Interview with Ashok Mehta, director and cinematographer
Mr. Mehta belongs to the absolute top cinematographers in India, with a long list of films to his credit.
He here talks about Indian cinema, Westens cinema and about himself as a cinematographer
Interview made en december 2000

 

 

 

Ashok Mehta:
Their (the West. Helle) scale and our scale.. we have a lot of difference, our scale is not small. We also make big films according to our audience.. so our scale, we are talking about mainstream cinema, is quite large.. we make films anamorphic, big. We donít have much of an action and all that, but we have a lot of dancing and everything.. again it depends what sort of film.. we make different kind of films, we also make off beat films and art films, and also we make mainstream cinema you know.. it is very very popular.. and we have full af songs and dances and music

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been joyning all sort of film making.. I work for mainstream cinema which is very big, and also work I small scale films for instance we talk about 36, Chowringhee Lane, which was in a smal house, a story of a lonely lady, a lot of darkness a lot of mood and all that.
It depends of the film I am doing.. if I am going for an off beat film, a compact film.. and if I am doing a mainstream cinema of course I have to go for the glamourous part of it.
Then we also do make in 35mm not anamorphic, normal 35 mm, so it depends what sort of film I am doing
Compared to that the films we make today thereís a lot of glamour into it.. good looking picture, sometimes almost like a postcard.. thereís also an encreasing because a lot of Indians go abroad and shoot.. specially in the West.. they go all around you know.. because of the largeness in nature, the beautifull scenery.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you do large scale film, what do you like the most?
You have to create a largeness for the audience.. and also itís beneficial in the reason because we have so many channels in our country you kno
w.. so people should not stick to the channels.. television.. they should go to cinema halls.. and also because in our country cinema is the cheapest entertainment .. and it is the only entertainment, you know,  that our people can afford.. we talk about villages.. small cities.. so it is the best what we can offer them actually.. and they are really looking for the large pictures, the large films..  if you make a small film then people stick to the channels.
The largeness IS very important.. we have BIG studios and also we shoot anamorphic, and hundred of dancers, you know .. also itís a kind af challenge for a person like me to create a look of that kind, you know.
Most of my background was to make very off beat film you know.. I have more off beat film than maintream.. when I came to mainstream cinema I brought the glamour into it, and also because I do a lot  advertising, you know, commercials, so I brought the glamour into the Bombay film industry.. so our films not only look big, there is also a lot of glamour into it..  all the finish, whish was lacking sometimes earlier. Now people ARE into it.. and it had to happen because well shot films do better business than normal films, you know.. itís a trend, we have to have a good looking film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I keep on doing different kind of films, you know..  with only one kind of film I would become stagnant water you know.. so thatís why, when you look into my story.. I have done all kind of films you know.. so I have worked , apart from mainstream, with  lot of film makers. I have shot four films for Mr. Benegal, three for Aparna (Sen. Helle),  all different kind of film makers you know.. my due film is a docu- drama based on Dr. Ambedkar,  the man who wrote the constitution for our country, and also he was untouchable.. today when you talk to untouchables they praise him as a god you know.. itís a different kind af film all together.. a certain amount of realism is there, everything is there.
There is another film I am doing called Gaja Gamini. Here is a painter called Hussain.. his film,  and again a very different kind of film.. the film has a lot of songs but it is a kind of an off beat film, itís an art film, you know.. (a tribute to and praise of the female body. Helle).
When it comes to me I have been doing a lot af different kind of work, like also Bandit Queen (Shekar Kapur. Was shown in Denmark. Helle)
And also when it comes to mainstream cinema I have done film with almost every director of this country you know.
With mainstream film we have to add a lot of things, commercial values, in it.. for instance we talk about songs.. because of ONE song the film can become a super duper hit.. so thatís also a big advantage in a way.
And also our country is used to a lot of music you know, we have great folk in our country, we have lot of music, we always have had. We also adopted a lot of Western music into our system. We have so much music, so thatís why each film has 6-7 songs, the music market is BIG.. the soundtrack adds a lot to the film market.
Imagine the amount of population we have in our country.. thatís why we are well of, the music sells very well, and the films also does very well, we can afford to make big film you know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course film making has become graduately very costly in our country also, but it is much cheaper to shoot than it is in Western countries.. we can afford to make so many films in our country, not only in one language, in so many langauges you know.. so there are a lot of benefits you know.

 

 

 

We have also the oversea market, Asian market.. all over.. we have in England, we have in America.. in many countrys. Itís not just today, we also has in the past.. for instance Raj Kapoor he was one one the biggest stars in  Russia. It is not only today, it has been happening for many years, you know.
There are times in between when the market went very bad.. thatís because of piracy you know..
and people have not forgotten about television, but they want to se the large images you know, if you give them small images, they perfer to sit at home and watch on tv or just buy a video cassette or a DVD and watch.

 

 

 

As a cinematographer it must be fantastic to be allowed to work big
Of course it is, and challenging. You have to create a lot big, masses of lighting and in the same time you have to create mood-lighting, but you also have to look into that the glamour is intact. Many Western films, you see they are very well photograrped and all that, but they donít bother about the glamour part of it, you know. In our country we also have to look into that, to get the picture perfect, you know..

 

 

 

 

So apart from the making we have stars who are very very famous, so whatí s why we have to see that also our stars look good you know, presentable for the make-up.. light on their face Ö
We also have a lot of movement, a lot of cranes and trolley movement  and this and that.. it becomes a massive film you know..  which is an advantage anyway

 

 

 

Letís not talk about America, because America can afford to make very big films, but when we talk about the West then we talk about Europa.. small films. They canít afford.. you know.. and also they donít think big.

 

 

 

In a way we are very very lucky in our country because our film making is still under control and also qualityvise we are very good and our work are being recognised all over the world, and also a lot of American and European people are coming to India to make films, you know.. for instance we talk about a film like Bandit Oueen. Itís an English production, Channel Four.. a very very small budget film, but when you look at the film it looks very big.

 

 

I have not shot Western films, but I have shot abroad a lot. Indian films, in England, America, USA, Alaska, Mexica.. in Europe, Austria, Budapest, Paris.. Africa.
I have got some offers now from abroad.. one in Germany, one an American director, but we are shooting in India.. and also I working on my own film, Moksha, (Salvation), you canít call it a mainstream film, you canít call it an arty film, something different. A film how I like it. Itís my idea and I am co-writing it. I wanted to make a film long back when I made Mandi for Mr. Benegal. I wanted to make a film with the same script, but I did not have the money you know, I had already talked with the actors and all that, everybody was willing to help me, but I had no money. So I said, let me make money. Because my previous film were all art films, there were no money you know. So money basically started coming because of commercials, advertising. Now our mainstream cinema also pay good money.. so I work, I make money and I put them into my picture, you know, my own film. I donít think it can happen anywhere, it can happen in India.
We can go far with money here. I also have a lot of good will, I donít have to pay big money for big stars, and I have my own equipment, so itís much easier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big is today a need in India. So thatís most of the film.. they are BIG. Glamour is very very important.
And look also is very very important.
In Europe, when I went to the lab.. you meet a lot af people there.. I said.. why do you people not make films, you know.. you got everything, you got equipment, you got a lot what we donít have, but what you guys have. They said: we donít have the stars. I said: you have to create the star, dammit. We create the stars, so you also have to create the stars.
So we have to create the stars for the audience. The audience has  to have a star which is very very important.  Even in India if you make a film without stars, with newcomer and all that, your market is.. thup.. low. In Western countries, we are talking about Europe, if they create stars, they CAN.. they say they try, itís not that they are not trying, but they could try a little harder.

 

 

 

 

 

Basically anything good it works.. we talk about film, film does not require any language.. like a painting.. it doesnít require any language.. to understand a painting from China I donít have to learn the Chinese language. .. so anything good! The film has to have good contain.. whether you make a mainstream film or an off beat film, or an art film.. any film.. even a commercialÖ or a documneary.. the first thing you should have a good script, good contain, good idea, and we are there.

 

 

 

We people talk about America.. they also have good contain, good film at times.. the films are also big.. everyone sees it, you know.. even we se it. You have to cultivate.. if you cultivates it works, you know.
So thatís why, in our country, we have a plus point that we have a lot of audience, we can make films, but still, in spite of making big films we can make it cheaper which is one of the greatest advantages we have here. I donít think any other country, apart from America can afford that kind of scale.. in that way we are the luckyest