kodak 500 T for that scene.

In Dublin there was another big lighting set up near the lake. It was a romantic scene shot entirely in the night.

What was your strategy for shooting the action and fast paced scenes?

The action scenes are what gives the movie the scale that it is. We’d decided to keep them fast and simple. I shot a lot of the action scenes with the zoom lens. Like if you notice in Mardin, Dublin or even the Cuban action scenes, you will see a lot of quick zoom movements. The scenes required that kind of rough yet controlled movement. This too has come from my documentary background, where you need to be alert, instinctive and impulsive at all times. We used all the three cameras during the action scenes, but never more than that. Two cameras were on static blocks and one on zoom or optimo. I also mixed a lot of handheld shots with the steadicam ones. Babloo on steadycam and Vishwa on the other camera did a fantastic job. We also had a Canon 5d on standby in case we needed it, but we never ended up using it.

How was your relationship with the action director?

Our action director (consultant) was Conrad E Palmisano. He’s a great human being who was working with an Indian crew for the first time. Given that Ek Tha Tiger is such an action-heavy film, he had a lot of responsibility on him and he definitely proved his worth. He’s really very good. I haven’t seen too many action directors working with the kind of precision like he did. His team was excellent. They are young, enthusiastic guys, from engineers to basic rigging guys who always have a good-to-go attitude. All one heard on the action set was “Go for it!” or “all set!” The good thing about Conrad is that he doesn’t deviate from the action conceived in the pre-production stage. Very rarely will he go for an extra shot, which is a really good thing for the whole unit. He worked really hard on this film and you can see the results!
How would you describe your cinematography style in this film w.r.t the camera and lighting?
I’d say my style was impulsive and absolutely natural. People may call it stylish, but simplicity too has its own style. I knew I had to be very careful as I was lighting for the two most beautiful and good-looking people in our industry. I was careful not to miss out on Salman Khan’s eyes. He has the most beautiful and expressive eyes I have ever seen. They’re clean and calm. And we all know how beautiful Katrina Kaif is!
I did experiment a lot with Salman Khan in the first few days of our shooting. I was figuring out the angle of the light, the key fill ratio, etc. but I didn’t bother much after I got it right in a couple of days. Every face reacts differently to that one single source of light, be it Ranveer Shorey, Roshan Seth or Girish Karnad.
The style that I adapted for this film, well, I would call it ‘Carefully careless’! (laughs) You know compositionally what the right frame should be, but you deliberately frame it slightly off or keep it little fluid. I shot this film with Optimo and HR zoom on a loose head as the action was so real and fast that it required that kind of framing and movements.
Which one was your biggest setup?
I think lighting wise the biggest set up was the Turkish ball I mentioned earlier.
What was your lighting setup for the outdoor night sequences?
The typical lighting set up were few 12, 9 and 6 Dinos, one 18 k and a few 8 bank kinos. I have never gone beyond this kind of a set up in any of my films. The more you use lights the more confusing it becomes with untidy shadows falling all over the place, flags, etc. I like to keep it simple and within my working aperture. I would love to shoot one whole film with a huge single source. An artificial source. (laughs)
What was the greatest challenge you faced during filming?

Oh, that would definitely be fighting the cold! (laughs) Dublin, then Mardin and then Delhi. It looked like we were being chased by the cold wave. And if that wasn’t enough, the rains followed. It was complete madness, but I guess good work comes out of that kind of a madness. I don’t want to sound prophetic but good work does really comes out of tough situations and then there’s that extra accidental beauty which you are blessed with in the form of nature’s reward. The other problem we face was the language barrier. It was quite funny, actually. We were working with crews from different countries, different cultures and different languages, from Irish to Turkish to Spanish to Marathi, Punjabi and Hindi. Each ‘pack up’ sounded different!
The lighting and the grip team in all these countries were really good. Every country that we went to, we formed some kind of sign language for flags, stands, cutters, lights, etc. It was a great and really interesting experience working with people with such diverse communities and cultures. Added to the scale of the film, for sure.
Were the interior scenes shot on set or on real locations?

We mostly shot in the real locations with the exception of a few small scenes. I love shooting on real locations. Each location has its set of surprises, aura and sense of aesthetics. Real locations give me a different kind of energy. It’s like romancing with the locations! It’s like telling the mountains and the sea, “Come hug me! My arms are open!” It’s just like falling in love. I’m still madly in love with Havana and Mardin because both have unique history. Havana is very different from Mardin. I can still smell the hookah and cigars…
Can you tell us more specifically about the scenes and your lighting setup?

Well, for interior daylight scenes I’ve used the natural light coming in from the windows and added a bit of kino flos to achieve the required aperture. I love using the available light. In fact, I have shot a few scenes on a really, really low aperture.
Tell us about your favorite shot or element in this movie. There must be something that you’re quite thrilled about?
Each film comes with it’s own ups and downs. I don’t think Ek Tha Tiger was a tough film to shoot, but what was important in this film was the consistency of the lighting, stock camera movements and above all, the lensing. I liked the way this whole film looks. Everything works so well in the film. They’re all in complete sync. Besides, shooting this film was an amazing experience, as big as the film looks. The experience can’t really be justified in words. You need to live it. That’s something you’ll see come out very strongly when you watch the film as well.
How would you describe Kabir Khan, the Director?

As I said earlier, Kabir and I go back a long way. We started working together on documentaries and commercials since college and then finally during New York.
Camera and perf?

All cameras were 3 perf.

How long did filming and post-production take?

I think we shot a total of 115 days and the post-production took around 25 to 30 days.
What was the film stock used?

I used the Kodak 50D 250D and 500T.
Where was the DI done, and by whom?

It was done by Manoj and Rohan at Prime Focus. It was great working with them.
Lastly, tell us about your team…
I have a fantastic team, which has been with me since my first film. There’s Anil who helps me in conceiving the lighting design and Montu who always helps me with light reading, etc. The lightmen are from YRF. We had a great time, and worked together in complete sync. All in all, Ek Tha Tiger was every bit the fantastic experience as it looks on screen.