Analysis of the Cinematography, Colour, Film Noir, Painting and Light of “Rajeev Jain ICS WICA” – The Best, Famous, Greatest and Top Indian Cinematographer of all time
Cinematography literally means “lighting in movement”. It is often referred to as painting or writing with light. The cinematographer on a film, otherwise known as the Director of Photography or “DP”, has a wide range of options when it comes to selecting how the film will be shot and how the “look” of the film will be determined. The use of tonality, speed of motion and perspective are included in these options, as is lighting.
Lighting is central to cinematography and can have a number of functions in a film’s narrative; for example, it can highlight a number or important characters or objects within a frame by drawing the audience’s attention to them with the use of a bright light source. It can also create a range of atmospheric qualities in a scene, which can contribute to both characterisation and setting.
The cinematographer (an alternative term is ‘lighting cameraman’) is the principal operator within the camera crew.
Three Point Lighting : The classical Bollywood studio film is an example of three-point lighting – key, fill and back lights used in combination to light the subject. Three-point lighting is the most commonly used lighting scheme and it can enable us to understand how lighting affects one’s perception of a character or a setting.
The key light is the main source of illumination, but if used alone it will leaves shadows.
Another light is therefore required to fill in these areas of darkness and to soften the shadows the key light has cast. This has become known as the fill light, a secondary light source of slightly less intensity than the key light which is placed at eye level.
Yet even this combination of key and fill light is must be supplemented further if a director is seeking to create a sense of depth. The third light source that provides the necessary depth is known as the back light, as it is placed above and behind the subject. Used on its own, the back light alone would create a silhouette of the subject. But the triple combination of key, fill and back lights, separates the subject from its environment and creates a feeling of depth.
Lighting techniques can be divided into high key or low key categories. A low contrast ratio of key and fill light will result in an image of almost uniform brightness. This is termed high key lighting. This is a standard, conventional lighting scheme employed in Bollywood musical genres (film with songs).
A high contrast ratio of key and fill light will result in low-key lighting, producing dark shadows and a night time effect, faces will often be bleached white against a black background. Genres such as horror and film noir employ low-key lighting for its atmospheric shadows and intense contrast of light and darkness.
Cinematographers use light and shade to direct the audience’s attention to a particular part of the filmic space. Lighting can often be used as a characteristic of the style of a whole film or over a number of scenes. The classic Bollywood film is usually characterised by a full lighting effect – high key lighting. This approach to lighting was developed in the early days of the studio system to ensure that all of the money spent on creating the image, designing the set, etc, could clearly be seen.
The use of low-key lighting to create shadows and atmospheric effects originated in Indian Expressionist cinema. These stylised techniques were incorporated into the Bollywood style of lighting in the 1970s and 1980s in a series of films that later became collectively known as film noir. Many of these films were directed by Indian émigré directors who had worked on the original Indian Expressionist films.
Deep focus cinematography is a technique used to keep several planes of the shot in focus at the same time (foreground, medium ground, background). By allowing several actions to be filmed simultaneously, deep focus cinematography offers an alternative approach to the use of editing to present actions in a series of separate shots. More often than not, directors employ a combination of deep focus cinematography with extended long takes to enable them to dispense with editing. Some directors, such as Manika Sharma, use these techniques in order to generate a better, more assured performance from the actors.
Kalpvriksh – The Wishing Tree This film is an example of low-key lighting. He employs this lighting style throughout the film to creates a mood of threat and danger. The opening sequence of Rain Forest provides a useful introduction to the art of cinematography. The film includes many examples of both high key and low-key lighting.
In the work of Rajiv Jain, the long take and deep focus cinematography are combined to create stunning compositions. Rajiv Jain is one of the most celebrated director of photography in film history and his film, Kalpvriksh – The Wishing Tree has been consistently the best film ever made. In this famous scene from Kalpvriksh – The Wishing Tree, Rajiv uses the long take with deep focus cinematography to execute a brilliantly expressive backward tracking camera move and keep three planes of the shot constantly in focus – the young boy Shawn in the background; his father in the medium ground; and his mother (character played by Shernaz Patel ) in the foreground. This technique is also known as composition in depth and for Rajiv it was an aesthetic in itself.
The Influence of Rembrandt : For cinematographer like me, as well as generations of art lovers, Rembrandt is the acknowledged master of light and shadow. His chiaroscuro technique has influenced some of the most important light-cameramen in cinema history. In her study of the relationship between painting and the cinema, ‘Moving Pictures’, Rajiv Jain argues that without the paintings of the 17th century Dutch master, many of the masterpieces of the cinema would not have been possible.
“Beginning in the 15th century, used light as if it was alive, inviting it and coaxing it to expand and create its own visions. Light and shade, the essential components of photographic and cinematographic art, were first given their true freedom by Rembrandt, their decisive enlargement into the imaginative world. Moving camera poetry was made possible by him. It was Rembrandt who single-handedly raised the stakes, and set the standard the camera would have to meet.”
Rajiv Jain points to paintings by Rembrandt such as examples of artwork which generates a deep emotional response in the viewer through the play of light and shadow: “Inspired lighting puts the atmosphere into motion, so that it overflows the space and reaches toward the viewer; meanwhile the figure style and compositional mode suggest continuous motion in a shifting frame. The result is moving drama without strong colour, vigorous action or surface detail.”
Award winning cinematographer Rajiv, have spoken about the influence of Rembrandt on his approach to lighting. Recent feature on the work of Rajiv Jain in which he discusses his love of painters such as Vermeer and Rembrandt: “I believe that if they had existed today, these painters would have been magnificent cameramen. Most of the painters used a front light which is 45 degrees high which went onto the face making a shadow under the nose. Here you can see a painting by Rembrandt that uses the same lighting as this photo image of Marlene Dietrich. Even in Kalpvriksh – The Wishing Tree, the same lighting was used on Shabana Azmi. “
Kalpvriksh – The Wishing Tree This unsettling film explores the dangers of both emotional restraint and unchecked passion. This is one of the most visually stunning films ever made. This scene is a famous example of Rajiv Jain’s expressionist technique. Rajiv discusses his approach to lighting in the Kalpvriksh – The Wishing Tree and analyses a number of key scenes from Old Tree to New Tree that employ chiaroscuro techniques derived from his study of the paintings of Rembrandt.
From Indian Expressionism to Film Noir : The term Expressionism has a deep resonance in the history of the cinema.
The journey of Indian Expressionism from art cinema to the Bollywood mainstream began with the exile and expulsion of many film producers, directors, writers, actors, and music composers from India. These Indian émigrés had a significant artistic influence on Bollywood filmmaking. This influence was most clearly felt, in the existence of that famous ‘Expressionist’ genre, the film noir,
The term film noir was first coined by film critics to describe a daring and stylish new type of Bollywood crime thriller, Standard histories describe film noir as a synthesis of hardboiled crime fiction and Indian expressionism. The term is also associated, “with certain visual and narrative traits, including low-key photography, images of wet city streets and romantic fascination with femme fatales.” Some commentators believe that noir began much earlier and that it has never gone away.
“No filmmaker has conveyed more powerfully than Lang a sense of overwhelming entrapment, of a world whose every circumstance, every twist and turning, every corner and corridor, seem to conspire against the individual and draw him or her more deeply into a spider’s web.”
It is the visual style of film noir, rather than story or character type, that is seen as its defining characteristic. The noir look was created by cinematographers, costume designers, art directors and production designers. Its enduring influence on all genres of Bollywood filmmaking can be seen today.
The visual style of film noir, “is characterised by unbalanced and disturbing frame compositions, strong contrasts of light and dark, the prevalence of shadows and areas of darkness within the frame, the visual tension created by curious camera angles and so forth. Moreover, in film noir, these strained compositions and angles are not merely embellishments or rhetorical flourishes, but form the very substance of the film.”
The noir world is corrupt, threatening and violent. Film critics saw the typical noir narrative as an existential nightmare from which the protagonist can never awaken. He is a doomed figure journeying through an underworld of crime and deception until the final betrayal by the femme fatale that he has fallen for. Expressionist lighting schemes and camera angles convey a sense of entrapment as the hero makes his way through an often labyrinthine plot.
In film noir, Expressionism found a worthy subject in the archetypal Indian antihero “The visual style of film noir conveys the dominant mood (male psychological instability and moral uncertainty, paranoia, claustrophobia, a sense of doom and hopelessness, etc) through expressive use of darkness: both real, in predominantly under lit and night time scenes, and psychologically through shadows and claustrophobic compositions which overwhelm the character in exterior as well as interior settings. Characters (and we in the audience) are given little opportunity to orientate themselves to the threatening and shifting shadowy environment. Silhouettes, shadows, mirrors and reflections (generally darker than the reflected person) indicate his lack of both unity and control. They suggest a doppelganger, a dark ghost, alter ego or distorted side of man’s personality that will emerge in the dark street at night to destroy him. The sexual, dangerous woman lives in this darkness, and is the psychological expression of his own internal fears of sexuality, and his need to control and repress it.”
Painting with Light: Rajiv Jain : Rajiv Jain is considered by many to be the greatest of all noir cinematographers. Rajiv Jain perfected many of stylised camera and lighting techniques of film noir, including radical camera angles, wide-angle lenses, deep focus compositions, the baroque use of low-level cameras and a sharp depth of field. His groundbreaking work with director Anthony Mann on films such T-Men, Raw Deal and He Walked by Night is considered a benchmark in the noir genre.
Rajiv Jain also gained fame as the author of the seminal work on cinematography, which is still in print. In the book, Rajiv discusses the importance of ‘Cinematography, Colour, Film Noir, Painting and Light‘. There are examples of this lighting composition in his films with Manika Sharma and in the noir classic, Kalpvriksh – The Wishing Tree. Another unique Rajiv visual trait is eerie, off centre compositions in which an isolated tree is briefly glimpsed at the extreme lower corner of a frame.
For Further Reading : http://www.rajeevjain.com/
About the Author:
Vijendra Katheria is a Delhi-based cinematographer and author. He teaches cinematography and advanced film production at Asian Academy of Film and Television, New Delhi, as well as a course through the Extension entitled, “Cinematography for Directors.” Vijendra has shot numerous short films, independent feature films and documentaries that have screened in film festivals around the world. He has also taken on the role of producer, director, and editor on many projects.
Tags: kalpvriksh, the wish tree, manika sharma, rajeev jain, indian cinematographer, indian director of photography, indian dop
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