Sought inspiration from the color theories of the Navarasa: Anay
There are numerous things about Cinematographer Anay Goswamy that immediately set him apart from his contemporaries. For instance, take a look at his filmography that ranges from The Japanese Wife to No One Killed Jessica, Kai Po Che, Fitoor and now Mom. And if you have had the fortune to know even a bit about him, you’re sure to be enthralled by the equanimity in his approach towards his craft. In a very informed interview, Goswamy unravels the making of Mom and how someone’s worldview is a deciding factor for him to agree to a project.
As a cinematographer, what attracted you to the script of Mom?
It is a powerful and moving relationship drama. It is a really sensible subject and those are the kind of films that come more to me. The storyline was something that I didn’t have to think twice about before doing the film. Though it is director Ravi Udyawar’s first feature film, he is a veteran in advertising, one of the top advertising directors. He is one of the most visual ad filmmakers that we have had in a decade and a half. And Ravi is a wonderful and dynamic human being. I knew that there will be a vision attached to the project.
Ravi and I have strangely never worked before. Though I had received many calls from their company, I couldn’t associate with them at that time. Boney ji (Kapoor, Producer) too had called me earlier for another film, which I wasn’t able to do. This time, Boney Ji and his co-producer Sunil Manchanda were very keen that I do the film. Also a producer as passionate as Boney Ji, who is really a director’s producer, was helming the project. He would always ensure that the director’s vision is met, which is a rare thing.
Unlike a lot of other projects, when you have a very personalized sort of producer, it’s a different feeling because you know that someone is literally parenting the project.
What aspects of pre-production went into the making of ‘Mom’?
I was just coming out of my shoot for Fitoor. I started talking with Ravi around January 2016, and we started rolling in March. We thoroughly went through the whole script. We would read it for 12-14 hours daily, for about two weeks. A script like this definitely needs to be loved first to be able to give your best. So, we spent about two weeks, reading the script together, to be sure that we are on the same page.
We’ve tried to imbue the narrative in our approach, funneling it via colour theories of the Navarasa, in an attempt to evoke an emotive response
Which locations has the film largely been shot in?
We shot it in Delhi, Mumbai and Georgia. The script is based in Delhi. A lot of it is also shot on some sets in Mumbai.
Some of the locations in the trailer look stunning. What kind of camera set-up did you have while shooting?
It is shot on the Red Dragon. Typically we went with a two camera set-up. The first part is drama and then it becomes darker. There is a lot of handheld work and a fair amount of Steadicam. I like to work with the Red system as it has things that liberate me as compared to other systems. I won’t say that the film is grungy but it has a fair amount of grit in terms of the narrative, light, camera movement etc. You won’t see over clever kind of work. Though these are some technical things, it was a very absorbing shoot, emotionally. We had very heavy days just because of the content of the film.
Which lens pack and other key equipment did you choose?
I used Ultra Prime lenses which are standard sharp lenses. All my films are shot with those lenses. The Ultra Prime lens set up allows me flexibility to keep the camera’s ergonomic configuration light and well-balanced on the smaller built RED camera bodies. And their sharpness is just right for a 6K sensor.
Anything sharper, like the Master Primes of Leica would feel like an overkill. In fact, often I find even the Ultra Primes too sharp for a 6K sensor, which prompts me to use the Tiffen Black Satin filters that are often used to slightly blunt off the digital-edge sharpness. This configuration somehow liberates me to be able to shoot like a still photographer. I enjoy the RED configuration as it makes my approach more organic.
Is there any new style or technique that you have used for the first time in this film?
As far as new gear as such, there is nothing that I haven’t used before but yes every time you are trying to do something different from your previous work. In terms of technique, there are certain visual effects, that you hopefully won’t spot as visual effects.
Even in terms of colour choices, lights and background; it is a palette that I haven’t explored earlier or I’ve worked with directors who were not keen on using such colours. In the action sequences, it was difficult to shoot as we were shooting handheld action in tough locations.
The unsettling nature of a thriller has a lot to do with how it is edited and shot in terms of camera movements, lighting etc
Tell us more about your lighting design as the film has some dark settings as well.
Ravi and I are both acutely interested in the poetics of visual storytelling and thus sought inspiration from our intrinsic Indian Aesthetic theory of Rasa. We’ve tried to imbue the narrative in our approach, funneling it via colour theories of the Navarasa, in an attempt to evoke an emotive response. The Rasa’s our film predominantly deals with are Vatsalya (parental love), Bhayanaka (horror), Vibhatsa (disgust), Karuna (compassion), Raudra (fury), Veera (courage), Shantam (tranquility). So, in our visual vocabulary, you will hopefully see that our approach to evoke each of these Rasas reflects in our choices of shifting colour palettes, consonant to the Rasa we deal with.
Whether it is the furious reds of Raudra, the safrrons of Veer, the blacks of Bhayanka, or the tranquility of white in Shantam, you may notice that these are choices that we have made and not a mere coincidence or a fluke. Sometimes the colours come through production design choices, costume colours and often through light itself. As the film weaves through these chapters of differing emotions, you will witness distinct transitions of colour; sometimes sharp and piercing while at other times, gentle and mellifluous.
The films shows both the worlds – positive and dark, was the visual treatment consciously different for both the parts?
Of course! All the choices – whether it is the color palette, quality of light, contrast or camera angles – move from slow to becoming more and more unsettling. From being classical to then becoming grittier and darker. So there is a fair amount of effort that has particularly gone into the colour palette. Ravi and I both have strong colour choices as we have both studied colour. He is from JJ School of Arts, Mumbai, and I’m from the Government College of Arts, Chandigarh.
Within a frame, I like to set up colours that are mildly in conflict with each other in the juxtaposition, which creates some sort of tension, so that the energy is unsettling. There were choices which he and I immediately understood. The color palette is one thing which will never overpower, but is present at some level to affect you.
What are the challenges that lie in shooting a thriller?
Darkness really stimulates your imagination so you want to keep things in a darker zone. Darkness sets up certain fears inside you and creates mystery. One of my initial films, No One Killed Jessica was a human drama but it was somehow a thriller. But this time around, it was darker than the previous film. When you are approaching a thriller, you obviously see what level of darkness you’ll be dealing with.
A thriller has everything to do with the edit and what the transitions are. So you need to be very aware of what kind of edit style you are looking at. In this case, it is not about being creepy but how unsettling it is. The unsettling nature of a thriller has a lot to do with how it is edited and shot in terms of camera movements, lighting and how much to really reveal or conceal is the choice. It is good to know the internal rhythm and pace. Sometimes a scene can be cut pacier than how it was shot. In such cases, the clarity the director has and shares with you is important.
Comparisons are always tricky but if you have to compare Mom with the recent thrillers that have come out, what do you think will the audience take back from the film?
The film is not just a thriller but a human drama too. And since it is titled Mom, it is about parental love and compassion as well. You’ll see that a mother and daughter are at conflict and how parental love actually manages to set right the wrongdoings.
It is a powerful and moving relationship drama, a really sensible subject
This was your first experience of working with Sridevi, Nawazuddin and Akshaye. What kind of an experience was it to shoot with this pool of talent?
Terrific! I feel privileged to have been able to shoot with these actors. Sri Ma’am is of course a huge legend. It is very humbling to work with an actor of such stature, talent and wonderful nature. It is very enjoyable to be able to feel such mutual respect, which brings in a lot of much care to what you are doing. When you get such respect, you obviously care deeper for all the minutes and hours that you spend to bring the story alive. There are scenes where I was actually sobbing or weeping while operating the cameras as it was so overwhelming. It is something that happens sometimes, when an actor is deep into the zone and you also get so inspired because of their performance.
Coming to Akshaye, it was so great to see him come back on screen. He was fantastic to shoot with. I think he is very appropriately cast in the film. He is a very dedicated actor and a no-nonsense person. He was very much in the zone during his hours on set. All the actors knew the script inside out.
And Nawaz’s improvisation skills are just unparalleled. I have not seen that level of improvisation in terms of timing, dialogue etc. What he brought to the character is immense. He is also the comic relief in the film. It is a Coen Brothers sort of character and sometimes even Tarantino has them but at the same time very Indianized. You’ll see that some of the dialogues are written very well and there will be some dialogues to cheer upon as well. Nawaz is in an unforgettable role and Sri Ma’am is doing something that she has never done.
Who all were part of your technical team for the film?
My chief assistant is Sahil Bhardwaj. He has done two films with me. He is also my second camera operator. I have a team where I have two different gaffers – Hamid Sheikh and Shamim Khan. My long-time focus puller is Anees Ahmed Ansari. These are few people that I have worked with for a long time.
Since you believed a lot in Ravi, It must have been an enriching experience to work him too.
Ravi is a gold medalist from JJ College of Arts. He is also a strong illustrator himself. He always came with a lot of visual ideas about how he saw things. Ravi essentially is one of the most visual directors I have worked with. He is always able to express exactly what he likes. He obviously came in with fairly well thought-out ideas. So my job in that sense became a little easier.
Then came in my job to ideate with him about how we saw things and start presenting my thoughts and views. I like to approach certain things in a certain way. I subscribe a lot to the Indian Aesthetic theory of Rasas. And I realized that Ravi was equally interested in the same perception. Then our communication became quite enjoyable with regards to breaking down the emotional graph of the film because it goes through quite a few Rasas. Even though it is a drama, it does turn into a thriller. Ravi was equally sensitive about all the things that are visually going on to create a certain mood or feeling. To me the feel is more important, if it is feeling right, it is definitely looking right.
Though you had a great time working with Ravi, were there any points of disagreement?
Creatively no! We were always on the same page. It was just a tough shoot physically in some parts when we were shooting in -7 degrees and two and a half feet of snow. That got a bit challenging. The climax of the film was written in twilight. And twilight just lasts for 15-20 minutes. It is not easy to shoot in twilight especially when it is a long scene. We would time ourselves as per the weather in Georgia, which was overcast, and we couldn’t shoot in the rain or snow. We needed cloudy weather so that it could later be addressed in post, with the colour correction of twilight. Even though we had timed ourselves for cloudy days and despite the weather forecast, the weather would still not be consistent. It is both physically and mentally challenging when the weather is so unpredictable.
The film had an approach where a drama becomes a thriller, so you can’t only be swept away by the thriller part. Parental love is the base of it. And then, of course, there is wrongdoing and then comes a certain amount of disgust. That was well understood by all the HODs working on the film. I think the credit goes to the director to steer all our minds in the direction of the vision he wanted to achieve.
Ravi is an extremely well-natured, compassionate person. There are only certain kind of people who can make a subject like this. The script is also co-written by Ravi with Girish Kohli. While working on a film like this, I think I will be very observant of who is making it – what kind of a person he or she is. In this case, I didn’t have to think twice when I met him. One of the reasons that I did this film was because he was directing it and though it is his first film, I have seen his commercials and some of them are stunning.
There are scenes where I was actually sobbing or weeping while operating the cameras as it was so overwhelming
Every time that I’ve had a conversation with you, I have felt that you choose your projects on the basis of a person’s vibe and nature.
To me, the person who is trying to tell the story and why that story is important to him is definitely important and motivating. Ravi and I are equally interested in finding poetry in our approach to be able to approach something sensitively. So the person behind a project definitely matters to me.
Even my next project, which is a mainstream musical directed by Habib Faisal and produced by Yash Raj Films is something that I haven’t done before. When I met Habib, I felt he is such a warm person and has a worldview that resonates with my thoughts.
What is it that you are now working on?
I’m soon going to start Gattu’s (Director Abhishek Kapoor) film Kedarnath. We have just returned from a recce at Kedarnath. I knew for a fact that it is a film that I want to do.
How do you keep yourself grounded in this rat race, when you can easily choose a lot of other work too?
I just think somewhere I consider myself fortunate and grateful to the almighty that certain kind of films come to me. May be that is the energy that I give out. I really don’t have any quarrels with other stuff too. If I get an action film, I will be happy doing that as well. Human dramas are something that I have always been interested in more than other genres. I’m always attracted to this sense of storytelling. I just hope I’m able to do films that mean something and make some difference to someone who is watching it.