Cinematographer Pankaj Kumar is collaborating with director Vishal Bhardwaj for the second time in Rangoon after Haider. The film starring Kangana Ranaut, Saif Ali Khan and Shahid Kapoor set to release on February 24. Pankaj also worked on the critically acclaimed film Ship of Theseus. The time and surroundings of Haider are quite different than that of Rangoon, and Pankaj seems to have enjoyed working his charm on the lens with the latest film as well.
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In an exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com, Pankaj talks about the challenges he faced while shooting Rangoon and also mentions that Kangana Ranaut is the perfect Julia. Pankaj felt that she brings a rare combination of strength and vulnerability on screen. He also explains at length about the approach he follows while shooting on a remote island in difficult weather conditions, the experience of working with three actors and more. Below are the excerpts from the interview:
We spent about three months before finalising Arunachal Pradesh as the location. Vishal and I, finally decided on Arunachal because it had a certain look that suited the mood of the film. Rangoon belongs to a particular period. The film has a backdrop of World War II. So the film has two very stark looks. One is that of cold, desaturated, the very strong look of the wartime era and another is that of the colourful and vibrant Bombay from that time. We have used very bright and bold colours for shooting Bombay sequences and stark colours for northeast sequences. We have used the colour palette that was used in old films.
Shooting references for the film
We looked at a lot of pictures from the same era as that of the film. We took a look at INA (Indian National Army), British soldiers and northeast in that era. Those pictures were our references for shooting war sequences. But Rangoon is essentially a romantic musical with war as a mere backdrop.
Is Rangoon influenced by Casablanca?
No, the visual style of Rangoon is not influenced by Casablanca.
Approach to shoot the intense scenes between Shahid and Kangana
We kept the camera free floating because that’s very organic and is also the unspoken way in which Vishal and I work. It helps to capture actors in an organic way. We first rehearse the scene with actors, then Vishal allows me to freely move the camera around the actors. I am always responding to actors and their movements. That’s how we worked in Haider as well.
One of the most intense sequences between Kangana and Shahid happens to be in a swamp. It was one of the most exciting scenes to shoot. In this scene, Julia is drunk and she and Nawab (played by Shahid) are having a jolly good time. That’s also the point after which things start to become intense. The camera flows around Shahid and Kangana with a rhythm. My idea is to move along actors and respond to their movements. In a certain way, that does become intense when you are moving the camera freely instead of using a ‘static’ camera.
What was it like to work with Shahid, Saif and Kangana?
I was familiar with Shahid since we have worked in Haider before. We had a great time while working in Rangoon as well. We knew each other very well. I was working with both Saif and Kangana for the first time and found both of them amazing.
I had a lovely time while shooting with all these actors. Saif is very charming. That’s what I discovered about him. He is the non-stop talker and keeps everyone entertained which is very important when you are shooting a film that can get as tensed as Rangoon. You need some jolly person to be around and Saif is extremely jolly.
Kangana was extremely dedicated. She came fully prepared on the sets. She had a lot of questions which is a good thing.
Do you think Kangana can overshadow Saif and Shahid in the film?
As far as Kangana overshadowing these two actors is concerned, well; the film is written with Kangana as the protagonist in the mind. She does have a bigger role than both of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if she overshadows both Saif Ali Khan and Shahid Kapoor in the film.
Do you find her intimidating as an actor?
I have never felt that kind of vibe from Kangana at all. Maybe people feel that way because she is so dedicated to her work. A lot of times, she is in her own world, preparing for her role. All three actors have been very sweet.
Is there truth to Kangana and Shahid’s cold war?
The rumours have gone out of proportion. There was one occasion when there was a creative argument between two actors, but it got sorted out very quickly. Though I can’t comment on the argument itself, it was all fine.
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Do you often come across actors with creative arguments?
Yes. And I enjoy that. Every actor who is involved in his character has his own creative inputs. It’s a joy to see that. Actors who are aloof to their roles or characters are bad actors.
And there are enough aloof actors?
I don’t have specific names to mention. But, there are many bad actors. All the good actors that I have worked with are completely invested in their characters. They have their own points as to how to portray a character on screen. They always have a very healthy discussion and involvement on the sets.
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