Cinematography is one of the most important aspects of film making that has the power to elevate even an ordinary script.
Also known as the director of photography, these are the people who always work behind the camera but are powerful storytellers and visualizers. They are responsible for creating the entire look of the film.
“Even though we are focused only on the visual aspect, we are an integral part of telling a story successfully,” says Aakash Raj, winner of Dadasahb Phalke award for best cinematography.
Things to keep in mind to become a professional cinematographer
While it is important to understand the craft as a budding cinematographer, it will not be of any use if the person is not evolving as an artist, believes Aakash.
The technique of cinematography has been changing on the requirement of the art and not the other way around. “Working on your artistry as a cinematographer is the only thing that will make you stand out and shine,” he further adds.
Aakash’s journey to professional cinematography
Born and raised in Mumbai, Aakash was introduced to the craft of film making after 10th grade, where he started learning film editing.
While the editing course gave him a great understanding of how the movie comes together, he was never satisfied with the process.
His childhood inclination towards creating images by sketches and illustrations, kept attracting him towards cinematography. Hence, he took up a course at Whistling Woods International to nurture his interest.
Later, he joined the Indian film industry and carried his passion to convey stories on bigger canvas as a gaffer and AC on 11 features and over 250 commercials before graduating to cinematography.
“My time as a gaffer working for the top cinematographers gave me knowledge and confidence to handle bigger sets as well as a better understanding of lighting,” says Aakash.
Awards and accolades
In his highly decorated eight years, Aakash has won Best Cinematography Award at Pride Film Festival, US and Genre Celebration Festival for his short Stalls and Vincent respectively.
He has also worked on the ad campaign for Bajaj V Invincible Indians, which was awarded for The Most Effective Ad Campaign 2017 at The Brand and Leadership Conclave and Cannes Effectiveness Lions.
Many of his works have been eminently featured, receiving nominations and awards at prestigious platforms like Clermont Ferrand Film Festival-France and Digital Box Office Awards-Los Angeles, among others.
He later moved to Los Angeles to pursue his masters in cinematography from the American Film Institute
Dadasaheb Phalke Award Winner
His work has received various recognitions including the Dadasaheb Phalke Best Cinematography Award for his film, Teen Aur Adha.
The award-winning film has a very unique story, something which is very fresh and has many layers of subtext in it. “It was very important for us to visually keep it subtle but effective at the same time,” says Aakash.
The story revolves around one house in three different eras and the premise was written from the perspective of the walls in the house.
“Each shot was around 35-45 min single shot,” recalls Aakash.
There were a lot of camera movement in the film with multiple actors, hence everything needed to be rehearsed several times with the camera and actors.
“The most challenging aspect of the film was to create a mise-en-scene with the actors which enabled the camera to move and come in the right position for another beat of the story,” he says.
He further adds, “Working on ‘Teen aur Adha’ was overall a very collaborative work, where each department on set was working in unison and creating magic.”
The film is available on Netflix.
Different Aspects of Film Making
Aakash is someone who has shot for feature films, short films and commercials as a cinematographer.
Talking about how different it is to shoot for these different aspects of film making, he says, “It is very similar at the core as we are trying to convey a message or a story.”
However, the focus audience for each medium is a little different, he clarifies.
For commercials, the aim is to sell the product. Aakash explains, “When I am shooting for this medium, the idea is to be precise due to lack of screen time or viewers’ attention. The visual design and the shot are mostly pre-planned. This helps to execute those shots effectively.”
For narrative features and short films, the process is pretty much the same. “We have frequent pre-production meetings with the director to decide the color schemes, visual language, shot design, lighting and finding solutions for creative and logistical problems’” he adds.
He further says, “The process is longer in a feature as there are more locations and longer filming days. However, they have a very similar artistic approach.”
While Aakash Raj has many accolades to his name, he cherishes his experience of working for the Arabian Alien project the most. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Shooting a black and white noir film with a very unique visual language was not only a unique experience for him, it also strengthened his learning curve and built him a strong reputational foundation in the industry.
Talking about his experience of working on this project, he says, “It is a cinematographer’s delight when we are offered a film which is so visually driven with almost no dialogues.”
The lighting of the film was a very important element in the storytelling. “There was plenty of hard light, which formed interesting shadows creating the thrill and the drama. It is definitely a film of its kind where the old noir technique is combined with the fresh storytelling techniques,” adds Aakash.
Cinematographer’s Best Friend
Lighting is known to be Cinematographer’s best friend as it is a very important tool to express the emotions of the story.
“When working with limited budgets and equipment, pre-planning becomes very crucial. Doing thorough location scouts to plan the scene at the right time of the day for the optimal sunlight becomes of utmost importance,” says Aakash.
Short Films in India
Short films as a medium are very unique, however, in India, it has never picked up the popularity it deserves.
It ends up being showcased at film festivals due to lack of promotion. Hence, it does not reach the mass audience.
Sharing his thoughts on this, Aakash says, “Stories in India are beautiful and with so many layers in them. For a short film to reach its complete success, a major responsibility is of the person who is marketing the film.”
He further adds, “Most of the time the short films are not circulated well and it ends up nowhere. If filmmakers in India can get better with this, they will have a better chance to showcase their capabilities on international platforms.”
The mainstream actors have also been hesitant about doing short films. Lately, this thinking has changed to some extent with Radhika Apte opting for Sujoy Ghosh directorial, Ahalya.
She also starred in a psychological thriller, Kriti along with Manoj Bajpayee and Neha Sharma.
Devi was another short film, which saw popular actors like Kajol, Shruti Haasan and Neha Dhupia come together.
Aakash is currently prepping for a feature called ‘Vintage’ that he is shooting at the end of this year. “It is a beautiful story set in New York and has a subtle comic touch to it,” says Aakash.
“I recently completed shooting first episode of a TV show called ‘The Human Experience’ and waiting for the next episodes to get on the floor soon,” he concludes.
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