Queen is the first dance and song film shot by me: Siddharth Diwan
In an exclusive interview with Pandolin, cinematographer Siddharth Diwan talks about his experiences while shooting for Queen.
How much of Queen did you shoot and how many days did it take to finish shooting it?
The entire film took over 40 days to shoot and I shot for 15 days. I shot the beginning of the film based in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi where we introduce Kangana and her family. Then a chain of events unfold and she decides to go on her honeymoon alone. Her journey to Paris and Amsterdam was shot by Bobby Singh and I shot some more bits towards the end of the film when Kangana comes back.
What was the director’s brief to you? What kind of look and color palette was decided for the film?
Vikas didn’t have to explain the culture presented in the movie, the wedding etc. We were both on the same page with that and that made our communication very easy. We brainstormed; he threw some words around which was enough for me to understand the vibe and the purpose of the scene. I didn’t have to really work hard to decode the language used in the film because I have lived in those places, grown up in the same culture and experienced similar things.
I think many people would relate to the story because it’s about a person who lives in a cocoon where her life is only limited to her family and friends. The film opens with that life of hers, so my approach was to build that kind of an ambiance. It also involves a wedding which was about lots of energy. My idea was to be honest with the given space and not head towards very decorative lighting or fancy framing. I saw some of the bits Bobby had shot and they had a very similar feel i.e. naturalistic.
Also, he shot some flashback sequences with white balance 10,000 kelvin to give it a very candy orange tint. We were shooting in Delhi winters so it was naturally foggy and we kind of used that look. We didn’t force a palette and kept it natural keeping the cinematic element alive. We didn’t want it to look art directed or costume-designed.
Tell us about the shoot locations and the challenges you faced.
This film has been shot in Delhi, Paris and Amsterdam. The part I shot was 100 percent at the real locations except for one India Gate scene. We didn’t have access to India Gate; so we used green screen.
I have shot all my films in real locations, so I am quite used to it. But, shooting in real locations can be really painful because you have to get the balance between ideal lighting and actors’ movements which becomes challenging. I used minimal lighting for this film. For instance, when we were shooting in a room, I tried to light it up from the outside so that inside, I am free to move the camera. With films like these, that are low on budgets and tight on schedule, we don’t have the privilege to rectify or re shoot. You have to make your decisions very carefully.
Bobby had shot the film with a Sony F65, so I tested it too. It gives a clean, noiseless and a sharp image, which work well for the parts that show Kangana exploring the world and getting a different perspective on her life. However, I didn’t want to use the same format to shoot the parts in Delhi. I shot on Red Epic and used the Panavision Primo lenses. I always felt that Red had more texture. It might be noisier than Alexa and Sony but it worked really well. We also used Optimo zoom.
Brief us about the camera movement and the framing strategy used in this film?
I used wide lenses for songs and scenes that involve a lot of celebration. As the film progressed, I started using longer lenses. The telly lenses worked for scenes after Kangana’s break-up. It helped portraying her isolation. I had seen what Bobby had shot so my lensing approach was based on that. He was using a lot of wide lenses as Kangana moves on with her life and meets new people, experiences new cultures and gets a broader perspective on life. Especially in terms of the movement, most of the film was shot on the Steadicam. We never used any other kind of grip or rig except car rigs. So, whenever the camera was moving, it was always handheld.
For exteriors, we only used skimmers and hardly any lights. Our approach towards lighting was to just balance the image without making it look artificial or designed. We would use lights only when we needed to get a natural sense of the space. For example, there’s a song where Kangana is sitting in an auto rickshaw and it was quite bright outside. In that scene, I used a joker bulb to bring up the level inside the rickshaw to balance it out. The best thing about shooting on Red Epic is the HDRx. There were lots of places, where I would have pumped in a lot of light and tried to balance the interior-exterior. But because of HDRx, I didn’t have to do that, which subsequently saved a lot of time and money.
There’s one scene where Kangana comes out of a room, runs through the corridor and there are some people standing outside. The exterior was 6 stops brighter than the place where Kangana was. Hence, to balance it out, I just switched on the HDRx, put it on the plus 6 setting and shot it.
How was the experience different from your previous films?
Physically, it was very challenging shooting in peak time winter. Also, I had just come on board while this crew had been shooting for 30 days and had built a relationship. I was suddenly this new guy who was shooting the film and had no time to prep for it. These kinds of challenges existed. Besides, I have never shot a film with a song and dance sequence before. So, this was actually the first time, I shot a song with a choreographer. I don’t know, whether it’s generally challenging or not for the others but for me it was.
However, it was fun because we didn’t get into a lot of designed choreography with very specific moves. We kept it candid and tried to capture the moments. We had two cameras and both were handheld. A lot of times, we would just play the song and let the people dance. Then, we would find frames. This came naturally to me because I began my career shooting wildlife films and documentaries.
What was the most interesting sequence to shoot?
For me, it was a song called Ranjha, which comes right after when Kangana and Rajkumar break-up. We didn’t have a big crew, so it was guerrilla style. It was very challenging for us because we had Kangana Ranaut, who is famous. There’s a scene with Kanagana riding in an auto with a camera and a bunch of battery operated lights rigged to it. We were driving through Ring road, one of the busiest spots in Delhi. We were being followed and since it was a moving vehicle, we didn’t have any control over the crowd whatsoever. We had only one day to shoot that sequence and we were losing light. I had to constantly make sure that my exposures were correct and my levels were fine. I normally don’t like to depend on the post to correct the mistakes, so for me, it was quite a rushed shoot.
DI happened at Reliance Media Works and my colorist was Santosh. He did a superb job and we finished it off in a period of ten days. My gaffer was John, who is very experienced and has done many films with Vikas Sivaraman and Anay Goswami. The steady cam operator was Dev, who worked with Bobby on his earlier films too. He has a very good sense of framing and comes up with lots of ideas after understanding the scene. The focus puller was Sanjeev Karmarkar; I never had to worry about my focus during this film. Then there was Anuj Dhawan, my first assistant who is incredible.