Although the response to Tubelight has been mixed, among the aspects that has met with unequivocal praise is the cinematography by Aseem Mishra.
Mishra, who has worked on all of Kabir Khan’s films apart from Kabul Express, says one of the things that guided how Tubelight was shot, was the simplicity at its core.
“Tubelight is a very simple film. The look of the film too is simple, because of the script and because it deals with a simple character (Laxman, played by Salman Khan). So the film too was shot in a simple way: the camera is almost always at eye-level. We never go really low angle, or top-angle. The film is captured in a very real way. Even if you see the tones, textures and colours of the film… there’s nothing artificial in the film, there’s nothing artificial about the film,” Mishra told Firstpost in an interview.
Mishra and Kabir Khan studied together, and then they worked on documentary films together. That translates into a level of comfort on the sets that’s possibly the envy of many collaborators.
With Tubelight, Mishra and Kabir followed their usual process: First the director gave Aseem a narration of the story, then presented him with a script to read.
What followed was a conversation “over a cup of tea” about how both of them saw the film. Once these notes are exchanged, they’re ready to start work.
“There’s a completely non-verbal communication that happens between us,” Mishra said, of his equation with Kabir Khan. “From the time that he gives me the script till we see the final rushes, we never have a ‘heavy’ conversation about how we’re going to approach the film… We did our Master’s together, and we share a similar political viewpoint and sensibilities, so that makes it easier. Kabir is also a very honest person when it comes to visualising and executing a scene, he’s a good taskmaster and he does his homework. I feel very comfortable working with him. He has a good eye for detail, and because he has a camera background, it easy for us to communicate. By the time I am setting up my frame, he already knows what kind of lighting I’m going to use, how he’s going to put the characters in the frame. That’s why we shoot so fast and so easily.”
When Mishra was going through the script for Tubelight, he and Kabir Khan agreed that with the backdrop of the story being the 1962 India-China War, the attempt would be to depict the film in the most real possible way.
“We decided that we would not deviate from reality, we would show it as it is. And that was why we chose Manali and Ladakh as the locations… We originally intended to shoot the film in Kashmir, but then had to do it in Manali (because of the situation in the Valley),” said Mishra. And shooting in Ladakh presented its own challenges. “I don’t find situations ‘challenging’, but there are difficult situations,” Mishra said, of the experience. “When you’re shooting at a particular altitude, at a height, your breathing becomes difficult… I really loved shooting in Ladakh, however.”
With his background in documentary filmmaking, does that affect how he approaches big-budget Bollywood films at all?
“It’s not that because I have worked on documentaries, I believe every film should be shot in a documentary way,” counters Mishra. “Every film is different. It’s not that I think a Paan Singh Tomar should look the same as an Ek Tha Tiger or a New York. In fact, if you see these films, they all look very different. I shot Paan Singh Tomar after New York, and both films have a very different look — shot by the same person, with the same eye. So I’m not saying that if you’ve trained in a documentary background, you can’t shoot commercials, or you can’t shoot big-budget films.”
He does admit that shooting a film of the scale of Tubelight makes for a different experience.
“When you’re shooting a film of this scale, your lensing will become different… the way you visualise the film, the way you see the characters in the film becomes very different,” Mishra said. But having a documentary films background does come in handy. “There are advantages… for instance, if we’re shooting a scene and it is not happening in terms of the lighting or weather, we take a very quick decision and we change the scene according to the situation. There were lots of scenes we shot in Manali that were very difficult weather-wise. Sometimes, it would be rainy or cloudy. And we’d change the scene or do a very quick breakdown — this is how we’re going to shoot the scene. Because we’ve done this so many times, it’s very easy for us to change according to the weather.”
Were there any techniques Mishra got to try during the making of Tubelight that he hadn’t before?
The difficult part about the film is that it’s based in 1962. And in no way did I want to give it a tone that would make it seem like it was a flashback… one thing that bothered me was, how to light up the whole film. I thought bulbs were an interesting way, so I designed this Chinese lantern with bulbs inside. And that helped me a lot, it gave the film the look that it had been lit up by bulb,” says Mishra.
And was there a substantial opportunity to use VFX during Tubelight, which meant teaming up with another longtime collaborator — Prime Focus — for Mishra?
“Tubelight is not a VFX-heavy film. Maybe a little bit of crowd multiplication, maybe the background here and there. It’s a small component because it’s a very real film,” Mishra said, adding, “I’ve been working with Prime Focus for almost 13-14 years, and I’ve always loved the experience.”