There cannot be a second War Chhod Na Yaar: Sejal Shah
“It’s a cinema that has never be seen or heard before, something that I think our nation would sit up and take notice,” says veteran cinematographer Sejal Shah while talking about the making of India’s first war comedy, War Chhod Na Yaar. In an insightful conversation with Pandolin, he explains what prompted him to take up this project, his admiration for the debutant director Faraz Haider and how he created a distinctive war comedy look for this film.
What are the factors that got you excited to take on this film? How was it working with a first time director and on a concept totally unique?
What got me really excited to be a part of this project was, the director himself and his story. It took hundred years to make a war comedy in this country. While there was another war film called No Man’s land, but the way, director Faraz Haider has done this film, its completely unique. I feel this is one of the finest and best films to come out of the Indian film industry. There cannot be a second War Chhod Na Yaar from any other director, especially because of the essence with which he has written the film and presented it. One has to see the film to believe what I am saying.
It was absolutely fantastic working with him. Though he is a first time director, he was the chief assistant to Dibakar Banerjee on the film, Oye Luck Lucky Oye. He was very clear in his mind that what the story is all about, how to get it going, who are the actors that he wants and how the dialogues would be used in the script. His directorial capability was truly excellent and he was very calculated, sorted and confident about the product. I must say he is one of the future young directors who will definitely go far with his talent.
What was the director’s brief to you and what was your initial understanding and approach towards the look of this film?
Primarily, the director’s vision was to keep the elements of the war in mind but at the same time, understand the elements of comedy in it. The idea behind the film was very strong so the look and feel of this film had to completely rest on me. I didn’t want it to look like any other war film, which hasn’t really done justice to the world called war. For me it was a thin line, as I had to make sure that war look like war and the night look like night. So, one has to constantly do this exercise of making it look like a war yet retaining the element of comedy in it. I tried to create a real hard-core war situation but keeping in mind the comedy flavor.
We shot on Arri Alexa and preferred it over Red Epic because it’s more user-friendly and forthcoming in terms of the quality of the images. I find the blacks of Alexa to be comparatively softer and smoother. It gives a film like look and holds perfectly as far as the low-light conditions are concerned. And this film has been shot on extreme low light. It has been practically shot with tent torchlights with no other light being used. In lenses, we used Ultra Primes, because I am quite comfortable with them and find this set pretty smooth.
What were the key camera angles and compositions practiced by you under the provided scenario and circumstances?
Going by the story, the camera was an integral part of the entire exercise. It was a part of the bunkers, the war, and the camps and hence played a very important role in the film by taking the story forward. Sometimes, it was right into the war, then away from the war and close to the actors, as the idea behind all this was to create scale. Also for a couple of aerial shots, we used a remote operated helicopter on which the camera went up to almost 900 feet in the air. It was more like a bird’s eye view that I wanted for the film to help narrate the story a lot better. I wanted to make it look like a large area, so for getting that, I tried things like these.
Please tell us in detail about the lighting design adopted for War Chhod Na Yaar.
One has to strongly understand and create a demarcation between India and Pakistan camp look. One has to think about it consciously and create all of that in tandem. So, what I ended up doing was, I decided to give Pakistan a colder look and India a warmer look. Now, because both Pakistan and Indian armies used torches through the night, those simple torches played a very important role in the lighting. That was the only light that could have been available to the army as far as the bunkers are concerned. Further, to make a clear demarcation, the Indian torches were deliberately tinted slightly warmer while the Pakistan torches were made slightly green in color.
Also, at places, few lanterns were used, which were able to illuminate the area. Because being in the army, you are not allowed to show too much and there is no light that can be seen at the bunkers, I had to create artificial light for the viewer to see, what a bunker is all about. Hence, for the visual relief, I have to light up in such a manner so that the viewer could distinguish between an Indian and a Pakistan bunker.
Most of the shooting, we did in Bikaner that is in the state of Rajasthan. An entire set was put up at a small place near Bikaner where it couldn’t have been more real. In fact, the entire production design was absolutely real and believable. In terms of both Pakistan and Indian camps, the bunkers, the telephones, the ammunition boxes etc., every little detail was taken into consideration. As far as the army areas are concerned, it was all segregated and nicely placed. Almost 90 percent of the film was shot there while bits and pieces were shot in Delhi and Mumbai. It took us around 30 days to complete the film.
While shooting, the biggest challenge was how to create a difference between Indian and Pakistan camp look, especially during night sequences as night plays a very crucial role in this war film. One had to create a look that was never seen before, keeping in mind that it could not look bright or glossy and had to look like a war camp. So, to make it look believable was a huge challenge for me.
Another challenge that we faced was the weather. It used to be windy at times and extremely hot throughout the day. One had to battle heat in the day whereas at night it suddenly used to turn very cold. So, we were battling the extreme weather conditions both during day and night. Besides, many times, the wind just came and blew the whole set away and then one would re-erect it. So these challenges were always there but I think it really paid off well because the film has come out really fantastic.
Where did the postproduction and DI take place? How many VFX shots have been incorporated in the film?
It all happened at the Prasad Labs with a colorist called Rob. Just because, I wanted to work with Prasad, I took my colorist and the project to them and made sure that the VFX also happen there. Though there is very minimal VFX in the film, just one or two shots, I think.
All the actors were just fantastic and definitely the best people I have worked with in the industry till date. Be it Sharman Joshi, Javed Jaffrey or Sanjay Mishra, they all are great actors as well as superb human beings. And to top it all, we had an intelligent woman on the set, Soha Ali Khan who is extremely smart, well read and well–spoken. I was lucky to have been supported and surrounded by such a wonderful cast and unit of people who believe in the kind of cinema that we made. Its something that has never been seen or heard before, something that I think our nation would sit up and take notice. Every day was a different experience and revelation while shooting with the team of War Chhod Na Yaar.