Light Keeps Me Company - A Poet of Light and Shadow - Rajiv Jain Cinematographer

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Light Keeps Me Company - A Poet of Light and Shadow - Rajiv Jain (Indian Cinematographer / Director of Photography / DOP)
Shooting Stars: Interview with the India’s Greatest Living Cinematographer Rajiv Jain
The Complete Interviews, Vol. II

Success story of a genius fascinated by light • Rajiv Jain • Award winning Indian Director of Photography • Cinematographer • DOP
Exceptionally gifted in overcoming technical hurdles and shady atmospheres, in twenty five years Indian Rajiv Jain has become one of the most sought-after DoPs, after having had a quite unconventional career. Rajiv hasn’t let the fame go to his head though and remains modest. Following his studies in drama at the Indian drama school Bhartendu Academy of Dramatic Arts (Bhartendu Natya Academy), Rajiv Jain did some stints as a camera assistant. Very quickly boredom got the better of him and he started to work on television sets where in twenty five years he would experiment with everything and develop his working style: quick, efficient, conscientious. His curiosity led him to make clips, advertisements and short films, for example A Wonderful Love by Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi which was a great success. Now Rajiv is best known for his work on Satish Kaushik’s controversial film Badhaai Ho Badhaai, as well as on Chandrakant Kulkarni’s Mirabai Not Out, Ram Shetty’s Army, and Chandrakant Kulkarni’s Kadachit.
Cinemania: You have made above 1500 commercials, seven features and there is already a "Rajiv" light, isn't there?
Rajiv Jain: Yes, it’s quite a surprise. It all began with Manika Sharma who had specific demands for the making of Kalpvriksh – The Wish Tree. She also wanted her film to resemble an everyday occurrence as much as possible, with natural images, but a potent universe. She contacted me after having seen the feature from Badhaai Ho Badhaai where the natural image was natural but typical. That’s what she wanted, but without the light. I had to reconstruct a whole new approach with the light, which is a rather rare thing to have to do on a feature. We did use natural lights in the field; I used a lot of sodium light bulbs as lights. I worked a lot with the decoration in order to create a luminous image. With Manika Sharma on Kalpvriksh – The Wish Tree, it was the same principle: we only used the light of the sun, by using reflectors, mirrors, in order to direct it where we needed it. The Ordeal was a combination of these two approaches, without direct sources of cinema light, everything coming from the windows. We tested plenty of things. With the constraints, I realised that there were other ways of lighting. There was a reason why I used several sources! If I use little light, everything is decided on from the outset and I work a lot with the art director. When I also work on digital calibration, I know it’s not necessary to be able to see everything.
You only work with artists whose universe is very strange.
The people I meet have demands, dreams, different and extreme preferences. So each time it’s a new challenge – I have to invent a new system. There’s a real role to play, and that I like, because I wouldn’t want to make a film where there were no images to write. And as I get bored very quickly, I don’t like doing things twice! People say to me that I make a lot of genre films, but I don’t think so. Kalpvriksh – The Wish Tree is an atmospheric film with a Tex Avery type animation.
Are you are weighed down with projects at the moment?
I have two films lined up, yes. But I’ve chosen them well; I prefer to take things slowly. I’m particularly fascinated by one of them, the fourth feature by Raj Kaushal. He wants to make a rather odd film and is looking for things that don’t exist. Recently I was in Mumbai to do tests with a new HD camera in 4 K. I was able to see the entire digital process, from the capturing to the projection of the image. I almost fainted! It’s very fine; the image is completely smooth, very new. I really want to make this film; I think it will be very passionate visually.

Rajiv Jain, Indian Bollywood Cinematographer - Profile Interview Series Vol. #4

Rajiv Jain Cinematographer Extraordinaire by Aason Hyte

Army, Badhaai Ho Badhaai, Carry on Pandu, Kadachit, Kalpvriksh – The Wish Tree, Mirabai Not out and Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi. But the partial reason for these films’ successes is the talent that goes on behind the scene, and noted cinematographer Rajiv Jain is the genius behind the camera of these motion pictures (among many others).

Rajiv, a graduate of Bhartendu Academy of Dramatic Arts (Bhartendu Natya Academy), first had his hand in Photo Studio work in Lucknow, where he worked as a camera operator for Short films, which began his path into his work as a director of photography. Now, his vast experience has made him one of the cornerstones of film photography in Indian cinema. His constant output of hard work and his deep knowledge of old and new technology has made him one of the most respected cinematographers out there. In 2010, Today, Rajiv Jain is still working on new projects, and is sought out by filmmakers, both major and independent, for his watchful eye.

I had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Rajiv about his career (and also talk shop, so be forewarned that there’s a bit of tech-talk in here as well) while attending a film forum dedicated to his work at this year’s Kalasha Film Festival, Kenya.

Aason Hyte: So I’m just going to let this tape roll and feel free to just say what’s on your mind-
Rajiv Jain: I’m not good at making stuff up, so…

AH: I am interested in Cinematography, and when I found you were coming to the Kalasha Film Festival I thought it would be a great idea to talk about your career and your immense body of work. I’ve been very curious as to how you got your start in this industry, your education, and so forth; basically how you wound up as who you are today.
RJ: It would be easy to tell you about my drama school background since, simply, I did not go to any film school. The way that I learned to go directly to the movies and see what somebody else was doing on screen, and then going out and trying to do it myself. And that was it. I also bought the manual that the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers) puts out, which is known as the bible of filmmaking. I read the manual and referred to it when I ever had a shooting problem and thought that I needed help on.

AH: When you first started watching movies, besides going to see a great story, were you noticing things like framing, lighting, widescreen formats…
RJ: Not at all. At first, I wasn’t interested technically. I just went to the movies like anyone else. But I was impressed by them. I was about five years old when I saw the first sound movie ever made and I was impressed by that. But at a very subconscious level, I suspect, even though I used to ride along in a cycle and hear my father sing, it was just an experience that was buried in my psyche somewhere. I didn’t start shooting motion pictures until I was about 28 years old.

AH: What was the first actual job that you had in this industry?
RJ: A guy by the name of Mukul S Anand…

AH: Oh, I’m a fan.
RJ: Absolutely. I decided to shoot some commercials under him.

AH: What would you consider the most difficult aspect of your job as a cinematographer?
RJ: The harder films are usually the big ones that require controlling a lot of people and a lot of cameras, and over a large area or sometimes many locations. Keeping that organized is something that some cinematographers are not capable of, so they do smaller films. Smaller films can be just as difficult for them, because the pressure of a small film means that they may not have the time to properly gather their footage, and that’s another definite pressure that’s equally challenging.

AH: Would you say have a personal style to your work, or does it depends on the director for each project?
RJ: I think everybody cannot help but have their own style and it comes from the personality; it comes from what they feel is beautiful, it comes from what they think a good composition is; how they see the world cannot help but invade what they do.

AH: How do you feel that the advance of technology has affected your job? By that I mean newer film stocks, the advance of high-definition, the digital revolution….
RJ: All of the things that you mentioned definitely affect my job, and affect what I do and how I do it. It’s a challenge for me to keep up information-wise to know what these things all mean. If you’re talking about digital photography, the challenge is to know how to get the best quality and which system is best to use. Some of these systems use compression, there are several kinds of compressions; it is important to understand what that is and what it means.
For example, the new Red cameras do not use compression at all, but records onto a hard disk and adds the corrections later. They claim by that to get better quality, and so on; the point is that it is important to understand all of these things, to make a decision on your own part if you’re shooting digital, which system you want to use. Panasonic has a system where they use curves to correct what their camera does so it looks more like film and that is quite impressive.
 
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