'We are image makers at the end of the day'

Priya Seth  

Priya Seth is a name not many knew before Airlift. The cinematographer has years of experience in ad films and shot Raja Menon’s 2009 indie film, Barah Aana. Airlift was shot on a larger scale, and with it, Raja Menon and she drew more attention, all deserving. Priya is still getting plenty of compliments for her work in the Akshay Kumar starrer. “The response has been incredible, from peers and from people who barely know me. It’s a blessing to get this kind of warmth,” she gushes. She is on a short break, before taking up her next project. “It was hectic for more than a year and a half,” she says.

If Raja Menon hadn’t insisted that he wanted Priya, with whom he had worked on many projects earlier, she wouldn’t have been a part of Airlift. The inside story is that it needed quite a bit of convincing from Raja Menon to emphasise that Priya was cut out for the job. “The pressure was on Raja and he took a risk. I am thick skinned enough to not let gender notions weigh me down,” she says.

Priya was confident she will pull through, she says, since her learning came from international cinema and advertising than Hindi cinema. “Raja, Ram Madhvani (director of Neerja) and me are cinematic people, beyond Bollywood,” she says.

Nevertheless, she was conscious that Airlift was not going to be an easy project. “The scale was big, not the budget. We shot in over 50 locations. There was no question of extending the shoot or going back to re-shoot. This involved intense preparation. We had to have creative solutions,” she reminisces.

She came aboard Airlift in July 2014, a whole year after Raja Menon and others. In early 2015, they did a location recce to identify places that would resemble Kuwait in 1990. “Kuwait today doesn’t look like what it was in 1990. We shot in Sharjah and areas of Ras al-Khaimah which still has low rise buildings and signage with neon lamps.”

The script was given to her with blank pages on one side where she scribbled her thoughts, visualising as she read. “If there was a sand storm, how would people react? They would immediately shut windows and doors. What time of the day was it? What kind of light would be available? I had detailed notes,” she shares.

A particularly nerve-wracking scene was Ranjit Katyal (Akshay) driving back home from the embassy, realising the gravity of the situation in the newly war-torn nation. “Something seemed wrong to show just choreographed action sequences. We decided to focus on the car; you get a sense of the war from what’s visible from the car’s windows. It was easier said than done. We shot this in one take,” she explains.

Airlift also brought her back to work with Nimrat Kaur, with whom she had shot a music video in 2004. “We cut our teeth with independent music videos. Nimrat, Apurva (writer and editor Apurva Asrani of Aligarh) and I worked together for ‘Yeh kya hua tera mera pyar’. We were happy to make something beautiful.”

Priya studied economics in college, took up a six-month course in filmmaking in New York. There, she realised she wanted to be a part of this whole image-making exercise and chose cinematography. Advertising will always be dear to her, she declares, “We are image makers at the end of the day.”

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 7:49:28 AM |

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