The Project

Raqs Media Collective + C.K. Muralidharan
with support from the IFA

 

PROPOSAL FOR A RESEARCH & DOCUMENTATION PROJECT
"HISTORY AND PRACTICE OF CINEMATOGRAPHY IN INDIA"

1995

I. Background, Context of the issues & Opportunities being addressed.

Cinema has become perhaps the most versatile, pervasive and influential mode of cultural expression in India today. It straddles comfortably the domains of folklore, urban popular culture and high art. It expresses traditional values and is informed by a contemporary consciousness. It is organised as an `industry' and yet continues to operate in a craft based, artisanal mode.

The Documentation and study of this phenomenon has largely consisted of broad historical and/or encyclopaedic studies (The Hindi Film as well as regional film cultures), critical and bigraphical studies of individual directors and actors/actresses, or textual analyses of the narratives and themes that have tended to dominate film culture. Little to almost no attention has been paid to the historical and aesthetic issues that characterise the evolution of the technical aspects of filmİmaking. In a cultural context that places such a high value on the image itself, this neglect of reflection on imagemaking is, to say the least, surprising. Nor does it augur well for the future of film making in India. A practice that is not accompanied by an examination of the premises on which it rests is bound to stagnate sooner rather than later.

However, there is a great deal of interest today, even at a popular level, on film not only as a vehicle of entertainment but also as a medium of audio visual expression.

Today's viewer is far more visually literate and sophisticated, and is keenly interested in the `look' and `style' of a film. The cinematographer and his craft is begining to be recognized not only as an adjunct to the narrative but also as an entity in itself. The training imparted in the FTII [Pune] and a handful of other institutes has also given rise to a generation of filmmakers for whom a degree of reflection on technique has become a matter of sheer necessity, given the intense pressure to innovate, as well as the competitive nature of the profession itself.

Thus we have a community of spectators eager to know more about what they see and a community of professionals who understand the necessity of the articulation of their own practice, and at the same time, the absence of a real dialogue.

II. Overall goals, specific objectives, rationale of the proposal.

The proposed project,`History and Practice of Cinematography in India' intends to rectify this lacuna by initiating a documentation of the practice of cinematography in India. We propose to embark on this project as film making professionals with an informed curiosity about the techniques and practices of our own vocation, as critics and film scholars who have a theoretical concern with the rhetoric of images, and as spectators who wish to understand what goes in to the making of the images that continue to fascinate us.

The documentation aspect of this study will largely consist of a series of detailed interviews with master cinematographers who are working, or have worked in different genres (art cinema, commercial film, documentaries, advertising) as well as on different formats (16mm., 35mm., 70mm., Video) who have made a significant and/or pathbreaking contribution to cinematographic aesthetics and style.

These discussions and conversations with cinematographers will constitute a core archive of materials which will mark out the points of departure for a series of theoretical questions relevant not only to cinematography but to issues arising out a multiİdisciplinary engagement with the diverse facets of the practice of visual culture of contemporary India. Thus a study of the making of images in Cinema could, we hope, prepare the ground for discussion, research and debate on similar issues in relation to Photography, Television, etc.

By doing this we hope that we will be contributing in some measure to effecting a transformation from an image consuming culture to a culture where images are questioned and debated on, and where the prising open of their meanings and the modes of their creation are also important criteria of aesthetic pleasure.

III. Description of the activities to be funded

i] Recording of detailed audio interviews with cinematographers in major film making centres across the country.
ii] Transcription, collation and systematization of the interview material for further analysis.
iii] Viewing and video copying of archival film from the National Film Archives of India and from private collections.

IV. Description of the research or documentation method that will be used or developed.

Method:

1]. The projects primary methodological thrust will consist of a series of probings that will demarcate three main areas of enquiry, these being:
a) The parameters & possibilities of the cinematographic image.
b) The making of a cinematographer : Background, training, working principles, work environment.
c) Film Technology : Limitations and possibilities.

The enquiries into these areas will be explored by detailed interviews with individual cinematographers that we will undertake, as well as our recordings of in -depth conversations between cinematographers. These conversations could range from discussions between a cinematographer and an assistant as well as between groups of cinematographers spanning different generations.

1] Further, we will record our observations of the cinematographers at work on their sets in a structured manner so as to document individual styles and working methods.

2] Qualitative analysis of the material will be done in order to distinguish trends, positions, styles, influences, working principles and to get a view of the changes that cinematographic practice has gone through.

3] The conversations with the cinematographers as well as our independent research inputs will centre around issues and questions such as :

a] The making of a Cinematographic image.

# Understanding the elements of a frame.
# Philosophies of cinematographic practice.
# What qualifies as beautiful, What is `photogenic'?
# Does the practice of Cinematography have an ethical dimension ?
# Individual cinematographers' guiding priciples.
# How the cinematographer `sees' reality.
# How is this vision translated into the cinematographer's work.

b] Interpretations of different spaces :

# Images of the city, visions of the village, fantasy spaces. The creation of mood and atmosphere. Suggesting different emotional and mental states through camerawork.
# Interpretations of time : the visual languages of flashbacks and other temporal leaps.
# Camera movement in relation to the movement of the subject within the frame.

c] How to frame the human body.

# The politics of the canonization of masculine and feminine identities in cinematographic practice.
# Cinematographic representations of femininity : Is the cameraman's vision a gendered construct? Is this problematized when he works with a woman director ?

d] Understanding the development/ evolution of Cinematographic styles.

# Preliminary classifications of styles and approaches across period and genres.
# Relationships between styles and approaches : their interconnectedness and differences.
# Fiction, Non-fiction, Documentary, and Advertising Films.
# Representative films. Representative practitioners.
# Commonalities and differences in terms of perspectives, methods and styles. The relation between narrative forms and cinematographic expressions.

e] Theoretical insights and Practical knowledge.

Detail of elements & processes: Frame, lens, quality, nature & source of light, camera angles, movement, shot-length, contrast, texture, volume, depth, space, foreground\ background, outdoor\indoor, studio\location, film stock, filters, grading, prints etc.

f] Available technologies:

# Cameras, Lenses, Optics, Lighting accessories, Measuring tools, laboratory processes.
# Relation with technologies [what the available technology makes possible, the options closed by technology, potentialities]
# Improvisations around the limitations and possibilities of available technologies.

g] Understanding the choices behind cinematographic decisions, e.g. "When is the lighting of a particular set-up complete?."

"Does the framing determine the lighting or does lighting determine the frame?". Emphases within the frame.

h] The cinematographers' biographical details.

# How and why they came to Cinematography. Inter-generational dialogue, transmission of knowledge from the older to the younger generation.
# Differences of approach to Cinematography. Institutional training/hands on experience - film school vs. rising up the studio hierarchy.
# Relations with other industry shopfloor technical labour and laboratory technicians. Relations with assistants.

j] Communicating with the director and art-director.

# How much autonomy does a cinematographer have to determine the film's visual tenor.
# Reflections on the editor's interventions on the cameraman's work.
# Relation with the spectator.

k] Relationship with other arts. Painting, Photography, Music.

# Influences, convergences, & divergences.
# Significant sources of inspiration: local, regional & global.

l] Cinematographic reflections.

Unrealised possibilities\ missed oppurtunities.
Speculations about the future/s of cinematography

V.Description of the anticipated outcomes and achievements. Its Educational & Social Value.

Cinematography is a marginalised & neglected domain of cultural expression in terms of serious research. The proposed research project will go a long way in highlighting the contributions of cinematography and cinematographers to our contemporary visual culture. In this way it will contribute to the strengthening of film culture and serious film related activity in India.

It will lay the ground for a debate on the historical, aesthetic and technical aspects of cinematography which will be of value to technicians, film makers, film scholars as well as lay cinema enthusiasts. While the interviews and observations will focus on the work of cinematographers working today, the research will also locate today's cinematography against the background of the styles of the 1930's and 40's.

The research will also look into various social aspects of the cinematographers practice and work environment. This will involve the exploration of questions such as whether there is any relationship between the highly masculinized nature of the cinematographic work culture and the fact that there are so few women cinematographers working today.

By bringing together scholars, critics and practitioners in the visual arts the research project will prepare the ground for a larger and more generalised study of the photographic image in all it's manifestations in India today.

SUMMARY

"HISTORY AND PRACTICE OF CINEMATOGRAPHY IN INDIA" is a project to document the craft of the cinematographer as it has evolved in the past four decades in the Indian film industry. The project will delineate the central concerns and questions that have come to characterise the main trends in Cinematography over different periods and across the spectrum of the most significant styles and genres.

The primary aim of our documentation and research will be to centre on working methods as well as general aesthetic principles. Further, the project will also examine the way in which the work environment as well as the technological apparatus of filmİmaking shapes the cinematographer's practice. It will document influences, both in terms of global film culture as well as the interactions of cinematography with other artistic forms. By opening out all these isues we hope that the project will bring attention to the contribution of Cinematography to our visual culture, which in itself remains a much neglected area of contemporary Indian cultural history.

We propose to embark on this project as film making professionals with aninformed curiosity about the techniques and practices of our own vocation, as critics and film scholars who have a theoretical concern with the rhetoric of images, and as spectators who wish to understand what goes in to the making of the images that continue to fascinate us.

The documentation aspect of this study will largely consist of a series of detailed interviews with master cinematographers who are working, or have worked. in different genres (serious cinema, commercial film, documentaries, advertising) as well as on diffrent formats (16mm., 35mm., 70mm., Video) who have made a significant and/or pathbreaking contribution to cinematographic aesthetics.

The interviews with the cinematographers aim to cover a broad spectrum of spectrum of issues ranging from larger aesthetic, ethical and historical questions to the very mechanics and technical details of working with film technology and the film image. We will be interested in questions that have to do with the varying bases for the visual organization of the real world, the constituent elements of the frame, temporality, notions of beauty, authenticity and artifice, the chronologies and lineages of different cinematographic styles as well as the working methods that determine framing, camera movement, lighting and processing.

These discussions and conversations with cinematographers will constitute a core archive of materials which will mark out the points of departure for a series of theoretical questions relevant not only to cinematography but to issues arising out a multiİdisciplinary engagement with the diverse facets of the practice of visual culture of contemporary India.

By doing this we hope that we will be contributing in some measure to effecting a transformation from an image consuming culture to a culture where images are questioned, and debated on, and where the prising open of their meanings and the modes of their creation are also important criteria of aesthetic pleasure.

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Raqs Media Collective, consisting of Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta, is a New Delhi based collective active in the areas of documentary filmmaking, cinematography, photography, new media practice and media research. The collective is a co-initiator of Sarai: The New Media Initiative, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi (www.sarai.net)

C.K.Muralidharan graduated in Cinematography from the Film & Television Institute of India, Pune (1987). He has worked as a cinematographer on several television serials, films and documentaries. He is a co-initiator of Cinematographers Combine, Mumbai.

IFA: The India Foundation for the Arts

The project recieved support from the India Foundation for the Arts, Bangalore.

The India Foundation for the Arts The India Foundation for Arts (IFA) is an independent national grant-making organisation, supporting new creativity and serious research in the arts.

The IFA has supported a wide variety of creative and research projects in the arts all over India under its Arts Research & Documentation, Arts Collaboration and Arts Education programmes.

You can find out more about IFA, its activites and grants by contacting IFA at the following address:

The Executive Director,
India Foundation for the Arts, Tharangini, 12th Cross, Raj Mahal Vilas Extn,Bangalore-560 080;
Tel/Fax: (080) 331 0583, 331 0584;
E-mail: ifabang@blr.vsnl.net.in