Anil Mehta, through the lens

'A film is the coming together of many elements,' says the cinematographer -- Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.  


Hindi cinema cinematographer Anil Mehta vouches for the human mind sitting behind the technology-loaded camera.

Translating words into evocative images is a challenge for any artist, more so for a cinematographer today, when there is a constant bombardment of visuals around us. Anil Mehta, Bollywood’s cinematographer who has wielded the camera for films like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Lagaan, Veer-Zaara, Rockstar, Cocktail, Highway, and Badlapur says he’s always gone with the spirit of the piece and gut instinct when it comes to how he shoots. While he did stress that despite being recognised as a skill, cinematography is still underrated, he also emphasised, “A film is never made with just good and pretty shots. It’s made with narrative, and you should accept this.” He spoke to MetroPlus on the sidelines of the 8th Bengaluru International Film Festival.


Everyone speaks of ‘watching’ a movie. Is a film mostly visual?

I don’t feel that. It’s just a manner of speaking. For me all aspects of filmmaking have always been important. So even when I work as a cinematographer I’m conscious of where the sound recordist is, how the sound is being recorded. When I’m filming I’m conscious of how the film will cut, I’m aware of what the editor is going to be doing. And for me all aspects of filmmaking have to be at the top of your working process. Otherwise I don’t think you’re doing justice to movie making.

What is the mark of a good cinematographer?

To be able to listen before he can see. In the sense to be able to absorb what is being said, done, or performed. All these have to be absorbed before you translate it. I would say the quality is to be patient, to listen in, and to try and translate that into some kind of visual design.

What really is the soul of a frame?

Soul? I don’t know if that’s the right word! But I’m always aspiring towards a certain simplicity in my aesthetic. Because if you can distil your experience and make it simple, then I think the resonance is more deeply felt.

In an age when films are driven by special effects, computer graphics, animation and the like, what is the value of basic cinematography?

The value of that has never diminished. I think only in the public domain or in some popular conversations, the value of that basic aesthetic has changed. Otherwise, for people who work in film, I don’t think that has changed with the change in technology. For me these are just inverted comma, clichés you know, saying, ‘everything is done in post production’ or ‘we’ll fix it in post’. Depending on post-production to fix things is not so much about technology as it is about attitude towards your work. These are just jokes, because the person who’s got to go in there and create -- be it the director, editor, whoever -- have to invest and have the same kind of discipline, and aesthetic sensibility like they used to have, when movies were shot on film (non-digital).

There is this school of thought that technology has made everyone a photographer. Has it also made everyone a cinematographer?

So you’ll have to start naming those ‘everybody’. I feel the list is still the same. Digital cinematography has been around for 10 or 15 years now. But the list of cinematographers is still short -- of those who are recognised. So again it’s not the technology that’s making the movie, it’s the person. And that’s never going to change.

Recent films that have caught your eye for their cinematography?

I like younger cinematographers who have a new voice. Films like Chorus, Court, Masaan, Titli, Thithi, Aankhon Dekhi -- films that have a statement and an understatement in their work, are not screaming at you, but are reaching the film to you.

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Printable version | May 29, 2017 5:21:31 PM |