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Soaking It All In

Irrfan and Parvathy’s breezy rom-com Qarib Qarib Singlle, which released last week, is the toast of the town. Apart from the wonderful performances, the praise for the film is also due to the excellent team. This week, Soumita Senguptawent behind the scenes with Eeshit Narain – cinematographer, to understand his processes.

On his background

My ancestral roots are in Vrindavan (Uttar Pradesh). I grew up in Delhi and after finishing school moved to Bombay for undergraduate studies in Mass Media/ Journalism at St Xavier’s College. Photography was a hobby throughout school, and in college I started experimenting with digital video, using a handy-cam and hi8 tapes to make very rudimentary and raw documentaries for NGOs.

While in college I got the chance to become an exchange student at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was formally introduced to the study of cinema. Through the projects we did and a few international mentorship experiences, I continued to hone my skill as a cinematographer. But it’s the opportunities that came my way that have shaped, and continue to shape, me as a person and a cinematographer. I continue to be a student of cinema and eagerly look forward to experiences that provide a learning atmosphere I can immerse myself in.

On Qarib Qarib Singlle

In November 2016, I had just finished Azaad, a short film presented by Mira Nair, which the producers of Qarib Qarib Singlle got a chance to see. Ajay Rai (of JAR Pictures), one of the producers of this film (QQS), has followed my work for several years and has recommended me for several projects. It was on his word that I got to meet the director, Tanuja Chandra, who went on to tell me about the film and then viewed my advertising and documentary work along with the other producers, including Irrfan, as his wife, Sutapa, was creative producer on this film. Once they confirmed me as a member of the team, I dived into the project in December 2016 to start shooting in January 2017.

On the brief by  Tanuja Chandra

The brief given by the director was very well-articulated, and she described the film from her perspective, as a Hindustani rom-com. She gave a brief synopsis of the story and sketches of the two main characters. And all of this began much like in the film itself, with the meeting of two strangers – the director and myself, over cups of green tea, not lattes! In that first conversation, it was clear that this was a film she was setting out to make in a very unique way, despite it having all the romance and mainstream Hindi-film elements. To break away from the quintessential image of a romantic couple was where the foundation of this story lay.

Capturing The Essence Of India  

I am a bit of a traveller myself, and despite photography being a long-time hobby, it’s always been about soaking in a new place when you first arrive rather than straightaway getting into capturing it. The quality of light changes from one place to another across geographies and our country is blessed with a diversity of landscapes that never ceases to amaze me. Thus each chapter of the film, Bombay – Rishikesh – Bikaner – Gangtok, lent itself to a distinct look. All of it still seamlessly blending together into one journey as a whole. Not just the weather but the colours, at night and during the day, of the architectural spaces we were shooting in contributed a lot to devising a look for the entire journey.

Simply capturing beauty is not something that I am really drawn to, as perhaps the physical experience of natural beauty can never be recreated in any picture or moving image in a way that would justify it. Thus, I really hold on to articulating and finding a context for the story in the natural beauty or landscapes, no matter what the place may be.

The shooting experience

It was overwhelming. It took a major part of 2017 for me and I consider myself really fortunate to have got a chance to experience this kind of project. Travelling for two months with a crew of 100 people, staying together, sharing meals, working day in and day out on such a sweet story – it’s quite a task to maintain the energy through the entire schedule.

It is amazing how our director kept a smile on her face each day on the set, despite all the restrictions, logistical hassles and dynamics of low-budget filmmaking. It is her positivity and extreme warmness towards each member of the crew in each department that trickled down and set the mood for everyone, making them feel that they could give much more than they could have imagined, to contribute to making this story happen. It is rare to find this level of integrity in the crew and I truly cherish every bit of that.

The toughest sequence

I don’t think I can really pick one sequence that was toughest to shoot. There were limitations and a lack of luxury of resources and time, at every stage of this film. But that’s what challenged us as a team to push and get things done. If I had to pick one logistical nightmare of a moment, then it would be this 5-6 minute sequence outside and inside the airport, before Jaya and Yogi leave for Gangtok.

Due to the security and permission issues, we had to pull off those scenes with a crew of only about 10 people, including the actors, and with just two cameras, that too within three hours – at a fully functioning airport. You can imagine the scale of things that needed to be done and how your position on the crew became irrelevant just to pull off a shoot like that. The airport luggage carts became our track/trolley and my associate, Arun, and I became light boys, working to make basic connections happen and operate the cameras at the same time.

Shooting on location or on set?

Wherever the camera is, that becomes the set – that’s how I like to approach it. So despite mainly shooting outdoors and in real locations for the advertising, documentary and narrative work I’ve been involved in, it is the sense of discipline of a film set that I try and inculcate in every crew member, regardless of the circumstances.

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