Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Purpose of an artiste is like a lone individual"

A product of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, G.S. Bhaskar has been an ace cinematographer of this country. He has worked on movies like Ijjodu (2010), Accident (2008), Hyderabad Blues 2 (2004), Saaz (1997), Nagamandala (1996) and Disha (1990). Presently, he is heading the Bangalore-based Lakshmisurya Academy for Cinematographic Excellence (LACE), an organisation consisting of an informal group of enthusiasts who aim to evolve sensible  cinema. We had an informal chat with him about his views on cinematography and India's journey in the same. Excerpts:

How has Indian cinematography evolved over years?
G.S. Bhaskar: We are technically a derivative of German technicians. As they spread all over the world, a few of them came to our country also. And then there was Dadasaheb Phalke who came to be known as the Father of Indian Cinema. We were greatly influenced by Hollywood as at that time movies from    England weren't being screened here. Hence, our style greatly  reflected the techniques used there.
Next was Subrata Mitra. He has worked a lot with Satyajit Ray and his 'Pather Panchali' gained Indian cinema a global recognition. Even westerners felt that this film was a step ahead of  Hollywood movies. At the same time in Bombay, V.K. Murthy was working with what you call augmented reality. It was neither glamourisation nor reality, something like enhanced glamourisation. He went on to shoot India's first 75mm movie 'Kaagaz Ke Phool.'
Somewhere between 1955 and '65, the foundation for Indian cinematography was laid. The establishment of Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, in 1960 provided training in various aspects and fields related to cinema. A lot of importance was given to positioning India on the world map. We then started speaking the language of Europe than just Hollywood.
By 1970, we were directly absorbed into the industry. In a matter of just two decades, the industry was flooded with technicians from the Institute.
Technology has improved with time, but movies these days are becoming meaningless. In that case wouldn't the efforts put into cinematography be wasted?
Bhaskar:
Machines don't make movies. It is the brain behind them which should bring meaning to the work. If people are not creative then however  advanced the technology and machines may be, it will be useless. Even a single camera with a good lens is enough to make a meaningful movie with lasting impact. So it is important for an artiste to express what he wants to, effectively rather than just making movies for commercial purposes.
Kaagaz Ke Phool was not a great hit at the time it was released, but now it is considered as a classic. Success should not be measured by the amount of cash collected. It should inspire you to a higher thought.
Art movies do touch individuals. But these days we rarely get to see them…
Bhaskar:
If art film-makers had made an effort to open theatres in every place around 20 years back, may be this would not have been the situation. However, there is still a ray of hope. Doordarshan telecast art films on every Sundays but later they stopped. Now Lok Sabha Channel has taken over. It is also up to the people to develop interest and make it a point to watch them.
"Success shouldn't be measured by the amount of cash collected. It should inspire you to a higher thought."
Cinematographers are like bass players in a band. They play a very important role but usually go unnoticed. Are they getting the importance that has long been due to them?
Bhaskar: That is very true. The Dada Saheb Phalke Award-2008 to V.K. Murthy is a sign of improvement. Irony is that it took such a long time for cinematographers to get recognised. It is the same in Hollywood also. The room at the top is small and people who are already there are scared that someone else may occupy it (laughs)! However, you don't need an award to tell the audience that a movie is good. They can judge for themselves.
Having worked with so many Directors, who do you feel is the best?
Bhaskar: Every director has his own speciality and I liked working with all of them. It is not the question of best but I enjoy working with Sathyu because he himself is a technician and he can understand what exactly a technician goes through. Also, for me it does not matter if it is an art movie or commercial. The meaning conveyed by the movie is what matters most.
You have worked with a youngster like Nagesh Kukunoor in 'Hyderabad Blues 2.' He made very different movies like Rockford and Iqbal which was much appreciated by audiences. How was it working with him?
Bhaskar:
He is disciplined and is always ready with a well-prepared script. He is very organised in his work unlike many other directors. Being both an actor and director is quite challenging and poses a few difficulties. But it was great working with him. However, an artiste should stick to what he does best. He has carved out a niche for himself with some of his earlier movies like Iqbal but later he destroyed it by jumping into commercial movies. People like Benegal and Sathyu have not let down their audience as they have stuck to what they do best. Whether or not the movie is a hit, they have constantly done what the audience always look forward to in their works. This is what makes them great and stand out from the rest. Purpose of an artiste is like a lone individual.
Which work of yours do you consider a masterpiece?
Bhaskar: More than a masterpiece, there was this movie which we had to shoot in Nagpur forest which was the most challenging task I have faced. The vehicle carrying generator and lights met with an accident. So we were left with no lights except for two portable ones I had carried along with me. The Director left the decision to me as to whether we should continue or go back. It was a tough and risky call but I chose to continue. While shooting a campfire scene, one of the lights I had fused out and we were left with just one light. Also in those days we didn't have high speed films. So we got 6 petromax lights from the local officials and with the one remaining light along with a jeep headlight we finished the shot. It was a risk any cinematographer would never dare to take. I won't call it a perfect shot but it was like a batsman scoring 4 runs in one ball at a crucial point in the match. And today I can proudly take credit for it. It shows that things can be achieved with minimal resources.
Currently I am working on two films — one mainstream and the other is a Sanskrit film. My masterpiece is yet to come along.
A few last words…
Bhaskar:
Pursue your passion, whatever it may be. There is always a great joy and satisfaction in doing what you like.

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