Sudeep Chatterjee Curated
CURATED BY :
In the initial stages of Preparation what was the core team for Dhoom 3?
I started meeting Victor in Aug 2010 right after Guzaarish got over. It was only me and Victor initially, then Sumit da came in much later in March 2011. In Jan 2011, I read the finished script. When Sumit da came on board then we started discussing the look of the film, at that time the film was supposed to start in November 2011. So I started refusing work from 2011 June.
As a cinematographer, tell us about Dhoom 3 from the start.
The Scale on Dhoom 3 was a very big deal… I am also scared of scale. So I look at ‘big scale’ as an assembly of many small pieces then I take one piece at a time. The first thing the director told me is that this is not a ‘Double Role’ film. It’s a story of two brothers, imagine that two actors are going play the two brothers. What he was trying to say to me was, don’t think technical. Imagine the scene, how it would be played by two actors. Do the lighting like that, evolvethe shot design like that. The other big thing was Action, it had to be spectacular. Since the Hero is also in a circus , a showman really, so there has to be a certain grandeur in the visual presentation. It has to be presented with a certain amount of flair and visual spectacle. So once the basic line of action was decided, we all used to put in our bit on how to enhance it, make itmore dramatic and visually exciting.
What can you add about the visual references of dhoom 3?
Dhoom 2 wasn’t a reference point. There were no specific film references. Largely we all threw in whatever was in our minds. In March 2011, Victor and I travelled through Chicago, however it was not locked in, and we had options like London, New York, San Francisco. These were the cities we were supposed to look at. But Victor, Sumit Da and I, we were somehow keen to go to Chicago first. And when we went there it kind of fitted in. It’s a beautiful city, also it’s never been shot before in any Hindi film. And for the kind of stuff that we wanted to do, there was a lot of options and variations, along the river side..roads through the middle of the city.. the bridges .. tunnels, so for a chase we could be going through various kinds of spaces, it would not be monotonous, It would give visual variety, and a very varied texture for sound ; which eventually got covered with background music, but that’s another story. But yes it was first thing that we all felt…that action and chases in this city are going to look fantastic.
For Dhoom 3, the core team, does it consisted of only the director, cinematographer and the production designer?
Yes and the first AD, Rohan Khambati. Four of us went together. That set the tone of the film. After the recee was over, Sumit da and I travelled a bit on our own just looking at buildings, looking at architecture, taking photographic references. Then over a drink we would sit and discuss. That formed a lot of references that we have in the film..they have come from our personal travels, we would see some architectural detail, pick up something from a restaurant, one light detail may be… take a picture of a wall texture…
In Dhoom 3, the exterior of the Great Indian Circus is a real location and the interior is constructed. The façade also looks constructed though, because there is nothing behind it?
The real building is like that, it is located in one corner. And the entire city is opposite that building. It’s actually an Aquarium building in Chicago, only the logo is CG. The interior space in the Past and Present is the same. Aamir’s room in the house is the same room where Jackie Shroffwas living. It is the same set with changes to reflect the new world . The idea was that Aamir came back years later and took that same place to realize his unfulfilled dream.
Tell us about the preparations for the action and circus scenes of Dhoom 3.
When you do action of this magnitude, you have to go into massive pre visualization because without that no one will know what’s going on. We will also have to decide about how much we are actually shooting…how much is action department doing… how much is VFX going to create. So, we had done it in a very detailed way. Starting with storyboarding with a detailed brief from me and Victor. Once the story board was there we took it to the VFX department. We then got an animated storyboard which was edited and put to music and we had the whole sequence like a final edit. Based on those animated videos we actually asked the Stunt Teamhow much of action could be done for real. We located the three action sequences in a specific geography. First was where the bike comes down from one building to the other. For doing that we had location photos. We 3D mapped the city scapeand then took that into Previz. Google is really good; it gives you the dimensions of the building. So, we extracted that from Google and put the buildings into the correct place, the dimensions are all correct. When you put a 35 mm lens there in the 3D Pre Viz, what you see is what you will get. So when you see a bike travelling at the speed of 140 kmph, it is actually travelling at that speed. We did this entire exercise for the three major action sequences. IW was really helpful. We were able to plan it in terms of lighting too. with the Sun Path calculator, six months later what will the sun position be, I could actually see it like that in PreViz. I was very happy with the fact that I could have a lighting plan well in advance. There is a certain time that a beautiful patch of light will come through the Ltrack and then I could tell the first AD that we should try and shoot that scene in top sun. We managed to execute what we had developed in Pre Viz and that for me was very satisfying.
Could you tell us more about the collaboration between you and the VFX team, shoot and post stage?
Personally, it doesn’t matter to me whether I have shot something Live or it has been created by CGI. To me that final image is paramount and we all went out together to get it. To help him achieve that we were always on location getting all the plates shot, coordinating with Production Design to get all the elements right.
Tell us about the complexity you faced during the shoot of Dhoom 3.
Complexity wise, the twins in their den was pretty complex, you have eye lines to match and then there was camera movement and then there was Aamir who is so fussy about everything about his portrayal on screen. That sequence was complex. Another one was when Aamir takes the leap off the bridge and bike does some strange things and gets converted into a seabull. That was a slightly nightmarish one.
In Dhoom 3, the live interaction shots of the twins with camera movements, how were they achieved? Was there a body double?
No, there was no body double. In the interval shot, it was done with a motion control pass by pass. In the beginning,Victor played the other brother Samar. Victor and Aamir would play the whole scene for us like two actors would play it. And in terms of breakdown, I would always go for … this is how I would normally shoot the scene. We had that as the starting point, we used to record that and then VFX team and our motion control team would come in. The motion control team General Lift was from Los Angeles. It’s a smaller rig, slightly less time consuming. They are very specific and fast, much faster than the MILO experience. The good thing was that they would let me operate the camera on the first pass. The motion Control rig would memorize that move, ofcourse we had to refine it and put in Key Frames etc. but overall it was a more organic approach.
What was the camera setup like while filming Dhoom 3?
We had about seven cameras running in sync on Set which were 25fps cameras. We call them Witness Cams. We had a very senior supervisor Joe Highneyfrom Los Angeles; he came down for the shoot as well. He has a lot of experience in this kind of stuff. So, he had 5 to 7 cameras for the actionist. These cameras were focusing on various parts of the set. There would be one camera that would focus on Aamir’s feet. They were all static cameras and they all were running in sync, so if you needed to refer that what was Aamir’s footsteps in pass A, so he could react to that in Pass B, you have that reference. Then there was one camera which was only logged on to his face. After he ended up performing one pass, we could play that back on another monitor right in front of him with the same size as him so that you get natural reaction in his eyes.
Can you draw a list of other specialized gear that we are not used to do in our environment here which you brought down for the film Dhoom 3?
For the double role it was General Lift, the motion control team from LA. David Presley from their team was doing the real time comp and playback. He had a multiple video recorder which could take many feeds together and he could play them back with any kind of sync and stagger them if required and feed them to multiple monitors. It was actually a combination of various recorders – a multi channel recorder. That was very competent, even on my on-board monitor, like on one switch I could have the comp image and other switch I could have the camera image. Without those things, we would really have been slow.
Digital cinematography for the film Dhoom 3was inevitable. Is that safe to say?
I would say so, although I didn’t get on to shooting this on digital keeping that in mind. My decision to shoot it on digital had come much before that.
Tell us, Dhoom 3 is among the early films to be shot in digital. So tell us about the choice of ArriAlexa and shooting Raw.
I had a very good time with the post production of Guzaarish. The way the images had been scanned, the way we did the DI and finally the way we did the output. But on my next film, ‘Mere brother ki Dulhan’, I was struggling with the scans. That’s when that idea came to my mind that this is one large issue that I have to completely monitor in order to get consistent images.
Tell us about the problem with the 35 mm scans?
The scans were not consistent, and sometimes I would be very surprised on the DI. It was largely with the contrast issues. Many times I would get thrown off with what I would expect or what I have seen on the tele cine and finally when I have gone on the DI screen, I would be like… Really! Is that all you are getting? Then I would ask the colorist that why is it looking like that? Or this is not how I expect it to look. And then they would say let’s re-scan it and then it would be okay. That was one element which was continuously bothering me. Yes, there are various settings for the scanning which were not done properly.
In retrospect do you think digital gave you more control over your image?
Yes, I am very happy with all the stuff that we shot on RAW and Pro Res. There is a large part of the film, particularly towards the climax in the night that we had to shoot on 120 fps because my director wanted to have the option of being able to ramp the image. Almost everything was shot on 120 fps, which went on HD. So, I am not happy with that at all. I think that could have looked much better.I have had to add a little bit of sharpness to everything. If you compare the image to the film image, I thought the digital image onAlexa were little softer. I was continuously missing that sharpness, so I kept on asking him to add a little sharpness.
During the shoot of Dhoom 3, was there some kind of Gear that you used in Chicago which we are not used to seeing here?
This was like a Hollywood Union project. And because it was a union project we could access to certain kind of technicians and equipments which otherwise you won’t get. We had this car called the Pursuit car, it is basically a powerful SUV with a remote control head on the top of the car that is Gyro Stablised head that takes the camera and can take a zoom easily. Like the Russian arm. Inside the car there would be the driver who has a video monitor. A crane operator next to the driver and behind him would the camera operator who would have a joystick. I would usually sit next to him telling him how I would like the shot composed. Also, I had a camera control unit from which I would control the exposure. I was freaking out with exposure control like when we would get into the tunnel I would go full open and would come out and I would slowly close the aperture. And my focus puller would be next to me. We could do a lot of stuff with this. This could really shoot fast stuff. These guys were highly trained stunt drivers. So they could easily do reverse traffic shots. When we were planning the river action sequence, we were missing the pursuit, the kind of speed that it could do. I suggested to Mike, the main person of the pursuit car, if we could take out the whole set from pursuit car and put it on the boat. He was like… Are you kidding? Firstly, he was not convinced but I kept pushing and then he somehow gave in. He agreed and he took two days and pulled the whole camera mount of the Pursuit. So, we had a pursuit boat which was exactly like a pursuit car. It was doing the same thing. We had a very high quality splash deflector where the camera was wrapped in plastic and it was actually going through splash. I didn’t think that the splash deflector could withstand the water because when a speed boat runs there is a huge amount of water that comes onto the lens and the splash deflector was actually taking care of it.
Tell us about the lighting techniques of Dhoom 3.
Chicago was a pretty well lit city. For the night action, we had lot of Condo cranes. We had about four condos which were sometimes left in the frame and the VFX guys erased it later.
In Dhoom 3 was 3D a consideration?
No. We did do a 3D test. The producer liked the idea of D3 in 3D, Victor and I were very anti converting it into 3D. If you want to go 3D then actually try and shoot 3D. So, we did a test shoot, it was really fantastic. We shot with SI 2k cameras; these people had come from Bangalore. It was quite exciting; we shot some snowfall and some rain. We saw it on a 65-inch monitor with glasses and there was a stereographer sitting next to you. The estimate was 40 per cent more time on the shoot. That doesn’t really translate in box office terms.
You said you had done 19 films on film; Dhoom 3 is your first one on Digital. Now if on the 21st film you have an option, what would you prefer?
I think I will go for digital. I would be romantically inclined to shoot on film but I feel I am pushing the envelope a lot more with digital. I am enjoying that.
From the point of cinematographer keeping aside the technicals involved, what would be the riding factor that would tell you whether or not make a film on 3D?
As a cinematographer the way I have been trained, I think it’s my job to give you a more three-dimensional experience. You are supposed to make a two-dimensional thing look three-dimensional. So if you are asking me to shoot a film on 3D that is one thing you are taking away from me. Probably if you want more engrossing and more enveloping kind of experience, 3D really works for a film like Gravity.
After working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, what do you have to say about him?
"I don't think any other director gives me the freedom that Sanjay gives. He has this wonderful approach where he narrates the film to me. We spend a lot of time just talking about the film".
What was your first break in the industry?
I was like any normal middle class Bengali boy who aspired to be an engineer. So after 12th grade, I enrolled into electronic engineering. After studying it for 8 months, I fled because it struck me that I wouldn’t end up being a good engineer anyway. I realized that I couldn’t see myself doing an uninteresting job. I desired to do something visual and so I quit. I was fortunate enough that my father understood. Later I completed my BSc and started looking at the options available in FTII. During those years in Calcutta I started doing a lot of amateur photography and watched several movies. FTII emerged naturally. While studying at FTII, Vidhu Vinod Chopra visited the campus and saw my exercises and that is how I landed up working as an apprentice on the sets of 1942 – A Love Story. I met Sanjay Leela Bansali on the set and years later when I got the opportunity to work with him on Guzaarish, it was like a dream come true. So immediately after completing my diploma, I was in the middle of a big production and that is how I entered this field. I realized if I hung around in Mumbai, I would keep assisting people and therefore I returned to Calcutta and worked on independent projects like advertisements and documentaries. The scopes of the projects were small but I still chose to work on them instead of assisting other DOP’s in Mumbai. One day I received a call for a Hindi film in Calcutta called Bada Din. Compared to the standards of the Indian Film Industry, it was a very small movie. It was directed by Anjan Dutt and stared Shabana Azmi along with Mark Robinson. That was my first film ever and considering that it had just been a year since graduation, I was extremely lucky to work on a project. After that movie, I shifted to Mumbai.
How was your experience working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali?
Every minute spent on the sets of the movie has been worthwhile. Because it is very rare that people will ask you to give your best and it isn’t just that; giving your best unconditionally comes with a price and Sanjay is ready to pay the price. He wouldn’t be ready to accept anything but the best. You have to keep pushing yourself. It is a very exhaustive experience. You have to empty yourself completely but at the end of the day you are extremely satisfied with the work you have done. I know I have been a 100 per cent honest with the project. It is a different matter that I feel that there is a lot more that I could have done and Sanjay Leela Bansali is that one filmmaker who lets you be that honest. He gives you the freedom to cut a shot if you are not happy with the performance. He was always of the opinion that I should not roll the camera if I was not satisfied with his direction and I don’t think anyone lets you do that. Sanjay manages to give so much freedom and yet it is his film. Hegives freedom to his Musicians, Actors, and Cinematographers. Although he is very sharp, there is always room for discussion. We discussed everything because our only concern was the film. To think of it, I doubt anyone would grant such an opportunity. I would go back home to recuperate and it became taxing at the end of the day because as I said before, we are just not use to giving our best shot on a daily basis.
How was the workflow like with Sanjay Leela Bhansali?
The best part about the entire workflow was that Sanjay Leela Bansali was open to different suggestions. When he approached me with the script he asked me to read it and then we discussed my opinion. That was how we started talking about the look and eventually I realized his view of the movie. It began in a very plain unspoken way. The crux of the movie was Ethan’s dilapidated life and that had to be depicted genuinely; the darkness and the bleak scenario of Ethan. At the same time, his character also propagates joy and radiates the world with hope. We had to project his pain in this world, one that is filled with brightness. That is how we began talking about the color, composition, lens choices, lighting and the references to be looked at for the movie.
What were your references for lighting while shooting the movie?
We looked at many things and were inspired by the works of painters like Edward Hopper, Caravaggio, Johannes Vermeer and painters of the Baroque period. There were no direct references. We also revisited a lot of Subrata Mitra’s work.
How long did your average lighting set-up take for Guzaarish?
It would vary from a couple of minutes to hours depending on the scale.
Would you describe yourself as a fast cinematographer?
It depends from project to project. While working, I design a certain look in my mind and if there is clarity in terms of the voice of the project, I can crack the scene very easily. However, if the director has not given me the right perspective then I can be confused because I have to search for the right look. And the job doesn’t end with me deciding on the look of the movie, it ends with the execution of the design. I can think of a quicker way in order to save time but having said so, I usually don’t prefer to choose the quicker way. I would rather choose the correct way. You do earn a reputation of being a fast DOP but I am not interested in the tag. It will not help you in the long run. Of course it can be impressive if you do your work fast but what comes on the screen stays forever. Therefore I would rather follow the correct way.
Could you tell us about a difficult shot in the movie Guzaarish?
There were many shots that were a tad bit difficult. The last shot of the movie that was not included in the final cut was a little tricky. It was shot on a remote crane and there were a few hundred people. It required a lot of planning and it had to be taken at twilight. It was a spectacular shot; the way the camera discovers 200 people who are standing outside the house. It was important to crack the exposure and it came out really well. It is a pity it was not incorporated in the movie because Sanjay wanted to change the ending. There was another shot that did not make it to the final cut where Sofia would give the injection to Ethan to end his life. We decided that if it looked too violent we would not use it. Sanjay edited the scene beautifully. All that you would have seen on screen was Sofia going inside and pulling a curtain that had a small window shape patch of light on it. The curtain and patch of light would quiver as the wind blew through. Although it was violent, it was extremely poetic. However, it did not make the final edit. There was also one shot where Ethan and Sofia are travelling in the car. It is a wide-angle 12mm shot and there is a lot of headroom. It was a cloudy day and we were hoping that while taking the shot the clouds would part allowing the sun to break through. The magic happened only after the fourth shot.
Tell us about the Lens preference of the film Guzaarish?
I don’t prefer any particular lens. The choice comes from the vicinity that I want the actors in. For Guzaarish, I used the ultra prime lenses.
Tell us about the lighting used in the film Guzaarish.
The shafts used were largely a combination of 12K’s and 18K’s and sometimes Dinos. In smaller spaces, I use a lot of Kinos and LEDs. I try to use natural light as much as possible because nothing is as good. I pull out a light only when I have to. While shooting in Goa, we hardly used any light. And while shooting on a movie set, we lit up the location as a house would naturally be lit. I usually don’t change the lights too often. Some tweaking is definitely required but I try to avoid it. The pre lighting set up consumed 2 days but that was only general lighting. A good 2 or 3 hours were required to light the first shot.
What is your general take on 3D?
I personally don’t like watching 3D movies in the theatres and the sole reason is because the glasses provided are pathetic. You end up hurting your eyes and most of them are scratched and so the dazzle of watching a 3D movie dies. However, if I got good glasses I wouldn’t mind watching 3D movies because the idea is spectacular. I have seen a bit of 3D on television but I still haven’t started associating it with feature films. As a cinematographer, it is an exciting new option; you have a new tool to play with. I would love to shoot 3D despite the challenges.
Which one of your films do you think can be converted into 3D?
Guzaarish; I would love to watch the movie in 3D because it is more about being in the space. I watched Avatar abroad and I absolutely loved that movie especially because the glasses are so much better. At the same time, watching the latest installment ofPirates of the Caribbean was not that entertaining because I think the action was slowed down because of 3D.
How would you describe your role to someone outside the industry?
It is difficult to find words that could aptly explain my role in this industry. You could say that as a cinematographer I am not in a position to bring you to the theatre but once you are inside I can assure you that I can draw you closer to the screen.
What distinguishes a good cinematographer from a great one?
A good cinematographer is one who is disciplined with their craft and who can create worthwhile images. On the other hand, a great cinematographer is selfless. They are more concerned about the movie rather than their career. Being altruistic by putting the film above everything else makes the difference. You have to look at the film and what it requires and not what you want to do with it. That is the mark of a great cinematography. A good human being can be a good cinematographer because they have a nice view of the world and I genuinely believe that it translates into the image you are creating. I strongly feel that we are doing an important job and most of us don’t even realize it. We are recording our times through the films that are made. Because for the generations to come, our movies will serve as a time capsule and therefore, while we are making movies we should be very conscious about the responsibility that rests on our shoulders. Those who are aware about this would be greater cinematographers. While shooting, I always ask myself the question, ‘what if this scene would be thrown out of the film?’ And if you can’t throw the scene out, there has to be a reason for not doing so. There will be something in the scene that aids the story. It could be an emotion or any important information. Once you crack that, it is an easy route ahead. Cinematographers need to create an atmosphere where actors can perform and a great one would make that space believable so the story is being told effortlessly.
Who are your inspirations?
Subrata Mitra, Robby Muller, Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki are some of the names that I can think of off the top of my head. They have inspired me immensely.
It seems that the word ‘Cinematographer’ is a point of contention in some circles. Vittorrio Storaro claims that DoP is the wrong terminology. What is your opinion on it?
I don’t care. I am really not interested because it doesn’t really matter. According to me both are correct terms. Having said so, I haven’t read the article by Vittorio Storaro yet but I believe I will agree.
Do you think that the Indian Film Industry should adopt the same standard as Hollywood as far as unionizing its labour?
Absolutely. We suffer so badly and we have to put things in place. The attitude will always remain the same. We should have more than just a community where everyone could unite and discuss matters governing the Cinematographers. Sadly, our industry is a star dominated one and therefore things have to change. I strongly feel the necessity of taking things in our hands but even I haven’t taken the initiative because I have no time. I am actually embarrassed that I haven’t done anything. It is not only the responsibility of one person but of everyone involved in this profession. The underlying problem is that we only voice our grief and fail to find solutions. Pandolin should absolutely do something about this situation. It would be very noble and inspiring. We hardly share anything concerning our work. I enjoyed giving this interview because I haven’t spoken to anyone about my work while giving one. This has been a very rare kind of interview. Journalists are only interested in how my equation is with actors.
Do you think the medium of film dying?
If a medium of film is introduced which is better than what is available, then why would you not pick it up? Film is better than Red or Alexa but eventually it will die. Although I think film is better, I am not married to any specific medium. I would choose the best that is available.
How do you feel about current digital technology?
I haven’t yet seen a digital camera that is better than film and I am hugely concerned about archiving. If a movie is originated on film, we know how to archive it but the question posed in front of us is, how are we going to archive on a digital format? Apart from archiving, my concern lies with the maintenance and repair of the camera. Also, is it weather proof like film? It is not just about the quality of image. Even if something better does come up, it will take us time to adapt and get used to the digital workflow. I have shot a few things on Alexa and minute things like the absence of an optical viewfinder disturbs me. I am accustomed to concentrate while looking at the eyepiece as I make many last minute decisions while looking at a rehearsal. But while shooting with Alexa, the HD monitor was better than the eyepiece and so I found myself looking at the monitor. I had to train myself because you tend to loose your concentration as there are so many things happening around your peripheral vision. I have to agree that there is a lot of pressure from producers but they only look at the cost saving aspect of it.
Which movies inspire you?
I watch everything. Also I am very pro Hollywood because I think they shoot very well. They make movies believable and the industry is blessed with some great Cinematographers. Apart from Hollywood movies, I enjoy watching a lot of French Cinema.
Do you think that Indian cinematographers are not talented?
I don’t believe that the Indian Film Industry lacks talented Cinematographers. For example Subrata Mitra, Ashok Mehta, Ravi K Chandran, Binod Pradhan, Santosh Sivan are in par with Hollywood cinematographers. People in Hollywood desire that kind of work and at the end of the day its teamwork that counts. Every person from the director to the producer to the last artist or technician who works on the set is responsible for the work that comes out from Hollywood. There is so much discipline, something our industry sadly lacks.
What is missing in this industry? Do we lack vision or resources?
Stars dominate our industry. Also, people place their bets on safer things. They don’t gamble. We lack visionary filmmakers and the most unfortunate part of being in this industry is that if things are not played out well or if the outcome is not good, it is badly ridiculed. I am embarrassed to be a part of a film industry that makes fun of a movie like Sawaariya. I have attended award ceremonies where people have mocked the movie and I am truly ashamed. You may have not liked the movie but you can’t deny the fact that it was such an interesting attempt at telling a very different kind of a love story. A very strange mindset is found in our industry. Personally, the film didn’t work because I couldn’t connect with the story. But I can’t throw away the fact that someone had worked so hard to bring the movie on the screen. Artists who have worked on the movie have done a commendable job and the best part was that the movie was shot so beautifully.
A cinematographer is 1/3 manager, 1/3 technician and 1/3 an artist. Is there anything missing from that equation?
The one thing that is missing is humanitarian. You have to be a good human being to make everything else fall in place. You visualize the scene first and that is where the artist’s role comes into place. Then to translate that into picture, the role of technician enters and the last is manager. You need to make people work towards achieving your vision.
How does it feel to get the National Award twice in a row?
It is fantastic. It's a great feeling to be getting this award for a mainstream Hindi film. It is a very reassuring feeling. It only means that good work anywhere is always acknowledged. I am also very happy for Sanjay's award. It is so well-deserved. Last year, when I got the award for Srijit Mukherji's 'Chotuskone,' it was during the middle of my schedule for 'Bajirao Mastani.' He even stopped the shooting for a day so that I could go and collect my award.
How do you compare Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Srijit Mukherji as directors?
Srijit and I have the same background. He is my childhood friend. In Mumbai, a director gets a lot of help from the production. But work in Kolkata is different. I used to call Srijit Chhoto Banshali. He has done a commendable job. In Kolkata, he had to look into all other aspects apart from discharging his duties as a director. I have known Sanjay since the time I was an apprentice on '1942' A Love Story.' Sanjay was the first ad of the film and the song director.
Didn’t you study at FTII together?
No. He passed out from FTII before I joined. I used to coordinate with him for our travel in auto. I would save on my auto fare by travelling with him. I would call up his mother to find out when he was leaving the house so that our timings would coincide.'
‘Chotuskone’ or ‘Bajirao Mastani’ ‘ which was most difficult to shoot?
I don't differentiate that way. 'Chotuskone' was home turf. 'Bajirao'... was technically more challenging.
Isn’t it more challenging to shoot for a film where the budget is less?
When I am cooking daal, do I look for zafran? Or any other spices that one needs for biriyani? I don't. Similarly, I don't need to think budget is a constraint when it comes to shooting a good film. 'Bajirao' had other challenges and the biggest one was to go for VFX integration. One had to shoot in layers for the twilight war scenes. A lot of scenes were also shot in the studio. But people didn't understand the VFX works because they were done with so much of precision. As a cinematographer, my role began at the pre-production level. As a director of photography, I even had to do the lighting for VFX and engage in scale planning.
When VFX is used in a film, does it take away anything from the credit of a cinematographer?
No, absolutely not. I think, Hollywood has answered it well. Look at the work in 'The Revenant' and the massive amount of special effects there. I am not a puritan who looks down on VFX used in a film. When I appreciate a good dish, I don't worry whether it was cooked in gas or earthen oven. Since a cinematographer has to essentially give the command to the VFX programmer, his role doesn't get truncated at all.
Among the other films that you watched this year, whose work did you like?
Rajeev Ravi in 'Bombay Velvet' and Avinash Arun Dhaware from 'Masaan.' Internationally, I loved 'The Revenant,' 'Macbeth' and 'The Danish Girl.'
Why is it the one doesn’t see you working in Tollywood after you won the award for ‘Chotuskone?’
Churni (Ganguly) had wanted me to shoot her film. I too had wanted to work in it. But I couldn't because my dates are blocked elsewhere. I am shooting Sanjay Gupta's 'Kaabil' with Hrithik Roshan from day after. It will release next year in January.
Tell us what you love about your work.
Tell us about a fellow DOP’s work you envy or admire.
Tell us about a handy trick you learnt on a film set.
Can you share a piece of advice for aspiring cinematographers?
A classic film you would like to revisit?
Tell us about your early days.
From the start did you always wanted to be a cinematographer?
Tell us how was the battle scene of Bajirao Mastani was shot.
While shooting for Bajirao Mastani, how was the lighting technique different in VFX than it was in the studio?
Tell us about your choices of films.
Tell us about your experience of working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
Tell us about the post production techniques of Bajirao Mastani.
Tell us your opinion on digital films.
Tell us about box office career experiences.
Tell us about the differences while you shoot for big or small budget film.
What were the lighting techniques involved in the production of Bajirao Mastani?
How was the flaming scene shot in the movie Bajirao Mastani?
How was the daylight created in the film Bajirao Mastani?
What is your say on South Indian Cinematographers?
Which part in Padmaavat was the most challenging for you to shoot?
Among the biggest challenges was the song Khalibali, featuring Khilji and his troops. It is a big song, involving many dancers. Sanjay said that it should be like a group of lombdis [foxes] dancing. The camera moved a lot in that song, and it was a nightmare to shoot. The camera operators had to weave in and out of the lights. At least five to six associates ran around with the equipment.
What was the process of filming like when you heard about the film Padmaavat?
My usual process is that I read a script thoroughly. Padmaavat is set in the fourteenth century, a different time from Bajirao Mastani, which was the eighteenth century. Bajirao Mastani was more Amar Chitra Katha, far more simple, and wasn’t extremely dramatic. Once I read the script for Padmaavat, I realised that I didn’t have to work too hard on making it look different. The story is different, and requires a lot of visual drama. The drama is also more complex, the characters are going through turmoil. The visuals needed to lay out that drama on the screen. The lighting had to be dramatic, the angles dramatic. It had to be far more in your face.
Tell us about the major difference between the palace of Bajirao and Padmaavat.
The major difference between the palace in Bajirao Mastani and Chittor was in the lighting. Bajirao Mastani was set in the eighteenth century, by which time glass was being widely used. The flames were contained within glass, and they flickered less. However, in the fourteenth century of Padmaavat’s setting, glass wasn’t so widely prevalent, and therefore, the light sources were open to the air. They would flicker a lot more. We used this flickering in the drama too. We decided that we would have lots of flame lights, and there would be lots of flickering.
Tell us about your role play in the movie Padmaavat.
My job as a cinematographer was to take a two-dimensional space and make it look three-dimensional. Of course, the decision to convert the film itself into 3D was taken later.
Tell us about the role of lensing in the movie like Padmaavat.
Lensing plays a big role in a story like this one. You can use a wide angle lens to enhance the sets a little more. You can create shades of separation through the lighting. You can light in such a way that the background will be brighter than the foreground.
Tell us about the lighting techniques you used to control the exposure while filming for Padmaavat.
We had a massive lighting set-up, and used up to 15 generators at times. One generator had about 15,000 kilowatts, so you can imagine what it was like.The jauhar scene too was very difficult. It was originally supposed to be shot in Rajasthan, but since we could not do so, we had to shoot the scene on sets. One challenge was simply making sure all the junior artists came on time before the sun got too high. So we decided to do the reverse of day for night – we shot the day scenes during the night time. This way, the lighting was in our control.
Does the budget decides the way a particular film should be shot?
I merely follow the demands of the script. Sure, a big budget film does require the challenge of delivering the look of the film as per the requirements of the story. On such films, there is also the added responsibility of being careful about the budget. The maximum amount of money on any film production is spent on cinematography, and if things go wrong, it can be very expensive. When you work within a film’s budget, the producers feel that you working in the interests of the production, and you get more money the next time round. We went bigger after Bajirao Mastani because the producers knew that there was somebody looking after their money.
Tell us, is Padmaavat your biggest production?
Padmaavat isn’t the biggest production I have worked on – Bajirao Mastani was big too, and so was Dhoom: 3. It is not about the budget or the scale. The work is ultimately the same.
What were your working hours like while shooting for Padmaavat?
We used to work up to 10-12 hours a day, Sundays included. We started shooting in November 2016, and shot all the way till the end of October 2017. It felt like we had 48-hour days, because we also had to work on the DI [digital intermediate] and visual effects in post-production.
As a DOP, who were your crew members in the film Padmaavat?
As the director of photography, my main crew comprised a chief assistant cameraman, a second assistant cameraman, a focus puller and a gaffer. We also had two second units – Mahesh Limaye and Aseem Bajaj did some work on the film.
Tell us about the major camera shots you used while filming Padmaavat.
The idea was to keep the camera movement as minimal as possible. Sanjay didn’t want any unnecessary movements. We used a lot of establishing shots that contained a foreground, middleground and deep background. This is a world that most of us don’t know anything about, and we wanted people to see it properly.
Tell us how did you rise the black smoke out of the jauhar fire in Padmaavat?
For the black smoke that rises out of the jauhar fire, we had to burn a lot of tyres. We are still recovering from the effects of that burning. Every now and then, I get a cold. We also used paraffin lamps to create the flickering effect, and learnt only later that this is bad for the lungs.