The monochromatic approach depicts the colorless life of the characters – Amalendu Chaudhary
Cinema is a visual medium of storytelling. Transforming a movie into a visual treatment is the magic of a cinematographer. Amalendu Chaudhary is one such cinematographer who has pushed the envelope of this art form in each of his films. His latest film is Prasad Oak’s Kaccha Limbu, a Marathi film shot purely in black and white.
Kaccha Limbu is a heartening story of a family where a couple is trying to raise their child with special needs. The movie boasts of an amazing cast with Sachin Khedekar, Sonali Kulkarni and Ravi Jadhav, some of the most prominent names in Marathi cinema.
In a chat with Pandolin, Amalendu, who has previously shot films like Harishchandrachi Factory, Aiyyaa, Tere Bin Laden Dead or Alive et all, talks about the nuances of shooting in black and white, the differences between the Hindi and Marathi film industry, and shares his most challenging work so far.
From independent cinema to commercial films, you have done both kinds of projects – does the scale of a film influence a cinematographer’s work?
It does influence a bit, but it can’t change or hamper your own craft or artistry. You can always do a great job even in a small budget film. Your cinematography always lies in the story which you need to take out from the story. You always have a certain amount of time and resources to complete the task, this is regardless of the scale of the film. Your perspective towards the story as an individual is important. Be it the locations or the script or actors, regardless of everything, you need to do your best.
Working on a big budget film has its own challenges. Big movies have that much more pressure as the scale is larger. The scale of the film does have an influence, but in the end, what matters is your creativity and your creativity is always intact no matter the scale. For example, if a good cook has all the ingredients to make a briyani, he will make a good briyani. If he has all the ingredients for dal rice, he will make great dal rice as well.
Your work is prominent in Marathi and Hindi cinema as well, how different are the two industries when it comes to the visual approach?
A frame is a frame, how you fill that space is up to you. Your visual approach is not restricted by language per say, it is decided by the script. It is your aesthetic sense that decides how you shoot the film with the director. Cinema is a visual medium and it is not the language that effects it, but the script.
In terms of the two industries, they are slightly different. The Marathi industry has a different atmosphere; there is no strict code of conduct, but we communicate differently. There are open discussions and there is a homely atmosphere when you shoot.
Whereas in a Hindi film the atmosphere is very warm and professional. The Marathi industry is also professional, but everyone works like a family.
Your latest film Kaccha Limbu is shot in black and white, why did you’ll choose a monochromatic approach?
Prasad Oak (Director) approached me with a unique story and concept. The story is based on a novel by Jaywant Dalvi. It is about a special family because the parents are taking care of a child with special needs. Their life is tough and the mother, is torn between the office, house and child. Their life is colorless because they don’t have anything to enjoy. They are spending their life by saving every penny they earn.
The husband works in the night while the wife has a day job. They are scarifying everything, every desire, to take care of the child and yet they are unsure of the child’s future.
But in between, there are some portions where you see color. These portions mainly deal with their past, while some scenes shot in color are about something they desire. The monochromatic approach of the film depicts the colorless life of the characters.
Which camera did you shoot on? Was it shot in black and white or converted on post?
We shot the film on Alexa SXT with Master Prime lenses. We tried to shoot the entire film on black and white film stock, but it was proving too expensive. Therefore, we had to shoot it digitally for which we used Alexa SXT with Master Prime lenses and I then converted it into black and white in post.
How did you approach the light design for this film?
We worked around the texture of the house because most of the film takes place in the chawl, for which we built a set. Therefore, we paid attention to the texture of the walls and the tone of the surroundings. From the colours of the clothes to the walls, we decided how the tonality will look in black and white. If the actors were wearing blue and red, we made sure the tone was not same. These are the minute things that we paid attention to.
To show the day time, I have sourced light from outside the chawl, but I kept the interiors a bit dark to show the mood of the house. It is bright enough for the actors to be visible, but otherwise the ambiance of the room is dim. And camera is handheld most of the time. In contrast to that, the protagonist’s work place is pleasant and sophisticated, so we had soothing lights and smooth camera movements. For the office we had static frames, beautiful soft lighting and classic composition. This helped in differentiating the two places, which is extremely important. We have built similar lighting for the husband’s office as well. He works in a postal telegraph office during the night hours. The lighting design was created to show the difference between the atmosphere in the house and outside it.
Does the lack of color pose a challenge in terms of cinematography?
Since the movie was in black and white it was important to create a different ambience for the day and the night. For night, we sourced light from a zero bulb. So overall, creating the difference between night and day was challenging. I didn’t want to use any camera jargon as I like to keep things simple for the film. I have tried to achieve things through a simple format, but creating depth in composition and lighting was challenging.
Over the years as a cinematographer, which has been your most elaborate and challenging film?
Every film has its own challenges, but I think the most challenging one was Harishchandrachi Factory, which was Paresh Mokashi’s debut film. One of the reasons for this is that we made the film in an optimal budget. Besides that, we faced many challenges while shooting the film and even during the post production. But the film was a huge success and now people around the globe know about it.
My other film, Aiyyaa, was also elaborate to make. It was a unique and beautiful experience to shoot that movie. And now, Kaccha Limbu, making it in black and white has also been quite challenging, also because it is an intense movie.
Can you tell us a bit about your projects that are going to coming up?
There is a movie called Cycle, directed by Prakash Kunte. It is a beautiful tale where the director wanted to create a comic-strip like tale. I have used different kind of lighting, which is unrealistic, but it has been created keeping in mind a very different palette of colours.
Other than there is another film called Chitra, directed by eminent director Ravi Jadhav. The movie is a story about a nude model who models in an art school. It was an extremely challenging film to make and I am looking forward to it.