Bollywood is evolving. The good looks are no longer restricted to bulky, ripped men and dainty, fair damsels in distress. Along with the shift in characters and themes the camera has also shifted its focus.
Think Anand Gandhi's Ship of Theseus. Aida Al-Kashef's character reconciles with the ordinariness of her newly gained eyesight while witnessing the breathtaking expanse of The Himalayas. That shot, followed by the suddenness of her camera lens-cover falling into the rapids of a river is nothing short of an award-winner. The contrast is like letting life play its tune, one moment buried in complexities and the next, oh so regular. Exactly like the snap of a camera, you wouldn't know what you catch unexpectedly.
Zoom into the tiny black caterpillar, trying to find its way through a sea of briskly walking feet or the satirical comedy of a silver Accent getting stuck in the narrow lanes of a slum. The shots in the film serve as vehicles of unspoken conversation between the viewer and the director.
But then again. Gandhi's Theseus is not a departure from the mainstream, it is a whole new stream of its own.
A film like Vikramaditya Motwane's Lootera falls squarely in the realm of Bollywood drama. But remember the scene where Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) is desperately trying to write, but she is in a distubed state of mind? Remember how the pen rolls and paper balls are strewn all around her? Combined with the dark wooden flooring and her woolen sweater, the scene smells of winter. And you don't need 4D or 7D seating to feel that chill, the camera does it for you.
Motwane's attention to detail, although allegedly inspired by Sanjay Leela Bhansali's style is a far cry from Bhansali's grandeur. Where a beautifully decked up heroine in a Bhansali film would seem porcelain, Motwane's heroine Pakhi smiles at the arrival of her "Lootera" and the one beautiful thing about her lit up face is that her nose has a winter rash. It couldn't be chance now, could it?
The parting shot of Motwane's Udaan is yet another example of brilliant camera work. The yellow tinge adds to the light-heartedness of the young protagonist accepting his adopted brother as his own and taking him away from the authoritative parent. One can't miss the transition from dark frames to light colours, much like the tone of the film - one of hope.
Another film that plays well with colours is Kai Po Che. Cinematographer Anay Goswami's sepia toned colours of the film forge the bond between the three main characters. The warm hues that paint the city of Ahemdabad during the kite race shot, is not just symbolic of the main theme of cutting the "uljhe rishton ka maanja" but also highlights the myriad tones relationships have. Especially the close bond the "brothers for life" share.
Barfi! as a film that has a protagonist who is hearing and speech impaired shares his soundless world as a series of images, for that is how Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor) would see it. A heartwarming shot is when Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra) is kidnapped by Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor). Her initial rational fears disappear as he eases her into a wonderland of jhilmil glow-worms, a sight that catches her fancy and our attention.
Director Anand L Rai in his second venture Raanjhanaa (after Tanu Weds Manu), too tells his tale through visuals. The moment when Dhanush climbs atop a temple in Vanarasi perhaps emphasises his invisibility in the broader context. Abhay Deol's presence reeks of the aspiring politician. When Sonam Kapoor begins to discover this union leader in a Delhi college the camera keeps the focus on Kapoor even as Deol takes the foreground. To establish Sonam Kapoor's centrality, perhaps. Unlike Lootera, this film is more about catching the little things like Kundan and Murari sipping tea in a corner.
Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani is one of those films where the background is a character in its own right. Kolkata's old city has poetry of its own. When Vidya Balan reaches the dilapidated hotel where Arnab Bagchi (Indraneil Sengupta) stayed, one can sniff conspiracies. The camera shows the peacock showpiece that the owner constantly denies - it's stuff like this that heightens the sense of mystery.
(Inputs on Raanjhanaa and Kahaani are contributed by Sweta Kaushal)