WHEN DID THE FILM BUG BITE YOU?
I think it’s just something I fell into. I can’t say it was my childhood ambition to be in film; as I lived film all my childhood. It held no enamour or glamour for me.
I grew up accompanying Mum, Dad and Uncle on to film sets. Dad (Fali Mistry) and Uncle (Jal Mistry), both cinematographers, were shooting some of Indian cinema’s biggest movies.
Mum (Shyama), a movie star, had worked with the greatest stars in Indian cinema, such as Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Guru Dutt, Shammi Kapoor, in a career that spanned almost half a century. She also worked with some of the biggest director and producers of the era.
Dad used to take me regularly to the theatres in Bombay to watch the morning shows, and Disney films over the weekends. My earliest memory, besides Disney, was the film Patton, with the George C. Scott, and other huge blockbuster Hollywood films. I suspect, that Dad wanted to see these blockbuster Hollywood movies. And so, I guess, film etched itself early on in my mind.
Later on, I went to the movies with my cousin and director of photography, Jehangir Choudhary. I remember the boat sequence in Fellini’s Amarcord so vividly! I must have been 7 at the time.
In a brief stint at college, I worked as a photojournalist with The Evening News of India and The Times of India with Patanjali Shetty, a brilliant editor.
After which I applied to the Film and Television Institute of India.
And I had the fortune to have films like Johnny Mera Naam, Manchali and Hare Rama Hare Krishna’s etched so deep, so clear in my mind. Who could ever forget the Premnath/Padma Khanna sequence of Johnny Mera Naam or ‘Dum Maro Dum’ with Zeenat Aman in Hare Rama Hare Krishna or Ishq, Ishq, Ishq, and to be on set with the greats like Sanjeev Kumar and Dev Anand.
Playing around Mehoob and RK Studios at their peak.
It is one of the toughest professions one can get into successfully. By some estimates, much less than 10% of graduates with degrees in film are ever able to create a sustainable career in the movies or less.
Not that I knew it then, but my first love was medicine. I wanted to graduate to be a surgeon.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CREW GIG?
I don’t recall the first gig I got. That was so many years ago! What I am certain of is, it was that of an apprentice. I came up the ladder like all other cinematographers.
I remember the only option was documentaries for people in the film industry in those days. We loaded magazines and pulled focus when called upon. Many of my colleagues thought I would land up with gigs on a platter. I made sure that was not the case.
The only options upon graduation in 1987 were Dooradarshan and documentaries. Studio films were being shot only by a handful of FTII graduates, because the old-time studio cinematographers did not easily accept Film Institute graduates.
Those were the days of film, and the newer generation was just about stepping in. It got easier to get work as more graduates from the Film Institute were employed.
FTII graduates owe a lot to people like Binod Pradhan, Rajan Kothari, Jehangir Choudhary, Kiran Deohans, Vikas Sivaraman, Ko Hung Chiang, Kamlakar Rao, R.M Rao, and many others, for bringing them into the fold. As well as to directors and producers like Prahlad Kakkar, Mahesh Matthai, Ram Madhvani, Shumontro Ghoshal, Poo Sayani, Adi Pocha, Kailash and Jeet Surendranath, Nomita and Shubbir, and more names that I maybe forgetting. And, of course, directors such as Vidhu Vinod Chopra.
WHAT WAS YOUR BEST CREW GIG?
There’s never been a “best” gig. Each one has been intense hard work and excruciatingly difficult. It’s not a ‘fun’ job. Every job is as hard or harder than the previous one. My uncle, Jal Mistry always said. “You are only as good as your last film!”
Words of wisdom I cherish!
YOUR CRAZIEST FILMING STORY?
Every time I say I have seen it all, someone goes out and betters it, manifold. So many stories – I could write a book!
YOUR TOP 5 AD OR FEATURE FILMS?
The commercials came in later. Features crafted my ideas at the FTII. To name a few:
Japanese cinema and Tarkovsky.
The Last Emperor
The works of Bruno Avellian in commercials.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WORKING IN HOLLYWOOD VS BOLLYWOOD?
My personal opinion is that India does not take film seriously enough, relatively. There is no dearth of work and therefore we misuse opportunities.
We take much for granted. What we call a struggle in India is paled in the face of the having two jobs and then pursuing film in the west. Besides paying back loans on education of $100-200K or more.
In my opinion, films are a balance of business and sensibility worldwide.
In India many feel it is a right, a God-given, that they should be allowed to create art and vision. The commercial cinema guys are on the entire opposite end of the spectrum, where anything and everything can fly. There’s rarely any balance, or none at all. There are changes happening amongst the new crop of filmmakers.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHICH FILM SCHOOL TO GO TO?
The Film and Television Institute of India is perhaps the foremost film school in the world. Students don’t always realize how much of an input they receive, which is unfortunate. It is one of the greatest schools in the world, without a shade of doubt. FTII was the only option at the time.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE IN PREP A DIRECTOR PUTS IN, IN INDIA VS IN LA OR NY?
In the west, every aspect of film is thought of much in advance. It is evaluated in terms of efficiency and productivity. It’s not about cutting corners and sacrificing the image. It is about how to most effectively communicate and tell the story efficiently.
In India, we waste resources. Fifty carpenters on set, 50 grips and electrics.
Producers, directors and technicians, all are equally wasteful, or so tightly cornered, that you land up sacrificing the script. It’s a fine balance at the end of the day. It’s about collaboration, storytelling and efficiency; something we all need to remember. That’s why we are known as ‘professionals’.
ADVICE TO NEW CREWERS IN THE FILM INDUSTRY?
Read books. Not Blogs!
Pixels are the new medium; but the discipline, craft and the art of film has not changed.
Stop looking at the monitor.
Train your senses to hear, see and feel.
Gaze into an actors eyes, and watch a performance.
And KNOW your film history, for the roots lie there.
IF YOU COULD REMAKE AN INDIAN AD FILM CLASSIC, WHICH WOULD IT BE AND WHY? HOW WOULD YOU TELL THE STORY DIFFERENTLY?
Classics cannot be remade in my opinion and should be left alone, to be cherished. Indian cinema classics are deeply rooted in its ethos.
The closest to my heart has been Vijay Anand’s ‘Guide’. And really, how could you make the Guide a “better” film, even with all the technology available?
We have a rich history of storytelling…. do we really need remakes?
Great films were made directors experiencing a space, history and influences at a moment in time. How does one reproduce that moment in time again?
IF YOU WEREN’T A CINEMATOGRAPHER, WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU BE?