Kalpvriksh - The Wish Tree - Yours Dreams Are Just a Touch Away – Rajiv Jain Cinematographer

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Kalpvriksh - The Wish Tree - Yours Dreams Are Just a Touch Away – Rajiv Jain Cinematographer
Two-time Winner Indian Cinematographer Rajiv Jain ICS WICA Creates Special World of Light, Shadows in his recent film Kalpvriksh the Wish Tree Yours Dreams Are Just a Touch Away
Rajiv Jain has a way of seeing that takes an image to its outer limits. In his years as assistant, electrician, grip, and in the past 16 years as director of photography, he has developed a visual sensitivity and expertise.
Rajiv takes his inspiration from directors such as Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali) and cinematographers Ashok Mehta, ISC (36 Chowrangi Lane) and Binod Pradhan (Parinda) for their use of colour and lights and shadow to amplify the emotional content of stories. I find the ability to allow the characters to operate in shadow is a real art, he says. Ashok Mehta allows his characters to function in darkness. He lights everything so the blacks are really rich - yet you can see everything.
His work in Kalpvriksh, a film by director Manika Sharma exudes a period quality with an edge. Rajiv was especially intrigued by the non-narrative, fragmented script, because it offered a myriad of visual possibilities. Shooting primarily on Kodak to give contrast to the exterior scenes, Rajiv experimented with warm and blue filters to get the look he wanted. The result is a stark, almost surreal journey into the minds and actions of the film's bizarre characters.
Up-front collaboration on any film is essential, Rajiv emphasizes.
It's important for me to go through the script scene by scene with the director Manika Sharma, Rajiv says, to try to see what is in her mind. I want to know what the scene is saying, who the most important character is at that moment, and how the characters move through the scene. We also share photographs and movies, which gives us a visual base to work from.
A graduate of Bhartendu Academy of Dramatic Arts in Drama and a beginning still photography, Rajiv took a course in filmmaking. Intrigued by the film medium, he saw the possibilities of combining his interests with film in commercials. Searching for a way to learn camerawork, he offered his assistance (unpaid) to cameraman Subroto Mitra to learn the craft.
He taught me about his SR package, what the lenses were, and how to load magazines, he said. Then he started me by working on Shyam Benegal’s documentary on Nehru.
In 1996, Rajiv got the first opportunity to shoot a film, Army, with Mukul Anand. After eight weeks of stressful shooting - his every move was watched.
After 6 more features, then came Kalpvriksh in 2007, allowed Rajiv to explore a new visual technique to add nuance to the story. The film includes a dreamlike journey that Rajiv wanted to give a dreamlike quality. We tested filters and a bleach bypass process to give that section of the film its own special look," he says. "Instead we decided to use a swing tilt, a view camera attachment that allows the operator to change the plane of focus. It let us throw different parts of the frame out of focus, which is difficult to do in a wide shot because of increased depth of field.
Rajiv is currently finishing production on Carry on Pandu, a feature being shot in Mumbai, as well as doing Commercials.
Full of Surprises! Rajiv Jain, Indian Cinematographer / DOP, Talks About... KALPVRIKSH (THE WISHING TREE): YOUR DREAMS... ARE JUST A TOUCH AWAY...
Like any artist, Rajiv was born with innate talent burnished by experience and cultural influences. Born in 1968, his first introduction to movie magic came while observing his uncle as a projectionist at Ravindralaya Theatre, Lucknow. “I remember sitting in that little projection room and watching films with my uncle,” the Indian cinematographer recalls. “It was like watching silent movies because you couldn’t hear sound in the booth. I just saw the images and would try to understand the story. My uncle would show us Charlie Chaplin movies, which, of course, were silent. There is no doubt that he put his dream of becoming a cinematographer into my heart.” Originally from India, cinematographer Rajiv Jain ICS WICA studied at the Bhartendu Academy of Dramatic Arts in Lucknow, India.
The day after completing his studies, Rajiv went to work as a trainee on an anamorphic picture. He contributed to ten more movies as assistant cameraman before becoming a DOP. “From that moment on I considered the camera to be like a pen that you use to draw images,” he states. “Operating a camera is mainly about composition and rhythm. I also operated the camera for Bollywood songs. It was very primitive. While we were shooting, someone with a watch was timing every pan and zoom. He would say, ‘You have 5 1/2 seconds to do that zoom.’ It was a great lesson for me, learning to make each element of a shot work in that amount of time.”
I thought it was fascinating that film speaks a common language that everyone in the world can understand," he recalls. "That's especially true for cinematographers, because we are communicating with the audience non-verbally." “To me, making a film is like resolving conflicts between light and dark, cold and warmth, blue and orange or other contrasting colours. There should be a sense of energy, or change of movement. A sense that time is going on — light becomes night, which reverts to morning. Life becomes death. Making a film is like documenting a journey and using light in the style that best suits that particular picture… the concept behind it.
The first important decision regarding the visuals was to shoot in anamorphic (2.4:1) format, as they had done on Kalpvriksh – The Wishing Tree. Rajiv explains that Manika likes to manipulate the subjective and objective viewpoints, sometimes in the same frame or even at the same time. In a simple example, a shot will begin on a subject, and then an actor will step into the frame, creating an over-the-shoulder shot, changing it from subjective––in which the viewer sees what the character sees––to objective. "One of my first suggestions was shooting Kalpvriksh – The Wishing Tree in Super 35 format," Rajiv continues. "I felt that would give the film an edge that you don't expect to see in Drama. I felt we could use the wider frame to create a claustrophobic feeling in the Shabana’s cave and more interesting composition showing Shabana in the world." She, director Manika Sharma, designer Mansi and other members of the creative team discussed the possibilities for composing Kalpvriksh – the Wishing Tree in widescreen format, while drawing upon such visual references as another drama with an improbable theme. Though Manika storyboarded scenes, Rajiv utilized the sketches primarily as a communications tool. While shooting, the director remained open to veering from the storyboards to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. “Our production designer Mansi and costume designer gave us rich sets and costumes. Even though pushing two stops in the development sometimes is not as faithful to colours, their collaboration with this technique allowed us (especially in the dinner / fantasy sequences) to have a warm and yellow-looking scene, as if all that was lit was candle light,” he says.
In one dramatically lit scene, the school principal (Mahabano Kotwal) is sitting on the chair, looking out a window at the falling rain. “The whole scene was lit with one hard day light, an ARRI 6K,” says Rajiv. “We brought one light through the window. In order to light the door, we used a 4 by 4 mirror just out of frame to the right. The light is modulated by the rain on the window, and it stretched over to the book. We were ‘gathering chestnuts.’ It was serendipitous, and it all worked out with one light.” “For fill light on this movie, we used either very, very little or absolutely none,” he adds. “I find that with the film stocks we were using, if you’re overexposing a little bit, you can read the shadow detail incredibly well. When I saw the picture at Theatre on the 70-foot-wide screen, on the dark side, which is dead black, you can actually see hairs going into actors’ heads. I found it very interesting. I hope it works on a subconscious level for the audience.” Even though Rajiv knew that he could not shoot wide open at a T2 or a T2.8––because the Super 35 format chosen has a shallower depth––he still wanted this tool to give the story a greater stage presence. The bigger negative allowed him to push the envelope. And, he knew the grain would still be acceptable, if he stayed within the T2.8 to T4 ranges on interiors. “We could still use real sources and it wouldn’t be hard for our camera crew to follow focus,” he says confidently.
Like many of his colleagues, cinematographer Rajiv Jain has many concerns about changes that can be introduced to imagery during the post process of our electronic age. Such considerations only become intensified when one is dealing with a profusion of visual effects, which was the case with Kalpvriksh – The Wishing Tree. "I tried to make a concerted effort to stay as involved in postproduction as possible - which is sometimes tough because it's 'off to the next job' - to work with the digital effects and optical house to ensure that there wouldn't be any problems with the answer printing process. “You don’t see any lights in the master shot,” he says. “The master shot that we started out with was an impossible shot to light. We were jammed back in the corner with a 35 mm lens and there was a two-way mirror in the background. So we used a technique Rajiv Jain called a ‘driller.’ Simply put, you’re normally shooting horizontally across a room, and there are horizontal surfaces, like the tops of mantels and tables. If you come from directly overhead with a light and drill it down onto that surface, it works quite well. It doesn’t seem wrong. If light comes from a place that’s not normal or usual, people seem to accept the element that’s being illuminated without really figuring out what’s going on in terms of a source. Shadows go straight down, so they don’t end up looking strange or calling attention to the source. You see it on the table and then it comes off the table and lights the faces to a degree. It’s interesting because you’re not lighting the people at all. You’re lighting the environment that they’re in.
Anamorphic gives you the space in the frame to do that,” Rajiv says. “Manika has no problem filling an anamorphic frame in a contemporary picture. The story also has an elegiac aspect, so it seemed better to tell it without rock video cutting and frenetic camera movement. With the amazing cast, we knew this film would be about the performances. All those ideas––as well as ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’––factored into our decision to shoot anamorphic.” To determine a visually appropriate approach for the various moods needed in Kalpvriksh – The Wishing Tree, Manika and Rajiv chose to forego in large part the usual business of viewing other films during prep. "We used a lot of book work, referring to other kinds of artists working in two-dimensional forms, still photography and drawings mainly," Rajiv relates. "This was a nice and different way to prep. Looking at movies to see how a particular sequence worked is great, but this approach started me on this incredible round of self-education, covering still photography from 1890 up 'til now. Now I can't stop myself from buying the books. It is amazing how much visual reference source material is out there when you go back to basics. These were great jumping-off points for us.
The cinematographer also had to avoid telltale reflections of camera gear and personnel on the water surface. Along with a disciplined crew, that required careful light placement and camera angle selection. He discovered that putting the plastic at the right distance from the lens for tighter shots from Shawn's point-of-view rendered slightly distorted images with a hint of grain, which amplified the look that he and director Manika desired. Rajiv also occasionally added reflections of characters and objects on the water's surface to draw attention to the barrier separating the boy from other people. Sometimes the camera takes a subjective, spectator-like stance while other times the audience seems to share Shawn's life-in-the-bubble experience. "There was no simple formula for deciding when to put the audience inside the bubble with Shawn. It was a question I asked the director for each shot in every scene. Are we with Shawn inside the bubble, or are we outside looking in?"
I didn’t believe this and obviously neither did neither director Manika Sharma nor producing company Rhombus Films. Another picture shot in an old house in Bollywood required us to actually operate two generators to power all of the lights. By the time we were done, however, I was able to shoot two-thirds of a long sequence by dollying along with the reflections seen in a long fishpond at night (Shabana’s cave). “I think it’s a visual reflection of the fact that one’s position in life can change almost instantaneously,” he says. “It’s extremely effective visually. It seems to work on a number of different levels. Using this different approach seems to freshen up all your overs and reverses. There’s a very interesting scene between Shabana and kid that was staged on an under the tree, and there’s a sense of disquiet and possible aggression. It’s very ambiguous, yet the spatial dynamics really underscore the feeling.”
There is a great advantage in working on location versus a studio. For example, the muslim house I mentioned had real marble floors. An experienced DOP knows how to utilize this reality something he can only simulate in a studio," mused Rajiv. Reflectors were used extensively throughout the film, usually on the fill side to pick up some ambience or an edge of the keylight, and to redirect some of that light to the fill side. In most cases it was very subtle, however, just reflecting in the shine of the skin. “We used the reflectors as almost more of an eyelight,” Rajiv says. “There is such tension between these three characters. There are a lot of internal emotions beneath the surface of this movie. I felt that the audience needed to have access to the internal life of the characters, so I tried to keep eyelights going, especially when we’d get in close. Often it was done with a small reflector thrown in at the last moment.
One of the most important aspects included previsualizing the character of Shabana herself. "To nail her down, we started off by working on storyboards with an artist," says Rajiv, "who drew terrific boards and is a brilliant artist as well. We told him our thoughts on how the Shabana looked and he set to work. Manika credits him with creating a good part of the final look, since his drawings were used to communicate to hair, make-up and wardrobe departments what Manika wanted for his look." Part of Cave ' guise involved the use of a wig that often obscured the actor's face - which on occasion made for a less than ideal lighting situation. "During hair and make-up tests, I saw that while Shabana looked amazing, they were going to be difficult to deal with for 2 weeks. She had a big headgear and a huge costume also, so there was a question of whether we were ever going to be able to really see her. I told Manika that at times she was on the verge of becoming a headgear with hair. Being very sensitive to the needs of actors, Manika didn't want to get the hair out of her face, so we tried not to mess with her and solve it on our own."
On Kalpvriksh – The Wishing Tree, Rajiv opted for Vision 200T (5274) for everything but night exteriors, explaining that the smooth grain of this non-intrusive emulsion records deep blacks, true colours and a wide tonal range. Rajiv shot day exteriors on Eastman EXR 100T (5248), using an 81 EF filter to half-correct and retain the cool blue of winter. Daylight-balanced 250D (5246) Vision stock was selected for day interiors, while he exploited Vision 500T (5279) on most night interiors and exteriors. Since shooting, the cinematographer did extensive tests with different materials to search for the right thickness and translucency. "It's the same as using a cheap filter on the lens and we realized that any distortion or loss of focus would be magnified when the lab optically 'squeezed' the images into the 2.40 aspect ratio. In addition to selecting the right plastic, it was important for us to record a strong negative with properly focused images. We were shooting through filters at least 90 percent of the time.
While shooting forest scenes with the lead actor, Rajiv employed what he calls a Nine-light sandwich. "Others might call it a book light, but in any case, we were bouncing a Nine-light Maxi Brute off a piece of bead board, then letting the light pass through a diffusion frame usually fitted with either 216 or light grid. The resulting soft light striking He had a very beautiful quality, plus some serious pounding of foot-candles. This soft light had enough to punch through Shabana’s hair, and I could control the amount of light just by clicking off various globes. But it also required a lot of flagging and took up much space." On other occasions, Rajiv illuminated the Forest by directing the light from more extreme angles. "I came in much lower and more frontal with his key than I would have normally, but the approach succeeded in letting her hair fall naturally, so, while it was tough, it worked. It did make me thankful for the scenes when Shabana is dressed up with her hair pulled back, since I could get a nice edge on her through side lighting."
When kids arrive at tree before the climax, production established the famously setting by filming the actors in front of blue screen and green screen. Those elements were digitally composited with stock background plates culled from Ladakh. Harry and Arjun from Red Chillies’ in-house facility supervised the visual effect shots. "I don't think these scenes could be any more believable if we had travelled to Ladakh to film them live," marvels Rajiv. "How can you miss when you begin with 70 millimetre background plates? We matched everything to those plates."
There were a few daylight scenes in there, so we decided that cracks in the cave roof let hard sunlight in," he continues. "I put some signs of this in on the walls behind the actors and let some light bounce off the floor. For the most part though, the cave scenes are set at night - lit by firelight or lanterns or the imaginary glow coming off, which isn't plugged into anything. For the Water, I chose to use a slightly blue key light on the actors but didn't put any flickering movement in because I felt that it was distracting. The only flickering on their faces comes from the actual water. What I did add was a slight flicker effect on the walls, which I found to be more pleasing while lending a bit of realism.
Front-end lab work was done by Gemini, which provided film dailies. "After her experiences in the commercial world where you work on a monitor all the time, Manika loved watching film dailies - it opened up a new world for her," says Rajiv. "For example, there is a shot of a Shabana delivering a line at the end of a long shot under the tree. When Manika saw it played back on the [video tap] monitor, she didn't feel good about it. She seemed too small in the shot. She remarked that maybe her line would have to disappear in editing. After some time, Manika saw it projected on a big screen and loved the shot." When asked if such glad tidings extend to the on-screen drama as well, Rajiv smiles, and says, "Would you be surprised if I said there is a happy ending?"
The cinematographer does not use diffusion on the camera lens, instead preferring to soften his subject as needed by selectively affecting the light source. "I've never liked it in films when the overall resolution of the lens changes visibly during cuts in to a close-up during a scene," he declares. "The whole business of putting heavy diffusion in front of the lens to make [an actress] look 'better' is just crazy to me. I don't want to see the cinematographer's effort to make someone look good. Instead, I want to see the character look well, and I think that happens when the actor is both integrated into the scene properly and lit in a flattering manner. My solution is to soften at the source of illumination, and let the image be as clear as possible. Some people think Primo lenses are too sharp, but I love all that perfection. When you combine years and years of research and development on the film stocks from Kodak, with what has gone into these Arri lenses and the lab work at Gemini, and then put all that into a film being projected properly on screen, the result is such awesome perfection! So I take a lot of pride in delivering a really perfect negative. We may want to mess it up later, and that's fine, but I believe in starting with something well-exposed and sharp."
With all the many visual treatments necessary to depict the Shabana's perceptions, Rajiv and Manika needed to settle on parameters early on for the more elaborate manifestations requiring visual effects. "We're telling a story that is seen in part through the eyes of a crazy person," offers Rajiv. "She's an incredibly brilliant crazy person, but crazy nonetheless, so there's a sense of the fantastic about these visions, but they are not in the tradition of science-fiction movie effects. We had submitted a wish list of visual effects for budgeting, but it came back priced four or five times higher than we hoped. This meant we had to pull back, and that decision ultimately worked better for the film we wound up making. Most of the effects are things we did ourselves, with practical light cues, or as a combination of those cues with digital enhancement."
I'm glad that this movie's look seems interesting to the eye, but I'm also pleased that the visuals don't supersede the story. Early reviews are praising Shabana's performance as one of the best she's ever given, so it wouldn't make sense to do anything that took away from that aspect. Lots of films now seem overwhelmed with effects, but Manika isn't one to tell that type of story.
When Indian Cinematographer Rajiv Jain, ICS WICA is asked if, he would do anything differently today, the master artiste replies, “Ninety-nine percent of the time when I see my old films I am serene. It was the best I could do at that time of my life with what I had to work with. What’s important is your life and how you evolve as a human being and as an artist.
Q & A With Rajiv Jain, ICS WICA Indian Cinematographer on Film Kalpvriksh - The Wish Tree - Your Dreams Are Just a Touch Away
Indian Director of Photography, Rajiv Jain, ICS WICA is a Cinematographer based in Mumbai, India. Rajiv specializes in shooting television commercials in the 35mm motion picture film format as well as HD Digital formats. Rajiv started in the early days of the music video revolution, before venturing into narrative filmmaking. His eclectic body of work includes Army, Badhaai Ho Badhaai, Carry on Pandu, Kadachit, Kalpvriksh - The Wish Tree, Mirabai Notout, Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi and Rasstar .
QUESTION: Where were you born and raised?
RAJIV: I was born in Lucknow, India. There was no seminal event that happened to me as a young person that made me want to be a cinematographer. It certainly wasn’t the quality of the light in Lucknow. I remember it was gray; was stained brown from the traffic and the sky dark. But as I say that, I realize the suppressed palette of the place did affect me emotionally. Saturates leaped out against that neutrals, as in a dream or a post-industrial nightmare.
QUESTION: What did your parents do?
RAJIV: My parents were just ordinary folks. I don’t think they were particularly ambitious for me. Their main concern, I think, was that I wasn’t an embarrassment. We moved to the Etawah and then back to Lucknow, where I completed my education. My degrees were in Theatre Arts.
QUESTION: Did you have a career goal at that point in life?
RAJIV: I wanted to be a writer, but like Mohan Rakesh I thought too much and wrote too little. That is too say I was more a reader then a writer, more academician then poet. I got very interested in semiology and structuralism (the study of how language encodes ideas). Initially I studied how the spoken and written language worked, but then became more interested in how codes worked in other languages, like the language of film. My interest in film language led me in a rather convoluted way to cinematography.
QUESTION: That’s interesting. Can you be a little more specific?
RAJIV: I became very interested in understanding how in altering light, composition, camera angles and camera movement a cinematographer alters an audiences perception of the visual event, and thereby the audience’s emotional response. It is a difficult thing to quantify. I remember specifically thinking back to seeing Pather Panchali when I was a child, and how its images had always remained in my imagination, not only for their pure beauty and sublime scale, but because they affected me emotionally, striking some unconscious but responsive cord. Later I saw Ray's "The Apu Trilogy". I had much the same response, but now my understanding was informed by my studies. It would be accurate to say that the cinematographers of these two films, Subroto Mitra, were those who most influenced my decision to become a cinematographer.
QUESTION: How did you make a connection between words and photography?
RAJIV: In writing essays and articles about film. I realized that film images worked very much the way the spoken/written language works. You want to express certain ideas. There are culturally agreed and understood codas. These shapes, which we call letters, have agreed upon pronunciations. These letters form words. These words have agreed meanings. But it is of course arbitrary. The word “cat” has no innate “catness” about it, but on hearing this word the listener forms an idea in their brain. A cat. We can then add adjectives, and qualifiers, to make it a black cat, or an angry black cat. These words are codes, but not universal codes. They are specific to a culture that shares that language. Photography in some respects is a much more complex language system. The denotative (specific) or connotative (symbolic or implied) meaning of an image can be ambiguous, but also complex. Perhaps the best literary analogy is the Haiku poem. The fewer words have greater potential meaning — the more words that are added in longer literary forms, the more specific the meaning. An image offers both specific and non-specific meanings. It can work on many layers, conscious and not.
QUESTION: Did you have any mentors or were you totally self-taught?
RAJIV: I’ve learned a lot from other DP’s. But it’s mainly from studying their work. Ashok Mehta and I talk a lot, and he’s given me a great deal. But I was self-taught. I studied art extensively, particularly early 20th century artists, and late 19th century artists. I learned a lot about light from them. I’ve stolen an idea from every good film I’ve seen, probably. Particularly the work of Subroto Mitra (ISC), Ashok Mehta (ISC), Binod Pradhan, and Santosh Sivan (ISC).
QUESTION: Do you think of yourself as an artist, a technician or both?
RAJIV: I think that’s a very important distinction. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but if you consider the nature of art, it is meant to give us new eyes to see the world. I want audiences to respond viscerally to what our intentions are for a film. I think that cinematography works very much like music in that it is difficult for us to measure or quantify why audiences respond to what we do. So it is an art. And its practitioners must therefore be artists.
QUESTION: Tell us more about your analogy of music and cinematography.
RAJIV: I can sit in dailies and I can see the other people watching the film with me respond physically and emotionally to the images; but it is very difficult quantifying what they are responding to. If you watch people listening to music, they may also respond, but you would hard put to quantify why they are responding.
QUESTION: I’ll borrow a phrase from Subroto Mitra, who said, cinematographers are the authors of the images. But, that isn’t widely recognized.
RAJIV: Part of the problem lies with our collective culture. Films are reviewed as theatre rather than as a unique art form. Critics will talk about scripts and performances. They talk about things they understand, but they understand them because their own cultural antecedents are principally in traditional theatre, though they may not recognize that. In this context, cinematography and music aren’t understood, except to say they were beautiful, because there is not a particular language developed within criticism for their description. Unfortunately, many reviewers don’t recognize how decisions made by the director, cinematographer and composer made a profound impact on the visceral reactions and intellectual responses of audiences. I’m not saying that cinematographers aren’t recognized. We are, at least within the industry, but not in the consumer press. I don’t think I read a single review that mentioned the significance of Subroto Mitra’s (ISC) decision to use 16mm film and other formats in certain scenes in The River, yet that made a profound impact. I consider that a significant artistic decision worthy of comment, in fact, essential to an audiences understanding of the film’s artistic treatment.
QUESTION: The collaboration between directors and cinematographers is unique.
RAJIV: An important thing about that collaboration is that cinematographers have to integrate their vision for a film with the director’s vision.
QUESTION: Do the many music videos you shot influence you today?
RAJIV: Not really. None of my films look like music videos, but the great thing about music videos was that we could experiment with different lighting, film stocks, lenses and filters. We would decide to try putting four filters on the lens, force process the film, or put a negative through a reversal film postproduction process to see how it comes out, and then try it again the other way around. It was a great way to learn.
QUESTION: Are there other cinematographers whose work you follow?
RAJIV: I can mention all the obvious names, but the truth is I learn from all cinematographers. I can watch a television program shot by a 29-year-old cinematographer and find something that he or she did that is quite interesting. I’m constantly learning from other people. I still read every magazine and journal about cinematography and photography that I can lay my hands on. I still study art. I collect books of photographers and paintings. But it’s not just the good work that others do that I learn from. I learn from my own mistakes that I have had ample opportunity to make over these last 20 years. When my son Adam was in the seventh grade, he wrote an essay in which he was required to say who his hero was. He said it was me. “My father is my hero because he messes up all the time, and he lets me see it.” So I feel o.k. about messing up. I think that’s a hugely important lesson to learn. It’s o.k. to mess up, and you will sometimes mess up if you’re willing to push the limits of your craft.
QUESTION: Did any other mentors influence your thinking?
RAJIV: I was a graduate from the University of Lucknow for a short while. That’s where I met Renu Saluja who was a really important mentor. She pointed me down some really interesting avenues as regards film theory.
QUESTION: How do you decide that something is a film you want to do?
RAJIV: Early in my career anything that was offered was a film I wanted to do. Today, two things are likely to affect my decision. One is my first meeting with the director. That relationship is like a marriage only, oddly, much more intense. You have to decide whether you’re going to be able to get along with that person for the long time that you’re going to be together. I think I have gotten along well with over 90 percent of the directors I have worked with, and many have remained friends. The second thing is the photography. I’m always interested in doing new and different things. If the project is very much like what I have done before, and the script is not great, then it is less likely I will be interested. Sometimes a project comes along that is just so interesting it is impossible to resist.
QUESTION: What do you tell students and other young filmmakers when they ask you to share the secret of success? Do you tell them the truth about the odds?
RAJIV: I think you have to be patient, and not let yourself believe that things are going to happen quickly. You need integrity and honesty about who you want to become. That way, even if you fail, you can fail with some dignity. If you compromise and fail, what do you have left?
Quick notes by Indian Cinematographer / DOP Rajiv Jain on Cinematography and aspiring Indian Cinematographers:
A quick "filler post" while I try to get something actually substantial written:
The most hits I get for my blog are from people searching keywords like "Indian Cinematographers" "cinematography career path" and "how to be a great Cinematographer." I can really only offer my own personal experience.
Farhan Fauus talks to award winning Indian Cinematographer Rajiv Jain ICS WICA about “Quick notes on Cinematography and aspiring Indian Cinematographers” during the making of Bollywood Feature “Kalpvriksh - The Wish Tree - Your Dreams Are Just a Touch Away’’, and the journey to Blu-ray.
Rajiv on advice for young, aspiring cinematographers:
An advice for all cinematographers is to be very aware of the digital era that ìs right on top of us, but still stay true to film at this stage and maybe experiment with both. We're at the crossroads of film into digital. I've just had some tests with film compared to digital and film is still better. Film still holds more information than digital cameras do even though they're getting better all the time. But the way to go now that's very smart filmmaking is to shoot on film whether it be 35 mm or super 16 and do digital intermediate and put it together on film at the end. I've done it with my last three or four films and I'll be doing that again with my next one. It ìs really smart filmmaking to be able to use the digital technology to manipulate images. (In regards to helping me make decisions on the day of shoot), I saved shooting Kalpvriksh Öon average about 10 minutes a day by making decisions like:
There ìs a flare coming off a window; send the grips up to get rid of it. We hadn't got time. I can fix it digitally. It ìs very easy later on.
There ìs hot light coming off the top of the Muscos light ñ big flares. We cant get rid of the flares at the top edge of the frame. Don't worry about it. If you're going to have to set giant flags, it ìs going to take 20 minutes for us to do it. Forget it. I know I can fix it digitally.
Every now and then I make decisions like that knowing that I could make corrections at a digital intermediate. That ìs a very smart way to go. It is more expensive than conventional timing but it ìs getting cheaper all the time. It ìs just going to be the norm very shortly.
I think (it ìs good) for young cinematographers to embrace that (and) to visit the digital houses (which) are more than happy to show people around (and) to show them the tricks of the trade. It ìs truly a unique experience. Once anyone has done it, they'll never look back.
I haven't done commercials for a long time and I just tend to go from feature to feature. (But) most cinematographers who shoot commercials if they follow them through certainly get to see the digital technology work if they're going through the television process.
Now on to the master of the camera, Rajiv Jain:
My favourite Indian Cinematographer’s are:
Ashok Mehta (36 Chowringhee Lane, Moksha, Bandit queen)
Binod Pradhan (Parinda, Devdas)
K K Mahajan (Chorus, Maya Darpan, Uski Roti, Sara Akash)
Santosh Sivan (Dil Se, Iruvar, Kalapani, Perumthachan)
Subrata Mitra (Pather Panchali, New Delhi Times)
You should definitely check them out. I've written about a couple of them.
As for a career path, I am still figuring that out myself. I remember listening to Cinematographer Ashok Mehta about how he got to the point of finally shooting features. He worked as assistant camera and camera op for a while until he got a steady gig shooting those commercials. He eventually worked his way up to Cinematographer, and has shot quite a number of films, including 36 Chowringhee Lane and Bandit Queen. It took him around 10 + 30 years to get to the level he is at currently. And that's the big number I learned as well. It will take you about 10 years on average to become "successful" (in big Bollywood terms) in your field.
All I can advise is get onto set. Get on a camera crew, whether it is PA, assistant camera, camera op, or the person who cleans dirt off the camera cases. Watch the Cinematographer. Listen to the Cinematographer. Ask questions of the Cinematographer and camera crew. Whatever you're doing, even if it's the most inane and boring job on set, do it spectacularly and be incredibly happy to do it. People will notice your attitude. Make friends, but especially with the camera crew, not just the Cinematographer. (Also make buddies with the assistant director. They can give great recommendations.) Learn everything you can. Get a camera (still SLR or camcorder) and explore your own style. Try something new every day.
As for how to be a great Cinematographer:
Remember you are telling a story. And serve that story with humility, loyalty, creativity, passion, and open eyes.
And either make sure you know what you're doing, or get really good at winging' it. (Another post on "knowing [sort of] what you're doing" is in mid-write, as well as some reflections on being a Indian Cinematographer thus far in my journey. Should be interesting.)
For cinematographers who are just making films, they may not have had that opportunity but I'd strongly recommend going to a digital house. I've done all my work through Prasad. They have the resources of all the greatest optical engineers and designers, (as well as) electronic experts from Panavision. Prasad is truly wonderful Öbeen a huge help to me shooting to know that I have a good lab and great cameras.
I think that aspiring cinematographers have to be aware of both formats ódigital and filmó, but I tend to be (Pause) not ignoring the digital cameras, but I'm putting it off as long as I can. (Laughs) I'm a little bit guilty of not really following up on the latest technology as far as digital (high definition) cameras are concerned, but I have done tests on them. I'm still a film man. I love film.
Tags: Kalpvriksh , Rajiv Jain Cinematographer, Cinematographers, Cinematography, India, Indian, Kalpvriksh The Wish Tree Your Dreams Are Just a Touch Away, Kalpvriksh the Wishing Tree Your Dreams Are Just a Touch Away, The Wish Tree, The Wishing Tree, Your Dreams Are Just a Touch Away

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