In the Spotlight

"In the Spotlight" is an online journal about global South Asian cinema.

This month features:

 

Tinge Krishnan

Director of SHADOWSCAN, featured in the KHICHDI program on March 8, 2002. Keep an eye out for her upcoming projects with SpiritDance, Forest Whitaker's production company. |more|

 

Light of Day

Director Dev Benegal (SPLIT WIDE OPEN) on his only guru, the legendary cinematographer Subrata Mitra who died December 08, 2001. Mitra shot Satyajit Ray's classic films THE APU TRILOGY, JALSAGHER: THE MUSIC ROOM, AND CHARULATA: THE BROKEN NEST. |more|

 
 
Tinge Krishnan
Shadowscan: director's statement

SHADOWSCAN is a piece that came out of my experience as a hospital doctor and was born from my desire to reflect the realities of life as a junior doctor on-screen without compromise.

 

The idea was to create a visceral and atmospheric piece that would enfold the audience and create in them something of the sensations experienced as a junior doctor during a busy night on call.

 

In keeping with the hallucinogenic nature of a night of sleep and food deprivation, the film was designed to use innovative in-camera techniques in a low-fi and edgy way contrasted with the use of super 35mm stock. The lighting was designed to mimic available fluorescent lighting as might be found in a hospital, whilst including a few key dramatic twists.

 

The lighting and production design were inter-linked in a way that mirrors the relationship between interior design, lighting and equipment in hospitals. We added surreal and dark twists to create a sense of alienation in keeping with the characters experiences.

 

All in all, the goal was to enter a cinematic landscape inhabited by such films as 'Jacob's Ladder', 'Love Is The Devil' and Lars von Trier's 'The Kingdom".

 
Tell us about your background. What's your ethnicity? Where did you grow up? How old are you?

I'm half Thai and half Malaysian (Tamil). grew up in the UK (moved aged 6 months). I'm 32 years old.

 
I heard you went to med school and then decided to become a filmmaker. Tell me more.

I was working as a doctor and a friend asked me to write a film script . from what i heard i had the impression that if you write a script and hand it over to be directed you lose control over the script potentially. this lead me into wanting to try my hand at directing. i took 6 months off from medicine to write, work in a hospital in thailand and during this time decided to do a short course (1 week) in directing film. did that. loved it. started my next medical job in accident and emergency (ER) and got my seniors there to write me a reference for film school at NYU to do their intensive workshop in film. went to NYU to get the certificate in film then came back to england and made my first film.

 
Is Shadowscan your first short?

Shadowscans my third short.

 
Is Shadowscan biographical? Tell us about your script development / writing process.

It's kind of based slightly on real life but woven into a story. The film was developed with the British Film Institute and Film Four so we had script development meetings which were useful.

 
Shadowscan is hyper-stylized, especially that tripped out Bollywood dance scene. How did you come to that?

I watched Lars Von Triers the hospital and that was a real influence as was Jacobs Ladder. But also a lot of it came from the fact that when I was a doctor I found the experience of being sleep-deprived and hungry sometimes made things feel a little surreal and i wanted to capture that, push the audience into that space.

The dance captures that hysterical giddiness that we sometimes experienced when it felt like things were going so badly there was no option but to giggle.

 
A couple words about your relationship with Bollywood films - love em, hate em? Identify, don't identify? Recently we've been seeing a lot of Bollywood-inspired moments in Asian-British / Asian-American films.

My granny is obsessed by Bollywood so it's always been in the background playing non-stop. I found myself really inspired by the intensity of the emotions right from when i was a kid. The song and dance sequences are a deep-seated influence and I always have one in the stuff I do.

 
Tell us about your fundraising for this script. What was the budget? Did BFI approach you?

We submitted it for the New Directors Fund and were very surprised to get shortlisted. This fund was run by FilmFour and the BFI.

 
Tell us about your casting process.

We were lucky to meet many talented young Asian British actors. We ended up going with the ones who had the most elements of the characters, but we were amazed at the amount of talent out there. It was a privilege

 
What are 3 things you learned from production/post on this project?

That allowing for a generous shooting ratio and rehearsal and preparation time with the actors is crucial and pays off. That technical preparation and communication between departments beforehand is also crucial and helps to solve problems before they arise. That starting with a script that's overlong for the intended length leads to unnecessary pain in the editing process. That the best stuff is usually the stuff that wasn't planned but if you've planned enough you can be ready to embrace these moments.

 
What are you working on next?

Doing a feature film with FilmFour Lab, our company Disruptive Element films and Spiritdance - Forest Whittaker's company.

 
Light of Day

Film director Dev Benegal (Split Wide Open; English, August) on his guru, the legendary cinematographer Subrata Mitra who died December 08, 2001.

 

It’s a strange moment. One I thought that would never see the light of day. I never thought that the light would go out of Subrata Mitra, for he in many ways showed me the light. He epitomized it, breathed it and lived for it.

 

Subrata Mitra became one of the greatest cinematographers of all times. A man known for his attention to obsessive detail as well as one known to terrorize actors, put the fear of god in all film laboratories and bring even the greatest directors to their knees.

 

In the days before instant video monitoring and digital gizmos, cinematography was the dark art and the cinematographer it’s wizard; with his array of secret charms and spells he could bind you in.

 

Subrata was the Jedi Master, quite simply the best.

 

I got to know Subrata Mitra on Victor Bannerjee’s film ‘An August Requiem’ and for some unknown reason he decided to take it upon himself to draw me into his world of light and magic.

 

‘What is the language of light?,’ he asked me once. Looking at my blank face he answered, ‘It’s music.’ ‘How can a director and a cameraman really speak to one another?’ Subrata proposed that the scale of seven notes correspond to seven shades of gray or seven scales of contrast. To an aspiring filmmaker like me, it suddenly made sense. He had shown me the light! Subrata also said, ‘let color follow contrast,’ and that’s a ground rule I follow till today.

 

Born in 1930 Subrata Mitra wanted to become an architect or a cameraman. When Jena Renoir was making ‘The River’ in Calcutta Subrata tried to get a job as a camera assistant but failed. Stubborn as he was, he would tell me years later, he didn’t take no for an answer, hung around and followed the unit with his little notebook in which he wrote and made meticulous sketches. This paid off, for later the cameraman Claude Renoir was asking Subrata for his notes on the film to check on his own lighting schemes. It was here that he met a young illustrator working in an advertising agency and planning his first feature film- Satyajit Ray. Ray wanted to break away from the conventional lighting styles followed in the commercial cinema of Calcutta and looked towards the 21 year old science graduate to photograph his feature ‘Pather Panchali.’

 

Henri Cartier Bresson was there inspiration and while the two had appreciated the light and contrast in Cartier-Bresson photographs they had never seen any of this in cinema. In Aparajito, Ray’s second film Subrata introduced ‘bounce lighting’ in cinema. He achieved his special quality of light by stretching a white cloth across the open courtyard of the set they had built in a studio. Placing studio lights below he bounced them off of the cloth to simulate a diffused daylight feel. Bounce lighting was born and people who saw those early Ray films in the 50’s and 60’s were shocked by the look and photography; they had never seen anything like this before! Subrata had begun a revolution.

 

Subrata Mitra mentioned to me that it was in nature and life around him that he found his inspiration for lighting. He’d always look for a natural source; a window, a skylight, a lamp and then use that to light up the scene. But more than lighting it was the quality of exposure, the texture of the skin, a fine eye for details that were an inescapable mark of films that he waved his wand over.

 

Unlike others at his time he didn’t keep this a dark secret either. His passion was to share information, to draw students, his crew and anyone else into his world. He’d take pains to explain his lighting style and in moments of doubt wouldn’t hesitate to turn to his assistants and say, ‘what should the exposure be?’

 

While filming Split Wide Open before we would set exposure, I would often turn to Sukumar Jatania (his protégé, Anoop Jotwani who filmed English, August being the other one) and ask, ‘what would Subrata da have done here?’

 

This would invariably send us down memory lane. He inspired almost all who came in contact with him and left a profound impression on them.

 

I found the Bombay film festival incomplete, I was missing Subrata Mitra; a permanent fixture of any film festival.

 

I missed his presence, his kurta, the thick framed spectacles from another era, his stubby pencil, his fat address book which he stubbornly used even though we had tested all the possible digital diaries available on this planet, the way he stirred his coffee; holding his spoon in his nicotine stained fingers, stirring, pausing and then stirring again.

 

I missed someone who was passionate about films, someone who fretted about scheduling, about which films to see, about the quality of projection, of image, of lighting and about filmmaking itself. Someone who cared about every little detail that went into filmmaking.

 

Subrata Mitra was obsessive about details. ‘God is in the details,’ he would say quoting the architect Mies van der Rohe and also echoing what Satyajit Ray said, ‘It’s details that make cinema.’ It was the attention to detail that made Subrata what he was. On an Indian Airlines flight he took a white plastic cup cut it in half, fitted it onto his still camera converting it into an incident light meter. It was as accurate as the professional one he had which cost him over $400!

 

He photographed the famous Ray films, Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Apur Sansar, Charulata, Jalsaghar, Devi, Kanchenjunga- his first color film. For Merchant Ivory he filmed Shakespearwallah, Householder, The Guru and Bombay Talkie. In 1986 he won the National Award for his work on the film New Delhi Times and in 1992 became the only Indian to win the Eastman Kodak Lifetime Achievement for Excellence in Cinematography.

 

In New York Subrata Mitra was looking at a poster of one of the Ray films when a voice boomed from behind, "I’d love to meet the man who shot this film." Subrata turned around and said quietly, "that was me." He was immediately swept up in a bear hug by a man who kissed him on both cheeks and said, "You are truly a genius."

 

The man was Vittorio Storaro.

 

Subrata Mitra, Subrata da or just plain old ‘dada’ was the Master of Light.

   
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