సినిమాటోగ్రాఫ‌ర్ అశోక్ మెహ‌తా-నివాళి

ashok

బాండిట్‌ క్వీన్‌, ఉత్సవ్‌, మండి, త్రికాల్‌, రామ్‌ లఖన్‌, ఖల్‌నాయక్‌,గజగామిని, చల్తే చల్తే తదితర చిత్రాలకు సినిమాటోగ్రాఫర్‌గా పనిచేసిన ప్రముఖ సినిమాటోగ్రాఫర్‌ అశోక్‌ మెహతా గత వారం ముంబై లో మరణించారు.

శేఖర్ కపూర్, అపర్ణా సేన్, శశి కపూర్, సుభాష్ ఘాయ్, శ్యాం బెనగల్ లాంటి గొప్ప దర్శకుల సినిమాలకు సినిమాటోగ్రఫీ వహించి ఎప్ప‌టిక‌పుడు త‌న ప్ర‌త్యేక‌త‌ను చూపుతూ దేశంలో అత్యంత ప్ర‌తిభావంతులైన సినిమాటోగ్రాఫ‌ర్‌ల‌లో ఒక‌రుగా నిలిచారు.

రెండు సార్లు జాతీయ అవార్డులతో పాటు ఎన్నో అవార్డులు అందుకున్న ఈయన మన మధ్య లేకపోవటం లోటే గానీ ఆయన కెమెరాలో బంధించిన దృశ్యాలు ఎప్పటికీ నిలిచిపోతాయి. ఈ సమయంలో ఆ మహనీయుడు శ్రధ్ధాంజలి ఘటిస్తూ…

‘Ashok Mehta was 14 when he ran away from home in Delhi and became a hawker’s flunkey in Mumbai [Bombay] selling boiled eggs. In 1963 he moved on to sell watermelon slices, and on a holiday he saw a film shoot in a studio in Dadar. Hooked, he joined as a canteen boy at Asha Studio in Chembur and later became an office boy at R.K. Studios. He slowly started filling in for absentee studio hands and soon became familiar with sets, lights, etc. The next step ahead was when he became camera attendant and soon learnt his way around the camera. He became c.asst at Srikrishna Films and got his first break as a cinematographer at the age of 25 in Raj Marbros’ ‘The Witness’. He credits his actual career boost to the reigning star of the 70’s, Shashi Kapoor. Kapoor, who was starring in a film being shot by Mehta, was greatly impressed by his work and even though the film did not get made eventually, it won Mehta the favor of Kapoor, who offered him his next production, ’36 Chowringhee Lane’. Soon after, Mehta was noticed by the leading filmmakers of the parallel cinema movement that was in its prime at the time and was flooded with film offers. The next step for Mehta was to establish himself in mainstream cinema and this opportunity came through actress Rakhee. It was during the filming of ‘Paroma’ that Rakhee got acquainted with Mehta and his work, but it was years later when Subhash Ghai, leading director of the popular film scene, was on the lookout for a cameraman for his mega-project ‘Ram Lakhan’, that she suggested the name of Mehta. Ashok Mehta then stepped onto the popular film scene and with the collaboration of Ghai, brought to popular cinema an altogether different style of lighting and shot taking.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Rajeev Menon

    August 27, 2012 at 9:33 am

    When 36 Chowringhee Lane was released in 1981, I was a student of the Film and Television Institute of Tamil Nadu. Everyone who had seen the film was very impressed with its flawless direction and acting. But we, cinematography students, were stunned by the visual style, which was truly international. We were curious; we had heard that a new cinematographer had shot the film. Which institute did he belong to? Had he trained abroad? We were astounded when we heard that Ashok Mehta was not from any institute. He had worked his way up in the Bombay film industry.

    Those were difficult times for cinematographers working in the Hindi film industry. On the one side, the strong influence of film noir and Hollywood-style direct lighting that had dictated the beauty of the 1950s was giving way to a more realistic style achieved by Subrata Mitra. On the other side, colour had come in. Would Orwo colour film stock reproduce the effects achieved by older films? Cinematographers hit the light straight onto the images. To prevent shadows from being seen on the walls, they used more butter paper, more lights — and more confusion followed. Directors asked for more zoom-ins, while laboratories added to the chaos. The cinematographer involuntarily slipped into bouncing light off ceilings, but at the expense of contrast. Slowly but surely, the cinematographer forgot the importance of lighting in creating the mood of a scene.

    Ashok Mehta was the man who brought contrast and lighting back to mainstream Hindi film cinematography. The work in Trikal (1985) was truly European, while in Utsav (1985) it was seductively Indian. Was he inspired by Sven Nykvist or Ravi Varma? Where did he learn to bounce light and yet keep the contrast?

    He was everywhere

    I finally met the master on the sets of Susman , for which I was operating the Steadicam. He had covered the courtyard with black polyester to cut off the sun. He bounced HMI lights on to bounce-boards. Meters of black cloth skirted the location. When he felt that the unit hands were not getting his idea, he climbed onto the scaffolding, banged nails into the rafters and hung lights from the roof like large bats; thus generating a soft source light in the courtyard.

    While doing night interiors, he used single-point sources hidden behind lamps, removed lights from stands and Fresnels, and bounced the light from unconventional angles. He was working with his hands, he was part light-man, part set assistant. He was everywhere; climbing, screaming, sawing wood. It was like seeing a potter or a sculptor at work, creating something beautiful out of mud. He built the shot step by step out of nothing, right in front of the stunned film unit. There was an air of wonder and resignation.

    Since his assistant had not arrived, in addition to operating the Steadicam, I got to work on everything — pulling focus, reading exposure. I was convinced that we were seriously underexposing the film. But he was sure and trusted his eyes. Then we went and saw the rushes at Prasad Laboratories in Hyderabad. They were beautiful. I expressed my surprise to him. He took me aside and said, “ Beta , you have to be brave when you light. You expose for what you want to see.”

    He had opened my eyes. Three years at the institute had not taught me as much as two weeks on the sets of Susman . What was amazing was that Ashok was not a slave of the light meter. He exposed for the frame and got consistent results.

    When he was on the sets of Bandit Queen , he transformed from being a realistic cameraman to a Sergio Leone cowboy. He brought in the aesthetics of the Western to an Indian landscape. The composition of the sequence in which the young bride leaves her village by boat, the out-of-focus rape scene, the joyful day interiors, the mustard fields in the ravines of the Chambal, the massacre in blinding white light in the afternoon sun, the fluidity of camera movements, the jolt he gave you with his modernist compositions — all these added to the allure of Bandit Queen . I believe it is one of the most beautifully shot Indian films in recent memory.

    Ashok Mehta did not go to any institute. He did not carry the baggage of formal education. But he was an inspiration to a generation of new cinematographers like us.

    He helped us believe that we must be responsible for the image. We must be team players, fraternise with the light-men over chai , enjoy the shoot, pour our blood and sweat into the film because shooting a film is an opportunity of a lifetime. Something he must have been so acutely aware of working as a camera attendant, sitting on the other side of the unwritten boundary lines of the industry, yearning for an opportunity to someday become the cinematographer of a film.

    • Prasad

      December 12, 2012 at 3:05 am

      thanks for sharing

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