Our aim was to maintain a balance between grit & glamour in Hero
After the gritty action thriller, D Day, Cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray teams up once again with Director Nikhil Advani for the remake of Subhash Ghai’s Hero. In a chat with Pandolin, Tushar shares the experience of shooting this romantic action drama, the making of the action sequences, his first tryst with shooting in the snow and more.
You have two completely different films coming up – Hero & Katti Batti. How do you pick the films that you’d like to be associated with?
When Nikhil (Advani) is making a film, it becomes a natural choice for me to shoot it. The collaboration that we had during the making of D-Day made us realize that the two of us work really well together and we enjoy working with each other. So I didn’t have to think much before agreeing to the film. In this case, I first agreed to do the film and then read the script.
Nikhil Advani is helming both these films and you’ll have earlier worked together in D Day as well. How would you describe the understanding that Nikhil and you share?
When you’re working as a cinematographer on a particular project it is always going to be stressful. But if you share a relationship with the director that goes beyond the making of that particular film, you get connected in different ways. Even if we are not working together, Nikhil and I keep meeting, exchanging notes about different aspects of life and getting to know each other better. This plays a very important role in the development of any relationship, especially that of a cinematographer-director. During D Day, we liked each others style of work and connected at the same level while deciding a particular style for the film. Now I instinctively understand Nikhil’s needs and requirements. Similarly, Nikhil has also developed an understanding for the style of my work. We completely get each others drift and I look forward to a long partnership with Nikhil.
Coming to Hero, how would you describe the visual treatment adopted? How is it different from other films in the action genre?
The aim behind the basic treatment was to maintain a balance between grit and glamour. We decided to go handheld to add that little added energy that the film required but simultaneously also tried to maintain the rhythm of a love story by keeping things simple and smooth.
It is definitely different from the films that I’ve previously done. I’ve never worked on this sort of an action – love story. And when you do something for the first time in your life there is always a certain amount of novelty to it. The limited resources and the practical difficulties of shooting some mind-blowing stunts, being performed in some extremely difficult situations, forced me to make certain decisions as a cinematographer. And according to me the calls you take in a particular situation makes you different from the rest of the cinematographers.
Did you’ll watch the original Hero to draw any references or inspiration?
When you’re saying that you’re remaking a film, you are re-‘making’ it. In case of Hero, we attempted to conserve the essence of the original story from about 30 years back while adding a contemporary perspective to the film. We ventured to utilize the current day filmmaking technologies available to us to impart a more modern look. Apart from that the spirit of the film remains the same.
When a film has action and a love story running parallel to it, do you differentiate the visuals through colors used?
Yes of course. I decided to employ a subtle difference between the action and love sequences. During action sequences, the visuals are less saturated, there is a hint of blue in the black and the blacks are not as soft as I normally like in my films. The love story part of the film has two different feels to it. The first part of the love story where Sooraj (Sooraj Pancholi) and Radha (Athiya Shetty) are coming together, bonding and their love is just germinating was shot in Manali. That’s the most beautiful part of their love story after which it becomes a different story. It doesn’t just remain a pure love story but gets polluted by other emotions. When the love story starts growing, I decided to keep it gentle. The blacks are not as black as the action sequences, the blue isn’t there in the black, instead there is a hint of warmth and the faces are softer.
Tell us about the locations where Hero has been shot? Is it more of an on-location or set based film?
It’s 80 percent on location. We shot in Manali, shot extensively in Mumbai and shot some portions of a song in Romania. A huge chunk of the beginning of the love story was shot in Manali where we utilized a set in a real location. We were looking for a place where there was a small stream going by the house that Sooraj and Radha were staying in. We found such a location and the house was constructed there. Our production designers Amit Ray and Subrata Chakraborthy did some awesome work. Other than that we shot two other songs on different sets.
Which camera and lens have been used to shoot the film? Please elaborate on the camera set up.
We shot with ALEXA XT and Master Prime Lenses. We had at least 3 cameras while shooting action sequences. We had a mixed camera set up for the action shots comprising of Alexa XT, Red Epic, Cannon 1D C and Go Pro.
The film involves several bike and car chases. How have you shot these scenes and where was the camera mounted?
Honestly we didn’t have to do much, thanks to our Action Director Dave and our biking stunt man Dan, who is the second best bike stunt guy in the world. He can do anything with an acute precision. If you want him to jump from point X to point Y, he will actually move exactly that much whenever you tell him to do so. Our job was pretty straightforward – we just had to place the camera at the best angles, roll and capture it because Dan was doing the rest. For the shot that you get to see in the trailer where Dan jumps from behind a truck and lands on the train track beside a moving train, one camera was on the Jib, another camera was on the ground where he was landing, a 3rd frontal camera was placed just beside the truck to capture the complete action and the 4th camera was inside the passing train.
What is the lighting design adopted for the outdoor scenes and which lights have you worked with for the indoor scenes? Was shooting in the snow an issue for lighting?
This was the first time I was shooting in snow. I was little worried since I didn’t have any prior experience in this aspect. But I quickly realized that it’s not such a tricky situation. You probably need to pump some light for the faces at times and that is about it. The most important point is to understand the sun path and plan your day accordingly. You also need to keep the change of weather in account. We tried to keep the lighting extremely minimal because of the practical difficulties of the locations. It was a physically challenging job.
For most of the outdoor work I used very few or almost no lights whereas for the indoor scenes in the film, I used a lot of fire and smaller lighting units. The flicker and warmth of the fire really helped in creating the right mood. We have used a lot of Mixed Lights for indoor sequences.
So would you say that the songs in the film have been treated differently in terms of the look and feel?
Yes. Some of the songs have been treated differently from the film. There is a song that happens in Manali that was shot in the same manner that I shot the scenes there. But the song inside the Pub has been treated differently to introduce a certain amount of gloss that you need to have for a peppy number. Another song was shot on stage where a group headed by Athiya is performing. That song needed a much advanced treatment and lighting design. We had to convey a lot through the choreography, design of the texture and colour of light and shadow.
How much of VFX does the film employ? The blast that’s shown in the trailer was it real or created via CG?
We actually got the blast done while shooting but enhanced it slightly during Post. There is some wire removal in the action sequences. Also we shot some portions in Romania but had to convey it as Paris so we did some background changes in Post.
While shooting in Manali, we got snow in some action sequences and didn’t get snow in others. So we had to digitally add snow. Also the bridge we shot in Manali had to be broken via VFX. Except for these minor things there wasn’t much of VFX work in the film.
What are the challenges of shooting an action film?
Time…fighting the timeline is the biggest challenge. Also the biggest learning is, if you wish to make an action film that you’ll be proud of, you need to plan. You can only achieve quality by planning to the T.
How long did the shoot take?
We shot for around 66 days but that’s the technical part of it. A lot more time and effort goes into a film.
Please tell us about your team for Hero.
Sunny Singh from Prime Focus was my Colorist. We have worked together on my previous films too. He is an aesthetically sound colorist who is always there to make your film look the best. My associate, Soumik Mukherjee is an exceptionally talented guy. Jishnu and Anwar, my seconds, Pradeep, my gaffer and Bharat, my focus puller, were outstanding.
Photo Courtesy: Emmay Entertainment