Ace cinematographer Santosh Sivan pushes the envelope with Sony’s F35 for Owais Husain’s Majra (working title). Chesta Shah Sengupta meets the team in Manali and focuses on what makes this film so unique
What germinated as a collection of nine short stories on love has turned out to be an entire feature length film of 90 minutes. For independent film maker and son of the renowned artist MF Husain, Owais Husain is near completion of his debut film as director tentatively titled Majra loosely translated as What transpired here?
Passionate about film, Husain uses the film medium as his canvas. He has teamed up with his wife Reima Faiza Husain (see credits text box) who is also producing the film under the banner of Raamz Media. The film has been independently financed and is looking at a worldwide release later this year.
“Basically, it is a small collaboration between Reima and myself,” says Husain. “We both come from different backgrounds- her background is film making and while she understands the language of cinema I understand the language of painting,” he says.
Reima Husain comes from a family of film makers (her uncles are Saeed Mirza and Aziz Mirza) and has began her career in advertising. She has worked with both of them and also assisted MF Husain in both his productions – Gajgamini and Meenaxi – A tale of Three Cities. “Independent film production is a challenge and quite exhilarating as well,” says she. “You are not answerable to anybody for what you are doing and have a complete control over the creative,” she explains. “It is an artist’s dream come true - you do exactly what you want, but the flip side is that: it is not necessary that everybody will buy into it,” she adds. “So that is a chance you have to take,” says Husain.
“For Owais it is more about self expression than anything else and I think it is important to allow him to tell the story the way he wants to,” she says. “Moreover I feel that audiences today are ready to experiment and see something different other than the run-of-the-mill formula films,” adds Husain.
This endeavour is an amalgamation of exchanges between two creative individuals, exploring a medium that has the ability to reach a large audience across caste, creed and borders. “No art is original and everything already exists in nature,” says Husain. “If you are a good artist, you can make an apple look like one, if you are a very good artist you can make it look so real that you want to take it and eat it and if you are a genius, you can make the viewer forget that this was ever an apple and look only at what you have created,” he adds.
Having worked earlier with his father and Santosh Sivan on Meenaxi – A Tale of Three Cities, Husain’s first choice for a DoP was naturally Sivan as they share a special creative understanding beyond words and images. “When I narrated the concept of the short stories to Santosh, he was really excited and we just hit it off from day one,” recalls Husain. “It was with his encouragement that the entire blossomed into a full length feature,” he adds.
Husain had intricate creative plans for his film. While he did not believe in special effects and gimmicks, he wanted to use multi layers to tell his story. “We wanted a high shooting ratio and flexibility,” says Sivan “and hence opted for the HD digital format,” he adds.
The director and producer placed complete trust in Sivan’s decisions. “If Santosh chose the F35 for Owais, there must have been a reason. He is in sync with Owais’s vision,” says the producer.
Before Sivan zeroed in on the F35 for this project, he did extensive research on the types of camera available and their outputs. While in Japan, Sivan had the opportunity and accessibility to cameras from all over the world. “I actually like the idea that the F35 shoots 50 frames progressive. I also like the idea of recording on tape as it easily fulfils the requirement of a high shooting ratio,” says Sivan. “The camera is user friendly and easy to use - not huge or intimidating like some others,” he adds. When Sivan saw the results of the F35, he knew that the camera had the potential to meet Husain’s demands as an artist and director. “I will not say that this format is better than film or vice-versa. The creative needs dictate the kind of equipment to be used. It is good to do video (that’s how HD is referred to even while shooting a film) for several reasons – one of them being the user of lesser lights. “I also like the F35 as it comes with a monitor - the LMD 940W - which almost translates everything that you see through the camera viewfinder as is. It gives you exactly what the camera captures - so you can see white, whiter, whitest, thus enabling you to take a decision on the spot,” Sivan further explains.
Anjuli Shukla, a DoP herself, Sivan’s first assistant and head of the second unit thinks that the F35 is a good camera. “In terms of latitude and exposures, Sony has given settings so that the user is able to make their own adjustments and set up for various ISOs,” says Shukla. “On this camera you can record 24 frames progressive at 4:4:4 and also 50 frames progressive on 4:2:2,” adds Shukla.
Sivan also likes the idea of going through tape rather than a hard disk form. “This film has a lot of softness within the frame like mist and smoke, and as we soften the lights we use, we decided to go this way, he says.” There is also a film camera on set as standby for additional high speeds. “But then as we go along, we are relying less on the film camera and more on the HD format,” says Sivan.
The camera is rugged as well according to Shukla. “We have been putting it everywhere - in the jeep, on the crane, handheld, on table ground...in fact we also put it up vertically up and did a horse flying shot... we have put it in almost all positions and it is sturdy,” says Shukla.
The F35 offers good colour, tone, highlights, latitude and offers the flexibility to shoot at different ISOs and gammas, just like a film. Shukla feels that this innovation is quite good as Sony has tried to work out a format that allows a DoP to feel closer to the way he is working with the actual film media. “They have also given us all the compatible equipments and have been supportive,” she adds.
It is difficult to compare a film camera with a digital one. “I think every medium has its advantages and disadvantages,” says Sivan. “Mostly, it’s the script that dictates,” he says. What you might be able to do with film may not be possible on video for example. “Today we have a vast range of choices and possibilities,” he adds. No doubt the budget of the film also compels the DoP to make certain choices, but it’s not always a budget decision. “HD is a good option and viable for independent film makers,” according to Sivan. “When you see this film you will see that I have pushed the video and shot in such a way so as to achieve more highlights,” he reveals.
According to Sivan, we all should be in a position to embrace change. “A lot of kids make a film on phones these days. Thus technology has increased the creative urge. In olden days film making was an expensive business, and you could not just go and make a film,” says Sivan. “But today if you have the ideas, digital platforms actually help you do it. And as a professional I would definitely like to marry the best of both worlds - so I’ll shoot on film because of the kind of control you have and the quality of a super 35 image and on digital for flexibility. So, each medium has its advantages,” he elucidates.
According to Suri Gopalan who will be handling the international distribution of the film, technology is constantly evolving and the size and scope of this film is big and requires Husain’s visual direction and Sivan’s capabilities. “Independent film making is what Owais does. And I think it takes a lot of courage to self finance a film because you believe in the story. “It is purely an independent, creative work of art,” adds Gopalan. “In that way, what the digital platform does is that it allows people to take extraordinary risks in making things with limited funds and putting in their own money and that is what the creative business is all about,” he adds.
According to Chetan Motiwala, line producer working with Husain and Sivan itself is a challenge. “We need to keep pace with them,” says Motiwala. “Husain as a film maker is very organised and keeps evolving - he keeps getting ideas and things keep changing all the time but he is very sure what he is doing, he just keeps the systems in place so that whatever changes are taking place it is easier to execute those changes,” he adds.
Speaking to Shukla on the challenges of working with Sivan, she says she began her career with him and hence it was natural to be drawn in the film making process right from the start - from conceptualising, scripting and everything as Sivan is a writer, director, producer and DoP. “When one is working with someone like him, you are involved with the film, you are with the film through and through, from the beginning till the end. And even when you are shooting, he will ask you for your opinion, suggestions. I think it is wonderful, you are constantly thinking and evolving which I think it is good for one’s own individual growth as well,” says Shukla.
Make up and costume also play an important role in achieving the right look. Husain was clear what he was after and the way he wanted it. “Owais briefed me on the story , on the requirements of the shot and his interpretation of the characters and the way he wanted them to look, “ says Mehera Colah, head makeup and hair. “The challenge when you work with such high end cameras is that they pick up all details and hence you have to be really perfect. There is a lot of mist in the mountains and a lot of water on the actors in the form of dewiness and that is always tricky for the hair and makeup as it is constantly getting the artist wet,” says Colah. “We have to be on our toes and start our day as early as about 4:30 am. We are the first one in and the last one to get out,” she says.
Raisa Husain has designed the costumes and having worked with MF Husain on his earlier films she says that Owais Husain’s colour palette is a lot different. “Owais is more into the weaves of his work and also his life. It’s not the just the colour, it’s the fabric that has textures,” she says.
“It was his idea on this film to take a salwar-kurta in its simplicity but not make it very boring or very familiar. He said give a little twist to it, add the detailing,” she says.
In all, as Shukla says it is not about industry, the technology or the budget. It is about expressing yourself. “I think every artistic medium is something that allows you to express yourself whether it is painting or writing or poetry or whatever and I think cinema is something that encompasses all these different things,” she says. “You can put them together and make a blend that is the beauty of cinema,” she says.
Husain has a lot of people who believe in him, in what he does and are firmly there behind him. With his team securely in place and behind him like solid rock, we as an audience now need to take our leap of faith. “In a sense, we never planned to do the straight line...so we started somewhere and we still don’t know where we’re heading...but we have opened our hearts somewhere, that the view looks bright,” concludes Owais Husain in true artistic and poetic style.
Features of the Sony F35
Sony’s new F35 digital cinematography camera system, offers a rich array of functionality, including a 35mm CCD image sensor, 10-bit full band-width RGB 4:4:4 recording and a PL lens mount for cinematographers who have a passion for 35mm film lenses.
At the heart of the F35 is a new Super 35mm-sized CCD sensor that offers full resolution of 1920 x 1080 at a picture rate of up to 50 progressive frames per second. The F35 also offers an extended dynamic range of 800%, and an improved signal-to-noise ratio that gives ‘quieter’ blacks even during dark scenes.
Likewise, the wide latitude of the pre-set S-log Gamma maintains the tonal gradation of night sky scenes, and enables users to retain the detail in sunlit areas and shadows. The CCD sensor’s picture quality has a flexible depth-of-field control, as well as full-bandwidth 4:4:4 digital RGB output.
The F35 is designed on a similar platform as the F23, providing similar capabilities such as an SR Motion feature and over- and under-crank capture, plus an ergonomic design that allows direct docking with Sony’s SRW-1 portable HDCAM-SR recorder.
It’s also possible to use an F23 and the new F35 in combination, for even more creative freedom.
As a cinematographer some films include:
Raavan (2010) (post-production)
The Mistress of Spices (2005)
Meenaxi: Tale of 3 Cities (2004)
Theeviravaathi: The Terrorist (1999)
Dil Se (1998)
Kala Pani (1996)
As a director some films include:
Before the Rains (2007)
Theeviravaathi: The Terrorist (1999)
As writer some films include:
Theeviravaathi: The Terrorist (1999)
As producer some films include:
Bollywood Dream (2010)
Majra (working title) credits
Director: Owais Husain
Producer: Reima Faiza Husain
DoP: Santosh Sivan (i.s.c)
Music: Amit Trivedi
Lyrics: Rahat Indori
Story: Reima Faiza Husain, Owais Husain
Screenplay: Manu Warrier, Owais Husain
Dialogues: Somen Mishra
Additional Dialogues: MF Husain
Line Producer: Chetan Motiwalla
Production Design: Sukhant and Helen Panigrahi
Editor: Shakti Hasija
Sound Design: Rishi Oberoi
Choreography: Bosco, Ceaser
Costume: Raisa Husain