Cinematographer Aseem Bajaj is gaining all the applause from the audience for the way his recent release Shivaay has been shot. Bajaj, who has been working in the industry for more than two decades, chats with Soumita Sengupta about his journey while making Ajay Devgn’s directorial Shivaay
What was the brief given to you by director Ajay Devgn for Shivaay?
When Ajay called me and said that he was making a film, the first thing he told me was, ‘I am going to parade you for two years in the mountains without boots. This will be the toughest film you have shot in your life.’ And that turned out to be true.
Where you given any reference points?
There were many reference points including stills, fashion magazines, television serials and movies. But there was no specific reference point, where he said, ‘I want the film to look like this film or like that film.’ There were discussions between us on points like how he wanted to differentiate between India and abroad. We arrived at a particular kind of photos by taking pictures and color correcting them before we went on the floors. I kept asking him whether he wanted me to watch any films, but he was, like, ‘Let’s go organic and create our own vision.’
The film is a marriage of real shots and studio shots, there’s a lot of CGI work and I share the credit with Navin Paul, my colorist, Ashirwad, and the entire team. All these guys have done an amazing job. The CGI, the shoot on the sets and real location work were synced. We actually had to match all the lines. For example, the first scene where Shivaay is coming down a mountain was shot in places starting from Dehradun, Film City and Bulgaria. We also shot inside Filmcity, there are live shots in Bulgaria and Dehradun, then you have some of it shot inside studios in Hyderabad. It was shot across an entire year. Keeping track of that was harrowing. Then we had to match all the scenes and make it look like he was coming down the same mountain. But that is our job and we did it. Another tough scene was the avalanche scene, where they go for a trek.
Which is your favorite scene in the film?
There were many, it is hard to pick one as we made the film with lots of passion and love. But one of my personal favourite scenes from the film was the last one, where the little girl arrives at the airport and Shivaay is leaving her behind with her mother. There is a face-off between them and the way the little girl has performed is one of my favorites.
When you get a film, how do you first approach it? Is there a specific process you follow before going on a shoot?
I work on the script in terms of I create my color bible so it’s very numbered for me. I keep the edit of the film in mind, I colour them accordingly in my head… that this is the way the film looks. Once I do that exercise … it’s the overall design of the film that comes to mind. And there is no bigger cinematographer than nature… the light is changing all the time and adjustments have to be made all the time. So there is no fixed procedure anyone can follow but, sure, we do go on the sets after doing some amount of preparation.
The film shows the character’s transition from a regular guy in India, a trekker, to a concerned father who goes all out to find his daughter in an unknown country. Is there a visual transition also?
There is a visual transition because the country changes, the environment changes, the light changes, the people change. I believe you should not try to repair something that is not broken. So, we did not try to make it different; it was naturally different. For the character too, there is growth from being single to becoming a father. It was an organic change.
Yes, shooting in Bulgaria was difficult because when we arrived, the temperature was – 23 degrees and it plunged further, to – 30 degrees. It was difficult, especially for the action and
You shot Ajay Devgn’s first film as a director, U Me Aur Hum, in 2008. Now you are back again with Shivaay in 2016. During these eight years, how much has Devgn grown as a director and how would you describe him as a director?
There is a saying, ‘success has many fathers but failure is an orphan’. So if something becomes a hit, we talk about it differently. As a director, I would say that Ajay Devgn has always been clear with his vision. He is crystal clear about what he wants, he does his prep correctly and he is technically sound too. He doesn’t wake up one fine morning and decide to make a film, he works on it for a year. With Shivaay, he worked on it for a few years till he got everything right. He is a brilliant director.
Now that the film has released, what kind of response have you received?
The response has been very positive. In fact, when the trailer released, everyone praised the film as well as the way the film was shot. Many said this was the first time a Hindi film was shot like that. Even my friends in the West said the same thing.
What are the things you look for when you are offered a film?
I look forward to quality work. And besides the film itself, you want to work with good people as good experiences stay with you. I believe one should make at least five good friends from