Pooja is a Cinematographer based out of Mumbai. She is a graduate of the SRFTII and her IMDB profile is here.
As a child what were your early influences towards cinema?
My parents are fans of hindi films and I remember going to single screen theatre with them to watch films. I was always amazed with the big screen and wondered how humans can be so large. In my head I felt that there is a parallel universe in which every human has a large and a small version of themselves. Of course later one understands projection and projector but for a while my imagination ran wild about parallel life. I am born and brought up in Pune city which has National Film Archives of India and in my teens I got introduced to world cinema there. This made me appreciate the art of film making.
Did you start with photography? If yes, why did you choose to leave photography to take up motion picture professionally?
I have done graduation in commercial art and photography was my specialization. So when we were given assignments even though I was doing photography I would always think in series of photographs which made me realise that I am inclined towards series of moving images or photographs. This made me discover motion picture photography. Hence photography for me was stepping stone to understand light and composition which eventually made a strong foundation for cinematography.
How did you first become interested in cinematography?
As I said earlier, I would think in series of moving images and eventually I got interested in motion picture photography. Since I am from Pune I became aware of Film and Television Institute of India where there they teach film-making. I visited the institute to understand what it meant to learn cinematography. That’s when I decided to get myself trained in Cinematography formally.
What steps did you take to train yourself?
I decided to train my self formally from an institute. I applied to Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata and got through there. It really helped me to understand and discover myself in the world of Cinematography. Meanwhile I would also assist some seniors on commercial projects.
Have you assisted anyone? How does it help one?
Yes while studying in institute I would come and assist during vacation. I have assisted many cinematographers during this time Mr Saleel Sahasrabuddhe, Mr Paramvir Singh, Mr Shankar Raman and late Mr Rajen Kothari, this gave me immense exposure to on field practical knowledge that helped me during my institute projects. After Institute I mainly assisted Mr Kiran Deohans for two years and I have learnt a lot from him in terms of aesthetic of shot taking, lighting, composition and cinematography over all . In fact it still helps me. But the most important thing I have learnt is people management. A cinematographer on set is continuously communicating through visuals and with people. Hence its very important to stay focused, plan and have clear communication to achieve your desired look and feel.
How did your first film project come about?
My first feature film “Crossing Bridges” was with my batchment from institute Sange Dorjee Thongdok. We shot the film in almost no budget and in his village in Arunachal Pradesh. We all multi tasked and shot the film in real locations. After we completed the film we sent it to many festivals, where it was well received and it also won National Award for best film from Arunachal Pradesh. This gave us a lot of encouragement.
How do you decide that you want to shoot a given film? What are those factors?
There many factors for me to that count while choosing a film but mainly script and the director’s vision. I think the wavelength needs to match creatively. Its also important that the producers are on the same page of creativity. It helps the film to excel in terms of execution.
Is cinematography intuitive or is it something you learn?
I think cinematography is a combination of intuitiveness and technique that needs to be learnt continuously. Its one of the arts where you also need to understand the science but make sure that you put forth the feeling of visuals.
What part does risk-taking play in your work, if any?
Yes there are risks involved on different levels in every project. When we set out to shot a film and create a believable world it does make you go beyond obvious and explore unknown. So creatively you always take risk. In terms of execution I feel since cinematography is a on field work its important to maintain the safety standards and use the right equipment.
Do you think the audience is perceptive about how cinematography augments moods and helps establish a sense of time and place?
Yes of course! Visuals along with sound are very essential to convey the sense of time and place. Cinema is all about time and space and audience consciously or subconsciously connect to that. Like all aspects of film making Cinematography also plays a very pivotal role in creating a world which engages audience in the story.
There is so much emphasis on technology in the public dialog about cinematography. Is that a distraction from the real job? Has technology changed the way you work?
We all need to keep ourselves updated with continuously changing Technology as it helps to execute the art of cinematography in newer ways. Its good that so much material is available for everyone to access. So everyone can educate themselves and understand the importance of having certain equipment on shoot in terms of creating the visual language.
Where do you seek inspiration from?
I love to observe my surroundings. That helps me to approach lighting or shoot a sequence in specific way. Real life is always stranger than fiction so there is so much to see and observe. I have always loved watching films, photographs and paintings. In my early days I have got influenced by many painters and photographers like Vermeer, Rembrandt, Hopper, Ansel Adams, Raghu Rai,Henri Cartier-Bresson and many more
Any advice to the inspiring cinematographers?
Keep Practising, shoot at any chance given to you and work hard there is alternative to that.