The Bong Connection

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THE Bong Connection



Source: Telegraph India

Date: November 14, 2010 






How did the collaboration with Sanjay Leela Bhansali happen? 


Sanjay is an ex-student of our institute (FTII, Pune). So I have known him for a long time. Also, I worked as an apprentice on 1942: A Love Story where Sanjay was the song director. We have always been in touch. He had called me after Chak De! India to tell me how much he had liked my work. I have also liked his films. So, I guess we always had a desire to work with each other. And we really had the time of our lives shooting Guzaarish. 



What brief did he give you? 


He told me that usually he gave long briefs before each film but he didn’t want to say much before this one because he had lived with the script for so long. He said: “I want you to interpret the script completely, I want to see how you look at it.” We did briefly go through scape discussing and talked about the whole look but alada kore brief shei bhabey deye ni. 



But Bhansali is known to be painstakingly precise with his frames... 


Yes, he is particular with his images but I don’t think he has a fixed notion about the images of his cinema, ki ek dhoroner hotei hobe.... In fact, I found him to be the most open person, of the directors I have worked with. In fact, he kept saying, aami amar moto korte chai naa, tumi ki bhabe dekhchho bolo. 



His penchant for confined spaces, as seen in Black and Saawariya... how comfortable were you with that? 


Here too, the story demands it. We are dealing with a paraplegic (Hrithik’s character). So obviously he cannot move. Tobey ekhane aami onake (Bhansali) anekta ghor theke baar korechhi. Many of the scenes which were initially indoors, I insisted on shooting them outside. But yes, he loves shooting on sets and in confined spaces because he takes time and wants to shoot peacefully. He wants infinite control. In fact, you can say that the challenge of Guzaarish was that this man is locked in this one room. How do I make the scenes look different? For starters I tried to set the scenes in different times of the day. So you see the room in twilight, at night, during the day, in early morning. The light keeps on changing. Then the camera is always mobile... to counter his staticness. Also, we deliberately kept slightly mobile things always around him. There is a curtain, which keeps on fluttering. There is a fish bowl, which is kept near his head. These moving things almost mock his stillness all the time. 



Is a big chunk of the film shot from Hrithik’s point of view? 


Not really. But I had to show the world he is in and the world he wants to be in. See, this man is in a terrible state, he can hardly move any part of his body. But at the same time, he is an extremely optimistic person, who is full of life. Throughout the film I was battling this question... what to portray... how much pain and how much joy. Every decision in visualising the film came from that single question. It was a process that was constantly questioning my own world view.But you are also shooting two of the most beautiful people around... Jani naa... money toh thakey naa tokhon je era khub shundor... 



You want to say these days it’s not a compulsion at all to make your heroine look good on screen...


Puropuri hoyto uthe jaini. But in this film, there was no such consideration really. Aishwarya is playing her age. She is playing a character who has gone through a lot in life. Also what I was trying to achieve was to show her in such a way that you slowly realise how beautiful she is. Beyond that, with her harsh red lipstick, there is a strange sensuality about her. 



Insiders have been raving about Hrithik’s performance in the film. What did you see through your viewfinder? 


I think he will go to another level with this performance. It’s unbelievable! For an actor to not be able to use anything else but your face, especially your eyes, that’s a huge challenge. Also, he has brought out the duality of life so well — the pain he goes through and the joy he emits. He almost brings a divine quality to the character and the film. 



The concept of a paraplegic man wanting to die is straight out of The Sea Inside. Were you given visual references also, just like many frames of Black were ditto that of The Miracle Worker? 


See, the film is about euthanasia. The Sea Inside is also about euthanasia. So is Whose Life is it Anyway?. There must be a parallel since the theme is the same. But beyond that I don’t think there is any similarity. In fact, when I have pointed out that a particular shot may be similar to another film, Bhansali has asked me to take it in another way. 



People who have worked with Bhansali usually do not have great things to say about him and that’s why his crew is completely new this time. How come you had the time of your life on Guzaarish? 


Dangerous proshno! See, Bhansali is a very interesting person... khub mojadar lok. Contrary to what people say about him, he is a very fun person. People find it difficult to believe this but amra paati keoraami kortam set-ey. We used to crack potty jokes, jokes about women. He is quite a crackpot actually. He has this bizarre sense of humour. The thing is Sanjay Leela Bhansali has nothing in his life besides his films. I am a cinematographer, who is also a father, a husband, someone who loves listening to music, who loves travelling. All these aspects are valuable to me. He has only his films, no other vent. So obviously his passion and hence his madness will be that much more extreme. Paan theke chun khoshle shey rege jabe. His attention to detail is ridiculous. Beyond that what is so admirable and something which has disappeared from today’s filmmakers, is his love for cinema. Yeh picture hai, yaar! I have heard that someone like Guru Dutt used to have this kind of passion... anything for cinema. That’s what makes it a dream to work with him. “Apna dil se jo lag raha hai, woh kar... ask yourself.” He asked me to take off and go to the van for half-an-hour and question myself. “Shoot it with conviction and if tomorrow you think it was a mistake, we will re-shoot it, but give me that conviction.” I haven’t seen a director who gives the DOP the freedom to cut a shot if he doesn’t like something. “Don’t shoot anything that you don’t like but every frame has to be like a painting that you are giving your final signature on.”I can understand why people cannot work with him. Because the demand is tremendous. But it also gave me the pleasure of creation.






Sabyasachi Mukherjee on Guzaarish



Source: Telegraph India 

Date: November 14, 2010 



How was it working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali for the second time after six years (Black)? 


I have to tell you, in spite of the fact that both Sanjay and me are such intense people, it was great. I enjoy working with him because he is so methodical and organised. While the rest of the directors are still finding out what to do with their scripts, Sanjay is ready and bound with his script months in advance, everything broken down scene by scene. Sanjay knows exactly what he wants with his set, light and costume. Unless you do that, it is impossible to make a great visual film. You cannot make a visually stunning film unless the director of photography (Sudeep Chatterjee), art director (Sumit Basu) and costume director are in sync.And in this case there was the great Bong connection ‘in sync’… Yes. We three Bengalis were on the same page, sharing similar sensibilities. 



What is this ‘sensibility’ that Bengalis are notorious for? 


Well, for starters it is the respect for detail. Second, it is the approach to aesthetics with a certain degree of subtlety. People say that Sanjay Leela Bhansali and subtlety can’t go hand in hand but if you see Guzaarish you will know what I mean. For instance in the song Tera zikr, when you listen closely you will hear a pianist that comes and goes. That’s the kind of layering I am talking about. It is the same layering that you can see in the costumes and it is the same subtle nuances you can see in the subdued colour palette. Sanjay understands and appreciates my aesthetics and it’s never a struggle for me to explain myself to him or anyone else in the cast and crew. I think 90 per cent of the battle is won when the director agrees to something and then all the actors succumb. Sanjay is so visually sound that people don’t question him. In other cases I have had to sit and have lengthy discussions with actors but not with Guzaarish. 



How were Hrithik and Aishwarya to work with? 


It was my first time with Hrithik Roshan. When he heard the part he had visualised his character a certain way. I had a completely different idea about how I wanted to dress the character. I didn’t want him to look like a stud; women can fall in love with a man dressed from head to toe. In my mind he was not a James Bond, he was more Clark Kent. I wanted to dress him up in an organic fashion. Hrithik also agreed to the beard. I also had detailed discussions with his hair team. As for Aishwarya, it was like a song to work with her. In the film, she goes through a bad marriage... in my mind her internal suffering has manifested itself into an over-dressing syndrome. People who are depressed tend to either over-eat or overdress! Aishwarya wears the strangest of clothes. She has such a morbid life that she almost derives comfort from her clothes. She understands the meaning of dressing up for a bedridden person and it is her colours that bring humour to the patient’s life. 



The promos look very intriguing and Aishwarya looks very different from her normal pastel-pretty glam chic avatar. What exactly is her Guzaarish look? 


Thirty-seven long frocks, four dumpy shoes and one red lipstick! As I said earlier, she is wearing some really strange clothes (smiles). There are maxis, aprons with motifs of cutlery.... She has quirky glasses and red lips. She has some surreal hairdos and quirky jewellery. Her wardrobe is almost schizophrenic. Her silhouettes are prim but the design details like embroidery are like fantasy. She even makes her water bottle wear a jacket that she has made herself! Her character is like the nakshikantha girls who enliven their textiles while singing the hopelessness of their mundane lives. Aishwarya’s wardrobe in the film has a DIY (do-it-yourself) feel to it; you don’t know where she buys her clothes. In one scene she is shown embroidering her clothes so it is hinted that she could be a seamstress too. 



How was her Sofia look conceived?


For the look test, I went over with three things — dark Gothic nail paint from Chanel, a YSL red lipstick and glasses. She was sitting in her jeans and T-shirt, talking to Sanjay and I quietly asked someone to braid her hair. Then came the Nana Mouskouri glasses perched on the bridge of her nose and the red lips. Sofia was created. I don’t like to over-intellectualise a look, it has to be very intuitive. Sometimes it is best to show it, not talk about it. If the red lipstick would be rejected in the look test, it would have never been able to make a comeback to Guzaarish. 



What’s the big deal about the red lipstick? 


The first thing I knew about Sofia was that she would have red lips. Dark red lips are very European and we hardly ever see them in India. In Indian movies all the actresses look identical — dark eyes, pale lips and ironed hair. Maybe red lips will signal a new future for Bollywood. It takes a lot of confidence to be able to pull off red lips and nails. In my opinion, a girl should be able to laugh in red lips. It’s also risque in a way, it’s almost impossible to get into the head of a girl who wears red lipstick, be it Marilyn Monroe, Edith Piaf or Madonna. Sofia uses her red lips not as an accessory but like a weapon! 



How comfortable was she in this ‘alternative’ look? 


You know, Ash just succumbs. She did say something like, “Oh god, it’s funny how we are on the same page” but I think at one level, she likes this kind of fashion. 



What about the other characters? 


There’s Aditya Roy Kapoor who I wanted to style like a struggling French musician. His clothes are layered, he wears a crumpled tuxedo with flappy trousers and because he doesn’t have money for shoes, he wears flip-flops! He is an idealist, quirky and romantic. Then there’s Suhel Seth in stiff suits and Shernaz Patel dressed like a Gandhian in cotton saris and three-quarter blouses. The maids are in dumpy dresses. The clothes are nearly theatrical and they have a mind of their own. If you remove the characters and hang the clothes, they will tell a story. It’s like Neverland or the reality version of The Magic Faraway Tree! 



Who else can you imagine styling the film? 


I don’t think anyone in the country. Only Marc Jacobs or me!