In his two-decade long career in the industry after straddling both kinds of Bollywood the 90s formulaic fare such as Anjaam (1994) and Koyla (1997) to the more visually stylised films such as Drona (2008) and the recent Shootout at Wadala,it wont be wrong to call Sameer Arya a producers cinematographer. I believe in pre-production. Filmmaking is an extravagant,expensive process and you cant afford to discuss ideas for hours with your director on the film sets, says Arya,sitting in his sea-facing apartment in Juhu. He is mostly nonchalant about the process behind his work; he sticks to few basics,one of which is his economic way of working. While there is respect for the producers money and the directors time,it also reflects in Aryas ability to get optimum results out of minimum resources,with his camera conjuring up worlds that are far more grand and bigger than their budgets. When Devika (Bhagat whose directorial debut One by Two is being shot by Arya) approached me,she told me that my camera had made London Paris New York,look greater than its budget would have allowed, says Arya,who recently finished shooting for Divya Kumars directorial debut Yaariyaan.
Depth of Field
Aryas pedigree in camera brought him to the profession almost by default. His father,Ishan Arya,was a cinematographer,who shot the Balraj Sahni starrer Garam Hawa (1973),among other films. After his initial disinterest in the line,he was eventually drawn to it,mostly after starting to assist Thomas Xavier,a noted cinematographer and his fathers friend. At the beginning,it was for the pocket money of Rs 100 a day,later it turned into a fascination with the medium,especially the use of lights, says the cinematographer,whose first film was the Madhuri Dixit-Chunky Pandey starrer,Khilaaf in 1991. It was followed by films such as Duplicate,Suhaag and Aa Ab Laut Chale during the 90s and Bas Itna Sa Khwab Hain,Koi Mil Gaya and Malamaal Weekly,among others.
His ease with premeditated,clinical approach towards his craft comes across when he looks back at Drona,a box-office disaster but a lensmans paradise. To create the alternate,almost surreal universe of a mythical superhero,the film didnt just have a story board prepared for every scene but also went through previsualisation,a function that animates story boards. It helped bring me closer to the directors vision, he says.
A cinematographer perhaps gets to paint the film at its most surface level,in its visual palette that pleases the eye and drives the subconscious towards its overarching emotion. Arya gives us the example of the recent Shootout at Wadala,where director Sanjay Guptas brief was to lend it the look of a grungy,gangster flick set in retro Bombay. Even though Gups wanted warm tones of yellow and orange,I thought that may not be enough. So I went ahead and infused a bit of green; that gave it the edge and brought it closer to the films tone, he says.
The colour palette,however,may not have a consistent tone throughout a film,changing with the moods of the plot: like in London Paris New York,where they change as the lead characters go through three phases of their lives. While the warm tones associated with the initial happiness of the characters meeting for the first time in London,it gave way to a grungier look in Paris. It was characterised by high contrast colours,more reds in the costumes and shot with handheld cameras,to communicate the complicated phase of their relationship. In the New York phase,they were more mature. So I put it in a grey,blue zone and shot it in a classic fashion, says Arya,who may be the only cinematographer in India to shoot both a science fiction (Koi Mil Gaya) and superhero film (Drona) in his career.
Aryas favourite cinematographers
Ishan Arya:Ashokji (Mehta) told me that my father was one of the first ones to start using bounce lighting,which uses reflected light from another source to create a softer effect.
Ashok Mehta:His Bandit Queen was one of the best shot Hindi films ever. Once I went on his sets and he was trying to explain a spot boy to make some adjustments at an elevated level but the guy just couldnt do it. He then climbed up,took off his shirt and tied it to make it happen. He then peacefully took his shot.
Binod Pradhan:He is literally the man with the Midas touch. He can make anything look beautiful. I am too much in love with his work to be jealous of him. His 1942 A Love Story is one of my favourites.