Rajen Kothari, the award-winning cinematographer of films like Damul and Ghayal, looks forward to his second innings as director.
Is it correct the Om Puri and Satish Shah have not worked together in a film after Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro in 1983?
Yes, can you imagine! And we did not know that till the fag end of the film!
Your name is also in the credits of that film.
I was supposed to shoot Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, but I got busy with some other work. So I put them on to Binod Pradhan. He met the other Vinod Chopra during the making of this film and they went on to work together on many films.
Why did it take you so long to make your second film after Purush (1992)?
I want to direct films, but I don't have the energy or verve to go to producers' offices and try to put up a project. Purush also happened at the behest of the producer Sivanand. About Pangaa Na Lo, I was supposed to photograph a film for the producer Sunit Jawadekar, which for some reason did not happen. They were keen on producing a film and asked me if I wanted to direct. I have some pet projects, but some with a social message needed a star, and today, the minimum waiting period for a star is two years. Some were not feasible in other ways, so when we heard the subject of Pangaa Na Lo, everything fell into place. It needed two senior actors , two newcomers, it was Bombay based, could be shot within 35 days and fell within the monetary consideration of the producer. Also, it is a comedy, and these days audiences seem to prefer comedies. So everything suited us well.
Was it a better experience making a film now, as compared to the earlier days?
Purush was a serious subject (on rape), but it was fun to make. Unfortunately, it was released just a day after the Babri Masjid incident and people were in no mood to see films. Pangaa Na Lo was a great experience too-I have an internal knack of organizing things well. If the actors' comfort level is looked after well, things proceed smoothly. Om, Satish and I were batchmates at the FTII (Film and Television Institute of India, Pune). Om I had worked with before. Satish was a discovery.
Did you plan to cast them?
Well, we gave narrations to other actors too, like Paresh Rawal and Boman Irani. Boman could not do it, but he gave some suggestions, which we incorporated into the film, and we have acknowledged his contribution. Both had problems of time, so we finally settled on Om and Satish.
You are the head of the department of cinematography at Whistling Woods. That must be keeping you busy
That does keep me busy, but I have also shot two films-one in Bengali for Samir Chanda and one in Marathi for Gajendra Ahire. Unfortunately for me, Shyam Benegal and Gulzar, with whom I have worked a lot, have not made a film for three years. I will be doing Benegal's Chamki Chameli, when it takes off.
You also teach at the FTII and Satyajit Ray Institute in Kolkata- is the syllabus at Whistling Woods very different?
No, but the teaching methodology is very modern. I must say that it is to the credit of FTII students that despite outdated methodology they are doing wonderful work, going by some of the student diploma films, which are excellent. The FTII came on the verge of shutting down, but they have revived in a big way. There are 12-15 students from overseas and not NRIs, so obviously they come because they have heard that it is a good place to learn.
Who were your other batchmates at FTII?
Saeed Mirza, Kundan Shah, Nadeem Khan, Virendra Saini, David Dhawan, Renu Saluja-we were a great batch.
With so much new technology coming in so rapidly, how do you keep yourself updated?
Teaching is a two-way process, you get as much as you give. The students come up with a lot of ideas and new horizons also open up for me. Otherwise, there are websites, books, it's not difficult to keep yourself up to date.
The state of the equipment must also have improved a lot?
Oh tremendously. Since globalization and the opening up of the economy, we have equipment available that was not possible five years back. It took us maybe 40 years to change the first lot of equipment, and now it takes four years. Equipment renters know that if they get the latest, people are willing to pay. More than cameras, the lighting kits that we get now have improved vastly.
What is your take on the advances in computer and digital technology?
A colourist once told me that if the basic material is good then it can be enhanced, but nobody can work miracles if the basic inputs are faulty. I'm sure heavy CGI must be challenging, but I would rather take actors to real locations and shoot, no matter what the problems arise. How can actors perform well in isolation - if they shoot alone in front of a screen and everything is filled in by computer? I may do it if forced, but at heart some of us are classicists.