Gone are the days when the central characters and the director owned the limelight when a film became a super hit. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat, which is currently ruling the box office, is receiving praise for every perfectly crafted element in the film. Sudeep Chatterjee, with his vision as the film’s cinematographer; has added to the overall charm of this mega period drama. Here is Suranjana Biswas in conversation with him about his craft
On The Film
While we were doing Bajirao Mastani, Sanjay started talking about the film. I knew then that I was going to be a part of it. This was a much more difficult film to make, a lot more ambitious.
It was quite a hectic shoot. Also, the challenge was doing two back-to-back period films. We had to make sure they did not end up looking similar. Taking pictures is my hobby and I got to do that on such a great scale. I am doing what I love and also getting paid for it! What more could I ask for?
On The Brief
Sanjay hands you the script and wants you to come up with your interpretation and ideas, and he merges those ideas with his own. He wants the process to be organic and instinctive, although we know the direction we are going in, in terms of the look palate, lighting, costumes and art, which is all created. Sanjay evolves his script while doing rehearsals, readings, etc.
He keeps on offering clues to what’s on his mind. I am now habituated to picking up clues from those abstractions. Sometimes, all he does is play some music and asks us to follow how a specific instrument in the piece heightens the drama in a scene.
On Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali
The relationship has become stronger; also the understanding between us has become better. We have also become close personal friends. These are difficult films to make, and to have people that you like, who depend on or trust you… it is nice to have people like that around you. The process of filmmaking is extremely tedious and labourious.
On The Challenges
The biggest challenge came from political disturbances. The violence that happened during the shoot; we are not used to things like that on the set. This really hampered the proceedings, the way we wanted to shoot the film, because now there were a lot of shoot locations we couldn’t access.
The challenge of recreating the 13th century was very interesting as we had no idea what it looked like. It all depends on the research… you have to imagine the rest. It was also important to keep in mind that we were making the film for today’s audience.
On Choosing A Script
For different scripts, I use different approaches. I will go shoot anything that Sanjay asks me to do. I wouldn’t need to read the script. For other filmmakers, I always read the script and try and imagine the film, and if I like it, I do the film. Sometimes, I feel I would love to watch a certain film but there isn’t much for me to do in it. Then, I don’t do the film. I look for a challenging script. Now that I have finished a period film, I am looking for something grittier.
On Response And Awards
I have never understood how a film can be called the ‘best film of the year’. I do not understand how a work of art can be ranked by numbers. Having said that, it feels nice to get an award. More than myself, I think the people around me are happy and proud. It is a nice feeling when the fraternity praises your craft.
I am starting a project on Balasaheb Thackeray that has Nawazuddin Siddiqui playing the lead role. It is very different from what I have done recently.