Ek Thi Daayan is Saurabh Goswami’s first hindi film as a cinematographer. Earlier, he has worked as a camera assistant in various big-budget movies. He also shot his first Bengali feature film titled Bapi Bari Jaa as an independent cinematographer in 2012. Talking about the making of his recently released supernatural thriller, Saurabh Goswami discusses with Pandolin about his sense of lighting and style of shooting.

What was the brief given to you by the director Kannan Iyer and how was it working with him?           

The basic brief was to shoot it as realistic as possible. Also, the film required shooting it more from the point of view of a child who plays a very important role in the film. So, we tried to be in a more realistic zone while making it overtly horror.

It was fabulous working with him because he and I quite matched up in sensibilities, in terms of what we wanted to portray on screen. We worked a lot together in the preproduction stage that helped me to understand what he wants out of a particular scene and character. Also our collaboration in the preproduction helped us to figure out how to work within the given restrictions. Kannan is a gem of a person as well as a director and the way he handled the kids with his amazing level of patience surprised us all.

What was your primary approach and understanding towards the shoot of this film?

There is one major location in the film i.e. the house of our protagonist. Now when we were looking for locations, we looked for it almost all over the country but we didn’t get anything apt for us. Therefore, ultimately we went ahead and made a set for this particular house that formed the base of the film. Now my basic approach towards the set was to make it look realistic and impart a little more character to it in terms of the story.

Where did the shooting happen and what was the kind of sets created for the film?

Ninety five percent of the shooting happened in Mumbai and then for around five days, we shot in Delhi at a place called “Kingdom of Dreams”. The film had few magic shows; those scenes were done over there.

Majorly, we shot in film city where we created the set of a house that is more like a central character in the film. We also created a set for the climax sequence in Yashraj. But the huge challenge we faced while shooting in the film city was the space restriction. Since we were given only one place to shoot, every room of the house also doubled up as another location such as, lawyer’s chamber or a doctor’s clinic. That was a challenge for the art department and me as well. We did try to make it look completely different from the other so that it doesn’t seem like cheating.

How did you decide upon the color palette of the film considering it’s a supernatural thriller?

Major portion of the film is based in one house and there are few different looks to it after a certain period of time such as 20 years before, 20 years later and until death. So with every look, I tried to maintain some kind of mood coming out from a particular scene. Now since the film is quite dark so the color palette, which goes into it, was also very dark. Even the day sequences within the house look extremely dim. Hence, natural color palettes were created entailing mostly offbeat colors that you don’t usually see in commercial films. For example in the song yarram, we have shot it in such a way that you rarely see something so dark in terms of a bollywood song. Though, we have tried to keep it little subdued and subtle.

Brief us about the lighting design of Ek Thi Daayan.

Since, we worked on sets, I had to supplement everything. Though, there was no natural light yet my tendency was to light a set in a way considering how a sunlight, a moon light or any other ambience light would have behaved over there. I tried to be as natural as possible with minimum lights, keeping the scenes very moody and dark.

Also, light panel LEDs were used for kids and the climax sequence that was supposed to be candle lit completely. So my assistant Ayaan handled those lights himself while regulating and creating the effect of the candle lit flames. Besides, there were daylight HMIs, ARRI N40 and N18 that I used quite extensively on sets. For outdoors, I didn’t use any light but bouncers and skimmers.


Which camera format did you employ and what was the kind of lenses?

I have shot the film on ALEXA with the Kodak raw recorder and the Ultraprime lenses. There were two specific lenses that I frequently used i.e. 40 and 65 mm. In terms of lenses, we experimented quite a bit. In most of the scenes, you won’t see the beautification usually shown in the bollywood films. Very few places where the script and the scenes demand, we have incorporated it. We have given space for the characters to move while trying to convey that audience itself is a part of the film. The movements are more organic and natural instead of forced.

How was your relationship with the art director of this film?

Amit and Subrato are the art directors of this film. I was very thankful to the art direction team since they have done a lot towards the look of this film. We did discussed along with the director and the costume designer regarding the look or color palette at some instances. But mostly, we didn’t really have to tell each other about the colors or certain elements in the scene.

The art department really helped me in the architecture of the house as well. Since I have done a lot of handheld in the film, so for my movement and comfort, they came up with few practical ideas. It was a very collaborative process and wasn’t really a one-man look or a one-man effort in the film.

What are the major challenges you encountered during the shoot?

The biggest challenge was shooting with the kids because handheld at their height is quite problematic. There are few scenes where I had to be on my knees and move around the kids. Though, sometimes I made use of a device called wheelbarrow dolly and used to sit on it matching their height yet moving around them with camera being handheld was one of the great challenges.

Which was the most difficult scene to shoot in the film?

I won’t call it difficult but challenging. The major difficulty was actually in terms of time restrictions we got to shoot the scene. There was a day when there were like sixty setups and all-handheld but we were pushed to do it because of the timing and the date issues of the artists. That was a challenge taken up by us and we managed to do it. Also, the film has a lot of VFX in it. So to handle those CG elements was slightly tricky for us in the beginning. But after a point of time everything did fall into place.

Which one is your favorite scene or shot in the film and why?

There is a climax sequence in the film that is extensively candle lit. So, the challenges we faced and the efforts we put in to execute that entire sequence makes it the most memorable for me.

How scary do you think the film is?

Scary is a perception issue. We didn’t really want to make people scared. Though, there are few elements done via VFX that people might find scary. But our aim was to create mystery and not a haunted feel. Also, things seen and things not seen make a huge difference on screen.

Were there any steadicam shots in the film?           

Yes, there are few steadicam shots incorporated in the film, for example while shooting magic shows, one camera used to be on handheld with me and the other used to be on steadicam. Also for the climax scene, we used two cameras including steadicam because we wanted the camera to keep on flowing and not just static at one place.

How many VFX shots have been employed in the film and where did the VFX and DI happen?

Practically in every second scene you will find a VFX shot. There are about 350 shots that have VFX in the film. It was done at Prana studios though on sets also we had a VFX supervisor named Govardhan. The DI of the film happened at Reliance Media Works.


Who were your gaffers and colorist?

My colorist was Prakash from Reliance, who I actually owe a lot to. Just like our entire team, my colorist was also in tandem with us. He completely understood what I wanted out of a scene or a look and I hardly needed to communicate anything to him. I would say he is the best colorist I have worked with in the industry.

Our lighting team was from “Monalisa” and I had gaffers named Mahendar and Ramesh. Again lots of challenges were put forward to them because we were trying to create natural light on the set, which was very restrictive.

How many days did the shooting take place?

Around sixty days, which also include re-shooting few scenes as those were changed later.

What was your major learning throughout this film?

I would say spontaneity is the one thing that I learned through the film. Since while shooting, lots of things kept on changing in terms of script and the initial brief. Hence, I needed to be spontaneous on the sets. Also, I think it becomes very essential when you are working on a bollywood film.

 – As told to Priyanka Verma


Camera and lenses:

Film was shot on ALEXA with the Kodak raw recorder and the Ultraprime lenses.

Lights used:

Light panel LEDS, Daylight HMIs, ARRI N40 and N18