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The Rediff Interview
'Koi Mil Gaya, India's first sci-fi film'
January 23, 2003
Cinematographer Ravi K Chandran is working on Rakesh Roshan's Koi Mil Gaya, starring Hrithik Roshan and Preity Zinta.
Not many people are aware of what the film is all about -- the director has guarded the film's theme closely, preferring to go about his work than entertain publicity for it.
Here, Ravi Chandran tells Shobha Warrier what it was like working on this big budget film and about the other biggie he is working on: Shankar's fun movie Boys:
Was the atmosphere on the sets of Koi Mil Gaya tense since Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai was such a huge hit?
He [Rakesh Roshan] is making this film two years after Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai. He has forgotten all about it. The only thing on his mind is his new film. Naturally, the atmosphere was very relaxed and fun-filled.
We shot most parts of the film in Mumbai and some parts in Nainital.
It is a sci-fi movie, isn't it?
It is a science fiction film, but very native too. It is a science fiction film with commercial elements in it. You may say the story is inspired by many science fiction Hollywood films in the sense that there is an alien in the film.
But that is not the story of the film. The storyline is very interesting, but I'm sorry I cannot divulge more about it.
To me, it was an interesting project to work on -- I got a chance to work with very good technicians from the US and Australia. Marc Kolbe who worked on Godzilla has done the special effects in Koi Mil Gaya. Technicians from Australia designed the alien in the film.
As there is an alien in the film, did you see any Hollywood films like Alien or ET for reference?
No, I didn't. If I watch those films for reference and then shoot this one, there is bound to be some resemblance between the two, which I didn't want to happen.
Was it fun shooting the alien?
It was great fun. Everything was so organised on the sets that I enjoyed it. You could call this India's first science fiction film. There are many more new elements in the film, like spacecraft, the alien. When you are working with excellent technicians you learn a lot.
I know how to light a human face or a house, but I haven't lit an alien face before. So I decided to light the eyes of the alien more because the eyes were very life-like. I thought only if you light its eyes you would be able to highlight the human element in it.
So throughout the film, I have fixed a light on its eyes.
You also can't shoot an alien in very bright light. So I used a lot of smoke and shadows. I also made it a point to keep the alien in the background with a lot of leaves and bushes in the foreground. These are some of the things I learnt while working in the film.
You said it is a science film with commercial elements. Could you elaborate?
It is basically a commercial film but the director has incorporated many new things in the film. Rakesh Roshan is very clear about what he is making.
Hrithik is not the usual Hrithik Roshan in this film. He has done a very good job.
As the technicians are from the US and Australia, the technical aspects of the film are more convincing and believable. It is not tacky. I think the film will work.
As a cameraman, I had to blend commercialism with fantasy elements. It was a very satisfying experience. Those who have seen the rushes loved it. The shooting is almost over except the climax and a song.
Since it is a science fiction film, you must have experimented a lot as a technician.
In India, the problem is you cannot experiment too much in a commercial film. We face a lot of problems.
No. When I do a film like [the Malayalam film] Punaradhivasam, which we shot in 11 days with just basic lights, I experiment a lot. At most places where we shot the film, there was not even a generator. We shot so many people in the dark.
Movies like Alien, ET, etc were also shot in a very dark ambience. But the problem here is you cannot see such frames in our theatres.
Our projectors are very bad, our lenses very old. Nobody maintains them properly. So you cannot see very sharp pictures if they are shot really in the dark.
Can you describe Koi Mil Gaya as a conventional film?
As far as storyline is concerned, it is not a conventional film at all. The director has given it the treatment of a commercial film.
When you have a big hero like Hrithik Roshan in a film, you have to add a lot of commercial elements to meet people's expectations. People would want to see Hrithik Roshan and Preity Zinta looking beautiful. So it is a question of making Hrithik Roshan more handsome and Preity prettier! They are good-looking people but we should make them look even more beautiful. So you have to shoot the film with that in mind.
As a cinematographer, is it a handicap for you to make actors and actresses look beautiful and glamorous all the time?
No, it is not a handicap. If you are a good actor, you know where the light is falling on you and whether you look good or not in that light. All actors are aware of lights. One look at the mirror and they will know whether they are looking good or not.
I was working with Rekha in Koi Mil Gaya. She used to look at the mirror, turn and then ask me, do you think the eye line is right? Should I turn my face a bit? Then I would adjust the light according to her position.
When she felt she was looking good, she would look at you and smile.
Do you think actors and actresses are obsessed with their looks?
In Hindi films, looks matter more than anything else. It is not so in Tamil or Malayalam cinema.
Hindi films live on the 'Filmfare look.' All of them (actors) think they should look like they have come out of a magazine cover in every shot! They don't think of real life images at all. Very few films are made in a realistic way like [Ram Gopal Varma's] Company.
I read an interview with a Hindi film heroine who had worked on a big film. On being asked about the role, she said her lipstick was gaudy in two scenes!
I must say you do have very good actors like Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Aamir Khan, who are very sensible and want to do better cinema even though they are playing to the commercial market.
The huge market wants only Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham kind of films, not films like Company. You have to make films like K3G to run the industry. You can't run the industry with a Company. Though they may be good, they will not get any money to buyers.
In fact, I was surprised Ajay Devgan accepted such a role and did justice to it. He was fabulous in the film. Only when the audience starts appreciating those kind of films will more people make films like that.
Tell us about Shankar's Boys.
Boys is a youthful film, it has new faces. This is one film I could experiment with a lot. That was because you didn't have to worry about their looks. They are all young -- they will look good anyway.
There is nothing heroic about the film. It is an original film, very, very close to reality and has only real life situations. There is nothing pretentious about the film. You can relate to the film as it is taken out of everybody's life.
Shankar has taken all the incidents from his own and his friends' lives. So it is very close to his heart. That will be the main attraction of the film.
One of the interesting experiments that we did was, like in Matrix, we shot a song with 60 still cameras and froze a frame. Then, we generated a sequence out of it using the computer. So the image was frozen as the camera went around it.
It was a very expensive experiment, and probably the first time somebody has used such a technique in India.
Was it your idea to use such a technique?
It was basically Shankar's idea. He had tried the same technique in Nayak with 34 movie cameras.
In Boys, we used 60 still cameras and froze the frame. We decided to do that because the lyrics talks about frozen moments.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj