For a long time, the Western Indian Cinematographers’ Association (WICA) has been raising its voice against foreign cinematographers who come to India on business and tourist visas, but actually work on advertising and feature films.
In a first, the movement has gathered momentum after a French cameraperson who came to India on a tourist visa was arrested from the sets of an ad film in Mumbai last week. He was held after WICA rejected a production house’s application for his temporary membership, which was denied because he had a tourist visa and didn’t have a work permit. However, the production house went ahead with the shoot, after which WICA wrote a letter to FRRO (Foreign Regional Registration Office), and filed an FIR (a copy of which is with HT City). The investigating officer confirmed to us that the cameraperson was arrested and charge-sheeted but was released on bail.
Citing the condition for granting employment visa in India that “employment visa shall not be granted for jobs for which qualified Indians are available,” Mahesh Aney, General Secretary of WICA, says that in a meeting two weeks ago, members of the 60-year-old trade union body took the stand that foreign camerapersons must be allowed to work only on a valid work permit. “Producers who get in foreign technicians on improper visas should be penalised,” he says, adding that around 129 foreign cinematographers have worked in India in the last two years.
While this occurs more often in advertising films, the trend has picked up in feature films, too, say cinematographers. Indian cinematographers point out that while they welcome foreign camerapersons with open arms, their Indian counterparts are either not allowed to work in other countries or it’s made reallydifficult for them to do so. “The GOI should have a reciprocal agreement with nations where Indian cinematographers can work freely,” says Aney.
However, not everyone agrees.Says filmmaker Milan Luthria, “I don’t believe in protecting anyone from competition. You have to get your act together so that it comes your way. There should be no ban on hiring international talent.” ‘There is a perception that foreign cinematographers are more skilled, but that’s not true’
Ad film director Prahlad Kakkar says: “People like to think that foreigners are better at their work. That is not true at all. When they show us their work samples, they are obviously good as they have a better technical infrastructure back home. But the work that they do here is not outstanding. They don’t share the same cultural sensibilities as the audience, which is another disadvantage. But the advantage is that they are faster and don’t come with a large entourage.
An excerpt from lyricist-filmmaker Mayur Puri’s Facebook post: India’s cinematography talent is the best in the world...Working with a foreign DOP is very different from working with an Indian one. Indian DOPs, especially the famous ones, have a rep for being loud taskmasters and treating the crew derogatorily ....I worked on many Indian sets before I got a chance to work with a foreign DOP. And I couldn’t believe it — I shot for over 70 days, four different foreign DOPs and never heard any of them shouting even once.
Cinematographer Kiran Deohans, who has worked on films such as Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) says, “I was shooting a small film in the US. And while no one directly said anything to me, they created an atmosphere of indifference on the sets. The light guys wouldn’t cooperate or listen. My point is: if I welcome you, you welcome me. I don’t think camerapersons abroad are more skilled. We’re at par with international photography standards.
‘I have the right to choose who I want to work with’
Dibakar Banerjee, who has worked with Greek cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis in advertising and feature films such as Shanghai and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, says: “If a DOP has been working without the necessary legal requirements and somebody has decided to initiate legal proceedings, nothing can be said against that. I believe that Indian cinematography talent is the best in the world, but I reserve the right to work with whom I want. I work with Nikos because we share the same creative vision, he is my creative collaborator. He lives in India whenever he can. As far as it’s legally possible, a director can work with a DOP from Africa, Australia or the North Pole. Otherwise, tomorrow one can say that we have enough DOPs in Mumbai, we should not work with those from Chennai.