Adri Thakur : In Conversation With A Cinematographer

A graduate from Film and Television Institute Of India, Pune. Adri Thakur has worked as a Cinematographer on a number of documentaries and feature films. He believes his creative aptitude comes from his parents who are artists by profession, and he maintains that he learned all about aesthetics and nuances of visual representation by watching them over the years doing paintings and sculptures. Some of his award winning documentaries include: Ask The Sexpert, Made in India, My Kashmir that have received international acclaim. He has acquired considerable experience by working on different formats like Documentaries, Advertising, Music Videos and Films.

As a child what were your early influences towards cinema?
I grew up in Ranchi, which is a township of Mecon and Sail india. Every sunday there used to be a film projection in the community hall, where they played films of Ray, Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani etc. I used to go there with my Dad. Though, for me, the excitement was to play with my friends in the garden while the lights were-out and all the elders were watching the film! I still remember how I used to wait for the hall to be dark, lights to dim down to black. The beam of light hitting the screen, the sound of the projector rolling. We used to see where the light was coming from, and there on the glass a small image of the film could be seen. It was an exciting visual to witness. The scale of an image of a face (close-up) or a magnificent landscape on the big screen. These are the fragments which stayed on my subconscious.

How did you first become interested in cinematography? Did you start with photography?
I was born in an environment where art and music was a very integral part of my upbringing. I was exposed to colour, form, pattern, drawing, sculpture, dance, music from a very early age. I feel it played a part in developing an interest towards the audio visual medium.
Yes, I started with photography as my initial training. I learnt the basics of photography from one of my Dad’s friends (Khudu Kaku). Although an engineer in Mecon, he had passion and knowledge of photography. Later I took formal education from Fergusson College, Pune. I did a diploma course in photography along with my graduation where I learnt the technique and aesthetics of still photography. It developed my interest towards photography which later converted towards motion picture photography.

What steps did you take to train yourself?
I studied filmmaking from Chitrobani, Kolkata. Then I went to study cinematography at FTII, Pune. I did the 1 year course in cinematography. I feel I’m still in the learning phase. Each day I am on set, I learn something new. Or when I meet or listen to fellow filmmakers, there is always a lot to learn. So I believe my training phase is still on.
I believe there is no right way or wrong way to train yourself. You know what your strengths and weaknesses are. You work on your weakness and try to polish your strengths. The training phase should never stop, especially when the technology is evolving so fast.

Have you assisted anyone? How does it help one?
I have assisted a few DoPs post film school. I started with Tapan Vyas then Rakesh Haridas, Saurav Viswakarma, Avik Mukherjee and Manu Anand for the longest time.
I was blessed to have amazing seniors who have taught me many techniques and the craft of cinematography. All of it has reflected in my journey of filmmaking.
You learn how to work on the set, how you can light one scene in different ways and styles. They taught me how to approach a story or a scene in terms of lighting, movement, rhythm, mood. How to select lenses or cameras for the project depending on the story. How to improvise a scene, how to handle big setups or challenging situations. It helped me in my evolution towards my cinematographic journey. And every individual’s style and approach towards a project was different from one another which helped me learn different styles and approaches towards photography of a film or visualisation of a project. They are always there with you as a guide to help you out or show you a path when you get stuck somewhere. When you assist you can discuss your ideas with them and it is self learning too if you are thinking in the correct way, and know what is wrong in it and how to make it better. It helps a lot in later stages when you are working independently.

How did your first film project come about?
My batchmate from FTII referred me to the producer of the film, who was then in search of a DoP. The director liked my work reel and we connected from the first meeting itself! It was a very organic process. Things just kept happening by itself.

What is perhaps the most important factor for you to choose a script?
If I enjoy reading a script, or would like to see the film on screen, or feel the story needs to to be told, I say yes. Also one important factor is that I need to connect with the maker of the script. We need to vibe together in harmony.

Is cinematography intuitive or is it you learn?
It is a balance between both, I believe. You learn the techniques or the process of approaching any script and go on floor to shoot. The intuition is something which is imbibed within you. Your inner aesthetics. It might have formed or developed within you from your childhood or experiences of your life. It is what makes you different from others. Like at times after seeing the location or the rehearsals of the actors, you feel totally different from what you may have planned or prepared while reading the script. So you need to keep the room for your instincts to play around and guide your creativity. I always keep that room open, where at times wonders have happened on set.

Tell us something about your latest film.
The film is called ‘Jab Khuli Kitaab’. It is directed by Saurabh Shukla. Produced by Shoe Strap films and Applause. It’s a charming romantic drama which asks the question, ‘What does love, passion and heart break have to do with age?’ It has Dimple Kapadiya, Pankaj Kapoor and Aparshakti Khurrana. We shot this film in Ranikhet, in the backdrop of the Himalayas. It was one of the best experiences I had. We were all in sync as one team, be it the cast or the crew. It was a joy ride! I did some experiments with lighting and texture of the film. Saurabh Sir was very supportive in my decisions and we worked together towards the visual grammar and rhythm of the film.

Where do you seek inspiration from?
Life, things that I see or observe around. Experiences of mine and others or stories that I hear from different people or artists with whom I interact.

What is in the kitty right now?
I’m reading scripts. Nothing is locked. Along with it I’m doing some commercials as and when they come.

What’s your dream project?
There are no dream projects. I want to be part of projects where I enjoy the process, the journey of it. Audiences will also enjoy what they are watching or connect with it.

Your most memorable blunder?
There are many, especially when you are assisting someone, you are still learning. I can remember one incident right now. This was while I was assisting Manu Anand for the film ‘Fan’. We were shooting a road chase sequence at night. We had discussed all our lighting plans. I misinterpreted the position of the moon box. So when the DoP came on set he was shocked to see the position which should have been the exact opposite of what I had done. (in my placement it would always be in the frame). Manu quietly asked me if I told the gaffer the position of the moon box. I said yes, as we had discussed last night. I remember he sat on the corner of the road and very patiently explained my blunder and that this was not how we had planned it. Now we had just an hour and a half to start the shoot. He told me to switch it off and put lights on the rostrum since we didn’t have that much time to change the position. I felt very bad. I just wanted to run away from there out of shame but I pulled myself up and told him to give me 45 min to fix it. And anyways we were starting our alternate plan of the rostrum which was a compromise. I went to the gaffer and the light boys and told them that I’m sorry but I placed the light in the wrong position. I asked them if they could help me with it’s re-position in 45 min. They said yes, and in the next 45-50 min all the light boys and camera assistants and setting boys helped us to shift the box to the correct position. I don’t know how it happened but the boys did it. I learnt a few important things that night – never blast at your assistant when they have made a mistake; as a DoP, always have a backup plan ready; and there is no shame in admitting your mistakes and asking for the help from your team. They will always save you in any situation. And most importantly, don’t run away from the situation; face it and fix it. You just need that determination to make things right.

Any advice to the inspiring cinematographers?
Work on projects that you enjoy. I always tell them, shoot in the way you love to see it on screen. Be yourself in your expression. Focus more on quality rather than quantity.

What book, music, movie are you enjoying right now?
I watch a lot of movies and series. I recently watched Ida, The Green Knight, Scenes From a Marriage.

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