The noted cinematographer, produced and director, Govind Nihalani, known for films like ‘Aakrosh’ and ‘Ardh Satya’ as well as television serial, ‘Tamas’ is attending the International Film Festival of India 2017/ Film Bazaar. Nihalani, whose film ‘Ardh Satya’ is also being screened at the film festival as homage to actor, Om Puri, has a heart-to-heart conversation with NT BUZZ
RAMNATH N PAI RAIKAR | NT NETWORK
- You have returned to direction after more than a decade, with a Marathi film, ‘Ti ani Itar’, released earlier this year. Why did you choose a Marathi film as your return vehicle, long after directing ‘Dev’ in 2004?
I have a long relationship with Marathi films. In fact, I started my career with a Marathi film, ‘Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe’ of which, I was the director of photography and also the co-producer. It was based on a play by Vijay Tendulkar and directed by Satyadev Dubey. Since then my association with Marathi films continued as I had shot two other films in between namely Shriram Lagoo’s ‘Zaakol’ and Gajendra Ahire’s ‘Anumati’. When recently I got a chance to direct ‘Ti ani Itar’ based on an English play, ‘Lights Out’ by Manjula Padmanabhan, I asked Shanta Gokhale to prepare the script for the film. In fact, the play itself was based on a real-life incident that had happened in Mumbai, during late 1980s. The play always remained with me as it was a good subject, and I felt that it had substance if we could modernise the same. As desired, Shanta Gokhale adapted it to contemporary Mumbai, which I think worked out quite well.
I also thought that the time was ripe for directing a Marathi film, looking at what was happening in the Marathi cinema today. The Marathi film directors are experimenting both in terms of content and form. On the level of attempting new things, new ideas, I think Marathi cinema today is very dynamic. The way it has continued for the last few years, I think this trend in Marathi cinema to constantly explore new stories and newer ways of telling them, is very encouraging as also positive.
- Cinema has moved from the days of celluloid films to digital technology, with newer equipments like red cameras, 4K cameras that are arriving on the scene. As a cinematographer, do you feel that these machines have taken over the human task, and the warmth found in celluloid movies is now lost?
I think it is a very positive development. One can’t fight technology. And whatever technology does, it finally makes things more beautiful, easier to operate and more economical, which is very important in film production. Today, you make the film in digital format, and the production is less time consuming since you shoot the scene and directly send it to the editing table. There are no rushes, no laboratory processing, in between… So things are becoming simpler, economical and faster in film production. As a result more and more people are encouraged to try out newer things, and experiment with technology, including those who have not studied cinema in detail. As far as cinema is concerned, this has become an age of unlimited possibilities.
In 20th century, a filmmaker used to challenge technology for providing the desired images, the preferred effects. The technology in turn made efforts to achieve the director’s vision. Today, the scenario is reversed. Now the technology challenges the filmmakers or a cinematographer to stretch their imagination, and is ready to create the desired visuals. It is very daunting for us as our imagination has a limit, while technology can make possible whatever we have imagined! In short, these are exciting times, and as a result outstanding works are being produced. When I look around, I feel as if we are floating in an ocean of images. The whole world has become a movie screen because today anything from iPad to a small cell phone can create an image. We just cannot escape it now, and have to compulsorily deal with images and sound.
- How important is the content of the film? You have largely depended on the existing material, say from a short story on which ‘Ardh Satya’ (1982) was based, to a play for making ‘Party’ (1984), to a Hindi novel used for the television serial ‘Tamas’ (1988), to a Bengali book adapted to produce ‘Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa’ (1998). Are the movies based on the existing material become more effective?
I don’t think there is any such rule; I cannot even give a general tip that if you follow existing literature to make a film, then you will achieve some kind of success. It all depends on the sensibility of the person making the film. If he is a good reader and a person well aware about things taking place around him, he can source the matter from these places. Or for that matter, he can pick up available old classical literature. The source is unimportant. The choice of the source as decided by one’s literary sensibility, one’s aesthetic sensibility, one’s graphic sensibility, is important. And then the way a filmmaker treats this content, decides how he goes across and connects with the people namely the audience, is also vital. This is because the real strength of cinema lies with the audience; how they look at the filmmaker’s work, how they interpret it, how they respond to it. When a filmmaker adopts contemporary literature, he deals with writers who share the time span with the filmmaker, and hence are part of the filmmaker’s sensibility. It then becomes a win-win situation. But then the ideas can come from anywhere.
- Tell us about the ‘Encyclopedia of Hindi Cinema’, a project you took up with Saibal Chatterjee and Gulzar.
Ah, yes! That was a totally surprising thing for me. The offer was made to me (to collaborate in this project). I was excited by the fact that I was getting a chance to interact, think and know about my own medium, in Indian context, for the first time. In fact, I was handling only one part that is Indian cinematography. I welcomed it since it became a window to my past, my roots, and how cinematography evolved in India. I just did it because I loved it.
You had been associated with television during its golden age in India, and involved with Doordarshan serials like ‘Tamas’ (1988) and ‘Bharat ek Khoj’ (1988). How do you see the multi-channeled evolution of television today?
In numbers and quantity and volume, it has grown huge and it will continue to grow because now television has to be seen not only as the medium of images, but also as an entertainment industry. Within this trend, what we will see on the small screen would be full of variety and a challenge to the creative team of artists like writers, cinematographers, directors and the actors, as to what actually they produce. The television medium will always be influenced by our contemporary history. A war, a riot, a victory… Everything will be reflected in television.
- How do you see the present role of the National Film Development Corporation, since it has financed many quality films in the 1980s, including your own ‘Party’ (1984)?
In those days NFDC was the only agency, which supported production of good cinema. It was created to help the filmmakers. Now the position has changed. They continue to do that but their scope has expanded in a different way. Film Bazaar, a contemporary phenomenon, is run by the NFDC and it is expanding. Big multinationals are coming here and making Indian films. So this is a constant phenomenon that will keep happening due to the economic situation, and the business cinema generates in India, especially as India is a world player.