Portrait of an artist as a DoP
Muraleedharan c k, ISC
Director of Photography
When I joined the film industry around three decades back, my title was “Cameraman”. A decade later it became ‘Cinematographer’. Then a decade ago it became ‘Director of Photography’. Very often people ask me what’s the difference between these titles. I normally say they are all the same. But I believe there is a reason for this metamorphosis.
Three decades back good camera operation was considered as good cinematography. Few good grey tones would be an added feather in his cap.
As films became colour, he became responsible for the colours and colour scheme.
Once the scenario changed from analogue to digital, colours became more and more complicated. It's not just the adjustments of Red, Green and Blue anymore. It became the manipulation of hundreds of Reds, Greens and Blues. That’s where the ‘Cameraman’ became ‘Director of Photography’ or ‘DoP’. Today he is concerned about a lot many things along with camera movement and lights.
That's when DI came in, Digital Intermediate. The source which is shot in analogue (Film emulsion) was transferred to digital, colour corrected and then transferred back to analogue (Film emulsion) for theatre release. That’s how the term Digital intermediate came in.
Everything is digital now. Source is digital, the process is digital, and the end is digital. There’s no Intermediate anymore. But we still call it DI.
Couple of years back, while I was starting a film shoot, the director came and sat beside me. He had this look on his face. I knew he wanted to talk to me.
Ok... Go ahead..
I prefer the images to be truthful.
Ohhhh... Me too..
I mean, whatever you want to do, please do it in camera... When we are shooting.
Seeing the blank look on my face he decided to elaborate.
You use whatever filters you want to use, decide the time you want to shoot..
(I was pleasantly surprised. Normally directors ask me, “Please do it fast, don't worry, we will fix it in the post!!”)
Let's keep the purity of the image you create in the camera. I don't want you to disturb that purity in DI.
Meaning... No LUTs, no windows, no chroma keys... Like that..
But... Then... How do you create the image?
Whatever image you create while shooting... we can see the true image on the onboard monitor... right? We will keep that without changing it later.
I realised what the issue is.
I started my learning with analogue, with B&W and then to colour and then to digital. Every stage I had to relearn almost everything. It was not easy. But it had to be done to stay in business. In the process I learned one thing.
There's creativity in everything.
As technology progressed, one got more and more tools to work with. I had to put more time in learning to understand and use these tools creatively. Instead of running away I decided to go with it. Instead of becoming a slave to the technology I know, I decided to explore further and master it. For someone who is experienced in analogue, to make this transition into digital in a couple of months is not easy. I need to explain a few things.
But where do I start? I decided to go slow.
Yea.. sure.. We will keep discussing it.
He had a look of satisfaction on his face.
Later in the day I made him sit in front of the onboard monitor and showed him a shot we canned that day with Rec709 colour space.
He was very happy.
Ya… this is good. We will keep it that way.
I changed the lut.
Why are you changing the colours?
I changed the lut again.
Oh god, I prefer the original.
All these are originals.
The first one was the original right?
No. All these are Lut's, like the first one. I will show you the original now.
I showed him the Raw image.
This doesn't look like anything.
Yes we have to create our original from this one. You and I have to decide what's our original. For that we will take the help of our colourist. That will be our interpretation of the Raw image you are watching now and we will call that our Original, our pure image.
Yes... Our interpretation is the original. That's the advantage of going digital. Your image is your creative interpretation, Digital Interpretation.
Wow... What did I just say?
Digital Interpretation!!! DI.
So it's not an outdated name anymore. It's a beautiful name for that process.
Concept of beauty is an ever changing one. From the ‘all equal tone pics’ to monochromatic or bleached out pics, the fashion magazine covers changed over the time. The way paintings changed from realism, photography also changed its concept of ‘Good photography’ over the years.
Film makers experimented with chemical processes like ‘Bleach bypass’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bleach_bypass#Use_in_movies) to create a different look. As cinema moved from B&W to colour and to digital, we got more tools, Colours and it's unlimited hues, to narrate the story in a better way.
It’s not just time which changed the look of photography in cinema. The concept or theme of a script also became the determining factor for a ‘Photographic Look’ in a film. That’s why ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Road to Perdition’, both directed by Sam Mendes and photographed by Conrad Hall don’t look the same.
The concept and theme of a story is interpreted by the cinematographer in a particular way, however the deciding factor of how the film should look is not just the cinematographer. It’s a collective decision by the core team, Producer, Director, DoP, Production designer, Costume designer, Action choreographer etc, etc. Because each one has a substantial contribution in creating the ‘look’. Without the contribution of these people it’s not possible to create the ‘intended’ look successfully.
‘Intended’? What's that?
Yes. That's how you do it. You decide the look before you start shooting. That's how each one gets to contribute into the film, the colours of costume, the colours and texture of locations, the style of action choreography, the shot breakdown etc, etc. It's not an accident or a miracle happening in the post production house. It's a predetermined path. You just polish it or make it better than what you had in the beginning. That’s where you play with those hundreds of hues. That’s where a colourist’s contribution comes in. But you need to have something to begin with, something common for all the key departments to begin with, so that you reach the ‘Intended look’.
I have always hated when people call me a ‘technician’. Yes, I work with technology. I may understand technology more than many people on the set. But I don’t come to the set with a set of screw drivers, or hammers. I don’t repair anything. I come with my mind with creative ideas, I create images on a set, I am an artist.
Most of the films we make, use the technicians but not the artists we are.That’s why most of our films look the same, even if they deal with different themes. They all look the same- colourful and bright. You will not see a conceptual treatment of colours in most of our films. When I look back into my career, mostly I have received the same request from my directors and producers- ‘Please make it bright and colourful’.
Our films still follow a very theatrical concept. Most of the time the script I receive is a dialogue script. Every decision is made based on those dialogues. Movement of camera or artist, shot breakdown, sound design, editing etc, everything depended on those dialogues.
Sound and picture are the two most important factors of cinema. Here, sound is used to make the dialogues ‘heard’ and the picture is used to make the person who speaks the dialogues ‘seen’. There’s no other function for the two in 90% of our cinema.
The possible reason for this may be that our cinema started as an extension of popular song and dance theatre. Our early cinema tried to replicate and replace popular theatre as an entertainment medium. So they heavily borrowed tools from this theatre. Filled up the screen with dialogue and filled up the rest of the time with music. Songs and dance naturally became a part of it. The attempt to compete and copy the theatre, formed our cinema into ‘2D theatre’. Camera became an ‘Observer’ and the sound became a ‘Recorder’. We refused to move away from those practices.
Acting stayed as loud performance to reach the last bench audience in a theatre. The first lesson we teach an acting student is - ‘Camera is your audience, face it when you act’. That’s why even today the actors turn to the camera, away from the co-actor when they give a punchline. Many a times they walk all the way towards the camera, far far away from the co-actor with whom he is having a conversation. He is walking to the front stage closer to the audience as in the drama theatre.
Editing became a tool to reduce the ‘wasted’ time between dialogues. Sound design became a tool to manipulate the silences between dialogues and music. Special effects are used as a tool to show magic. Darkness and silence became unbearable as in theatre. Loudness became a norm of everything as in popular theatre. All efforts of standardizations of sound level, picture brightness level, theatre screen brightness level etc stayed in theory and were not followed even by the best of the theatre chains.
Ultimately the way we judge a film became its story and nothing else. That's why our so called film critics write only about the story and nothing else. I have always laughed at the lines they come up on cinematography in a film review,
‘The cinematography is fluid’,
‘The Dop did justice to the locations’
‘The camera work is eye candy’........
In ‘Film India’, the film magazine of the fifties, a film review was of many pages. One whole page was dedicated to write about cinematography. They even wrote about the quality of lab processing. By and by all other departments other than story, actors and music disappeared from film magazines, the way technical awards disappeared from film award functions. Academy awards earlier decision to not to telecast tech awards was the last blow.
Some time back I remember requesting a well known film critic to write about a famous cinematographer for a publication I was compiling. The article I received had the bio data of the cinematographer in the first paragraph. The rest of the article was all about the directors he worked with and actors who acted in those films. There was nothing about the cinematographer’s work. He had no idea about the much celebrated cinematographer’s contribution.
I have heard people saying, we don't have good technicians in our country. I hope one day they will educate themselves that it’s not technicians but the ‘Artists’ inside the Producer, Director, Dop, Production designer, Costume designer etc...etc create those wonderful works.
Let there be light!!!!
A cold morning of 1984 winter.
I was sweating standing outside the FTII interview room.
I was not worried about the questions; I was seriously worried about how I am going to communicate. Kids standing around me continued talking in English and Hindi effortlessly.
Hindi was out of the question, English I could write very well, but when it comes to conversing, it was a tough game.
This was my second attempt. I stood at the same place last year also. Getting through the written exam was easier for me. This time I must get through, before my family forces me to take up a bank job as it was the norm those days.
I presented my certificates to a 7-8-member interview board, while they passed it around. I nervously sat on the edge of the chair.
Educational certificates, short story writing, poetry and drama competition certificates and few photographs that I managed to take at the last moment with a borrowed camera.
The first few questions were technical.
I started answering in my broken English.
“What are you doing now?”
“I am doing my 1st year Masters in Malayalam literature.”
“You graduated in Physics right?”
“It looks like you are jumping around. Physics, Literature now Cinema. You don’t seem to have a focus, What’s your real interest?”
That’s a tough question, but I must answer.
“Sir, I came last year, but no admission, so I joined Literature… my second interest, now I am here again… for my first interest.”
It looked like he was convinced.
A tall bearded man who just finished going through my certificates looked up.
“You are doing Malayalam literature?”
“What is M.T.Vasudevan Nair’s contribution to Malayalam literature?”
That’s a googli. I could write a three-page essay on that subject, but there’s no way I could explain that in English here.
My throat started to dry
I kept staring at him.
“You don’t know?”
“I know Sir.”
“I don’t know how to say”
He looked at others
I realized the interview is coming to an end. There are lot of students waiting outside. They wouldn’t want to waste time on me now.
I sat there frozen.
Someone pushed the bunch of certificates towards me.
I could feel tears welling up in my eyes.
One more year of waiting.
Frames of bank teller counters flashed through my mind.
(Can you answer in Malayalam?)
Ehh….. Yes, YES Sir.
(Stream of Consciousness)
ഒരു കവിത ചൊല്ലാമോ
(Can you recite a poem in Malayalam?)
I recited an old poem
പുതിയ കവികളിൽ ആരേയാണിഷ്ടം
(From the new generation poets whom do you like?)
അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ ഒരു കവിത ചൊല്ലൂ
(Recite a poem from his collection)
I recited another poem.
The interview continued in Malayalam for another ten minutes with questions from literature, cinema and art.
I couldn’t believe the interview went off well.
I had answered every question and all of them were correct, I knew.
When I came out of the interview room first thing I wanted to find out was who is this person who spoke to me in Malayalam. Senior students told me later that it was John Sankaramanagalam, Dean. FTII.
Two weeks later I received my admission letter.
If John Sir hadn’t shifted my interview to Malayalam, it would have ended much earlier. I don’t know whether I would have gotten admission that year.
For years to come I watched John Sir walking through the campus.
The slow paced walk. If you have to talk to him you have to walk with him, he wouldn’t stop.
I never gathered the courage to walk with him and thank him.
He must be having his slow paced walk somewhere now.
One day I will catch up with him to say ‘Thank you Sir’.
John Sankaramangalam. (1934 - 18)
In his long career, John won two National and four Kerala State Film Awards. He also served as chairman and jury of many national and international film festivals.
His directorial titles include Saramsham, Samandaram, Aval Alpam Vaikippoyi and Janma Bhoomi.
Later, he went on to become the director of FTII. Post retirement, he was seen as an authority on the history of Indian films.
After I started the blog I got many requests to write about this song. The song had captured attention of many viewers, because the presentation of the song was very unique.
Agent Vinod and Iram have a personal moment where they try to understand each other – An emotional scene, a love song?
Vinod looses a valuable clue to what he was pursuing dangerously for some time – the ancient book – ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’, nevertheless he manages to escape an attempt on his life - An action scene.
This point in the script cropped up in the schedule for shoot in every location we shot. Because of various reasons we never managed to shoot the scenes, love song and the action scene.
Towards the last stages of shooting we decided to shoot it in Mumbai. The song was not ready yet. Sriram came up with the idea of a Motel to have the action scene. He was still undecided about the love song.
One fine morning he came up with the idea of having the emotional scene happening in the motel bedroom and the song overlaid on the action scene. And he threw a question-
“How about shooting the song in one shot?”.
It was a challenging scenario. Shooting a three-minute single shot is very tough. Having action happening in between makes it almost impossible. After an hour of discussion I was convinced, excited and nervous at the same time.
We presented the idea to our action director Peter Heinz. He was shocked and completely against it. He said action doesn’t work with out cuts, and if we do this we will fall flat on our face. It took couple of days to convince him.
As we were nearing the end of the shoot, we couldn’t think of elaborate sets. Rajnish our art director came up with the idea of putting the set in a real space instead of a studio. He suggested the empty 1st floor in Film city with a ceiling height of 12 ft with pillars all over. He came up with the design of a motel with a bar, lobby and a corridor with rooms on either side. One room in this corridor will be done up for the scene between Vinod and Iram.
The shoot day.
Each one of us got busy with our respective jobs.
Sriram, Pooja and Rakesh got busy with explaining and walking each supporting actor through his or her role.
Peter got busy with rigging up the explosions and other action elements as per the final movement.
I had to redo my lighting with the new positions of actors. I had added a shadow play of one of the killings on the wall. We created it with a 5K without Fresnel. We had done smoke tests the previous day and decided to smoke the set to a mild density . Once my team took over it, I started explaining the movement and framing with steadycam operator Sunil Khandpur.
By afternoon we had pressure mounting from production to finish shoot fast.
On the set I could smell gunpowder and I found the source. It was behind the bar counter. I could see three people trying to fit in the small space with numerous wires and other controls. That was the action team who was responsible for the fire works involved in the gunfire. When the actor fires a gun these people press the right buttons to make small pre rigged explosions which will look like the impacts of the gun shots. When the camera comes close to the counter they may be seen, so they will have to lie down on the floor and do this job.
Split of a moment I realized I am standing in the middle of a time bomb.
In the event of a fire, there was only one way out through the narrow stairway. And I couldn’t see any fire extinguisher on the set.
Don’t be surprised, this is a usual scenario in hindi film shoots.
By the time the pressure to start the shoot had become unbearable.
I decided to forget about the fire concern and believe in destiny.
We got into our dry runs with all the actors.
Lets go for TAKE….
Chetna Koushik, the 1st AD and I had counted around 36 cues to be given during the take.
There were different kinds of cues. Once the camera starts moving each actor has to be cued to get correct timed entry into the frame, because they wouldn’t know when they are coming into the field of view. They would be hiding behind doors or behind walls.
Each lighting change had to be cued like the shadow play of killing, because the guy who operates the door doesn’t know the timing.
Each action bit had to be cued depending on actor’s gun positions.
Camera pacing and pan timings had to be cued as per the actor movements.
There are so many of them.
It’s like a music composer conducting a thirty six-piece orchestra on stage. Correct instrument has to come in at the correct moment with correct note.
Chetna and I shared the job armed with mike and walkie talkies in our hands.
We parked ourselves in such positions where we could see the set and the video monitor to get the correct judgment.
Sriram, Peter and I agreed that if any thing goes wrong before the explosions start, we will cut the take. Because resetting the set after explosions will take time.
ACTION………………3 minutes and 21 seconds …………………CUT.
I had the urge to cut at many points, but let it go.
I ran to the camera to check everything is right.
Was the aperture right?
Did the film roll?
Is there any warning light blinking?
By the time I came back to the monitor to watch the take, everyone on the set had gathered there. I couldn’t find space to see the monitor, so I stepped aside. In a minute, Ramani came with a small monitor in which he had been recording the take.In another two minutes I could hear loud screams, cheers and continuous applause.
Did I hear some one calling ‘Pack up?’
I continued watching the take.
The entourage walked out of the set talking animatedly.
Everyone seemed very happy.
I could find many corrections from performance to timings.
Sriram who had gone with the entourage came back.
How was it?
We can make it better.
I know….but…You mean one more take? I have packed up Saif !
Oh no.. we should have one more. At least for safety sake.
He thought for a moment…
Let us live with this… One more take means… another five or six takes…
Pooja what do you say?
Or should we go for one more?............
Here … Watch the one and only take full without any cuts, from ‘Agent Vinod’.
Summer of 1996
Four of us were in Pune National Film Archives- Monica, Jeebesh, Shuddha, and I, searching through old issues of ‘Film India’, looking for anything related to cinematographers and their craft. We were in the middle of our research on ‘Practice of Cinematography in India’ supported by ‘India Foundation for the Arts.’
We read about K A Abbas and his films- ‘Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Main’, ‘Sath Hindustani’ ,’Rahi’, ‘Munna’ etc. One name was common – Ramchandra, the DoP of most of his films. We decided to interview him as soon as we hit Mumbai.
Couple of months later we got together again in Mumbai to do a series of interviews. We had a long list, Jal Mistry, K K Mahajan, Ashok Mehta and many other people. One important name in that list was Ramchandra. We managed to find his phone number and took an appointment.
We had lot of work that day and by the time we left to meet him at his house in central Mumbai, we were late. In my old maruti 800 we kept discussing about his work in many films from early fifties to late seventies. We had many questions to ask, setting and lighting the cityscape backdrop of Mumbai in one of the songs in ‘Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Main’, shooting of ‘Sath Hindusthani’ in the jungles, working with Mr.K.A.Abbas, shooting the desert song at night in ‘Shera aur Reshma’ and of course shooting ‘Yadein’… so on and so forth.
Half way through the journey I realized we had crossed the appointment time.
I stopped at a pan shop to make a call to inform him that we are on our way.
Monica went to make the call and we continued our discussion in the car. After five minutes or so she came back with a puzzled look. As I started driving she said
“Arre he seemed to have forgotten about our appointment. I spoke to the maid.”
“You didn’t speak to him?”
“No. The maid spoke to him and she said he will wait for us.”
An old housing society in Dadar.
We rang the bell and a lady opened the door. She took us to the living room where Mr.Ramchandra was waiting for us. We sat down, apologized for the delay and started unpacking our recording equipment.
It was a neat drawing room with a bookshelf full of books.
Bound volumes of ‘American Cinematographer’ from the fifties were neatly stacked there.
The wall had many photographs including one where he is standing beside Mrs.Indira Gandhi.
Top of the shelf adorned a row of awards.
As always we started our interview with a question about images from his childhood. He looked out through the window and talked about his school days, his love for football and about his parents in a low voice. As we advanced into later period, his voice became more and more weak. He took more time to remember and stopped answering after a point.
How did you start working in Bombay Industry?
Whom did you assist?
When did you take this photograph with Mrs. Gandhi?
Sir, what was your last film?
We could feel the discomfort in his eyes. It was painful to see him struggling to remember. Soon we realized he has no memory of his past and we are putting him through severe pain.
We apologized again and packed up our stuff.
Nobody spoke about anything in the car on the way back.
Three months later I met a friend of mine who stayed in the same housing complex. He told me that Ramchandra passed away a week back. He was in the advanced stage of Alzheimer’s.
10th March 2014-
I couldn’t find much about him on Internet databases. Most of them got his name confused with other DoPs with similar names. His films went into their filmography. Other web sites where I thought I would find him, didn’t mention his name either.
Like his memory he too has disappeared from history.
I dug out my 18-year-old diary and these are the listings I found in it-
Rahi- Two leaves and a bud Dir:K.A.Abbas 1952
Munna Dir:K.A.Abbas 1954
Char Dil Char Rahein Dir:K.A.Abbas 1959
Gyarah Hazar Ladkiyan Dir:K.A.Abbas 1962
Sheher our Sapna Dir:K.A.Abbas 1963
Yadein Dir:Sunil Dutt 1964
Aasman Mahal Dir:K.A.Abbas 1965
Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Main Dir:K.A.Abbas 1967
Sath Hindusthani Dir:K.A.Abbas 1969
Reshma our Shera
Dir:Sunil Dutt 1971
Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Main 1967
Reshma our Shera 1971
He was known for his Black&White works. But ‘Reshma aur Shera’ got him his second national award for colour cinematography.
Here is a song from ‘Reshma aur Shera’
The song ‘Samjho ho hi gaya’ grabbed lot of attention when ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’ was released. This song was shot towards the end of the film shoot, almost when the editing was getting over. Raju, Rajesh mapuskar and I used to brainstorm on how to shoot this on our trips to ND studio where we were shooting some portions in the earlier schedule. We even had ideas to get real lions on the set at one point. Finally we arrived on the present structure of sorytelling.
We decided to shoot the song at Mukesh Mills, a regular shooting location in Mumbai. It’s a cluster of broken structures with wide roads in between. We needed four roads to set up as four different settings for the shoot.
We were planning to shoot at nights. That’s when we realized we had three consecutive days to shoot due to actors’ date issues. The art dept. can change the set up during daytime and we can shoot during night. Which meant I had to do the lighting for all the three setups at the same time. I had to be ready with all the setups before the first day of the shoot.
When we reached the location for prep three days before the shoot, I had a vague idea how the set should look, but there was no set design or drawing or anything else. I sat down with raju on location and sketched a rough design of the four setups we needed there.
The car street would come alive with the neon signboards lighting up from the far end in the frame.
My design of circus street had a huge arch coming up from the ground and small arches swinging in to the frame from sides. A girl on a trapeze would swing into the frame from top of the camera and all artists would run in on cue.
The marriage procession had the series lights coming on and covering the frame in one movement from the far end.
All these sets would come alive from one basic set where Munna and Circuit are walking narrating the story.
The design looked pretty simple, but as I started detailing it, I realised it’s a huge task.
Raju had given me a full go ahead, so I decided to attempt it with full energy.
I discussed the plan with art department and decided to make the arch across the street on plywood. I told my assistants to measure the perimeter of the arch and calculate how many bulbs and wire bundles we would require. They came back with a rough estimate of 640 bulbs and 20 bundles of wire. The art dept was in for a shock when I passd this info to them. They told me plywood will not carry this weight and we have to fabricate the arch in iron, and it has to be fabricated then and there because it will be difficult to carry such a big arch if we fabricated it somewhere else.
We had only two days for it because we needed atleast one day to fix it.
We got a go ahead from production to make that arch.
I went ahead to discuss my other requirements with production-
“We need lots of bulbs”
“We have bulbs in our production trunk”.
“But we need more”.
“We have lots”
“We need 640”
There was silence.
The empty street and the street with neon signboards were comparatively simple to set up. As I progressed I realised the marriage procession set up is also not so simple.
That day at around two in the night on my way back home, I was passsing through Mahim Dargah where some festival was on. The entire street was decorated with series light. Raju was in a car behind me. As we were crossing the festival area Raju called me - “ isn’t this what we are planning to do for the baaraat?”
“No, these lights stay on all the time and just flicker in between. Our lights should come on from the far end as if from nowhere and and should disappear in the same fashion.”
“How will we do that?”
“I have to put separate layers on separate dimmers and gradually bring them in”
I was thinking about my scheme as I was talking to him. More than twohundred layers and putting them on dozens of dimmers, and fading in … it’s not going to be easy.
The heavy iron arch was getting ready.
But how are we going to pull this massive thing up into the frame within three song beats?
It’s damn heavy. Only solution was to pull it with steel wires. But who will pull it and from where? If they stand on the road they will be in the frame. The whole street is in frame. The only solution was to put two steel cables through a series of pullies and take them to the first floor of the structure where two motorized winders will pull them. The movement has to be in sync with the song beats and actors movement..
Action dept comes in with their gear.
It was very easy to say that the girl will swing in on a rope from above the camera.
Where are you going to put the rope from?
Again action dept comes in with a heavyduty industrial crane and the rope is put through a pully and three people controlling the rope so that the arc of the swing is perfect for the frame.
A day before my lighting day a truckload of series lights got unloaded on the set. A thin 12 yrs old skinny kid shows up as incharge.
Ramani, my assistant, looks at him and wonders “are you going to do it all alone?”
He gives a dirty look and walks away.
As Ramani, Kaku and I started working, we realised the location is very unfriendly for lighting. The old dilapidated structure has no space to rig lights. Windows on the first floor gave very limited access.
The lighting for circus required big light beams and moving heads. Those were heavy lights and needed proper platforms to set up. We decided to open up the tiled roof top of second floor and build a 35 feet rostrum through the roof.
All these layers of lighting have to be there from the very beginning. We have only three nights to shoot. I have no time to change my lighting. My team and I designed each layer seperately through different connections. All the connetions come to a DMX controll behind the camera. Two days of hard work – day and night.
Now I think I have controll over all the lights.
The skinny kid is still working over the series lights..
Thirteen layers are not coming on.
Don’t know. We are going through the connections. There are too many, Will take some time.
No.. There’s no time. Hurry up. Actors are already here.
The car is not starting.
What to do?
Three guys can push it. No make it two, I can see them from the sides. Tell them to hide behind the car.
Layers 42 to 54 of the series lights are off. Where’s that kid? Only he knows the connections.
He must be asleep somewhere. Let me find him first. We may have to replace them.
Hurry up…Hurry up…
It’s 4 am.
Cast & crew’s efficiency goes down by 50%
Three more shots
Hurry up. It’s daybreak. We have to finish it tonight.
Hurry up… Hurry up… Hurry up……
Night is over. Lights are coming down. The rostrum is being dismantled. Action crew is moving around packing their stuff with sleepy eyes. Camera car pulles away.
I sit on the road side with a glass of sugary tea.
I am unhappy.
The sparkle blast in circus got over after two takes. Remaining takes we had to do with people trowing the sparkle manually. It was very uneven. Shoddy work.
My team didn’t get enough time to rig up the car lighting because the car came just before the shoot.
The lengthy take with Munna and Circuit was not lit properly. I couldn’t figure out a scheme for the limited space.
Smoke was not enough for the light beams to be seen.
And the…. Forget it..
Nothing can be done now….Samjho ho hi gaya, and I don’t want to be unhappy.
I spoke to Biju.D, the post fx person, about my issues. We came up with the solution to add multiple layers of sparkle in post. During one of the studio shoot days, I shot deferent layers of varied density sparkles and handed it over to him. That’s all I could do for my disappointments.
Film released to packed houses.
‘Samjho Ho hi Gaya’ becomes a hit. I got lots of compliments on my work. But none seemed to notice the issues I had.
Should I be happy?
I guess, may be...
You decide, have a look…
In the age of ‘Gravity’ and ‘Life of Pi’ what I am about to write may sound very simple and old fashioned. More than the technology, what I would like you to read in this article is about the thinking behind achieving the mood of the scene.
Sriram and I had lot of discussions and arguments over this scene during pre production. This was probably the most discussed scene in the film which finally turned out to be one of the most interesting one also.
During the pre-production I had suggested to make a train set instead of shooting in an actual train, Sriram was never convinced about the set and our budget didn’t allow us to plan a massive set. Later we decided to shoot in a real train.
Though it was one of the key scenes in the film, it was written with very few dialogues. I kept thinking about how to give an edgy feeling to the scene.
I started thinking about my lengthy train travels during my student days and later. After a long train travel what stays with you is the movement of the train. Even when you sleep at home, after the journey, you feel the bed is moving as if you are still in the train. I wanted the audience to get that feeling while watching the film, but couldn’t figure out how to get that movement within the frame.
If I put the camera on a tripod in the train, I knew I would not get that movement within the frame because the camera will be moving along with the train in sync and I will not be able to perceive the movement.
During the recce, I was standing next to the vestibule and I could see the movement of the next bogie. It looked scary to me. I could perceive the movement because I was in a different bogie. That means that I needed to separate the camera from the floor of the train. That’s when I started thinking about hanging the camera, which lead me into designing a rig and use bungee ropes to hang the camera so that I can add my own movements to simulate the train movement.
Since the train was traveling at night, the only place where you could see movement was when you see lights passing outside, like a station, small town or street lamps. In the rest of the shoot it didn’t matter whether the train is moving or not, if I could simulate the train movement with my rig. I could control the movement depending upon the lens and frame elements like foreground etc.
My assistants Ramani, Rajesh, Vikram,key grip Bhaskar and I set out to make this rig. I had measured the width of the train corridor during my recce. I made a design of two ‘A’ frames connected together with a square frame at the bottom and a rod at top. The entire rig was constructed with slotted angles so that I could hook anything anywhere. Then I got Bhaskar to make a cheese plate to lock the camera (Arri435). We hung the cheese plate with bungee ropes. Four hooks at the four corners of the plate helped me to hang the camera at any height. Thin bungee ropes where used to adjust the tension of the main bungees or to balance the level of the camera. These ropes helped me to control the movement of the camera also. This mechanism could be placed anywhere in the train corridor.
I had to make another rig to take shots from inside the cabins. That was made by adding a second plate below the low base with springs of varied tension. This rig made movements similar to the big rig but milder ones.
On the cold night of 5th January 2007 we gathered at Mumbai central station to board our train, which comprised of an engine and four bogies. The train would travel to Vadodara, stay parked during the day there and travel back to Mumbai the next night. We had two nights to shoot the whole scene. By the time we left Mumbai it was 1am. We knew we would not be able to cover too much in the limited time. I decided to shoot all the shots in which we see the exterior through the window first. We had two cameras. I placed one in the engine room from where we could shoot stations approaching. I had told Rajesh, who was operating the second camera to shoot at 6 frames and 12 frames whenever he saw any lit area like stations or townships passing by. They would inform us through the radio about the approaching lit areas and we would quickly set up a shot with a window or door in frame. All the shots were shot with my movements through the rig.
At one point we figured out a way to open the side panel of one of the toilets. Our set department immediately opened the panel and I got an access for the camera into the toilet. The rig was put up outside the toilet with the camera lens peeping into the toilet.
Neil sneaks into the compartment and hides in the toilet. He places the chloroform bottle on a small platform we made below the lens. I wanted the feeling of the train starting from the station. But the train was parked at some station for some regular service train to pass and we didn’t know when we would resume our journey. We had no time to waste. On the rig I moved the camera with a jerk, which looked like the train starting its movement. The camera continued swinging like the train is in motion. By that time we had figured out that we don’t need the train to move to shoot most of our scene.
We couldn’t finish the whole scene in that trip. We managed to get one more night at the yard with one stationary bogie to shoot the rest of the scene. We had learned our tricks and we didn’t require the train to run anymore.
Actually the entire portion where Niel dumps the body outside the train was shot with a stationary train in the yard. I simulated the headlight of the passing train with a 5K on a track. Biju.D and his team who was handling the fx added the passing train later.
Pooja edited the opening of the sequence into an energetic beginning with the footage from second camera. Madhu Apsara and Dwarak Warrior did an outstanding sound design. The scene comes alive into a memorable sequence with all the elements of a thriller.
Do you feel like watching the scene? Please click the link below-
And figure out which are the shots done in stationary train…. Don’t ask me, I don’t remember.