'It is a picture of neglect'

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By SUDEEP CHATTERJEE recalls how growing up in Calcutta played a big part in him taking up the camera for Chak De India PRATIM D. GUPTA
  • Published 8.08.07

After Iqbal, Kalpurush, Dor and Jaan-e-Mann, Sudeep Chatterjee is poised to score big — with Yash Raj Films’s Chak De India starring Shah Rukh Khan. Shuttling between Melbourne and the YRF Studios in Andheri, here’s Sudeep Chatterjee talking to t2 about shooting what is India’s first out-and-out sports film.

You are very choosy about what you shoot. Why did you take up Chak De India?

I always like to do something which I have not done before. It’s like a challenge to me. Chak De India presented to me the opportunity of shooting an out-and-out sports film. I love action a lot. Tarpor Kolkatar chhele... I love sports. I may not have ever been a sportsman but being in Calcutta I grew up in an atmosphere where I could appreciate a century by Sunny Gavaskar or cheer Mohun Bagan against East Bengal. So I thought I could relate to the game of hockey. Also I wanted to do something drastically different after Jaan-e-Mann.

What kind of a look did you plan for Chak De India? That hockey the game is in a state of neglect, I wanted that to come out visually. So I wanted to shoot the sport in locations which are not glamorous. Run it down in a way. But then again this was a Yash Raj film starring Shah Rukh Khan. So I couldn’t go completely deglamourised. I tried to create a worked-upon look which stimulates reality. So we ended up using a lot of desaturation and a lot of toning here and there. Adi (Aditya Chopra, producer) had a very different look in his mind but he was very open.

We used tube lights a lot for the shoots inside the studios, when we had to show living quarters, dormitories, locker rooms.

Since hockey is such a fast-paced sport was it difficult to shoot an actual match?

We shot almost 70 to 80 per cent of the film hand-held. See, hockey has never been shot before on this scale anywhere in the world. And hockey by itself is not a very cinematic sport. You have these people bent over running around with sticks. Khali chokhe (naked eye) jeta dekhte bhalo lage camera-te lage na... So we took the help of Rob Miller who runs a sports action choreography company called Reel Sports. He turned the whole action into a dance choreography. The entire ground plan was turned graphically into a comic book storyboard.

How many cameras would you set up for one shot? Initially we had planned to use six cameras at the same time. But then we ended up shooting with a maximum of three cameras simultaneously. The hand-held camera brought a lot of energy to the proceedings and then we used what we shot with the static cameras for the cutaways.

Cinematographers have great things to say about Shah Rukh. What did you think of him? I have not seen an actor so technically perfect. Mark neoa, light bojha... he is always spot on. Also, his involvement and excitement levels are truly infectious. He is a treat to work with.

Shimit’s first film Ab Tak Chhappan was quite a visceral trip...

You will get that gritty feel in Chak De as well. For the last one year that man doesn’t know anything but hockey. He is like a scientist. Also, he is very evolved photographically. I did get a lot of support from him in my attempt to make the movie a complete departure from how Hindi movies are shot.

Any favourite sports films? I only started watching sports films after I took up Chak De. I liked Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday and Kon Ichikawa’s documentary Tokyo Orimpikku on the Tokyo Olympics.

Chak De India has supposedly used 1,500 cans of raw stock, which is a record of sorts in Indian cinema... It’s around 1,000 cans. On an average a film uses 500 cans. Here we were shooting with three cameras simultaneously. So whenever we had to retake we were wasting stocks of three cameras together. That’s no big deal. We had estimated 1,200 cans.

What next? I have already shot two Nagesh Kukunoor films — Bombay To Bangkok and Aashayein. Then I am shooting Kunal Kohli’s next with Saif and Rani.