by Adhiraj Singh

Mithun Gangopadhyay

Mithun Gangopadhyay

Mithun Gangopadhyay, a promising young cinematographer with many short films, promos and music videos already under his belt – including Kailash Kher’s latest release, Rangeele – speaks to us about his beginnings, his style, and working in the industry.

Can you tell us a little about your background?
I was born in Delhi, my parents moved to Africa when I was a kid, and came back when I was 7. I did my schooling and college from Delhi, moved to Bombay, and worked as an AD for a few years. Then I moved to America to go to film school – to New York Film Academy and UCLA. I was there for four years.
I came back last year, have been in Bombay for a year and a half, and have been shooting ever since.
What was your first break into this industry?
My first big break was working as an assistant director to Vidhu Vinod Chopra. The first movie I worked on was Parineeta, on post-production. And then I worked on Eklavya. After that I got a little bored of living in Bombay, so I went to film school, to NYFA, to do a direction course. There, when I directed some short films, I realized that though I thought I wanted to be a Director, I was much more interested in telling a story through a camera, so, I switched to cinematography.
So, that’s what triggered you to pursue cinematography?
Yeah, I actually picked up a camera for the first time when I was 25 years old, when I was in New York. I just bought an (D)SLR and started shooting like crazy. Earlier, I never thought in terms of the camera, it was always in terms of the story. But after I directed four or five short films I realized I’m more interested in the camera rather than directing.
How would you describe your journey so far, was it difficult to get into cinematography? Have you assisted anyone in cinematography, before?
I didn’t work in cinematography at all when I was in India. By the time I finished with film school in New York, I realized that I needed to learn cinematography. It’s one thing that is very technical and also involves a lot of aesthetic choices. Which is why I decided to go to UCLA, I was there for three years. I used to be the junior-most person on set, a trainee grip, and I worked my way up from there.
So, it was quite difficult to get a break?
Oh, no, wasn’t difficult at all actually. Fortunately at that time, in America, the economy wasn’t in such a bad shape as it is in now, so there was a lot of independent stuff happening, there were a lot of film school shoots, so I was actually quite busy. For me it was a very smooth journey.
What were your major film influences?
I’m a huge fan of photography, so I study a lot of photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jean-Luc, especially the Magnum photographers – photo-journalism, that’s what got me interested in photography. Lately I’ve been following a lot of fine art and fashion photographers like Mario Testino, Albert Watson, and Javier Vallhonrat.
When I actually got into films, my influences were Michael Mann, Ridley Scott, Wong Kar Wai. But if I had to pick one or two people who really shaped my aesthetic choices it would have to be Ridley Scott and Alfonso Cuarón.
How would you describe your style?

I would like to think that I don’t have a style and it depends on what the project is. When I became a DP I started with doing a lot of documentaries, so I’m very comfortable in doing hand-held, cinema verité sort of style. Initially, that was all I would get hired for. Recently I’ve been trying to break out of that mould because there’s only so much you can shoot in that style. In the past month, I’ve shot four or five beauty commercials, because I’ve been trying to move away from realism to high fashion.
There are so many young cinematographers in India – what makes you different, and better?
I wouldn’t say I’m better than anybody. Different also, because, I’m not friends with any cinematographers my age, simply because I did not go to film school here, and I don’t have that network of people I would have had if I’d have graduated from FTII – which I kind of regret because then you don’t have that camaraderie, that network of people you can rely on for support. But I would say what makes me different is that I’m someone who’s really interested in the short format – music videos, commercials, fashion films, as opposed to feature films, which is everyone’s ‘holy grail’.
What projects have you worked on so far?

Last year I tried a lot of different things, trying to find what my niche is. I shot five or six music videos, a portion of a Tamil documentary, some corporate films, did Second Unit in a couple of films, one of which is released, called ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’, and the other, ‘Rock the Shaadi’ is still in production right now.
This year I’ve only been shooting commercials, and I’ve got some photography assignments as well, that’s keeping me very busy.

Do you have any future projects lined up?

I did a TV show recently, called Sound Tripping. It was a lot of fun, unfortunately I couldn’t do the entire show because of scheduling issues, but I did three episodes. It was a great experience. 
Between photography and cinematography, which is your true love?
My first love will be photography, but my true love will have to be cinematography, because I really enjoy the collaborative process that you get when you’re working in motion. Photography is a very solitary thing, when you’re a photographer you’re essentially calling the shots, and everybody’s following your vision, whereas in filmmaking you’re following the Director’s vision, and then everybody adds their own inputs to the pot.