'Madhuri gets more beautiful'
Cinematographer Binod Pradhan finds his muse in Devdas
For a native of Kalimpong, West Bengal, zest, energy and sheer talent were all that propelled Binod Pradhan to become one of the most renowned names in cinematography.
Having worked in films like Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Khamosh and Kundan Shah's Jaane Bhi Do Yaron as a struggler, Pradhan broke new ground in Chopra's Parinda and 1942 -- A Love Story. He was also hailed for the way his camera 'caressed the lush environment of Kashmir' in Chopra's Mission Kashmir.
Now comes Sanjay Leela Bhansali's lavish saga,
Devdas, starring Madhuri Dixit, Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai. Made at a whopping Rs 500 million, the film, Indian cinema's most expensive ever, is a fillip in Pradhan's career.
He tells Arti R what it took to mount a film of this scale:
I first met Sanjay on the sets of 1942 -- A Love Story [the songs of which Bhansali choreographed]. I was supposed to shoot Khamoshi (starring Manisha Koirala, Salman Khan, Nana Patekar, Seema Biswas), with him. That did not work out --- I began work on Vidhu's [Vinod Chopra] Kareeb (starring Bobby Deol, Neha).
It took time to adjust to Sanjay's style of work. I am known to be a slow cameraman. Initially, we would discuss camera angles and how he wanted a scene shot. But now, I can read his mind. I know exactly what he wants.
I was loaned by Vidhu [Vinod Chopra] to [Sanjay Leela] Bhansali for Devdas! *laughs*
Though Sanjay has assisted Vidhu, the two are poles apart. In sensibility and in volume. Working with Chopra, have turned me tone deaf --- he is always holding a mouthpiece and yelling into my ear!
Sanjay is more meticulous and painstaking. I had no trouble sticking to the period while shooting the film, because Sanjay did all the research. He also handles love stories with a sensitivity that I have never seen on screen before. Vidhu, on the other hand, is brilliant at handling thrillers and dramatic films.
People ask me whether I have a visual style. I would hope not. I do not want my films to carry a Binod Pradhan trademark. I would hate it if my films looked alike. Of course, my working methods and my approach is similar because I am known for my soft lights and my fondness for highlighting the details of a scene, which may not be warranted.
For Mission Kashmir (starring Sanjay Dutt, Hrithik Roshan, Preity Zinta, Sonali Kulkarni), we went with a stark gritty look as the film was hard-hitting, while Devdas has a softer, more romantic feel.
This is not a breezy love story, so it walks a thin line between looking glamorous and pretty. What I added to Devdas was a lot of colour to made it rich as well as a lot of intricate detailing.
The intricacies, the challenges of shooting a periodical like Devdas and its huge sets excited me. Art director Nitin Desai's sets were the largest and the best I have ever seen. We share a close understanding. Everything about his work is just perfect.
We never shot on any real-life locations; everything was shot on the huge sets recreated at Mumbai's Filmcity. The train buggies we shot were recreated from that era; we went to Bikaner, Rajasthan (in the northwestern state of India), to shoot in the train that was used in that period.
Initially, I spent two days just lighting the sets and checking the effect through my lens. Then, I would spend a few hours before each shot checking the lighting.
My biggest challenge was shooting Chandramukhi's (played by Madhuri Dixit) haveli, and capture Madhuri in dance. It was a night scene and lighting it up was a big task. Once lit, with 40 generators of 75 kilowatts each, it looked like a small township. That is my favourite scene in the film.
There were bad days, too --- we could not shoot for five days in a row because of the rains. I would light up the sets every night and have to pack up without shooting a single shot. Eventually, I became so good at predicting the weather that I would ask for pack up before the downpour began!
The accidents on the sets [two unit members were killed when the blades of a huge storm fan spun loose; a lightman lost his footing and fell from a 35 feet ladder to his death], could have happened anywhere. We were not careless. Sometimes, mishaps happen.
But they did make the atmosphere on the sets tense. Every time we heard the slightest noise, we feared the worst. At times like these, Sanjay looked like the world was coming to an end. But the moment he started working again, he was fine.
We were worried about the scene when the two leading ladies, Madhuri and Aishwarya, had to act with each other. We did not know if sparks would fly. But they got along well. They are so beautiful from behind the lens. However, after the first few days, you had to stop looking at the beauty and get on with the film!
I had shot Madhuri earlier, in Parinda (starring Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor, Nana Patekar). She was beautiful then, she is even more beautiful now.
I did not use any references for Devdas. I consciously avoided the temptation of watching the original for fear that there might be a look or camera angle that might subconsciously stay in my mind. But then, both the canvases are different.
As a cameraman, one does know when you have a winner on your hands. For instance, the lovemaking scene in Parinda. Done any other way, that scene would have fallen flat on our face. But it looked great.
After Devdas, I will begin work on two films --- Vidhu Vinod Chopra's next and Raju Hirani's (Chopra's editor) debut film with Shah Rukh Khan.
ALSO READ: The Devdas Special