‘I hope for a gender-neutral world’

Yellow mellow: Cinematographer Archana Borhade; (below) a still from the film Idak.

Yellow mellow: Cinematographer Archana Borhade; (below) a still from the film Idak.   | Photo Credit: Prashant Nakwe

Archana Borhade, the first female cinematographer to win the State award, hopes that one day only merit will matter

The black tea in front of cinematographer Archana Borhade has turned cold. But she doesn’t mind; her eyes have lit up as she talks about her craft. “Without the character showing it, the cinematographer is able to show the soul of that scene,” says the Best Cinematographer winner from the 55th Maharashtra State Film Awards – also the first woman to win it. Borhade is describing a scene to me from In Cold Blood (1967) shot by Conrad L. Hall, when Robert Blake tearlessly talks about his father. The shadow of the rain spattering on a window casts down his face like tears, betraying the character’s conflicted emotions.

Questions and answers

Then Borhade moves on, without catching her breath, talking about her idol Roger Deakins. Squeezing a slice of lemon into her tea, she recounts hooting excitedly when he bagged the Oscar for Blade Runner 2049 in 2017 – his 14th nomination. In contrast, she is much more restrained and modest about her own award win for Idak: The Goat (2017) about a young man’s journey to fulfil his mother’s dreams. The film’s trailer was also launched at the India Pavilion at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. “I didn’t even know we were in the running for the State awards,” says the former engineer with Wipro who quit the corporate life to pursue films. The cinematographer partnered with first-time feature director Deepak Gawade (who liked her work in the Marathi sci-fi romance Phuntroo, 2016) on Idak. Gawade laughingly admits Borhade asked “too many questions” that “at times also irritated me.” He relents, “But those questions were very important. She wouldn’t let me do [anything without] logic.” This thorough process and relentless questioning has been the springboard of her 11-year-long career.

Borhade’s visual consistency and steady vocabulary is evident in Nikhil Mahajan’s cineplay Baaki Itihaas (2017). To amplify the cineplay’s theatricality, she experimented solely with lights to divide the narrative. “We wanted a black and white look, so she used white lights,” says Mahajan explaining how it complemented the grey production design. Borhade only made the switch to yellow lights when the narrative was being retold – creating a warmer look.

On her next project, Shrirang Deshmukh’s Ek Nirnaywhich releases this week the cinematographer’s approach was subtle. “[I lit emotional scenes up] with a higher contrast ratio to make it more dramatic,” she says. The film, which releases this week, is a family drama unlike anything Borhade has done before.

It’s a complex tale about a couple’s trials and tribulations to have children. “[I] never wanted to take attention away from [the story],” she explains, adding that different colour palettes were used to denote the film’s two time periods separated by a span of seven years.

Chance encounters

As a student of Mindscreen Film Institute, Chennai, Borhade met wildlife cinematographer and Emmy award winner Alphonse Roy during a masterclass. “I just chewed his brain,” laughs Borhade. Roy, who remembered the session, got the cinematographer to assist on the thriller Aamir (2008) – her first project in the industry. Then as fate would have it, a later chance meeting with actor Mohan Agashe led Borhade to pursue a technical skill instead of waiting for the opportunity to direct. “He said ‘If you are a storyteller, nobody will be able to stop you,’” she recounts, marking her first stride as a cinematographer.

The cinematographer has most recently worked on a short film based on Bihar’s Akhand Jyoti Eye Hospital and their initiative to train underprivileged girls to become optometrists. Currently, Borhade is working on a short documentary about a female farmer in Chhattisgarh. It’s clear that her camera frequently captures the stories of women, a pattern that’s born from her understanding of their experience. But at the same time, Borhade clarifies, “I really hope for a gender-neutral world where we are rated purely on our merits and talents.”

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 2:16:35 AM |

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