'Best stories are told from the heart'

'Best stories are told from the heart'

He has been living in Los Angeles for the past few years and has worked on projects ranging from feature films to TV commercials and from TV shows to short films. But cinematographer Farhad Ahmed Dehlvi is best known for this work as a camera assistant in Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’ and Vishal Bharadwaj’s ‘Kaminey’.

He likes to assume the role of a narrator when behind the lens and feels his directorial debut ‘Seher Hone Tak - Till the Morning Comes’ is a creative extension of what he has been doing. The film explores the lonely existence of an elderly woman living alone in a Mumbai high rise and it was screened at Cannes Film Festival last year. He spoke to Shilpa Raina on his exciting journey from to LA.

How were you drawn towards cinematography?
My parents are filmmakers, and I spent much of my childhood on sets with them. I was spellbound the first time I saw the footage edited together to create the scene. I couldn’t believe that fragmented sequences, shot hours apart, in a ‘jumbled up order’, could create a compelling reality when put together. The magic of moving images captured my imagination instantly. A photography class at school showed me the power of images to express emotions and to connect people in a very fundamental way. Looking back at it now, I realise that the technical aspect of photography also made it accessible to me.

What is the role of a cinematographer?
As a cinematographer, I assume the role of narrator, introducing new ideas and emotions to the audience, creating a visual rhythm that enhances the impact of the story. All emotional content passes through the camera on to the audience. Each frame reflects a conscious decision to either convey or withhold information; this can strongly affect how the audience relates to the film. How characters are treated visually, the space they occupy in the frame greatly affects the audiences’ perception of the story.  The ability to define and alter the relationship between the characters and the audience is one of the greatest strengths of film as a narrative medium.

What has working and studying in Los Angeles taught you?
I have come to understand how similar all forms of filmmaking really are. It is all about finding the emotional truth of the story and communicating this in the most
effective manner.

Since you have worked in India and abroad, how different is the work experience?
Having worked in India as well as the United States, with crews from all over the world, what strikes me is the overwhelming similarity between the two industries. Film truly is a mass medium.  It connects with the audience on a fundamental and emotional level. The collaborative nature of the creative process is one of the things that initially attracted me to filmmaking and working in Los Angeles has shown me that this collaboration has the potential to transcend barriers of culture and language. The entire crew has to work in harmony towards the common goal of realising the director’s vision.

Elaborate on your transition from a cinematographer to a filmmaker?
 The story of ‘Seher Hone Tak – Till the Morning Comes’ was very close to my heart, and I felt I could serve it best by directing that film. I see myself as a visual artist, and continue to work as a cinematographer, creating compelling images that connect with the audience. The process of making films and sharing them with an audience gives me tremendous joy. This is true whether I am the director or the cinematographer — every day I am grateful to be able do what I love.

What, according to you, is a good film? Unconventional films like ‘Masaan’ and ‘Titli’ have generated good response not only at international film festivals, but from Indian audience as well.I think that the best stories are told from the heart, whether they are independent films or big studio pictures.

There are countless examples in Indian cinema of masterful filmmaking from both studios as well as independent filmmakers.

I am a firm believer that a film made with sincere desire to tell the story effectively and a film that maintains the integrity of the vision behind the script, which takes the audience out of their seats and into a richly imagined, visually cohesive world for two-and-a-half hours, will be tremendously successful.

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