Shooting Stars and Other Stories
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Cinematographer Ravi Varman on the light that can make frames speak.
Natural light can change the way a film feels, it lends freshness to each frame. But darkness is equally important. If one can separate the light from the dark in a frame in a subtle manner, that alone can convey so much.
When I was approached to work on Barfi!, I realised that one aspect differentiated it from other Hindi films which have had protagonists with disabilities — it was a happy film. But how does one convey happiness with protagonists who cannot speak? For me it was an opportunity to utilise light, an element of filmmaking that is often underestimated.
Barfi! has the dreamy look of an imaginary town. The lead character played by Ranbir Kapoor cannot speak, so we made sure that the light communicates on his behalf. When he is happy, the frame is full of light; but when he is sad, the audience feels it instantly because we used a dark background. The music and the colours in every frame added to this play of light. Even while using less light, we created the mood in a way that it looked more magical and natural. To make this possible, I shot on Super 35mm stock along with a telephoto lens for greater depth. I doubt if digital filmmaking will ever be able to match this quality.
We shot mostly at sunrise, using the magical sunlight that peeped from behind the mountains in Darjeeling. But the challenge was that the light changed constantly. That is where the lighting department stepped in. We tried to recreate the same lighting using artificial light and equipment. It is not easy to tell the difference, and that was a very difficult task to pull off.
The fact that my work for Barfi! enhanced the film is, I would say, a matter of chance. I say this because lighting for no two films can be the same. Right now, I am shooting for Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Ram Leela. The characters, the mood, the setting, and each scene is different from Barfi!'s. I cannot use a formula and apply it to this film, especially since Ram Leela is unlike Bhansali's last three projects — Black, Saawariya and Guzaarish — where he chose to forgo ample light, something that is in direct contrast with my style.