They came to India to make ad films. But cinematographers Nikos Andritsakis and Jason West wound up working on two of Bollywood’s most popular movies.entertainment Updated: Jun 05, 2010 18:12 IST
Originally from: Greece
Current home: Bandra, Mumbai
Best known for: Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (Director of Photography)
It’s not unusual these days to find the names of foreign technicians on the credits of Hindi movies. Stunt directors, composers, editors and special effects supervisors – they all find work here. But what brings them to Mumbai? And what keeps them here? Two cinematographers explain.
Nikos Andritsakis came to Mumbai from London about a year ago to shoot a film school friend’s film. That project got postponed, but Nikos was undeterred. His interest in “cultural diversity”, as he puts it, was excited by India. “From Greece to London and now India – my cultural curiosity is driving me further away from home,” says the 33-year-old.
This is also an advantage he feels he enjoys. “The best way to film something is if you are not acquainted with it. It is most difficult for me to shoot my neighbourhood in Athens, but I wanted to shoot Mumbai with all its beauty and ugliness, form and light.”
Taking the plunge
Initially, Nikos was anxious about losing work in London where he had left a thriving career as a music video and commercials DOP. But once his friend’s film got delayed, he started seeking ad film work in India. The first ad film he shot starred Aamir Khan. “I was new to the industry and did not have any contacts,” he says.
He met director Dibakar Banerjee for an ad film, “which did not happen”, but later Love, Sex Aur Dhokha did happen. “When I first met him for LSD, the Paris Hilton sex tape was playing in the background and Dibakar said ‘my film must not look good, it has to feel as if there was no DOP’.
So here I was, having to make a choice where my first film would be the opposite of the industry’s norm. It is one thing to take a risk when you don’t have a vision, and another to take a risk when you have a vision. Filmmaking and cinematography are not just about making things look beautiful, but about narrative,” Nikos explains.
Since LSD, Nikos has been approached for experimental and mainstream films but has not confirmed anything yet. Though he is open to a “good film project”, he is mostly busy with ad films which take him all over the world. As for Mumbai, he says he wants to stay on. “I find it much more human here. People are not yet completely corrupted by capitalism. And it was extremely easy to settle in as people are very hospitable. There is a great passion and energy within the industry too,” says Nikos who, on the flipside, was shocked by the work culture on a film set. “The first time I went on a set in Mumbai was to assist a friend on a music video and I was surprised to see a village of people all crammed into a living room set. There are some odd things and some good things about working here. In the UK it is all about health and safety rules, contracts and professionalism. So there is much less emotional involvement compared to India where there is more excitement in the crew, a sense of bonding and people will stretch the rules.”
When he first arrived in Mumbai, he brought stereotypical Western suspicion with him. A week after being here, Nikos realised he “was being a stupid city boy and was quite comfortable walking alone in the same streets that had scared me before.” He didn’t find an expat community to shelter him, it’s the film work that keeps him here.
“It’s not that there are more foreign technicians here now, but that Indian filmmakers are more interested in what is going on elsewhere. Many have studied abroad, grown up on world cinema and want to make films that can be exported so they are looking for a mentality and aesthetic sensibility which may not be available locally,” says Nikos. “Plus the equipment and post production facilities here are world class.”
Nikos plans to divide his time between India and England. He says of the journey, “I am trying to find my place, explore my artistry and be a part of the new wave.”
Dibakar Banerjee, Director, Love, Sex Aur Dhokha
On Nikos: The newer crop of directors often find a resonating voice in DOPs who have shot pop videos, ad films, independent features or documentaries. Many DOPs come here to shoot ad films, for which you look for a specific skill set. For LSD, I was looking for a DOP who would be meticulous and had vast digital experience.
I saw Nikos’s showreel, and when I first met him, I showed him the Paris Hilton sex tape and said this is what my film has to be like. He was excited and I was bowled over by his meticulous preparation before shooting. His commitment to the story and premise were complete. What got him through the shoot were words he learnt on set: jugaad and hoga (if someone said that, it meant that thing would not happen).
Originally from: United Kingdom
Current home: Bandra, Mumbai
Best known for: Rock On!! and Delhi Belly (Director of Photography)
Jason West is best known for his impressive work as cinematographer of Abhishek Kapoor’s Rock On!! Besides being busy on the ad film circuit, later this year Jason will start shooting Farhan Akhtar’s Don 2. Originally from London, Jason first came to India on work, and now calls Mumbai home.
“Prasoon Pandey saw my showreel and asked me to come over and shoot an ad film for him. That was about seven years ago. Before that I had been to Goa as a tourist over 20 years ago,” says Jason. For a few years after his first job with Pandey, Jason was in and out of India – until “I met my wife”.
Like many expats who end up making India their home, Jason too fell in love and married Mumbai girl, singer Suneeta Rao. “Would I have made Mumbai my home otherwise? I don’t really know since none of this was planned,” he says.
Fate steps in
A self-taught cinematographer who by-passed film school, Jason “used to have a computer company in London and though that work brought in good money, it was dull. The first time I stepped on to a film set, I knew immediately that this was it. I then started working as a light boy on pop videos and trained myself at Panavision by playing with the cameras,” says Jason.
While his ad film career in India has been consistent and garnered him awards, Rock On!! was his first feature film as director of photography (DOP). Luck, he says, landed him the project. “I needed a break from ad films and was looking for a film to shoot. My good friend Sanjay Sami, a grip, gave my showreel to Excel. Gattu (Abhishek Kapoor) saw it; I read the script; and that was it. I had been offered films before but half of them didn’t have scripts or schedules, so it was impossible to make a commitment. And I didn’t like a couple of the scripts very much. Then Rock On!! came along. The fact that the film was about music attracted me to it because the music was there for a reason.” He has also shot Abhinay Deo’s completed film Delhi Belly produced by Aamir Khan.
The lack of proper scripts and schedules is among the differences between shooting in Europe and India. “That’s strange,” says Jason, adding, “Other challenges include shooting on the streets of Mumbai because you cannot control crowds. Also, if something is produced well, it’s fun to work; if not, then it’s a pain. Advertising in India is a fresher industry with people willing to experiment more. The quality of work is high.”
What attracts foreign technicians to India when Indian filmmakers and actors regard working in the west as prestigious? “I don’t understand the obsession with Hollywood,” he says. “Of course there are good films that come out of there, but there’s also lots of rubbish.”
Jason steers clear of the expat scene in Mumbai. “Most of my friends are local,” he says and though he complains about the same things Mumbaikars do – heat, traffic, roads – he likes its vibe. “There is always something happening here. But if you were to choose a city for quality of life, you would not choose Mumbai.”
Abhishek Kapoor, director of Rock On!!
On Jason: My film was set entirely in Mumbai and I wanted an international sensibility since Mumbai has been shot so often and a foreign eye looks at things differently. As a director, I have a vision, but I hire people because there is something I like about them. I saw Jason’s showreel, liked his aesthetic sense and then met him. It also helped that he is a musician, which added value to the film. But working on a feature is very different to advertising and though he had a few teething problems, Jason understood and embraced the situation.