How a New Documentary ‘Chhayaankan’ Puts Cinematographers in the Spotlight

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Filmmakers have long been the unsung heroes of Hindi films. Hemant Chaturvedi’s new documentary finally puts his camera colleagues in the spotlight.

Govind Nihalani (top left); Peter Pereira (bottom left); A poster for ‘Chhayaankan’

After several unsavory experiences on set, Hemant Chaturvedi left his position as cinematographer in 2015. “I was under a lot of pressure and had been disillusioned for a long time. The politics, the dishonesty and the amount of nonsense has become too much,” Chaturvedi says over the phone. After sharing an emotional Facebook post, Chaturvedi headed to Lonar Lake. Sitting by its side for about 10 days, it contemplated its future. Since he still had a lot of questions about the cinematography, Chaturvedi called a few veterans and asked for a FaceTime with them. Fortunately for him (and for us), most of them easily accepted.

After several unsavory experiences on set, Hemant Chaturvedi left his position as cinematographer in 2015. “I was under a lot of pressure and had been disillusioned for a long time. The politics, the dishonesty and the amount of nonsense has become too much,” Chaturvedi says over the phone. After sharing an emotional Facebook post, Chaturvedi headed to Lonar Lake. Sitting by its side for about 10 days, it contemplated its future. Since he still had a lot of questions about the cinematography, Chaturvedi called a few veterans and asked for a FaceTime with them. Fortunately for him (and for us), most of them easily accepted.

Ranging from Peter Pereira (Coolie, Shahenshah), Jehangir Chaudhry (Holi, being Cyrus) and Govind Nihalani (Aakroch, Ardh Satya) to Baba Azmi (Arjun, Mr. India) and Nadeem Khan (Gaman, disco dancer), Chaturvedi recorded conversations with 14 of the 17 veteran cinematographers he intended to work with in 1990-91. “Everyone spoke for two hours each and we got close to 40 hours of footage,” Chaturvedi explains. These interviews resulted in Chhayaankan: Managing shadows—a 138-minute masterclass on the ins and outs of cinematography in Indian films.

The film is a delightful love letter to a bygone era, but also a chilling documentation of disillusionment with an industry where even the most gifted technicians are unappreciated. “The day I finished the interviews, I realized that my decision to move on was probably the best decision I had made in my life. Twenty years later, I didn’t want to be that person who still hopes to find glory one last time. Kuchh nahin hone walachief!” said Chaturvedi.

By his own admission, Chaturvedi took longer to edit the film than he would have liked. Reading the stories of Ishwar Bidri (Damini, Border) deceased and Nadeem Khan being in a coma for almost two years, he suddenly realized that most of his interviewees were over 80 years old. “I freaked out and realized that if my own ‘characters’ didn’t see the movie, it would be a sin,” Chaturvedi says. He dug through the footage to find 24 timelines for the questions he asked. After that, Chaturvedi and editor Suchitra Sathe worked on it for over 11 weeks in Pune.

Chaturvedi mentions how he intends to release the interviews as a series of YouTube episodes. “I left out all the technical aspects for those unfamiliar with filmmaking. Instead, we focused on humanity, dignity, commitment, passion and hard work” On plans to release the film for a wider audience, Chaturvedi recounts a line that Naseeruddin Shah once said to him:Image nahin chalti hai, bhidu! Sirf kismet chalti hai.

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