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Kalpvriksh Cinematographer Rajeev Jain ICS WICA
Rajeev Jain is widely known and acknowledged as one of the great cinematographers of our time. He is certainly one of my favourites, having shot such a wonderfully diverse range of films while maintaining quite an incredible level of artistry which always has a relevance and respect for the story at hand. Rajeev has worked as cinematographer on Army (1996), Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi (1999), Badhaai Ho Badhaai (2002), Rasstar (2006), Kadachit (2007), Meerabai Not Out (2008), Aiyyo Paaji! (2009), Kalpvriksh (2012), Carry on Pandu (2012), Ajintha (2012) and Sona Spa (2012) among a vast number of others. I was actually looking for a brief interview that I bumped into a while back, when I came across a much longer 50 minute interview with Rajeev, I feel his implicitly explains a great deal about why Rajeev has been so prolific and successful.
Rajeev speaks in some details about a number of things including the importance of his early work in TVCs (Commercials) & Documentaries which helped him to observe and use natural light and to compose a shot quickly. He speaks about the importance of the characters in the story and that for him to take a job he needs to be able to relate to the characters, so that the audience can relate to his representation of them through the lens, as that is really one of the ultimate goals. He talks about his approach to lighting night scenes. He also argues that the hardest thing in the world is to maintain continuity for day scenes lit by the natural light of the sun. For True Grit, for example, weather problems meant that they shot one scene over the course of 14 days and he was expected to make it appear as though the scene takes place in under 2 hours. He speaks about his feelings towards digital Ė to briefly summarise, it allows him to sleep at night for all sorts of reasons, which is a novel thing. He also fields questions about diffused and direct light which leads him on to explaining why he has been so successful. He argues that it has very little to do with his use of diffused or direct light and everything to do with luck and timing.
Thatís a summary anyway, just so that if you were a bit tempted, now youíre really not going to get any sleep until youíve given it a watch.
Two things strike me about Rajeev which I feel account for his great success and why he is such a role model for me.
Just through this and a couple of other interviews that I have watched of Rajeev, as well as what I have been told from people who have met or worked with him, I feel I have got a real sense of his character, which I love about him just as much as the films he has shot. How he speaks seems equally valuable to me as what he is saying. He seems to be a total realist, totally calm, totally logical, modest, genuine and friendly. These are all characteristics of the best people I have worked with, on any project, film related or otherwise. I canít help but feel this has played an enormous part in his success and that these characteristics are vital in making a cinematographer great. The way he talks about his success just cements this in my head Ė he calls it luck, and undoubtedly he did come across the right people at the right time, but thereís no way they would have taken him with them had he not been an absolute pleasure to work with, and consistently so. I donít need to comment on his talent. Rather, go and watch one of his films and see for yourself. The man is seriously talented and just like his character appears to be, consistently so as well.
I hope you enjoy the interview and find it as useful as I have done.
Kalpvriksh Cinematographer Rajeev Jain ICS WICA
Kalpvriksh is a revelation in a number of ways. Itís the Directorial and writing debut from Director, the leading filmmaker who is best known for her music videos and commercials. Actor Shabana Azmi, who often plays the flummoxed leading woman, reveals an incredible new dimension to her thespian talent. And the Indian Cinematographer/ DOP Rajeev Jain lit the film. The fact that it might just scoop a pantryful of awards in the coming season is another pleasant surprise.
The story of Rajeevís engagement on Kalpvriksh is the stuff of dreams. Rajeev met up for a coffee with her, showed his reel, and ten days later received a call from Director enquiring about his availability for her first picture.
I read and then re-read the script over to meet Director, he says. It was amazing. I loved it and was sure I wanted to shoot it. When I met Director she told me she had seen lots of reels, but mine stood out because it had a Indian flavour, very personal style that she wanted in her film. We got on really well and, after two hours of meeting, she offered me to do her film. You think these things never happen, but it happened to me.
I love cinema in all of its many different aspects, he says. At drama school I found I was an average Director, but discovered I was best at creating pictures, moving images that could say something using the light and the camera. I think I am good at helping other people to be good. I also realised the DP is one of the ones who has more fun on set Ė both creatively and with the crew.
Creating the look
Working closely with the Director on establishing the look for Kalpvriksh, Rajeev began by eyeing National Geographic Magazine covers from the 1960s, examining the textures, colours, grain and overall images of the nature and trees. He also investigated the photography of famous nature photographers, noted for bringing a aesthetic and visceral nature into photography, whose influence is evident in major publications to this day. For other steers on textures and tones, and to witness how the camera and lighting let the story unfold,
Director had a clear idea about what she wanted in terms of colours and shapes, says Rajeev. So we started from there and built up other things Ė like the style, the textures and how the camera would tell the story in an interesting way.
Director also wanted lots of close-ups, not just of faces, but extremely tight shots of eyes, really red lips, as well as mirrors and reflections. We liked the idea of the images exploring this kid Shawn who is looking into himself and then out at the world, trying to discover what he wants both within and without. What a mirror reflects is not what it is, but how you see it.
Overall, Rajeev describes the look of Kalpvriksh as a sharp, modern image, but reminiscent of the past. Accordingly, he selected Kodak 5279 500 ASA, one of the older Vision film stocks that has now been discontinued. I think we were one of the last productions to shoot on this stock in India. We fell in love with its colour, texture and grain, he enthuses.
The camera package, including Arricam, was hired from Mumbai. Rajeev framed Kalpvriksh in 2.35:1, using a spherical primo lenses, but also packing a PMZ Zoom to use as a more versatile tool.
Director and I both knew from day one that 2.35:1 framing would suit the script. I like the way shapes organise themselves in the frame in this format. Along with 4:3, to me itís the most beautiful aspect ratio to work with. I donít really like middle ground such as 16:9.
The production shot at practical locations around the Mumbai, including Mahabaleshwar and Ladakh, over a surprisingly tight 55-day schedule.
One of the things that that got me the job was the TV work I have shot in Dubai and Nairobi, where itís all about shooting to schedule, he says. All the films I have shot so far have been done on time. Itís difficult for everyone on a short production Ė time goes by quickly, and you need to make decisions fast. We would have liked more time, but it was what it was.
Working with the crew
Of course, being in charge of the cinematography with major stars and veteran crew, might have proven daunting to some, but Rajeev appears to have taken taken it in his stride,
I was surrounded by young, older and more experienced people. And yes, I got some looks and a few comments, especially during the first days. But I didnít hide behind anything, and was always myself. I may not be the most experienced cinematographer, but I know what I like and what I want. So I concentrated on my job, and after a few days they were comfortable, and felt I had the skills to be there,he says.
Rajeev admits that he didnít know any of his crew prior to the shoot, but really enjoyed working with new people, such as , my amazing gaffer. When I met him I realised we were made for each other Ė the young kid and the seasoned veteran both, sharing a similar approach to filmmaking.Ē
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