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Of Lenses And Frames

The cinematographer of Kahaani Satyajit Pande talks to Sagorika Dasgupta about his life and success story


When I was very young, I was introduced to photography by my uncle and aunt. My uncle Ranjan Palit is a famous cinematographer and I practically grew up with him in Kolkata. He suggested that I go to Mumbai if I wanted to make it big. I assisted Anil Mehta as an apprentice. Then I worked as an apprentice for three months with Sanjay Leela Bhansali when he was making Khamoshi.

Then I joined FTII in Pune and learnt documentary filmmaking. Later, I moved to Mumbai and did some work on Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Haasil and then finally Charas happened, which was his second film as a director. I did the cinematography for it.

Working With Aamir Khan

After Charas, there was a lull in my career in terms of films. I worked on a lot of commercials with Shoojit Sircar instead. Around that time, Aamir Khan approached Shoojit to work on his film Taare Zameen Par (TZP). But he was busy with something else and couldn’t do the film. So he recommended me to Aamir. It was a stroke of luck, and I was the DoP on the film. TZP got me a lot of recognition but I didn’t get many offers after the film. Maybe it was because of the so-called recession that the industry was facing at the time. So I went back to making documentaries and shooting ad films.

On Kahaani

At the time, my uncle Ranjan Palit was working on Vishal Bhardwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf (SKM). Sujoy Ghosh was very impressed with the film. He told my uncle that he wanted to sign him on for Kahaani but since he (uncle) was busy with SKM, he refused the offer and suggested me instead.

Perhaps Sujoy was a little sceptical about me since he wanted someone who could capture the essence of Kolkata. But as I had grown up in the same gullies of North Kolkata and Deshopriyo Park, which Sujoy wanted to showcase in his films, I knew exactly what he had envisioned. For me, Kahaani was like a match made in heaven. Sujoy and I were always on the same page about what the film needed. In a way, the film was my calling.

Thanks to Kahaani, I got approached by Raj Kumar Gupta for his upcoming film Ghanchakkar.

Lessons Learnt

Different types of filmmaking call for different approaches – commercials, documentaries, children’s films and thrillers. Documentaries are not scripted, so you have to be very nimble and quick-witted to capture the right movements at the right time. There are no retakes. It calls for presence of mind. There are no monitors to check what you have captured so you don’t know what the scene will look like when you return to the edit studio.

The children’s genre is another tricky one. Kids have a very low attention span and it’s a different ball game with them. You have to be very patient while shooting them and, God forbid, if they get upset, then you’ve had it! Besides, if they wear the perfect expression you want and you miss it, there is a very slim chance they will repeat the reaction. Kids teach you the value of giving your actors and characters space. And if you work as a team, you can crack the toughest of scenes in the blink of an eye.

For a thriller like Kahaani, we worked with hand-held cameras so it was more like documentary filmmaking. And we had to shoot in a lot of crowded places. We had to hide the camera a whole lot. I have immense respect for Vidya Balan. The crowd often went a little crazy on seeing her but she was so very calm.

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