Cinematographers generally are the faceless entities associated with film making, but veteran cinematographer Ashok Mehta who died of lung cancer, was one of the select few who made his presence felt both through his work as also through his persona. The signature statement of Ashok Mehta was his western cowboy hat which he always used to sport.
It was Shashi Kapoor who had given him the break in 36 CHOWRANGEE LANE and those who have seen it would vouch for the fact the manner in which the film has been lit has made it a cult film for all times to come. Though he had made his debut with LAL KOTHI in 1978, it was 36 CHOWRANGEE LANE that catapulted him to the category of ace cinematographer. It was followed by Shyam Benegal’s TRIKAL and MANDI, Shekhar Kapoor’s BANDIT QUEEN and Subhash Ghai’s RAM LAKHAN, SAUDAGAR, KISNA etc.
Were it not for Ashok Mehta who added depth to BANDIT QUEEN, Shekhar Kapoor would not have got the acceptance by the western audience, as the rugged terrain of Chambal was photographed in such a manner that it further accentuated the ruggedness, especially the scenes on the waterfront where the boats have to be rowed indeed added depth to the beauty of the landscape. In the same manner a period film like UTSAV would not have been authentic where it not for the imaginative manner in which Ashok Mehta had picturised the film. The golden glow of UTSAV which conveyed a sense of warmth was the effect that Mehta had created by sing oil lamps to light the landscape. Or TRIKAAL which was shot mostly under the candle light, but never did the lack of light in any way lessened the presence of light in the shots of the film. The period that Shyam Benegal wanted to create for TRIKAAL of the era when there was no electricity was captured with magic. It was the same effect with BANDIT QUEEN as well.
CHECK OUT: Noted cinematographer Ashok Mehta passes away
His commercial sojourn began when he became a cinematographer for RAM LAKHAN and it was Rakhee Guljar who had recommended him for the job after seeing his work in PAROMA. In all the films that Ashok Mehta did for Ghai, be it RAM LAKHAN, SAUDAGAR, KHALNAYAK or KISNA it is the landscape that mesmerizes and adds depth to the visual presence.
Ashok Mehta also became a director and gave to the world of Hindi cinema an actor in the form of Arjun Rampal through his maiden effort MOKSHA. He was a master of lights, who took the element of contrast as a visual element to commanding heights. For a man who never went to any school of cinematography to reach such commanding heights indeed is a tribute to the acumen of the man who had mastered the usage of light in all forms. May his soul rest in ‘lighted’ peace.