Meet the experts who make tiny details come alive on the big screen

  • Nidhi Choksi
  • Updated: Jan 23, 2016 21:38 IST

The director directs. The actors act. Now, meet the experts who make the cars explode, the accents sound real and the tiny details come alive on the big screen.


Anees Adenwala’s camerawork can go deep, really deep

Films: Masaan, Phantom, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Bang Bang

Anees Adenwala’s office is symbolic of his passion for diving and filmmaking. The wetsuit, fins, mask, breathing apparatus and underwater photography are all on display. He’s been lucky enough to be able to combine his two strongest skills, filming and diving, into a paying profession. His firm, Underwater Film Services, is the only one in Mumbai that can handle underwater shoots. Audiences first saw his work in Mukesh Bhatt’s Saaya (2003). Today, directors see him as half-cameraman, half-fish.

Jacqueline Fernandez and Arjun Rampal on the sets of Roy (2015), shooting for the song Boond Boond.

“It was tough to convince people about the idea of a production house just for underwater sequences. But eventually, they came around,” Adenwala says. “Directors thought, ‘Arey underwater scene karna hai, Thailand ya Malaysia jana padega.’ So, why not help them right here at home?”

Shooting underwater is hard work. “My first questions to the director are: Who is the cast? And can they swim?” he says. If they can’t, Adenwala trains them. Once the actors learn their scene, they practise it underwater, getting used to holding their breath.

Remember the song Galliyaan from Ek Villain (2014), which was shot in Mauritius, 20 feet under water. “The actors rehearsed in shallow water,” says Adenwala. “Then, in deeper waters, they took in their oxygen from my tank, held their breaths and swam, doing their choreography, towards another crew member waiting with an oxygen tank on the other side.” So what looks like a continuous shot is actually done in bits.

Also, what looks like the deep blue sea in movies is often actually the pool of Celebration Sports Club in Andheri. “We cover the pool with a black cloth to make it look deep,” he says. Props, even bikes used in Dhoom:3 (2013), are typically suspended by cables and removed on the editing table.

Work can be fun too. When they had time to kill before filming a sequence for Happy New Year (2014) in Shah Rukh Khan’s pool, they played cards underwater.

“More films have underwater sequences after Blue (2009) and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) gave scuba-diving a boost,” Adenwala says. So the cameraman has his hands full, even if they’re often wet.



Need fireworks? Agnelo D’souza orchestrates the best ones on film

Films: Vijaypath, Ghayal 2, Great Grand Masti, Bang Bang

Think of Agnelo D’souza as Bollywood’s most explosive property. A pyrotechnic expert, he’s much in demand with event creators and filmmakers, organising smoke effects, petrol blasts, explosions of colour (imagine a flare of Holi colours), and eruptions of confetti for a celebratory effect. He also puts together scenes involving firecrackers and fire.

Agnelo D’souza (left) with Ajay Devgn.

D’souza has worked his magic on films since 1994, with the Ajay Devgn starrer, Vijaypath. He started the Movies Action Dummy Effects Association for special effects technicians in 1992 and currently owns the special-effects outfit, Mumbai Fireworks.

When it comes to creating a realistic disaster on screen, D’Souza gets creative. Cryogenic gas or carbon dioxide from cylinders create safe smoke (“It doesn’t last in the air for very long”), welding machines produce sparks without a real accident and LPG cylinders let him control fires.

On every set, D’Souza has a safety team standing by with professional fire fighters and extinguishers. He says, “By the grace of God, I’ve had no mishaps in my career.”

Instead, he’s got along with Bollywood like, well, a house on fire. “The best experiences of my career have been with director Rohit Shetty,” says D’Souza. “He takes technicians very seriously.”

Other collaborations depend on the script. “Most of the time, the creative liberty depends on the special effects budget,” he says. Schedules sometimes last upto three months (like in Lakshya (2004), where he was required to be on set for the entire schedule), and sometimes just two days.

Though working in cinema can often be a disaster in itself: “I was once paid just `1,000 for the first schedule and told I’d be paid for the rest later,” he says. “I insisted I’d work only if I was paid in full.”

That said, D’souza is never out of work – and he’s never had to beg for a job, even in this age of computer-generated effects. Because filmmakers always want to make things look as real as possible and only when it gets seriously hazardous are computer effects involved. “For instance, for a sequence in the upcoming Great Grand Masti, we had to create a fire, but it couldn’t go as high as the film required without becoming unsafe,” says D’souza. “Only then were digital effects used.”



Sunil Rodrigues never met a car that he couldn’t blow up

Films: Rohit Shetty films, Fitoor, Rocky Handsome

If you watch Rohit Shetty films mourning over the fancy cars that come to a crashing end, blame action director Sunil Rodrigues. He began as a stuntman with Golmaal: Fun Unlimited (2006), became an action director, and has worked with Shetty for seven years, blowing up cars among other things.

“Sometimes we do car stunts with the driver and sometimes without,” says Rodrigues. “We use cannons filled with nitrogen that blow up with the gas’s pressure and help the cars explode. We make cars ‘jump’ by speeding them up a raised platform.”

A screenshot from Dilwale (2015).

While Shetty selects the cars, the action team ensures they fit the specifications of the scene. For Dilwale last year, they used detonators to “blow up a moving Mercedes”. Other cars that tremble when they see him include Range Rovers, Audis, Mustangs and BMWs. His team also works faster than Hollywood, which can take weeks to execute a single dramatic conflagration. Rohit Shetty understands and values stunts, says Rodrigues. “We get creative liberty and an open budget so we can lower the risk factor.”

Sunil Rodrigues (left) with Shah Rukh Khan.

Despite that, stunts are dangerous for anyone involved in them. A film Rodrigues worked on, had a scene where the car had to skid. “The petrol leaked and because of the skid, the tyre created sparks. This led to a fire,” he says. Thankfully, he got it under control.



Vikas Kumar can make any actor sound like he grew up in the hinterland or the UK

Films: Gulaal, Ishqiya, 7 Khoon Maaf, Aurangzeb

How do you make 40 Mumbai junior artists speak with pukka British accents? Simple. You hire Vikas Kumar as a dialogue and diction coach, and turn him loose on the actors.

Kumar, originally an actor, got his start in speech coaching with One Night With The King (2006), which was being shot in Jodhpur. His first Bollywood film was Gulaal (2009), and his big break was Ishqiya (2010), for which he coached the entire cast in a 15-day workshop. His job is simple: to make actors sound like the characters they play.

Vikas Kumar coaching Naseeruddin Shah on the sets of Ishqiya (2010).

“With more actors coming from abroad, it has become important to train them in Hindi so they sound right,” Kumar says. “Dialects have also become important now because more stories are set in the interiors of the country.”

Kumar has a good ear for all languages. “I can quickly differentiate between two dialects in terms of how they sound,” he says. “I pay attention to how the vowels and consonants sound. Some dialects stretch them, some have them compressed. Bhopalis and Biharis, for instance, speak with a different lilt, almost as if they’re singing.”

Scripts are written in Hindi, but if a character needs a particular dialect, Kumar adds local words and phrases too. For Ishqiya, he wrote an entire scene: “Arshad [Warsi] had to tell Vidya [Balan] that he had acidity. My research said that in Bhojpuri, ‘acidity’ is actually pronounced as ‘STD’ so I suggested that.”

Kumar runs an institute called Strictly Speaking and also trains commentators like Ravi Shastri and VVS Lakshman to get their Hindi right. He spends a lot of time listening to people who come from different parts of India so he can get a sense of how they speak and communicate. But mostly, the attempt is to not overdo dialect, samjhe?



Ugesh Sarcar, a magician, conjures up the filmi world’s most complicated tricks

Films: Guzaarish, Don 2

Shah Rukh Khan couldn’t have pulled off Don 2 (2011) without Ugesh Sarcar. In the film, the actor was required to play with cards, swivel guns on his fingers and do tricks with cigarette lighters. In other words, he needed to be trained in ‘flourishes’, and who better to teach him this art than a magician? And so, entered Ugesh Sarcar, former street magic expert, mentalist and illusionist, with the title, Technical Director of Magic.

“Things like these have to be subtle and stylish so that they can add to the character,” says Sarcar. “We had to ensure it was not too over the top, and look effortless.”

But they did take effort. To spin his gun, SRK had to practise relentlessly, bruising his fingers in the process. “He put on a Band-Aid and carried on,” says Sarcar.

For Guzaarish (2010), Sarcar had to incorporate magical effects into the script and train Hrithik Roshan and Aditya Roy Kapur to behave like magicians.

He doesn’t accept just any script. “Only if it requires my expertise do I come on board,” he says. “Magic needs to fit into the story. There’s no point having it just for the heck of it.” He also does live shows across the country.

From HT Brunch, January 24, 2016

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