Nothing will be remembered except the film,” believes Supratim Bhol, popularly known as Joy, who has won the National Film Award for Best Cinematography in 2022 for Avijatrik. The Subhrajit Mitra-directed film is a “sequel” to Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy. The Kolkata boy was also behind the camera for Dada Lakhmi, directed by Yashpal Sharma, which has bagged the National Award for Best Haryanvi Film 2022. With six Bengali films, three Hindi films, and one Haryanvi film in his kitty, Supratim considers himself a “beginner” and aims to create timeless frames. TT Online caught up with the elated 42-year-old National Award winner, who’s also an FTII Pune graduate.
What does the National Award mean to you?
Supratim Bhol: It was there on my wish list forever. It’s a moment of happiness for me and my parents, especially my 94-year-old grandmother who brought me up. This is the beginning of my career, and this is what I want to do in my way. I have a lot of gratitude, but it will not bring much of a change to the hard work that I was doing since my first film.
When you were filming Avijatrik, did it ever occur to you that this is a special film, or was it like any other work?
Supratim Bhol: Avijatrik is a special film subject-wise, as nobody has attempted a sequel to The Apu Trilogy (directed by Satyajit Ray). We didn’t take any added pressure because it could have led us into a fiasco. We treated it like an independent film. We tried to recreate a few locations. There is a legacy involved with the film and people who had worked in The Apu Trilogy were stalwarts. This is a continuation of The Apu Trilogy, so we needed to keep that in mind along with the richness involved with it. There is a kind of emotion that is embedded in the minds of Bengalis. With Apu coming back after 60 years, nowhere could we slip or fall. Every film has its challenge. Whenever I take up a film project, I unlearn what I had learnt in the previous project.
Supratim Bhol with Arpita Chatterjee on the sets of Avijatrik. Supratim Bhol
Is it an added joy that a film, originally made in your mother tongue, got you the first national recognition?
Supratim Bhol: This is something very huge. Getting recognition in my mother tongue is very inspiring and encouraging. I believe this is a blessing that has culminated and it’s the beginning of my career.
On a personal level, did you relate to Apu, the globetrotter?
Supratim Bhol: The character of Apu in Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito is my favourite and the film is my most favourite ever. I have a T-shirt with the film’s poster on it and it is my only T-shirt with a film poster. In Avijatrik, I felt Arjun (Chakrabarty) has done a wonderful job as he was the driving force of all my frames. The kind of involvement and dedication he has shown is marvellous. Arjun has created some magic on screen.
Your cinematography in Anik Datta’s Aparajito has been praised too. Tell us about your preparation and your approach to shooting the film.
Supratim Bhol: Aparajito is about the making of a film (Pather Panchali). I watched some films which had been shot in the digital format and one of them is Mank, which I watched very closely, before shooting Aparajito. The main character in Aparajito, played by Jeetu Kamal, showed a Ray much before he became a legend. This film shows Ray as an ordinary man from an affluent family. He’s a graphic artist in an advertising agency. He’s a common man and portraying that man was challenging because, you know, this person has a towering personality. The way I have put the lighting and taken the shots, Jeetu Kamal looks like a next-door boy who is trying to make his first film.
As a technician, what challenges do you face and how do you overcome those?
Supratim Bhol: Since the time the digitisation of cinema happened, the market has opened and a lot of people are getting work. The market has expanded a lot with films, shows and web series. I feel shooting a film has a discipline that is somehow missing when shooting for digital. Even if there are four shots required, we end up taking six to seven shots, unlike in films. I do a lot of other things on the sets for the art department. I get my art arranged to make the frame look good. The script drives me. The honesty I come up with is visible because nothing will be remembered except the film.
A lot of people have a problem with Instagram, which was initially created as a photo-sharing platform but is now becoming more like TikTok. As someone who started with photography and then took up cinematography, what’s your take on it?
Supratim Bhol: There is a lot of digital work happening and during the pandemic we shot an ad on the iPhone. My daughter and I were at home, and the other artist and the director were at their places. The entire shoot of the ad was remotely shot on Zoom by sharing a screen with a few filming mobile apps. We have used technology for a lot of ads. Using technology for good is always welcomed by me.
You shoot a ton of ad films in Mumbai. Tell us about Amitabh Bachchan, Ranveer Singh and the other actors you have worked with recently.
Supratim Bhol: The kind of professionalism shown by the celebrities shows the hard work and discipline they follow and that is what I have learnt from them. Ranveer Singh is Ranveer Singh because of his hard work. We were shooting a few digital ads and even in it, the kind of involvement he showed is amazing. Similarly, Alia Bhatt is a thorough professional and gets involved in giving her best. Once Amitabh Bachchan was there for 40 to 50 minutes on the sets, the entire unit had become disciplined like him during that period. He has an infectious energy. And I must talk about Yashpal Sharma. He is a brilliant actor. He is so prepared while directing. He has had immense faith in me.
Who is your inspiration? Among today’s cinematographers, whose work would you never miss?
Supratim Bhol: Subrata Mitra (who worked with Satyajit Ray) and Sudeep Chatterjee (cinematographer for Chak De!, Guzaarish, Gangubai Kathiawadi, Dhoom 3, Padmaavat, Bajirao Mastani) inspire me. Sudeep Chatterjee is very versatile; he has done drama, comedy, period, thriller and a lot more. I look forward to his work.
What are you working on next?
Supratim Bhol: I am working in Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali films but I can’t reveal much.