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Interview Hindi

We focus on how to turn film into a visual experience: Padmaavat cinematographer Sudeep Chatterjee

Chatterjee has, through his lens, captured some iconic actors essaying characters beyond the usual.


National Award winning cinematographer, whose talent has added value to Hindi films like Chak De! India (2007), Dhoom 3 (2013), Bajirao Mastani (2015), Kaabil (2017) and the latest Padmaavat (2018), says as a visual storyteller, he always tries to look beyond the frame to capture the larger sight of the story.

Whether it is the angry hockey coach Kabir Khan, the quadriplegic magician Ethan Mascarenhas, the Maratha warrior Bajirao or the deadly Sultan Alauddin Khilji — Chatterjee has, through his lens, captured some iconic actors essaying characters beyond the usual.

Sharing his vision of his work as a cinematographer, Chatterjee said, "I always look beyond the frame to capture the nuance and scale of a large canvas. As an audience, I know that our mind sees beyond what is lying before us. So as a cinematographer, I always maintain that as the basic principle to capture space, character or a whole story for that matter, because a physical space of a frame is limited, not the mind frames."

After exploring a wide range of subjects with sports-based films like Iqbal (2005) and Chak De! India (2007), period dramas like Bajirao Mastani (2015) and Padmaavat 92018), Chatterjee said it's important for a cinematographer to not just share a personal bonding with a film's director, but to also work closely with people of all departments.

"Whether it is light, set, costume or actor, I work with them in close proximity because they all are our key collaborators. We create the magic when everything falls in place in the right manner," he said.

Padmaavat has marked his third collaboration with Bhansali. Their friendship goes a long way: when he passed out from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Bhansali was an assistant director of 1942: A Love Story (1994).

Sudeep Chatterjee (R) with Sanjay Leela Bhansali

"I was doing the film and Sanjay was the chief assistant director of the film. We used to chat a lot or take a rickshaw ride together. There was an exchange of ideas. Such bonding surely helps to understand the vision of a creative mind," he said.

Chatterjee also worked with Prime Focus World's team for the colour grading and stereo conversion services for Padmaavat.

Asked how he looked at the challenge of bringing people into the theatre to watch a film, Chatterjee said: "See, one thing that has changed in our cinema is that we are focusing on how to turn it into a visual experience. Since we have a lot of options of entertainment, especially Netflix series, unless the film is worth watching on the big screen, people will not go to the theatre."

Chatterjee said Indian cinema has also changed visually and people are more accepting towards certain colours, texture and looks.

Citing an example, he said: "Remember Chak De! India? That was a mainstream Yash Raj Films production starring Shah Rukh Khan, where the colour of the film is quite de-saturated and shots were taken like the way we shoot a documentary."

On the increased use of 3D conversion and visual effects, he said: "3D and VFX are getting a chance to imagine the visuals of a film differently and that has brought a huge change in our cinema."