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Tapan Basu : Talking from the lens

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An alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India, cinematographer Tapan Basu has carved his niche in Bollywood with KAHANI2 and ROMEO AKBAR WALTER after successfully establishing his unique visual tapestry and language in cinematography in the advertisement industry.

The winner of multiple awards for cinematography in a short span of time, Tapan Basu is a name to reckon with in the world of advertisement. A body of work that includes over 500 commercials of various product and services which went on to fetch him top honours at ITB, Berlin, ABBYs Goafest, Spike Asia, Cannes Lion, EFFIES INDIA, Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival etc to name a few.

Taking time off from his schedule, the refined talent in cinematography Tapan Basu answers some question on his passion and more..

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Over to Tapan Basu

When the camera started exciting you?
When I was in class 8 in St.Paul’s Darjeeling, I took up photography as a hobby. Images always fascinated me and how people perceive the same image always intrigued me . I used to shoot photos just on the slopes of the school or something abstract which was actually right in front of us and few could catch me . It was more of fun to see if they can catch me but later I found my true calling in cinematography.

Your first click
I shot a picture of hen and it got me a consolation prize in a Photography competition when I was in class 8. I felt very embarrassed and didn’t shoot the next year in school!

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Your first break in movies?
Sujoy Ghosh has called me before when he was planning to produce a movie but I had told him that I wanted to shoot my first movie a thriller drama so when he was preparing to do Durga Rani Singh ( KAHANI 2 ) he called me back . He had seen my advertising works and he loves hand held camera work. I guess it was suppose to happen . It’s not that I have planned my career . I leave it to happen very organic way.

How was the experience of shooting a period spy drama ROMEO AKBAR WALTER?

My experience with ROMEO AKBAR WALTER (RAW) was super challenging and exciting. Foremost the era we created was 70s the early formation of RAW under the shadow of 71 war with Pakistan. Never before I think any movie has been shot in so many cities and locations! We needed to create Pakistan, POK, Bangladesh and India. We shot in Kashmir, Gujarat, Mumbai, Nepal. We shot in over 14 cities 114 locations 2 countries and all this in 46 days of shoot! We had done extensive prep for the film. To create the old charm we shot on old anamorphic lens with some camera filtration, a small section on super 16 mm film. I collaborated extensively with production designer Madhur Madhavan  and director Robbie Grewal , the look of the film was pre-decided  before we went to floor , I wanted a certain tone to all the places , as a director Robbie is very understanding of the palette which we were trying to achieve and fully supported and gave every department freedom .

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How a cameraman manages those crowd scenes?
Shooting a movie in live locations with stars has its own challenges specially the crowds that too when you want to shoot in market. In ROMEO AKBAR WALTER we have a long chase sequence which is actually shot in 3 different cities and that too in the crazy order we first shot the end then middle and beginning . I wanted a certain tone to it and the film needed the overcast look and challenge was to maintain the look in 3 cities and to make it seamless. It was such a wonderful experience of working with John , Jackie ,Mouni and Sikander .

RAW had yesteryears hunk Jackie Shroff and today’s hunk John Abraham, how as the experience in dealing with these stars from different era?
John Abraham –  first day of shoot John came and said to me that I did not worry about anything and he is always there for me when need to light up a scene as we didn’t have a stand in . I think he has been very supportive and it was delight to work with him, a professional always on time because most my shots in exterior were light dependant.

Jackie Shroff – My first interaction with Jackie goes back to my childhood memories of KING UNCLE , so I kept calling him King Uncle ! He is the most stylist person and his charisma works totally for the character of RAW Chief !

What is the difference between indoor and outdoor shoot?
Not much except you have less control of light when you shoot outdoors. Your preparations should be based on your sun path and weather conditions.

If an actor/actress is the face/muse of the director, what role does cameraman plays?
You need to be the heart and eye of the director ..sounds cliché but it’s true that if there is no co –ordination or a joint approach your craft can all go for a toss . It’s important both ways that your director also knows what you are planning to do with visuals and vice versa.

What is the relationship between a director, actor and a cameraman?
Well at the end of the day everybody is working for the character / script so it’s important as a DOP to take the actor also through your process . Sometimes you need to shoot at odd hours for the perfect light and it’s important that your actor understands that. End of the day we all are working for the film and as a DOP it’s your job to make your actor feel and look like the character he or she is suppose to play . Don’t deviate from the story / plot.

What are the changes you have noticed in cinematography since the inception of moving pictures?
A lot of changes have happened. Lot of technology has come in. It’s easier now for lot of young people to come in but in the end it’s your storytelling and craft that matters. Tools will keep changing.

What difficulties a Cinematographer faces during a shoot?
It can be varied from production related to creative process . It’s important for a DOP to understand the process and problem and look for solution but it does not mean that you have to agree at everything. If you feel that your craft is at stake you need to be vocal and put your foot down.

Do stars/actors/directors influence/interrupt the creativity of a cameraman?
I have shot 2 features and all the actors / actress were super supportive. The directors equally trusted me with the look and feel.

How easy and difficult is to shoot a commercial and a movie?
I always say an ad is like shooting a scene while a feature will have multiple scenes. It’s just your prep time and longer commitment which is needed. In feature you actually have less restriction as based on your script you can create lot of mood and feel which sometimes because of many factors is not so conducive in the world of advertisement. Having said so I love shooting television commercials as I have been extremely lucky to variety of work in ad world with different look and feel.

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