From Black Friday to Parineeta to Jab We Met to Raanjhanna, cinematographer Natarajan Subramanian (also known as Natty) has worked on a variety of genres. His most recent work is full-of-maar dhaad and it stars Hindi cinema’s action star Akshay Kumar. The versatile DOP talks to Pandolin about the dishoom dishoom that went through his head while working on his most challenging film Holiday.

What was the brief given to you by AR Murugadoss for the look for Holiday?

The basic story of Holiday is about a military man, who comes home to meet his parents and is forced by them to meet a girl to get married. During that process he happens to witness some suspicious activities. Murugadoss wanted me to show the plot’s transition visually too. So when Akshay Kumar’s character is like a cool, average man from a middle-class family, who has military background, I created a bright mood. But once he starts following the unscrupulous elements, the look of the film gets dark and gritty. And the biggest reference given to me was Thuppakki.

This is the first time you have worked with AR Murugadoss. Can you tell us about your association with him?

Actually, I had shot a song which comes in the pre-climax of the original film – the Tamil version – Thuppakki. The entire film was shot by Mr Santosh Sivan. After it released I went to watch the film, and I really liked it. Murugadoss also liked the way I had shot the song. So when it was decided to make Thuppakki in Hindi, he asked me to keep myself free for it. Since last ten years Murugadoss had been calling me to shoot his films. I was supposed to shoot his first film Ramana, but I couldn’t do it as I was busy with Anurag Kashap’s Black Friday. Before starting every film he would ask me to be the DP of it, but I was always shooting something so couldn’t do it. Finally, I committed to do Holiday a lot in advance.

What camera and lenses did you use to shoot Holiday

I used Panavision Genesis’s digital camera to shoot the film as the output it gives is really close to that of a film. It captures images in RGB so every colour is absorbed and the density comes almost closer to film. I wanted that tone for Holiday. I wanted the film to look naturally enhanced. I also used Panavision’s Red Epic. Since its compact it’s easy to hide and use with telephoto lenses. And I used Panavision’s Primo lenses.

What lighting design did you implement for the film?

As I said, the lighting depended on the scene. For instance when Akshay was visiting his parents or meeting his girlfriend (Sonakshi Sinha’s character), I used lots of lighting to create a bright, uniform and happy look. But when Akshay gets to know about the sleeper cell or was in those environs I used limited and focused lighting to create a dark and gritty look. So the pattern of lighting depended on the mood of the scene. Also when I was shooting scenes on real location I used a lot of natural light as it would be impractical to bring big lights in the middle of the road. But when I had the option to keep the ambience in my control, I played with lights to create the appropriate mood.

Where was the film shot? And how many days did the shooting schedule last?

The shoot lasted for 70-75 days through the span of a year as everyone’s dates had to be matched. Thirty to forty per cent of Holiday is shot on the streets of Mumbai. We shot it at Bhaucha Dhakka, a place where you can only see head between 5 am and 11 am. Then we shot the climax sequences on a ship in the middle of the Arabian Sea. Rest of the film was shot on sets that were created or real indoor spaces in Mumbai, except one song which was shot in Rajasthan. I was committed to some other work during that dates, so I couldn’t shoot it.

What were the major challenges you faced while shooting Holiday?

I had a fantastic production team that supported me completely. They gave me whatever I wanted. So it was a smooth sailing project. But there were moments when the production guys were pulling their hair. Personally there were times I felt it was quite challenging and tough as I had to shoot with Akshay on the streets of Mumbai. There’s one sequence we shot on Bandra’s Linking Road. Mid-way through the shoot the crowd and traffic got unmanageable, so much that there were bumper-to-bumper cars from Linking Road to Shivaji Park. Eventually the cops arrived and we immediately packed-up. They took nearly 4-5 hours to clear the traffic. Then there’s a sequence at Colaba which I shot by hiding the camera to avoid crowds. I had two main cameras and a third one deployed as and when required. Another difficult shoot day was when we were filming the climax sequence on the ship. When the ship is anchored it turns according to the tide and tends to wobble a lot. So there are more chances of people being sea-sick. Quite a few assistants started throwing up. That was another crazy day.

How different is Holiday from other action films, in terms of treatment?

The action in Holiday is very different. It’s not like a regular Hindi or South Indian action film where the hero kicks and 20 people go flying in the air. Akshay, who plays a military man in the film, engages his brain and brawn to deal with the bad guys. He also hits ten people, but it’s not that we pulled people by the rope. We have kept it realistic by showing how a real military man would fight. We used multiple cameras to capture the action sequences. One action sequence was choreographed by Greg Powell and other action sequences were choreographed by Anal Arasu.

What were the most interesting scenes to shoot?

Apart from the ship sequence, at the beginning of the film there’s a blast sequence which required a lot of ideating. We shot it at Oshiwara’s Mhada area where the road’s length is 70-feet and width is 20-feet. But in the film we have shown it very differently. Also, we had to show blasts on the street. Obviously no one would give us permission to create real blasts on the streets, but we managed it in the post production. Then there’s chase sequence where the military men are following someone. In that entire sequence twelve shootouts occur. It’s a very fast-paced, stylishly shot and edgy sequence in the film.

You also act. What are your next acting assignments?

After Holiday I acted in two films, one will release in July and the other one will come out in August/September. Both are in Tamil. Usually people after shooting a film go abroad to relax. But I prefer to go on somebody else’s set and learn something. It’s a great learning process.

– By Rachana Parekh