How do you look back at the whole experience of shooting ‘Animal’.
I have this theory now that the reason why Animal has worked and is still loved is because of Ranbir. People might have a problem with some aspects of the character, but the reason why people have loved Ranbir is primarily because he’s a guy with a very good heart. I have never come across somebody so down-to-earth, somebody so nice. He’s basically a very nice guy. And just the goodness of his heart, even though he’s playing a character who can be so dark, but as an audience, just the goodness of his heart and the niceness of his humanity transcends all of that and shines through. And that is what you actually connect with.
I used to tell Sandeep, after working with an actor who gives so much, he has spoiled the director. He just totally submits. He’ll work 12 hours. You would leave him at two o’clock at night and tell him that I need to catch the morning light at 6:00 AM, and he’ll still show up. That commitment, I have not seen in any actors in my career in Indian cinema.
I think that the universe is showing him that love. So, when I look back at the whole experience of shooting Animal, that’s the first thing I think of. Then, of course, Vanga, I used to tell him that I think because rather than making this film, in my head, I used to try to imagine what this film is like. And I had no answer because somehow I had no reference point for this film.
Is there any scene that you can describe?
As a reference point we know Sarkar is a Godfather-esque film. For me, the originality of Sandeep Vanga’s thinking was astonishing because I had never heard of a film like this or seen a film like this. I could not say whether we were doing the right thing. I didn’t have any template to follow, really, with the scene, with the staging.
Sometimes I wondered if we were pushing it too much. Is this character really pushing the audience too much? Yeah. For instance, Sandeep narrated the ‘lick my shoes’ scene. It was obviously something he just developed as we were shooting. I heard it and my first reaction was shock. In my head, I was like, no, this is too much!
But then Ranbir, as an actor has the ability to make anything seem palatable. I told Sandeep that if his gut is good about this scene, then let’s shoot it. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll edit it out. I think I would give credit to Ranbir for being able to bring on-screen Sandeep’s vision and make it palatable and make it acceptable.
I was talking to Ramu Ji (Ram Gopal Varma). He was saying that eventually the point is that a film is a hit at the box office etc. However, I think powerful cinema creates dialogue between people. And I think, ‘Animal’ has suddenly enraged dialogues between people. I don’t know a single person who has seen it, who has either thoroughly disliked it or loved it. There is no middle audience. Which is good. You’re trying to create an effect. You’re trying to provoke thought, provoke emotion, make you feel something. People felt either way. That’s why I would say that the impact of ‘Animal’ so far has been tremendous.
How was it working with Sandeep Reddy Vanga?
Sandeep is a very uncompromising director and he is very particular about every aspect of composition and even who is in the background. What happens is that when we make a film, the ADs will order some 20 junior artists in the background from a supplier. Now let’s say the school scene, when he takes the gun, those faces are there. Now, maybe five months later, we shot some other scenes. I don’t remember which one first. They must have called 20 background artists from the same supplier. Suddenly, some two or three were the same faces that were in the class. Now, normally, we share a background and we’re out of focus, and no director will notice us.
But Sandeep was so particular that he noticed a girl was in the classroom in the background. You know what I mean? He is that director. He is a director who’s so meticulously looking at every aspect. He’s not just looking at the actor, he’s looking at the background. So that challenges you.
Ram Gopal Varma defends ‘Animal’ saying films don’t influence society: ‘Sholay was the biggest hit, nobody became a dacoit’
The other aspect is Sandeep really likes to look at everything. It’s like 90 degrees. He doesn’t like to look at an actor from three quarters; he either wants to look at them 90 degrees or he wants to look at them absolutely side-on. So, it was one of the aspects that challenged me. He likes to shoot with two cameras. What happens is then he gets the perfect action continuity. What was also always challenging was putting two cameras not on the same axis, but putting two cameras perpendicular to each other. One camera is looking straight at the actor and the other camera is looking completely side-on.
Now, what becomes challenging is to make the lighting work. Lighting, you can make it work, but the point is to still be able to create the drama of what you are trying to achieve and hide the cameras from each other and hide lights from each camera.
Those aspects I found challenging. But then I think by the end of the film, I managed to at least master it and find a pattern. I started making the side-on camera, the light source, I started making the cross-backlight, and then the frontal camera, it wouldn’t work as a half-light. Those patterns I was challenged to look at.
How was it between you and Sandeep, as a filmmaker and a DOP?
Sandeep has tremendous photographic ability, firstly. He clicks amazing pictures, and he has a very, very strong sense of composition. And it’s not just composition as in just the frame; it is how to compose an actor, what he will be wearing. It’s the overall thing in terms of he’s very particular about the fabric, not just the color, the fabric, how it will fall. He’s very particular about scars, the continuity of that scene; these are the scars he got. Then he has the surgery, then the surgery scar. Those details he is using.
A lot of the cinematographic ideas came from Sandeep. I have to give him absolute credit for that. Because we would go to a location and then he would just click a picture and he would say, ‘Mama, I think this is the frame I am thinking’. And the other thing is that he is not a big fan of random, white shots or establishing shots. So for him, any shot that’s a loose frame or that’s not doing anything emotional or moving the narrative or not capturing the character in a way that he is visualizing, he’s not interested.
For instance, the party scene, the 16th birthday party. Normally, any other director would have done this one drone shot to show off the scale. But for him, it is about being very intimate with the actors, with the scale of the world as their backdrop. You will see the Pataudi Palace out of focus.
Sandeep was very particular, “No, I don’t want to do anything that disconnects my audience from my actor.” I don’t think you might see a wide lens, but you will not see a wide lens with an informative shot of just anything in the entire film. I think only the end, maybe the Diwali, this thing they might be shot. But apart from that, he had very precise ideas about how this film should be photographed. I think we found a nice rhythm with each other.
Anil Kapoor is somebody who loves retakes. Can we talk about the actors and their chemistry in the film?
Anil Ji also improvises a lot. And Anil, what he usually does is a much higher note, and then he settles into the right pitch. I am quite amazed at him because even at his age, he’s so hungry and so passionate and he wants to discover and also very nervous. And there’s a lot of nervous energy because he feels somewhere there’s still this. I think Sandeep, as a director, because he’s so uncompromising and he’s so particular, he is bound to challenge everybody. And everybody has to step up and give their A-game because Sandeep is not the director who just accepts anything. He’s a very genuine guy, so he’s not going to sugarcoat it. He’ll say that this is not working.
Anil ji worked pretty hard. It was through the scenes, I thought he felt challenged. Then he would do a few takes here and there to try to find that soul of the scene. I mean, Rashmika was just fantastic. Tripti was magic. There’s everything very special about her. And Ranbir, I have only spoken about him. He’s just astonishing.
I was talking to Ramu Ji the other day. He has officially talked about how he thinks this is a one-up from even Leonardo de Caprio in ‘Wolf of Wall Street’. Let’s say you’re an actor, not a movie star, like a movie star of that stature. An actor can push himself and do anything. He can tell anybody to lick their shoe and everything. But to be a movie star, a family man, and despite that, you dare to play a character like this, for me, that itself is hitting the ball out of the park. Just on an effort and choice level, I would give runway 20 out of 10. And then what he has done is for everybody to see. And that man’s commitment is something else.
How was Bobby Deol?
At the beginning of the year, I was talking to somebody and something strange happened. I had an inclination, and I said, “This is going to be the year of the Deols.” And, at that point, we were supposed to come with Gadar on 11th August. We were all trying to gear up for the 11th of August was our date. We had announced it. And thank God that didn’t happen. I don’t know. I just worked with the two most beautiful people. I am not saying externally beautiful, the two extremely beautiful souls in Bobby and Ranbir and also their chemistry was something else. I just felt privileged to be in the same project.
Tell us something about Ranbir and Bobby’s hand-to-hand combat scene in the climax.
It was so difficult shooting it because this was London in March, and there would be times when we would reach the location, and it was the airfield, very windy. And every morning when we would get there, literally the grass was frozen. Most mornings it was minus two, minus three degrees celsius. And the weather in London, the weather changed like this. What you see is two men fighting bare-bodied. If you saw the picture of the people dressed in five layers of clothing behind them. Just for the effort, those two men put into that scene, they deserve every award, every reward, every box office glory. In my entire career, I have not shot anything like that. It really tested us.
How was your overall experience of shooting action scenes of Animal?
Sandeep is very particular about getting the blood continuity. It’s just like the prosthetics and the cut and this and that. So it was very painstaking. And of course, it took us a lot of time to get things right in terms of getting the prosthetic right, getting the blood right. I mean, for the old look, Ranbir had to, I think, sit and make it for six hours. He came in at some 3:00 in the morning, started doing his makeup, and finally, we shot the scene from 9:00 AM. I mean, a lot of hard work went into this film, especially from Ranbir. Also, you have to remember that Ranbir has also gone through a lot of training to go from, like in the college episode when he’s in his 16th birthday episode, he’s lean. And then when he comes back, he’s big and built up. He built up about 12 kilos of muscle, muscle mass. For somebody like Ranbir to gain that weight is difficult as he is tall. For him to look big on screen, he has to put on a lot of muscle mass.
There’s Bobby, so there’s a little shorter and very different frame. Hats off to both Bobby and Ranbir for what they did. Bobby is also a beautiful human being. I could just connect with his soul. The interesting coincidence is that my mom’s birthday is on the same day as Bobby’s birthday. And my birthday and Dharam Ji’s birthday are on the same day. So, there was some beautiful connection.
Did Sandeep remind you of Ram Gopal Varma?
The reason Sandeep even hired me was because of Ram Gopal Varma. When Sandeep was in film school in Sydney, ‘Sarkar Raj‘ was released. Sandeep had to take a two-hour bus ride to see it at some remote theater because he didn’t have the money. He said, “Mama, two days in a row, two days back-to-back, I took that two-hour bus ride to see that movie.” Many people talk about Sarkar’s cinematography, but I know I made a lot of mistakes in Sarkar, and I think I just got lucky.
But Sarkar Raj was my most perfect work. When I look at it, it’s my most perfect work. Unfortunately, it wasn’t appreciated because Sarkar became the benchmark. I thought, “Oh, after a long time, I’m meeting somebody who’s appreciating and understanding what I was trying to do in Sarkar.” Primarily, what had happened is I quit Dunki, and then I found out Sandeep had quit Animal because he was stuck with Tu Jhoothi Main Makkar, and they were looking for a DP. The EP called me and said, “Sir, will you just meet Sandeep?” I met him one day later. Within a week, I was shooting with him. That’s how we hit it off. Our connection is Ram Gopal. Sandeep is such a big fan of Ram Gopal Varma, and so is everyone because, in our growing-up years, the impact Ramu Ji made was unbelievable.
Anything that you thought differently from Sandeep?
I always look at what I am doing as a DOP. What I am doing as a DOP is trying to serve. I am trying to find what the director is trying to say. I am his first audience. My camera, what I am seeing, is his first audience. I am the bridge between all the directors trying to communicate with the audience. I try to serve that the best and try my best to capture what the director is trying to do. In any case, there can’t be conflict.
Sometimes, you do a certain shot that might not work or the director might suggest a shot that you think might not work. But that’s not part of any tale. For me, the director is my boss, and I will try to do my best to please him and make sure that his cinema is moving forward. I will also caution him when something is not working or a scene is not working. I would point out why this character is behaving like this because in that scene, he did this and this. Things like that.