Aseem Mishra (AM): So let me get the ball rolling. Basically, Kabir (Khan) and I studied together. He was a year senior to me at Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi. He was the one who basically asked me to shoot New York. We had shot some commercials together and he was familiar with my work because I used to shoot a lot of stuff for Saeed Naqvi, who is a documentary filmmaker and a journalist. I used to travel with him and Kabir used to travel with him as a cameraman.
We were both cameramen and we were very much in sync. It was he who basically suggested that I shift to Mumbai and said we could start with shooting commercials. At the time, I think he had just finished Kabul Express with Anshuman Mahaley.
Whether a political situation or a social issue or anything else, we are always on the same page. We don’t really gel on other issues, such as music, but when it comes to visuals or language-related cinema, we are totally in sync. We used to travel and shoot documentaries together and that has brought us really close. We have shot four films together.
Mahesh Aney (MA): That’s the ideal relationship one can share with a director.
AM: I struck the same kind of rapport with Tigmanshu (Dhulia), when we shot Paan Singh Tomar and Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster. We communicated a lot via music and a lot of other stuff. I believe it is critical to be in sync.
Ayananka Bose (AB): We can all agree that the films we are proudest of are the ones where we shared a great relationship with the director.
AM: Yes, that’s true!
AB: The thing about cinematographers is that we look at a film from the director’s perspective and then translate that vision but we gain recognition only if the film is a success. The saddest thing is when you sometimes shoot so well… Sanu (John Varughese) has shot some amazing films that have not even made it to the platform. No one knows where his first black and white film is today but it is the most amazing film I have ever watched. It simply got lost!
You can do the best job of translating your visuals when you are totally in sync with the director. Aseem’s example of Kabir is excellent in this regard. It is a relief when you start a project and realise that at least this guy is thinking the same way you are. So nobody is questioning your lighting, nobody is questioning your frame.
Anay Goswamy (AG): That is how you collaborate with directors.
AB: Sometimes, you set up a frame and the camera and they say, ‘Nahin yaar mazaa nahin aa raha hai.’ He just does not see it the way you do. Then it takes you two to three days to understand what he is seeing because that’s our job. Then you start seeing but then there are also certain days where you set up the camera and the director says, ‘Haan, yahi chahiye.’ That’s when you realise you are going to hit it off and those are the films that turn out to be your favourites, whether they run or not. Each of us has examples of this.
Sanu John Varughese (SJV): The space you give each other to work makes a big difference.
Chirantan Das (CD): Yes, that’s very important. For any technician it is very important to be in the same boat as the director. It is particularly important in our case because starting right from the recce to the post-production, a DoP works with the director throughout and we have to understand his vision. Before a cinematographer steps in, the director has already visualised his film in his mind and the cinematographers’ role is to give his vision a visual. Usually it takes time to understand your director when you are working together for the first time as you might not know the rules or his way of working. So you are constantly thinking and for the first few days you are always trying to fit in. But once you become habituated, all’s well that ends well. Then you don’t face such confusion when you work with the same director for the second time. Like for example when I had worked with Aanand L Rai for the first time in Tanu Weds Manu it took me time to understand what he wants. It also took him time to understand my way of working. We need lighting to shoot and a director has to understand that sometimes there is no lighting then so we do adjustments rather than wasting a day because there is no proper lighting. So like I said, it is important especially for a cinematographer to understand the vision of his director.
AB: Like my experience while working on Kites, which didn’t do well but it was a great collaboration. Hrithik (Roshan) had to leave the sets at 6pm and everyone was rushing around but Rakesh (Roshan) would tell everyone to not rush and let me do my work in peace. He would say, ‘If you give him 15 to 20 minutes or even half an hour, he will do it otherwise he might as well not do it.’ Things like that make for a two-way street. I would think there was great chemistry there.
Everybody is a chhupa rustom, like in Tanu Weds Manu Returns, you can see. Everybody has some great work. When you see that work you know that these guys were having fun.
AG: If you are not having fun, you are in the wrong space.
SJV: Yes, you have to enjoy what you do.
AM: People ask me to name the biggest challenge I experienced while shooting. It is not a challenge, I enjoy what I do and I love my job. So why should I think about it as a challenge?
CD: I am invariably asked to name a film I had turned down (Laughs).
AG: Often, you are asked to name your favourite scene in a film or to narrate an anecdote you experienced during the film which you enjoyed most. When I am asked something like that, I get completely lost.
CD: It’s the whole experience, never just one or two scenes, the entire process.
MA: I agree. I have not done too many feature films but when I worked in the advertising field, I used to work a lot with Prahlad (Kakkar) and Deven (Sansare). I have shot over 100 commercials with Prahlad and 60 to 70 with Deven. So, you get used to it. That is exactly what they are saying, that once you set up a shot… I remember when I was shooting Swades, and prior to Swades, I had shot a lot of commercials with Ashutosh (Gowariker). You can work properly only if you are not pressurised and the director understands the zone you are in. There are some days where you can shoot everything very quickly but when you have a crowd of, say, 2,000 people and you are using night lighting, you can’t have someone telling you ‘jaldi karo.’ You need a director to understand that.
AG: Trust is most important in this equation and you cannot function without it. Second guessing does not work.
SJV: They should also schedule with this kind of understanding.