Satyagraha was shot like a documentary – Sachin Krishn
[dropcap]”T[/dropcap]he approach was that the cinematography should take the audience right in the middle of the action,” says Cinematographer Sachin Krishn on the making of the highly awaited film, Satyagraha. With this movie, the proficient cinematographer and Director Prakash Jha come together once again to create a hard-hitting political drama which is sure to enthrall viewers.
Sachin tells Pandolin about the making of this film, the documentary approach adopted, the massive lighting setups employed, their love affair with the city of Bhopal, and more.
What was your thought process and treatment for the shoot of Satyagraha?
Satyagraha is my fourth film with Prakashji. The film started like any other film – we did a recce, rounds of locations, discussed the whole film through and arrived at the decision that the film has to be shot like a documentary. The approach right from the beginning was that the cinematography should take the audience there, right in the middle of the action. We did not want to make it too cinematic or glossy.
There are news reports stating that Satyagraha is a sequel to Rajneeti. Has the film been treated as a sequel?
That kind of a notion is expected because the texture of both the films is the same. Both are political films, they are set in the same central Indian politics and so on, so that could lead to the confusion that it is very much in the league of Rajneeti. However, Rajneeti was more cinematic than this because it had planned frames and we did try to get some cinema out of it. It was a huge, grand film on a massive scale. The idea in Satyagraha is not to show the scale and not to focus on the camera work or the grandeur; it is just to be in the middle of things. Here the camera is not the third person; it is from the audience’s point of view.
Since it is set against a political backdrop, have you adopted a specific color palette?
I didn’t really have a specific color palette. A color palette in these kind of films is mainly determined by two things – the locations and secondly the costumes and also the art design and production design. As far as cinematography is concerned I did not do anything to give it any color palette or a look in the DI or fiddle around with filters. The idea was to reproduce what we were seeing with the naked eye on the locations and do so very authentically.
A large part of the film has been shot in Bhopal. Any particular reasons for choosing this location? Which are the other locations that have been used? Have you’ll largely shot on real locations or created sets?
The main reason to shoot in Bhopal was the very simple fact that we have been shooting there for several years now. We began this affair with Bhopal in Rajneeti, which was the first film to be shot there. And the place responded so well, the films that we make, the locations we want and the kind of shoot-friendly city it is with its wonderful people, it all works fabulously. It was just about carrying on the love affair with Bhopal which extending to this film as well.
Luckily the film is again set in central Indian politics and Bhopal is the heart of India. It offers you all the things required and the film was tailor-made for Bhopal. So we didn’t think twice before heading there. Every frame of this film has been shot in Bhopal apart from the opening credits song which was shot in a discotheque in Mumbai. Also very minor bits of some corporate offices etc., barely 5 per cent, has been shot in Mumbai and the rest is all Bhopal.
We shot primarily on a set in Bhopal but that set was incorporated as part of the cityscape. By a set, I don’t mean that we went to a desolate place like Film City and erected things there. But our set was built in a way that when the camera goes up in a credit shot you begin to see an extension of that set which is the Bhopal city itself. The landmarks of Bhopal etc. can be seen. So one cannot really figure out where the city ends and where the set begins. It’s a major feat that the film has achieved.
What format has the film been shot on and what was the camera setup like? Was it more of a handheld film? Please tell us about the other equipment used to assist in shooting.
99 per cent of the movie was shot on film and we shot Super 35 and about 1 -2 per cent of the film is shot digital, mainly the action sequences where I’ve shot with Canons and Go Pros. It was almost always a double camera setup and at times we had more than two cameras. It was a big setting as far as coverage is concerned, huge rallies, huge crowds, so one camera couldn’t do justice. Most of the film is on steadicam, jib, track and the likes. We like giving our films a lot of energy, we don’t shoot static at all – I don’t think even a single shot is static in the film. The camera is always moving around and there is a lot of movement in the film. The close shots have been taken on steadicam because we needed that kind of energy to portray the characters’ internal angst and anguish in terms of cinematography.
In terms of equipment, we employed some rain cover for the sequences where water cannons are used to blast people. For those scenes the cameras had to be protected because we had to enter the water with the cameras. We have not shot all those sequences sitting faraway and have actually gone into the middle of the things and captured them as they happened. So those scenes needed some special rain covers, filters and so on but otherwise nothing special.
[pullquote_right]The idea was not to make a beautifully framed film or a very visual one; it was just about portraying whatever the human eye is seeing. The idea was to just place the lens in a way that it doesn’t look cinematic at all[/pullquote_right]
What kind of framing and angles have largely been used in the film and why?
The idea was not to make a beautifully framed film or a very visual one; it was just about portraying whatever the human eye is seeing. The idea was to just place the lens in a way that it doesn’t look cinematic at all, it’s like someone is standing behind Amitabh Bachchan or Ajay Devgn or Kareena Kapoor, and it is from his/her point of view, standing there and witnessing the whole thing. That somebody is supposed to be the audience.
Please tell us about the lighting design employed in the film. What were your primary sources of light for exterior and interior shots?
This is a film where we were heavily relying on the expressions of the fabulous actors we had. And we wanted to see their faces perform. So the one thing I tried here is to employ direct lights on the faces because the kind of expressions that emerge when you employ direct light is unparalleled. Direct light highlights even the minutest features of the actors. So in this film the attempt was to hit the faces of the actors with direct light so that we actually go into their eyes and inside their heads and realize what they are thinking and how they are feeling at that point of time.
Most of the interior scenes have been shot with direct lights. Even if it is night, I’ve ensured that the actors are standing in some direct light as the faces have to be seen very clearly and I’ve not taken any chances with that. I’ve used the whole array of lights from the smallest light called the inky dinky to the biggest light which is the balloon light, as this was a very heavily lit film. There were some huge lighting sequences, 8-10 generators, several kilowatts of lights being used. We were lighting up more than a kilometer of an area at night. When you shoot a film like that you cannot rely on one or two lights and have to employ the whole lot.
There are huge crowd sequences in the film. What were the challenges faced while shooting such crowds and what was your shooting technique?
These huge rally sequences, crowd sequences etc. are more challenging to shoot during the day than at night. The night light is controlled by you as you are lighting it up but in the day, the sun will not wait for anyone to take a shot. The position of the sun constantly keeps shifting but your scene is being shot in real time. So the idea is to shoot as fast as possible to maintain that light continuity. And where there are 3000-4000 people standing in front of the camera, it is very difficult to take shots very fast. But that is where pre-production, crowd training and discipline of shooting comes into play. I think we never had a single problem shooting those huge crowd scenes and finished most of the scenes in one day itself because of multiple cameras, the discipline with which we shot the film and the discipline the crowd itself had.
[pullquote_left]You can shoot these things two ways. Either you can go far away, use a telephoto lens and make it cinematic or you can be part of the action. I think for this kind of a film, being in the middle of the action was a call that was taken very early.[/pullquote_left]
Have you used any motion control techniques for creating the crowds in the film? What is the role of VFX in a film like Satyagraha?
The role of VFX is very minimal. For extremely long shots we did employ some VFX otherwise not much of it. 95 per cent of the people that you see where actually present there.
How have you approached the sequence where the police are using water cannons against the gathered crowd?
You can shoot these things two ways. Either you can go far away, use a telephoto lens and make it cinematic or you can be part of the action. I think for this kind of a film, being in the middle of the action was a call that was taken very early. So we did not try to go far away and frame it beautifully with telephotos and make it very dynamic. We actually went in the line of fire and the cameras were right there facing the water cannons and so when the water hits the lens you actually feel the impact of the brutality and whatever is happening.
A riot like situation is also created in the film. How did you’ll go about preparing for this kind of a scene and what were the elements to be kept in mind? Were the fires in the film for real or created via VFX?
There is a major sequence in the film, where a man sets himself on fire in the middle of a huge crowd, so you cannot rely only on VFX to create that kind of a look. There was a fighter who actually set himself on fire and we shot that sequence real time and in one go, so that the guy didn’t have to go through it again and again. But the fire had to be enhanced in the VFX to make it look more realistic and believable but the fact is that it was shot in the very first shot. The soul of the scene is what we actually shot and only the enhancement has happened through VFX.
Obviously there were challenges. More than a challenge for a cinematographer it is a challenge for the action crew. The caution I had to take is holding the tear glass filter in front of the lens so that the lens doesn’t get affected. We were shooting quickly and were on our toes because this kind of a scene doesn’t give you the license to take it easy. It’s a matter of starting the sequences and finishing it within 1 to 1 and a half hour so that the continuity is maintained, the person inside the fire suit is not hurt and such things.
Please tell us about the making of the song ‘Ras Ke Bhare Tore Naina’. Since it is a romantic number what was your approach towards lighting? Also how did you decide the location for the song and where has it been shot?
The location that we shot in is a very interesting place called as Taj Mahal which is in Bhopal. Basically they are very ancient ruins that are almost spooky now. The idea was to create a very romantic environment in that haunted kind of a place. That is the magic of cinematography or cinema that different moods can be created in the same place. It was again a massive lighting sequence and these kind of lighting sequences happen over the course of 3-4 nights. My assistants light up for 3 nights and on the fourth night you end up shooting. They are very elaborate lighting setups. I did use some very huge lights like 18Ks etc. without which you cannot cover these large areas.
The opening credits song ‘Aiyo Ji’ has a very modern lighting setup. Why did you’ll choose this particular look for the song and how was the shooting experience for this number?
That was one song where I totally changed the lighting setup. Because that is where I wanted a release in the film as the rest of the film is in a very harsh terrain, the texture is very hard and not glossy at all. In this song I wanted that feeling of you being in a shady yet very glossy place where these business deals and politics happen. The song has been entirely lit up by modern lights including LEDs, laser lights, UV lights, back lights, the so called disco lights. Luckily we were shooting on film but these lights do cause a problem when shooting on digital as they are too harsh for the digital sensor. If a laser light comes in front of a digital camera there is a chance that the sensor will get spoilt.
[pullquote_right]I think the most challenging part would be the title song – ‘Satyagraha’ – which is a night song which was shot in the huge Ram Leela ground. It was a massive lighting setup, the fact that we shot the entire song in 6 hours made it even more challenging.[/pullquote_right]
Which was the most challenging sequence in the entire film?
I think the most challenging part would be the title song – ‘Satyagraha’ – which is a night song shot in the huge Ram Leela ground. It was a massive lighting setup, the fact that we shot the entire song in 6 hours made it even more challenging. We shot the song over 2 days for 3 hours per day. It was not a matter of it being a tight schedule but it’s just the way Prakashji and I like to work. Once we start shooting we like getting it done with fast, as it gives the whole process a lot of momentum. But yes though the song was shot in 6 hours the lighting set up took 3-4 days.
You have had a long standing association with Prakash Jha. How was it collaborating again on Satyagraha and what was the vision you’ll saw for the film?
The vision was to make it look like a documentary, be there as the action happens and I think we succeeded at achieving that. We have been working for such a long time together that we are now on autopilot. We don’t need to discuss things; we don’t need too much pre-production or rack our brains on how to shoot. The script dictates the texture and look for all the films and we just go to the set and start shooting. It takes time to get to that comfort level with anybody. I’ve worked with Sudhir Mishra for 4-5 films and Prakashji also. It is only over time that you don’t need too much expression with your director.
Where was the DI of the film done and who was your colorist? Please tell us about your team on the film – associates, camera operators, focus puller, gaffers etc.
The DI was done at Prasad Labs. I would like to thank the colorist on this film, Rob Lang, who has also been a long time collaborator with me. The film was shot very fast, in almost 55 days and I did leave a lot of things for DI. He has got everything right and had to work very hard on the DI.
Arup Mandal, my first associate is another person I’d like to thank. He made the huge lighting setups and all the execution that I had in mind possible. At times the things were shot so fast that there was no time to take measurements for focus, because it was shot like a documentary. But both my focus pullers – Gopal and Dinesh, shot 80 per cent of the film purely on judgment. In 90 per cent of the film the camera is moving and when the camera moves the focus is extremely critical and they did a great job at it. Everybody in the team has been fantastic.
Photo Courtesy: Prakash Jha Productions