Enhancing a director's vision

Enhancing a director's vision

the perfect take Cinematographer Pravin Bhatt

The 75-year-old veteran, who since almost a decade now works only for his son (“Vikram told me I should retire, which I refused. So he said, ‘In that case, work only in my films, so that you will be in my care. Vikram is as loving a son as he is talented!’), has always made it a point to follow certain principles in his life and work. Excerpts from an interview:

How did you get your first break?

I was assisting Bipin Gajjar, who shot Goonj Uthi Shehnai and Hariyali Aur Rasta. When my father planned Himalay Ki God Mein, his first colour film, I asked him to try me out. In fact, I literally pressurised him to test my work for two days and then decide. My father liked what I shot, but heroine Mala Sinha was justifiably apprehensive. She wanted a well-known veteran to supervise my work. I refused. But after she saw what I had done, she was okay.

Why was there a lull in your career in the 60s?

I guess they all assumed that I was not for sale and restricted to the family banner, so the only outside films that I did were small-budget ones like Mahua and Raton Ka Raja. In the 70s I did big films though. But the turnaround came when Mahesh Bhatt started his first film, Manzilein Aur Bhi Hai, in 1974. It was ahead of its time and flopped, but my work was noticed. I worked with him in most of his best films like Arth, the telefilm Janam, Kaash, Naam, Aashiqui, Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin and so on. In the 80s I also got to do Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom, Khud-daar and Kaalia, Mukul S Anand’s Aitbaar, and Sultanat and Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan. I even directed three films, none of which worked, but Bhavna starring Shabana Azmi got critical appreciation.

Your work was always in sync with advancing decades and technological progress. Even in the 70s, it was more natural than the others.

I always shot what I saw. I was never scared of colour or using too many filters. Bipin-ji and some other people gave me invaluable tips. I would also refrain from fancy work that could distract the audience from the storytelling, or drew undue attention to the cinematography. The idea is to enhance a director’s vision and storytelling, and not crave for remarks like ‘Waah, kya shot hai!’ at the expense of a film. However, the 70s and early 80s were the worst phase for cinematographers. Overworked stars gave just two to three hours for one shoot. They looked tired and had scant regard for fitness. Such haphazard working made sets economically non-viable.

And yet we saw good work.

Yes, but that was because of the directors. Directors have to be visually conscious to get good work from a cameraman. Vikram today is one such director. Shekhar Kapur, Mahesh Bhatt and Muzaffar Ali were some others. But my style was always natural. Other very celebrated names across eras had what I call an aggressive style of photography.

What do you think of the whizkids in cinematography today?

I loved Amit Roy’s work in Sarkar, his work reflected my beliefs. But I am totally against those high-profile people who order truckloads of generators when a single generator would suffice, and waste resources of filmmakers who are not savvy or bold enough to ask them to be accountable just because the cameramen have a great branding! Such cinematographers even waste time and wrap up just four shots in a day. How can they
waste resources, that too, without delivering superior work?

What about the digital revolution?

It’s amazing! Years ago, I took Photoshop classes for six months so that no one could fool me about what can and can’t be done. I keep in touch with youngsters rather than going for walks with people of my age, from most of whom one only gets anti-life vibes! I love planning out things with the Visual Effects and Digital Intermediate people so that their post-production work is simplified. And films like my son’s Three and Shaapit are very difficult and challenging.

You have canned quite a few debut films of actors. Do you put in extra effort for their debuts?

I do read faces, particularly of heroines, because angles and lighting are important for actresses.  

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