Tribhuvan Babu: We are hoping that with Yudh Indian television programming will change

Yudh is nothing like what we have seen earlier on Indian television. And keeping that mood of the mini-series in mind, cinematographer Tribhuvan Babu has tried to break norms and formats while shooting it. In an exclusive chat, the DOP talks about the hard work that went into filming Amitabh Bachchan’s first fictional TV show.

How did you get associated with Yudh?
It was a very strange incident. I was just finishing a couple of projects and my friend Maitreye Das Gupta, who is a line producer, told me that one of her close friends, Ribhu Dasgupta (the director of Yudh) is looking for a DOP for a mini-series. I told her that I hadn’t done television before so I wasn’t sure if I suited the medium. But she told me it isn’t a regular TV show and the people are trying to do something different. So I went to the Endemol office (the production house) and met Ribhu. We hit it off from the moment I sat down. We didn’t talk about the project at all. We share a common love for food. So we discussed the food scene in Kolkata (I love the city for its food) and Mumbai. Next thing he told me to meet the production team to discuss the money. And that’s when he told me that Mr (Amitabh) Bachchan was doing the show. I was like how often does one get a chance to work with Mr Bachchan. So I said yes, then and there. Later, he told me that even Anurag (Kashyap) is going to be involved. And he knew of me. In fact he had recommended my name for a Kurdish film (Shirin), which I eventually shot.

What made you say ‘yes’ to the project?
Honestly, three things – Bachchan, Ribhu and Anurag. At that stage they had a broad line story, and it was still being written so there was nothing to discuss.

It’s obvious that Yudh isn’t shot like a typical TV series. What was the director’s brief for the visual treatment?
Yudh is shot with a two camera set-up. The reason being that Anurag and Ribhu told me just one thing – whatever you do, just keep following the actors. They told me not to ask them what camera and lens to use. They left that completely to me. They of course had a vision to it, as to the look, but it was my headache as to how I achieved it. The only thing was that I don’t lose the actors, always keep them in frame and give them freedom, don’t restrict their movements. That was a challenge because shooting Indian skin tones is tough. To give molding to Indian skin it has to be well lit. Indian skin tone can misbehave in different lighting conditions. It’s not like African or Caucasian tones, where black is black and white is white. Indian skin tones are browns, yellows and magentas; it’s a myriad of colours. If you are shooting with one camera one can control it, but it is tough to shoot with two cameras. You have to light for both cameras in a way that it is not in the frame for either angle. But then the brief was to follow the actors so it worked out well. That automatically demanded a design, where my lighting was kept as natural as possible. A lot of times I didn’t light up (spaces). Of course, the channel was shitting bricks and said it’s too dark. In the initial brief, including the channel, they wanted the show to look international and didn’t want it to look like a Balaji TV show. And I was like this is simple. So I decided to approach it the way I would approach my films.

How different is it to shoot a TV show as compared to a film?
The main difference is the medium itself. Cinema is a reflective medium where a projector is throwing an image of a screen, whereas television is the source itself and it is throwing light on to you. So, mathematically and technically it changes how colours – blacks, whites, greys – behave and appear on screen. The contrast, brightness, noise settings also change. So if you light up keeping film in mind, it will not behave the same on television. Also, the tonality of each zone is different – office, house, the mining village and city spaces. Ribhu was very clear that he needed a distinct look for every location. So that decided a lot of colours for the production design and costumes; make up was not an issue because artists were specifically told not to wear make-up. If you notice the office has a distinct corporate look – steel grey, the house is a slightly happier space, and the mining gives a typical Western look where the browns are enhanced, the sun and starkness of that space is highlighted and there are more browns and golden yellows on the skin tone in the mining village. Then there is this hospital which is tube-lit. All this was pre-decided and our production designer, Sunil Nigvekar, was so amazing that he would just transform the space perfectly according to the mood of the scene. Honestly, I just had to place my lights and my camera. I didn’t have to do anything.
Can you elaborate on the camera set-up and lenses used for the series?
Normally they use regular HD cameras – Sony PMW 900 or Panasonic P2 – for television. Because of the smaller sensor the depth of field is very wide. Both your character and background are in focus and it’s very sharp. But as we wanted our series to look different the choice was pretty simple. Due to limited budget we couldn’t afford a Red Epic, Red MX or an Alexa. So the next best thing was either Sony S5 or Canon C300 because it has super 35 sensor. You can use film lenses on these cameras and get the same depth of field, look and feel of a film. We tested both cameras and zeroed in on Canon C300. It had the inherent film look. Sony still rendered a bit of television, plastic look, which we consciously avoided. And it was a smaller camera so we could hide it anywhere. A lot of times Mr Bachchan and other actors would ask where the camera was.

My lens package was pretty simple. I had one Arri Ultra Prime set with 16 mm to 85 mm. I insisted on the production to buy me a Canon 30-300 zoom, which is a beautiful lens to have on any production set. It is very smooth, has amazing variation in term of lenses, plus it works beautifully with the Canon C300. That gave us amazing freedom to be as far away from the actors, not intruding into their spaces and giving them the freedom to move. The only downside was that our production designer was upset as we weren’t showing his beautifully done up locations. Unfortunately, we never show the entire set. The traditional way to start (a scene) is to get a wide shot and cut to close but it’s not fun anymore.

What about the lighting design?
Lighting was kept at a bare minimum and as natural as possible. When we had window sources we pumped light only through the window. That took care of the rest of the room and the practical lights would act as the fill light. A couple of times in the office I have used laptop as the fill light. Idea was to keep it as real as possible and nothing glamourous. But having said that, I did make a conscious attempt to light up the women a bit more than others and make them look good. I am always biased towards them.

Read the rest of the article at Pandolin.

Reprinted with permission from Pandolin.

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