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Guzaarish: Bong creation
Sudeep Chatterjee with Sanjay Leela Bhansali (left) and Hrithik Roshan on the sets of Guzaarish

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.

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