Vikram got puppets made for the creature & characters for reference shots – Pravin Bhatt
During his prime he shot some of the best Hindi films like Umrao Jaan, Arth, Agneepath, Masoom et al. And today the septuagenarian cinematographer is shooting 3D films. Pravin Bhatt may now be shooting only his son, Vikram Bhatt’s suspense thrillers and mystery movies. But he’s shot most genres and has a filmograph that kicked off with Himalay Ki God Mein (1965) and is far from finish.
In an exclusive chat DOP Pravin Bhatt talks about his latest project Creature 3D and how he turned winds of change in his favour.
At 77 what gets you out of bed to be on a film set?
I tell everybody if you don’t love your job, quit. I have never thought of retiring. I would rather die on the set than lying on bed.
Creature 3D is your latest project. Can you tell us the camera and lenses used to shoot it?
We used SI-2K with Prime lenses. It’s an old camera, but more affordable since this isn’t a big budget film. We had two rigs made out of four cameras. Each rig has a vertical and horizontal lens. The first film we shot with stereoscopic 3D technology was Haunted, followed by Dangerous Ishqq. But our next project, Mr X, is shot on the Red camera.
What were the shooting locations and how long was the shooting schedule?
Creature 3D was shot in Ooty and Mumbai. In Ooty we shot at real locations whereas Mumbai was on sets. The Ooty schedule lasted for 60 days while Mumbai was 30 days long. I prefer to shoot on set as you can light it well and manipulate the lighting to suit the requirement; you can create more visually. On real locations you can’t light from top; overhead lighting is very important.
What lighting set-up did you employ for Creature 3D?
In horror and suspense movies you play with contrast lighting and shade to create curiosity whereas some films require plastic finish. For example, Umrao Jaan was well-lit and had soft lighting. Coming to Creature 3D, since we had SI-2K, which isn’t a fast camera, we had to use a lot of lights. When we were outdoors we worked according to the sunlight and used big lights to balance the face light. However, I believe in creating results with minimum lights. I use one generator whereas other people would use six generators. So it depends on what school of thought you come from.
Also it’s special effects intensive, so you have to imagine scenes. I had to light-up in consultation with the VFX supervisor KV Sanjay, from Prasad Labs. I think what we have created is as good as what is done at Hollywood.
How did you plan to shoot scenes that had to incorporate special effects later, especially with the creature?
Vikram had devised a very good idea. He got puppets made for the creature and characters. He would actually discuss and show us (the stunt director and me) the position and movements of the creature and characters to understand it. We would record the reference shots for the VFX people to understand the movements and scene. Vikram gave all the facial movements and expressions for the creature and these were matched to the computer generated creature. He also gave sounds for the creature. We first recorded all the reference shots and then the graphics team at Prasad Lab created it. It took us over one year to create the creature scenes.
What was the most difficult sequence to shoot for Creature 3D?
Because it is 3D technology it’s not like a normal film shoot. One has to align the horizontal and vertical lenses every time you shoot. There is a card with graph lines that has to be matched. Of course in Red cameras it is computerized, but there are stereographers for this job. A stereographer is a specialist who measures the distance and controls the movement of the lenses.
The climax sequence and two big cave sequences were quite tough to shoot. The cave scenes were particularly difficult as the location was dark and had limited space. So we had to find means and ways to light up the scene. But ultimately I managed it and it has come out well.
Now you only work on Vikram’s films. Can you elaborate your professional relationship with your son?
Vikram knows what he wants and he knows what I can deliver so it is a well-oiled machinery. And he’s the boss on the sets whereas I am the boss at home.
You have actually witnessed the evolution of Indian cinematography. What do you think of digital technology?
It’s a great thing and just beginning. Colour film technology took 100 hundred years of research and development to reach where it has. Digital technology started 20-25 years ago, so give it time and see what happens. It’s creating miracles. See what Hollywood is doing with films like Transformers, Godzilla, King Kong etc, it’s unbelievable yet convincing. Some cinematographers didn’t put their heart into it and gave up. I studied Photoshop for six months to understand what digital technology can create. I love to go along with the time and don’t fear technology.
Don’t you miss anything about the old shooting technology?
I don’t miss anything, I rather prefer this time. In those days (when films were shot on celluloid) only the cinematographer and operative cameramen knew what is being captured. So you had to use your judgment to understand the light effect. You needed a lot of experience. But with digital technology you exactly see what is recorded on the monitor and can add more lights or rectify if needed. Shooting films has become so easy. With small cameras you can make a movie! And it’s cheaper. The initial cost is high but eventually it’s inexpensive.
How did you adapt with the changing times and technology?
I am experimentative by nature and also like to mix around with younger people as you learn a lot from them. So when the digital technology came I learnt Photoshop and also studied how to shoot on Chroma backgrounds. Of course, you have everything on Youtube also. I don’t believe in crying over what’s gone.
You have shot diverse films like Umrao Jaan, Agneepath, Arth and Creature 3D. Is there any genre you would like to shoot?
For me the genre can be anything, the shooting process should be more challenging. Then it becomes interesting. That’s why I enjoy working on special effects films. But I would like to shoot a period film to try and give the visual effect of that time, like an Umrao Jaan.
It’s ages ago yet can you take us through your journey into cinematography?
I was assisting cinematographer Bipin Gajjar, who worked for our home production (his father was director/producer Vijay Bhatt), for two and half years. One day, due to differences Bipin Gajjar couldn’t shoot my father’s next film Himalay Ki God Mein. This was in 1963. So I asked my father if I could shoot it but he felt I didn’t have enough experience. But I sincerely requested for a chance and promised that if he felt I wasn’t competent I would stop it. My mother put in a word too. I was lucky to be son of a film producer/director. There are so many talented people who don’t get a chance so quickly. On the first day of shooting, Mala Sinha was a little hesitant. Her father called my father to tell that his daughter was nervous of shooting with me as I was young and didn’t have any experience. He suggested Mr G Singh (who shot Jahan Ara) to come supervise on the set. My father told me the situation, so I told him either Mr G Singh or I will shoot the film. Mala Sinha came to the shoot in a sulking mood. But after watching the rushes she was happy. However for two years after HKGM no one approached me. Everyone thought that I was a producer’s son and only worked on home productions. Then one day B Mitra called me for his film Mahua, post which I shot Raaton Ka Raja. Afterwards I got busy.
Which of your films do you think were well-shot?
Umrao Jaan, Agneepath, Aitbaar, Kanoon Kya Karega, Sadak, Masoom, Raaz and Raaz 3 are some of my favourites.
What are your forthcoming projects?
My next film which is done is Vishesh’s Mr X. Vikram is also working on 3-4 subjects. But I don’t know whether the next project will be for Vishesh or Balaji.
– Rachana Parekh