Production Posts – Raman Raghav 2.0
Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 promises to be a gritty, dark and gripping thriller. The film that releases this week has some of the finest names in the industry as part of its crew and cast. Pandolin caught up with Cinematographer Jay Oza, Casting Director Mukesh Chhabra and Editor Aarti Bajaj to understand all that went behind the scenes to make this film, which is a modern day take on real incidents that took place in the 60s in Mumbai.
How did you come on board Raman Raghav 2.0?
I have earlier worked with Anurag Kashyap on a short film, which was part of a project called ‘Madly’. Anurag had probably seen my work before and someone from his team also suggested my name. That’s how I met him. When we were shooting for this short, he mentioned that he was planning to make a feature soon and asked me whether I’d shot any feature length film before. I answered negatively. But I think he had made up his mind about me. He asked me again, “Will you do it now?” And I responded, “Yes I will do it.” So it was a casual discussion on the sets, which materialized into me being part of the project.
I have always looked up to Anurag’s films and also admire Rajeev (Ravi, Cinematographer) sir’s work. Rajeev sir has shot most of Anurag’s films so it was an opportunity to step into his shoes and that had me excited and nervous at the same time. I have been looking at shooting features and have been watchful of the kind of films that I would like to shoot and directors I would like to work with. And this was a great opportunity.
What was director Anurag Kashyap’s brief to you?
Anurag is a guy who comes to the set and goes with the flow and the energy of the set. So the work is very organic. He gives complete space to his actors and you have to keep that in the mind while shooting. There is no hard core brief. It’s mainly following the instincts and the actor’s actions. You have to become a part of the set, the scenario you are shooting. You have to be around him and observe, grasp the ideas and the energy and translate that on the screen. Primarily, he said that I was more than free to design whatever I felt like. And personally, at that time, I was visually intrigued by the film Only Lovers Left Alive‘, so that also had an influence on my mind in terms of shadows and lights and how I wanted to shoot the characters.
I have always tried giving my camera a character within the scene, experiencing the same fear, energy and emotions that the actors are going through
When shooting a crime thriller that has two equally dark yet different characters like Raman and Raghav, the camera becomes a third character. Your thoughts on it?
Yes, the camera does become a character in the film. In fact, I always want to make my camera one of the characters, who is walking in the space and documenting what’s happening around. I have always tried giving my camera a character within the scene, experiencing the same fear, energy and emotions that the actors are going through. This film particularly revolves around two characters, their lives and how they are interlinked with each other. So it was important for the camera to be a hidden character between or beside them. Also we didn’t have any elaborate design to follow. Everything has to be instinctive in an Anurag Kashyap film set. He likes to give his actors freedom to perform. So the brief for me was, “Let them do whatever they want to do, don’t give them marks, give them space.” Thus, I walked in and around the actors, giving their characters space to emote onscreen.
Which camera did you use to shoot the film and why? Also the film looks claustrophobic in terms of locations. How difficult was the shooting process?
We shot this film with two cameras, both Red Dragons with an Ultra Prime kit and Alura zoom. Since we had only 20-22 days to complete the principal photography and there were many locations. So mostly handheld shots were taken for optimum and maximum coverage and guerilla shots became the norm. We shot in real, cramped locations; there weren’t exorbitant sets made for the film, so even that was an ‘exciting’ difficulty. I knew that it would be an on the edge kind of shoot, so a heavy camera wouldn’t work. We couldn’t afford to have shaky shots and be uncomfortable holding the camera. And definitely we required more than a single camera set up to complete the shoot in the allotted time. So Red Dragon was the camera that everything boiled down to. Not only is it a light camera but with the equipment and lights it was easier to accommodate it in the locations that we shot in.
All our locations were real tiny spaces. One of it was a 250 sq ft apartment which has four actors, two camera operators, two boom mics, and others. So we had to design the shots accordingly. My other camera operator and I had to literally dodge each other while shooting the scenes. It was like a performance between both of us behind the camera, while the actors were performing the scenes before it (smiles).
Nawazuddin’s character comes from a slum area of Mumbai. So we shot in shabby areas around Sangam Nagar, several parts were shot in Central Mumbai, and various other locations where we didn’t even have permissions to shoot, many narrow lanes, streets, dump-yards, crowded locations where we sneaked, dodged, hid and so on. It was difficult but the locations also made my job easier. They were so real and stunning that they required less lighting and lesser art direction. Had we created those locations in studios, we wouldn’t have got the texture and feel which we have shot now. So these locations came with a lot of character and emotions, which enhanced the actors’ performances and made my job more lively.
The locations came with a lot of character and emotions, which enhanced the actors’ performances and made my job more lively
Was the colour and look of the film pre-decided?
We did discuss it beforehand but as I said we also let the spaces we shot in speak to us in terms of everything. Anurag sir loves the vibrancy of colours; he likes to add drama to the colours, but yes, he wanted the film to look real, in terms of what these places actually look like. At the same time he also wanted me to add some vibrant colours and create a contrast between the characters using the colours. He had a contrast color theme in mind. He loves his colors but you have to still do justice to the time, location and characters. So we made sure that we have drama, grunge, mystery and curiosity in each frame using colours.
Please elaborate on the lighting design that you employed for the film.
In terms of lighting too, we would go to the location, sensed what it was giving us and played around it accordingly. I tried incorporating the original light scheme that the shooting area gave us. For me the people who live there and how they design their spaces is phenomenal to capture. You can’t recreate the aesthetics of it, it will definitely look made up. We used what they had done in their livelihood and enhanced it with little bits and pieces where required. Interestingly, we lit the walls and not the actors. We have tried to give the viewers the feel of the cramped spaces that the people exist in.
We shot the exteriors of the slum mainly in daylight as there were time constraints too. We couldn’t afford to lose time in putting up big lights, so a lot of LEDs, battery operated lights, bulbs, tubelights and cheap disco lights to get colours, were used. And I think that all of it was beautifully captured on camera. We did a lot of practical lighting. There is a house sequence in the film, where I took the liberty to design and light the room, play with my Only Lovers Left Alive influence. But yes, I always kept in mind to not make it a visual gala. I used a little colour pop to accentuate the characters, their behaviors, mannerisms and habits.
Tell us about your camera team.
I have been working with this team since we shot the TV series 24 together. Anik Verma is my associate and Abdul Choudhary is the gaffer. They are my trusted hands. In this film I worked with six different camera operators including Jay Patel, Tanay Satam, Swapnil Sonawane, Archit Patel, Prasad Chaurasiya and Rohan Thakur. They are all independent DOPs and my friends who understand each other’s working styles. With the kind of schedule that we had, it was a big help. I couldn’t go and check every shot each and every time. So I gave them the freedom to frame according to their understanding and place the actors in the way they wished. They did a great job and added their own style to the whole cinematography, making the film visually larger and increasing the production value. It was a difficult shoot in terms of time constraints but I had an efficient team of gaffers, light boys and camera operators. Every day was crazy and chaotic but when you have amazing shots at the end of the day, everything else fades away.
With Raman Raghav 2.0 you yet again introduce new faces in the industry. Please talk about them. Whom are you most excited about?
Yes, we have collected many gems for this film as well. Sobhita Dhulipala who plays Vicky Kaushal’s love interest is one of them. We auditioned many actors for months and finally found her. Amruta Subhash, who plays Nawaz’s sister in the film is another superb actor who we worked with. We didn’t have to audition her though. Anurag was pretty sure about her, having seen her work earlier. And indeed she is a fabulous actor who has done incredible work in Marathi cinema.
We are also introducing a kid who the audience has seen in trailers. I am pretty excited for him too.There are many other actors too in different characters, even the one’s having just a single dialogue or scene. It will be exciting to see the responses they receive. They too are difficult to cast. The director has a certain type of face or voice or style in mind and getting it bang on while casting is a tough but very interesting job.
Were Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vicky Kaushal the first choices for their roles?
Nawaz was definitely the first choice. The role was written keeping him in mind. But we auditioned Vicky Kaushal for the role. I gave him the brief, explained the scenes, and auditioned him after three days. The audition itself took 6-7 hours. But it benefited at last and we had him on board. The film will show how perfect they are for their parts. The roles are tailor-made for them.
Every film will have romance or comedy or disputes, but you need to keep in mind whether it’s an Anurag Kashyap film or an Imtiaz Ali film
How is casting for a crime thriller different than casting for other films?
I think more than the genre it’s about the director that one is working with. Anurag Kashyap creates and writes a character, we then discuss it and work towards finding the face. It’s interesting how Anurag and I are almost on the same page regarding the actor that will suit the part. Once he likes someone, he or she is locked immediately. The kind of faces he is looking for should suit his style of filmmaking and the script. Every film will have romance or comedy or disputes et al, but you need to keep in mind whether it’s an Anurag Kashyap film or an Imtiaz Ali film.
Was any character particularly difficult to crack in terms of casting? How much time did it take to complete the casting for the film?
I think that would be Vicky Kaushal’s character. As I said earlier, it required immense amount of work hours, auditioning and re-auditioning him. The character is immensely different from what he has done earlier. So it was difficult to crack and derive a dark character out of him. But at the end, it feels great to see his superb job in the film.
As for the time, it took close to 40 days to complete the process. Also when I am working with Anurag, there is a level of understanding that we share. A small brief, even a sentence about the type of actor that he is looking for a certain character, is enough. So the casting is smooth and mostly on the point.
At what stage does the editing start for you, when you read the script or when the complete rushes come to you? Do you have a say at the scripting level?
The feedback generally starts at the script level with the suggestions. Most of the directors are open to see the POV (point of view). If I have questions I ask them. I start putting the footage together as and when it comes to me. I like spending time with the rushes. The groundwork is laid before in a very basic way. It’s more like discovery and absorbing. Once the entire footage is online, it’s then that the actual work starts.
Which software do you generally edit on? Was it the same for Raman Raghav 2.0?
I work on Avid Media Composer. I have been working on it for almost 18 years. I have worked on FCP and a couple of other softwares but for me it’s Avid all the way. Raman Raghav 2.0 was cut on the same.
Crime thrillers are more like a character study
How difficult it is to edit a crime thriller compared to other genres? What does one have to keep in mind?
Crime thrillers are more like a character study. To think like a psychopath does not come naturally but there is a curiosity and fascination too. To question the why’s and the how’s. We all have a dark side but we are emphatic too. A psychopath has no remorse or guilt. It’s a different reality. I did read up on a couple of studies to see how they think. It did determine my cut points at few places.
Is there any scene/ sequence in Raman Raghav 2.0, wherein there was a creative difference on how it should be treated?
It is an open platform up for discussion and the end result usually turns out to be the best. The challenge was to dig deeper into the psyche of both the characters and to keep on digging. It’s a very uncomfortable space but exciting too.
The challenge was to dig deeper into the psyche of both the characters
When one sees your portfolio you seem to have stayed out of editing ‘mainstream Bollywood potboilers’. How do you decide which assignments to take up?
For me every project I have done is mainstream. I have edited quite a few I feel! Dev D or a Jab We Met for instance. My criteria has always been a good script and how do I feel about it. It has to be exciting for me to have fun while editing!