Saturday, December 18, 2010

Morning Cya

           It's cold out side... So, I walk into a Cya (tea) cafe. My usual one. I say usual even though it's only been 4 days that I've spent in Istanbul. These people really make you feel at home though you can't talk their language and they can't speak yours. They are great hosts.
           But coming back to this particular morning...
So, I walk into this Cya cafe (evi as they call cafes here) my usual one. Erol is sitting with Edris who's there every morning having cya and cigarettes with his morning newspaper. The breakfast today is local bread, salted cheese, salted butter and black olives marinated in something that makes them taste a bit sour. Ofcourse I am invited, can't say no to them... you can't say no to these people. I have already had my breakfast at the hotel but I'll have to spend next ten mins trying to explain it to them... so I just go with it.
           Just so that you get a feel of this place: It's a sunday morning and the sun is out after two days of rain and snow. All the local Cya Evis in Turkey have these really low tables like one and a half feet high with four stools around them just as low. There are around four tables in the Evi. The sun is mild and is punched through a thin layer of clouds passing by. So the light is constantly changing. It's beautiful!
          I start eating the warm bread with cheese. We exchange smiles in silence. There are other people in the evi. A group of four men are having the same breakfast, they are sitting in a corner making small talk. There's a tough looking guy wearing heavy leather boots with muck stains on them. He's reading the funny papers and then there's a bum Umer who's trying hard to stay awake while rolling tobacco.
          My second cya comes on the table, its uncalled for. Edris offers me a ham chop, I say no, he insists, I try to explain to him that I'm a vegetarian but what he gets out of my sign language is that I've had breakfast at the hotel! I can live with that. So no more vegetarian explanation, I am at my last piece of bread. The door behind me opens and a gush of cold wind makes its way into the warm evi. First thing I see is the tough guy's face change from tough to the one when your father walks into the room.
         "salam vale kum" I hear from behind me. "Vale kum aus salam" everybody in the evi choruses. The tough guy all humbled up stands up to shake this guy's hand. The shadow on the front wall moves and the man behind me walks by and sits himself on one of the stools. He takes a place from where he sees everyone and as the front wall of the evi is all glass he can also see outside. It's Yusuf. He must be 6'1 wearing black trousers, black clean shiny shoes, black shirt, on which he's wearing a grey sweater, thin black jacket with another long coat to keep himself warm in style. Grey short hair goes perfectly in harmony with the gray sweater. Stubble as if he's not shaven for two days. Everybody's making small talk with him just to make a conversation. This guy looks, talks, walks exactly like the padrone in 'The Godfather' part one. The one in Robert De Niro's neighborhood who's the black hand there and walks around wearing all white. Extorting protection money from all the Italians in his neighborhood.
            Yusuf starts talking to the bum Umer making fun of him, Umer's absent minded and doesn't get the joke, everybody else is laughing. I can't understand a word of what they are saying but one just knows. Umer's still trying hard to roll his cigarette while Erol a 55+ guy who runs the evi comes and puts another cup of cya in front of him.
            Now without a word spoken to him the tough guy has already rolled a cigarette for Yusuf. He puts it in his mouth and the tough guy lights it up for him. Taking a small newspaper pudi out of his pocket, Yusuf says something to Erol. He takes a few rolling papers from the tough guy and goes and sits behind the cay counter. All I could see was Erol cutting a transparent piece of plastic from a carry bag and give it to Yusuf who's now opened the pudi and smelling the stuff in it. Erol says something to which Yusuf just nods his head. Erol comes back with a cup of cay. Edris by now has cleaned up the table and is smoking a cigarette while reading the news.
           Other four guys sitting in the corner have finished eating and for some reason hurry out of the evi. Each one greeting Yusuf while walking out. He doesn't even look at them, he's busy trying to relight the hand rolled cigarette and with a lot of smoke around him it looks like a Gordon Willis frame.
           The tough guy sitting next to him is tearing wide strips of newspaper that he's been reading. Yusuf takes the stuff out of his paper pudi puts it in the piece of plastic that Erol has handed over. This stuff Yusuf's been working with is some kind of green fine powder. He takes the paper strip from the table. Edris offers me a cigarette. Yusuf puts the plastic pudi into the paper strip and rolls it real tight into a packet and while doing so says something to Erol who's behind the cay machine. He answers from there and the only word that I understand is 'Hindistan'. I look at Erol and then at Yusuf who's looking at me right in the eyes. He smiles not too much and then nods, I smile back. He gets back to his paper packet. Now he's rolling the packet in the second  paper strip, making it as tight as possible. Erol comes back with a piece of silver foil. Wrapping the newspaper packet in the foil Yusuf nudges the tough guy who gets up and gets a handy stove and a pair of tongs. He lights it up in one corner close to the cay machine. Yusuf goes to the stove and with the packet held in between the tongs he starts roasting it. While he's doing that the tough guy has gone out and got a piece of broken marble tile. After the roast which happens for like 5 minutes, Yusuf puts the foil packet on the floor and places the marble tile on it. He then stands on it pressing it down real hard.
            By now I have already started writing down this whole morning in my small Rubberband dairy and have filled up 2-3 pages of it. As Yusuf's done with standing on the packet the tough guy picks up the tile and throws it out. Yusuf picks the packet up and opens it. The green powder has  now transformed into a really thin round plastic chip like thing. He breaks a small piece out of it and hands it over to Erol who's still behind the counter with the rolling paper. Yusuf also hands over three cigarettes to him and then comes back and sits at his observant corner.
            I can see Erol working with the rolling paper and tobacco sitting behind the counter. After a couple of minutes he calls Yusuf and they both go back to a inner room with a massive 2 paper joint.
            Yusuf comes out with slightly heavy lidded eyes and without a word the tough guy gets up and goes to the inner room. Yusuf gives a small piece of the green chip to the Umer who's been waiting for it. He smiles the widest that he could. Yusuf walks out.
            I sit there writing all this. Feeling that if I go from here without writing it today I'll never remember it the way it is happening in front of me. So I keep writing frantically. Yusuf returns after 15-20 minutes, he walks in, smiles at me and goes and sits right next to the huge glass panel window that overlooks the road and one can see everything happening on the street. He's very silent... I don't think he says much anyways.
           He's sitting there wearing all black looking out in some deep thought... and the sun comes out of the clouds. Perfect! I tell myself, without even thinking twice about it I put down my dairy and pen, pick up my camera and walk up to him and just with a gesture ask him if I can make a picture of him. Point blank he says NO looking right into my eyes again. I look at Erol he's known me for past few days "I am not a stranger here" my look says to Erol. He smiles and puts up his shoulders in a way that tells me he doesn't have a say in the matter. OK I go back to my stool. Yusuf is now talking to Erol and looking at me at the same time. I don't know what Erol tells him but he calls me and with a hand gesture asks me to put up my camera.
          The sun is gone behind the clouds again, but the frame is still beautiful. I look through my eyepiece 35mm full frame perfect! I under expose by 1/3 stop. CLICK! I catch him looking out at something. Cigarette in his right hand and a metal strap watch on his left that's sneaks out of his black over coat's sleeve... I point my camera at him again thing time he looks directly at the lens, the same look! Sharp. With my left hand that's under the lens I point towards the window, he gets it. He looks out again. CLICK!
          I smile, he smiles. I go back and sit down on my stool pushing it closer to the wall behind me, resting my back on the wall I start writing again. I am now a couple of more pages down when Yusuf is ready to go, he comes up to me, puts his hand on my head and ruffles up my hair. Smiles. Leaves.

Yusuf : Click on the picture to see it at a better resolution.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Anatolian Light

Even trash looks beautiful here in Cappadocia. The light is so beautiful that it's just making me take pictures of absolute roadside trash. Posting some here more will follow.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Iron Bolts and metal ropes.

Ladies and gentlemen say hello to the new photographer on the block! Mandar Jadhav :)

His version of San Francisco's Golden gate bridge!

Please click on the image and see it at the actual pixel size.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ashok Mehta. The Great Indian Cowboy

Picture courtesy: Ashokji's FB profile :)
( As written by Mr. Rajiv Menon )

In 1981 when 36 Chowringee lane was released, I was a student of the Film and television Institute of Tamilnadu. Everyone who had seen the film was very impressed with its flawless direction and acting. But we cinematography students were stunned by the visual style that was truly international. We were curious; we heard that a new cinematographer had shot the film. Which institute did he belong to? Was he trained abroad? We were astounded .We heard that Ashok Mehta was not from any institute. He had worked his way up in the Bombay film industry.

Those were difficult times for the Hindi film industry’s cinematographers. On one side the strong influence of film noir and Hollywood style direct lighting that dictated the beauty of the fifties was giving way to a more realistic style achieved by Subrata Mitra. On the other side when colour came in, would Orwo stock reproduce this? They hit the light straight ,when mini brutes arrived, two, three shadows were seen on the wall, so they put more butter paper, more lights, more confusion followed. Laboratories added to the chaos, they wanted to get a thick negative ,directors were asking for zoom ins… the cinematographer involuntarily slipped into bouncing light of the ceiling, but at the expense of contrast. Slowly but surely, the cinematographer was forgetting the importance of lighting, in creating the mood of a scene.

Ashok Mehta was the man, who brought back contrast and lighting in to Mainstream Hindi film cinematography. The work in Trikaal was truly European and the work in Utsav, was seductively Indian. Was he inspired by Sven Nyquist or Ravi Varma? Where did he learn to bounce light and yet keep the contrast?

I finally met the master on the sets of Sushman, while I operated the Steadicam. He had covered the courtyard with black polyester cutting off the sun, he then bounced HMI lights on to bounce boards, then had meters of black cloth skirting around it. When he felt the unit hands did not get his idea, he climbed scaffoldings, banged nails into rafters, hung lights from roof like large bats, thus generating a soft source light in the courtyard.

While doing night interiors, he was using single point sources hidden behind lamps, removing lights from stands and Fresnel’s, bouncing from unconventional angles... It was magical he was working with his hands, he was part light man, part set assistant, he was everywhere, climbing, screaming, sawing wood …,…it was like seeing a potter or a sculptor work, creating something beautiful out of mud, he was building the shot, step by step out of nothing, right in front of the stunned film unit . There was an air of wonder and resignation.

His assistant had not arrived, in addition to operating the Steadicam, I got to work on everything, pulling focus, reading exposure, I was convinced that we were seriously underexposing the film. But he was sure and trusted his eyes. Then we went and saw rushes in Prasad Hyderabad…It was beautiful. I expressed my surprise to him, he took me aside and said’ “beta You have to be brave when you light, you expose for what you want to see…….”.

He had opened my eyes, Three years in the institute had not taught me so much as two week on the sets of Sushman. What was amazing is Ashokji was not a slave of the incident light meter or the grains in the dark areas, He was exposing for the frame and he was getting consistent printer point numbers too. He was thinking more like the way we technically qualified cinematographers would expose reversal film… when in doubt, Underexpose!

When he was outside he transformed from being a source lighting inspired realistic cameraman to a Sergio Leone cowboy! Ashokji brought in aesthetics of the western where the landscape plays an important part of the narrative, The composition of the boat man while the young bride leaves her village, the out of focus rape scene, the joyful day interiors, the mustard fields in the ravines of Chambal and the massacre on blinding white light in the burning afternoon sun. The fluidity of the camera movement, the jolt he gave you with his modernist compositions, added to the allure of Bandit Queen. I truly believe it is one of the most beautifully shot Indian films in recent memory.

Ashok Mehta did not go to any institute; he did not carry the baggage of formal education. But he was the inspiration to a generation of new cinematographers like us. He helped us believe that we must be responsible for the image, to be a team player, fraternize with the light men over chai, enjoy the shoot, pour your blood and sweat into your film because shooting a film was an opportunity of a life time. Something he must have been so acutely aware working as a camera attender, sitting on the other side of the unwritten boundary lines of the industry, yearning for an opportunity to become the cinematographer of a film some day! So let’s raise the Stetson…to the one and only spaghetti western hero of cinematography Ashokji!

- Rajiv Menon  

Interviews of Ashokji : Video 01Video 02Video 03Video 04Video 05Video 06

TV commercials : Manjal soap - Nokia - Titan Raga

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

Haridwar via Ahmedabad and Vadodara

3 beautiful days with Vidi at NID - 2 days in Vadodra - 5 days in Haridwar - 2 days in Delhi!

In this trip I definitely got to know one thing that I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT EXPOSURE... as yet. Having said that I hope you still enjoy the pictures and some drawings made in Haridwar.

This was the first time that I tried my hand on TPs (transparencies), love the colors that this film can generate (Fuji Sensia 100 asa). I pushed processed all the rolls by 2 stops and just one I tried pushing 6 STOPS! Dad wasn't really happy with the whole idea but the situation was such... evening arti at the temple happens at Hari-ki-pauri right next to the Ganga temple at around 7:00 Pm with no natural light and the only light source being the burning flames from the huge arti, I could either decide to push the film or not take pictures at all. My choice was obvious :P I pushed! Discovered what this does to the film is that it turns all the blacks into deep reddish cast all over the film. Must admit I kind of like the effect. :) Other than that tried exposing the rest of the film 1/2 stop under which was a bad idea. Dust and speckles on the images are intentional as this I feel adds up to whole FILM look where the digital is just too damn clean. :P

But nevertheless had a great time taking pictures, meeting new people and some great old friends.

1st 8 pictures are the ones that are from the '6stops' pushed TP! :)