Romeo. Akbar. Walter (RAW) starring John Abraham may have opened low but the word of mouth gave it a solid week at the box office. I met with the Director of Photography Tapan Basu and discussed his process of building the world of RAW.

Tapan who has got multiple awards for cinematography in a short span and established himself as a foremost artist in his field. Tapan shot some of the most watched and awarded TVCs and his credit includes over 450 commercials of various product and services. His debut feature film Kahani-2 opened with rave reviews by the critics on its cinematography and he won yet another Bronze in cinematography at the Abby’s Fest in Goa this week for his Incredible India ad.

Excerpts  of our conversation.

You have worked under Tassaduq in Kaminey and then your first film Kahani-2 as the director of photography hit screens in 2016, almost 6 years later. What took you so long to get started in feature films by yourself?
I was being offered scripts right from the beginning but I wanted to wait and pick up a script and work with a director where I felt I can contribute much more and add value. Sujoy had offered a film before which he was planning to produce but I  had mentioned very clearly that though I am interested in doing all types of genre of films my first should be in the space of drama / thriller.
Strangely after 2 years he called me for Kahani-2 and it was obviously a delight to work with him and  actors like Vidya Balan and Arjun Rampal .
The script of RAW, Robbie told me even before I had shot Kahani-2 and back of my mind this film was always there and when or whenever it happened I wanted to shoot it.
I as a kid wanted to be in army or Raw so obviously I wanted to shoot a film on R&AW when it happened.
Tapan Basu

Tapan Basu

How would you define your career so far? 

My career growth is organic and it doesn’t have any structured plan, I just go with the flow, some decision are correct and some wrong. I am happy with the fact that I have gained so much love and respect from the film and advertising fraternity specially the DOP community.
You have done a lot of TV commercials some being award winning before your debut with Kahani-2 and RAW. What makes your work interesting in these different formats?
As a cinematographer you need to first understand the script and what your director wants and that remains the same in any format of storytelling. Your craft should add value to the narrative and enhance the look and performance of the characters.
Different formats require different technical approach of choosing your camera lenses light packages team members .
How big is your team?
My gaffer Mohamand Ali  is the same from previous movie so is my 1st AC  Rajesh Nare , DIT  Vinayak and Steady cam operator Lenny , new addition  for this has been Cherin Paul second AC and Focus puller Bobby. They all did an incredible job.
What cameras and lenses have you used in RAW?
I have shot on ARRI Alexa SXT, ARRI Mini with Hawk V lite mostly and one section where we needed multiple lenses, I used Hawk C series.
A part is shot on super 16mm multiple Kodak Stock too.
Because you have shot in 114 locations in less than 50 days, How easy or difficult is to maintain the look of the film? 
Its been a crazy schedule we shot in 14 cities, 114 locations, 2 countries in 46 days to be exact!
Extensive prep helped us a lot. John’s character travels through different places and I wanted a distinctive look so we sat through way before the shoot, created a LUT for the camera and used some camera filtrations so the basic look we achieved while shooting.  Rest of it is the magic of my long time collaborator friend, colourist Navin Shetty who did an incredible job.
Must say a big thank you to production designer Maddy for creating such real sets and also the locations we were able to shoot at and then Robbie for trusting and giving the freedom.
John, Sikander who were always there like thorough professionals. I needed  them at crazy hours to shoot my exteriors, the chase scenes which you see in the film were shot in 3 cities and that too in reverse order, to maintain the overcast look throughout we needed to work in very limited time but we managed to do it somehow.
The shoot was crazy as some street walking shots are shot in different cities and I had to make them look seamless. Another person who deserves a big thank you is Anshul from Prana Studios who helped enhance the look with his VFX work. And, Pixel D, who did additional vfx.
What kind of lights did you use to light up the film, it looks very vintage in some parts and you have kept it dark in some through the trailer at least. Is that the tone of the entire film?
I like to light up with big bounced soft sources from outside depending on the scene. It’s a mix of both my lighting with the practicals.
For this film I wanted to shoot in depth not shallow like Kahani-2 so my lighting package was huge as not only I was lighting 3 places in a day, most of those needed the soft bounce source. There is 4 tone to the film, India, POK, West Pakistan and East Pakistan.
Tapan Basu

Tapan Basu

How do you plan and set the colour and tone of the film? Is it before you start shooting or while you shoot that you find it?

Yes. Much before we started shooting, I sat with the production designer and director and we all came to a conclusion and we stuck to it. East Pakistan looks and flashbacks are entirely what the colourist Navin came up with in post production. Some where happy accidents like turning my coloured Kodak shots into black and white enhanced the look too.
What are the pre-production discussions with the director? And with your staff – Gaffer, focus puller and lights team?
Robbie, Maddy and I sat through and saw lot of reference in terms of look and then after the scout we came about what’s possible in the given time frame and budget. My second AC Cherin Paul sat with me and we made a look book which we stuck through the shoot.
My gaffer and 1st AC, Rajesh Nare has been with me for nearly 10 years now right since when I was an assistant. I wanted a very different look and feel and treatment so I discussed it with them extensively. Getting the mood correct,  High T stop was a challenge I knew we had from the very beginning but we eventually came about and adjusted very easily.
Have you started identifying certain signature shots that you like to keep in the film?
Kahani – 2 was shot very interestingly, in a very gritty way!
I think this movie is all about the Colour palette and the certain tone I wanted to create, I love shooting wides but I was also shooting a period drama in a certain budget and conditions, so I had to be careful of what I can get done in post production too.
Every narrative is different so is the signature if there should be one to be dictated by!
People who understand and have visual aesthetics will understand the film’s mood. This films is moody no doubt but I won’t call it dark.
Tell us about your experience of shooting RAW and your association with the director, production designer among others in the team ?
I think it was wonderful and extremely satisfying process.
We sat and prepped a lot, the shooting was tough but that’s the fun in a project and we took it as a challenge. I must thank my whole team Mohammad Ali, Afsar, Rajesh Nare, Cherin Paul, Bobby, Vinayak, Lenny, Imran khan and all the light boys and grips members and finally the Colorist Navin.