Movies Find/Feedback/Site Index
June 19, 2000


Send this story to a friend

'Abhishek has it all'

Basheer Ali At 34, he's making his debut as the cinematographer of J P Dutta's Refugee, the film that will launch starkids Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor. And, if a meticulous film-maker like J P Dutta has signed him on, it's obviously a certificate of approval. No wonder Basheer Ali is a happy man.

Basheer, on his part, says, "I had shot a bit of Border, but that was after Nirmal Jani, the earlier cinematographer, quit. I wasn't too happy because I wanted my own work to be seen, so I left Border. But JP promised we'd work together sometime. Sure enough, when he started Refugee, he called me," he told Lata Khubchandani.

What makes you different from other cinematographers?

If you see the promos on television, most of them have this bubblegum quality. I, on the other hand, want some of the ideology of the film-maker to come out on the screen.

Most people confuse cinematography with photography and look at the good-looking visuals only. I belong to the school which believes in the kind of cinematography that tells a story. Otherwise, I would be doing any number of commercial films.

You talk of the ideology of the film-maker which you are trying to translate -- where do our Bollywood films express any ideology for the most part?

Yes, that's true. I realise I'm going to be a lonely man.

Don't you want to do commercial films?

I wanted my career to start off with a very good film. I started with Muzzaffar Ali's Zooni and Danny Denzongpa's Bandhu, but both the films are yet to be released.

What about Refugee? The teasers that are now on air are rather different.

I shot them and J P Dutta edited them. I've used the desert backdrop completely. In the first one, where Abhishek is seen coming in onto the screen... In this introduction, I took a long shot of Abhishek, using the spotlight to made it look like he was appearing out of a mirage.

I've even used a twig in front of the camera. It appears huge in the visual, but is only a twig really. This is a symbol used by the courier who crosses over from the Indo-Pak border.

There's another one of Kareena (Kapoor) and Abhishek (Bachchan) coming in from Pakistan, to the tune of Panchi, nadiya, pawan ke jhonke, that suggests these items in nature are not confined by borders. The suggestion here is that these boundaries are man-made and that Earth is free for Man to live in.

What was the experience of shooting at the Indo-Pak border like?

Very pleasant. The unpleasantness is media-created. You can see the farmer hoeing his land from across this tiny boundary that is put up. There is no tension really -- none that we could see.

Wasn't this a rather daunting project for a newcomer?

Not at all. In fact, this was a really stimulating challenge. I'd like to attempt something like On The Waterfront.

In a visually magnificent film like Refugee, what is the director's contribution and what is the cinematographer's contribution?

I'd say it's a collaborative effort. The cameraman and director are like a husband and a wife. The cinematographer takes one shot to understand his director and then the tuning starts.

I've worked with people like Muzzafar Ali, Sanjay Khan, Tinnu Anand, Danny Denzongpa, etc. Each one is very different from the other. But you intuitively understand what they expects and deliver accordingly. After understanding a director's requirements, you offer your suggestions. There is a give and take of ideas.

I cannot be good if the director's vision isn't good. And the director cannot be good unless the camera is able to translate his vision.

Refugee What was it like to work on Refugee?

It was wonderful. JP doesn't go for glamour as much as for reality. He'd say, take a shot of Kareena looking sleepy -- he wouldn't ask that she look sleepy plus glamorous. To get that kind of organic feel is more difficult than just looking beautiful.

You've been privileged to watch Amitabh Bachchan's son take his first steps in the film world -- what did he look like through the camera?

The general view is that he is a 'closed fist,' meaning he's a surprise package, and I agree. Personally I read a lot of Stanislavsky and he says that a good actor should be an embodiment of moral values. Somewhere, I see that in Abhishek. He has it all -- a good upbringing, his parents' talent, education, everything.

And Kareena?

She too promises to be a good actress -- not frothy and frivolous.

And the film -- how has it turned out?

It will be a landmark film. It is a very happening story dealing with a problem which is in our own backyard -- the refugee problem.

Where did you learn your work?

I'd say in the university of life. I started assisting a friend in Lintas and I learnt as I went along. I assisted Ishan Arya and he added a dimension to my work. And I learnt through trial and error.

You started with Zooni which came to grief when you were in your early twenties. Muzzaffar Ali is known to be a rather finicky film-maker. How did you meet him?

I was assisting in Anjuman, when he was making the film. Though I had no direct interaction with him, he realised I was giving a considerable amount of input. In between, we did Umrao Jaan and I really could vibe with that Lucknowi culture.

Also, working with Ishan Arya was a learning experience for me. He'd allow me to do the lighting, merely coming in to make corrections if I'd gone wrong somewhere.

Muzzaffar Ali noticed and appreciated all this and offered me Zooni.

Why do cinematographers move on to being directors?

I suppose, like any film-maker, when they feel strongly about a subject, they want to see it on celluloid. I strongly admire Govind Nihalani because he moved out of the Shyam Benegal camp and made a film like Ardh Satya. It is a landmark film and it happened because he felt strongly about the subject. I'd like to do something like that.

Who would you say is a more creative person -- a cinematographer or a technician?

Both, I should think. Most of them are good technicians and good artistes. But you have to get a proper break. Here, one has to differentiate between a film-maker and a director. I've been fortunate to work with film-makers. If you can work with a Yash Chopra, etc, you're lucky because, once the director trusts your perception, you can really grow.

Why did you choose cinematography when you come from a family of artistes?

Actually, Dilip Kumar is a family friend and I had asked him to advise me on what I should do -- direction or something else... He advised me to become a technician because a technician's life is longer lasting. And that, I've learnt, is true.

Do tell us what you think of this interview