Cinematographer Piyush Shah in conversation
Duration: 01:38:31; Aspect Ratio: 1.765:1; Hue: 21.788; Saturation: 0.112; Lightness: 0.385; Volume: 0.081; Cuts per Minute: 0.944; Words per Minute: 118.766
Cinematographer Piyush Shah, in conversation with Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Ashish Avikuntak and Basab Mullik. The conversation is primarily around Mani Kaul's Siddheshwari (1989), which Shah shot. In 2011, Shah did an informal digital restoration from a poor-quality digi-beta transfer that the Films Division had made available, as an act of protest against the kind of DVD that had been issued of the film. Here Shah speaks in detail about the film itself, Mani Kaul's method of working, the decisions taken during the making of the film, and more broadly on the problems of conservation, restoration or 'translation' of celluloid films into digital platforms, why he did what he did, and what should ideally happen. His version of the film is available here: https://indiancine.ma/AEHC/info
General discussion on the relative merits of the Canon 1 D C and the Red, in terms of the hardness of the images, the latitude and the smoth blacks. The comparisons between the Arri Alexa and the Scarlet Red.
Basab: In fact that is something very interesting, you never know with a digital camera what its true sensitivity is. I insist on using a meter all the time, but half the time it doesn't match.
Piyush: No, it won't. The currently available sensor in any camera at present is 320 ASA. 1 DC and all, I won't be surprised if they are working on 160, because they are not professional, they are prozumer. They might be using 160 ASA. Which also works quite good for a sport cam, it is designed for a high-burst capture. So to be a journalistic cam where you go into the field and are shooting in all kinds of weird...So I think it is 160. But I am not sure, the company is not disclosing it.
Basab: The company says the default sensitivity is 800.
Piyush: No way. You can do the test yourself. Its very simple - do the test at 800, and then at 160, and do your up-and-down, then do 320 up-and-down, at one point you'll find that when your under-and-over equals, that's your native... 800, no way.
800 will work very good at highlights. It's very counter-intuitive. Just think about it, and you'll realize, it doesn't work like that. You think that how to work in low lights - the range works better in highlights and it sacrifices the shadow. It's crazy. It took me three days at SRFTI just to demonstrate, do it again, demonstrate, do it again - to bring everyone (to realize) how counter-intuitive it is as compared to film, the whole digital medium. Almost like taking the opposite path. And we don't take it, we think....
Basab: I never thought of it like that
Piyush: You do it and take my number and let me know
1 D C you just do it, and you will find out the native ISO in the process. You need to run the test numerous times.
Ashish R: So - to get to Siddheshwari.
Piyush: So what have you written? What was the presentation?
Ashish R: I have not written. In that conference there was growing interest in material that was born celluloid, which is today forced into a new space, which is not necessarily to its liking, it's like trying to find refuge. And what is then the best way of doing it. So two things, one, the increasing tendency of celluloid films now finding spaces in art museums, whether it is MOMA, whether it is Pompidou, these are places where avant garde filmmakers of the 1970s and 80s are being shown, And they are the ones who seem to have the greatest degree of sensitivity to the problems that celluloid film is now undergoing. (This is) in contrast to this mass mania for restoration: all this 2 K/4 K business that is now happening. So this argument was to look at what I would call the afterlife of Siddheshwari: there was one life when it was made and it was shown, and now there almost, you may say, a new birth
Piyush: A different life... But still it is left, we have not done it.
Ashish R: We have not done it. But what is this process? And how does this process talk to (a) the way in which the film was originally made: what was the possible connection between what was done then and what you are doing now, and (b) what is the contrast between what you are doing now and what others are doing.
Piyush: Vis a vis Siddheshwari, what I am doing is - I don't have the material. Which means, the film. The film doesn't exist in celluloid any more, Films Division doesn't have the money to scan from the existing prints, which would mean National Film Archives, where it would go...
Ashish A: Where is the negative?
Piyush: It's gone. It's finished. It's stuck.
Ashish A: Where was the negative?
Piyush: At their premises. Films Division.
Ashish A: Finished?
Piyush: Yes, finished.
Piyush: It's stuck. That's what they have told me. They have not told me... someone verbally spoke to me.
Ashish A: You have never seen it?
Piyush: I have never seen it, but they told me it's stuck. When the negative gets stuck, it's close to finishing. There is probably a high-end restoration possible, a chemical restoration, but I don't know at what stage it is. They have sent it back to NFAI for preserving the way it is, but I don't think anything can be retreived from it.
Not in a shorter course, not in a lesser cost. To do that right they should do a print and make a ... the thing is, what is the material they have just now, was a telecine material meant for video cassettes, and it is 93s material, 1993-95, and it is auto-telecine, which is another worst thing, of the print.
Of the positive, auto-telecine. Now, first of all, when we take that material, that material colourspace is what we call Y-U-V, technical term I am using, but that's very important, because Y-U-V is what all this thing works (pointing to his television).
Television and all these things work on Y-U-V. Whereas when it comes to the contemporary newer colour spaces, which doesn't mean they are the best, but but they are better - is what we work on R-G-B colour space. And when an image is scanned, as we scan a piece of negative, the whole film is scanned frame-by-frame. But that is not being done, that needs to be done, if the film has to be restored, or... last time we had a discussion about it? What was the word you used? Translation - translation to a digital medium.
But the current form is completely... it was my reaction to the DVDs that they were selling, they were so awful - then at least make it something better. It is an interim gap. Why you went to R-G-B? First of all, the acquisition is wrong. So it was, this will look probably OK on television. And that's the logic. But that's not the correct way to do it.
Ashish R: We will talk about what you did a little later. Let's first turn to the film itself. Tell us a little about Siddheshwari, the original film - you were telling me last time about the kind of stock you used, and the kind of experiments that were done.
Piyush: First of all, the film was shot on colour.
Ashish A: What was the stock you used?
Piyush: I don't remember very clearly, but I do remember we had a division in the colour stock, we had a 100 ASA and a 400, Kodak - we can figure out which numbers were running in those days, that's very easy to find out. It was shot in 1989. (Anuradha) Shot in 1988. (Q) Which months in Benares? 3rd April to 10th May.
Ashish A: Heat of summer, 40-45 degrees.
Basab: Was there any conscious decision to shoot (that time) because of the kind of stock you had?
Piyush: No. It's like - you don't wait for the sun, for winter or summer, you shoot the film. You have to shoot the film. Now it just happened that by the time the shoot dates came, it was summer. And Mani had a great tenacity and capacity to work in any kind of weather. Very hard working person.
Basab: No, I was just thinking - 400 ASA and that kind of heat.
Piyush: No such thing.
Ashish A: So how many cans did you shoot in all?
Piyush: I don’t remember very clearly, not too many, definitely, because there was a shortage of the cans. We had a shortage of negative. So part of the film was shot in black-and-white, to reduce the cost. Orwo black and white.
Ashish A: But where is the black-and-white?
Piyush: No there is, a lot.
But where black-and-white and where not, was part of Mani's creative journey, but technically the decision was made that there was not enough money for the stock. And if I am not mistaken, it was less than 1:2 ratio. These figures can be a little wrong, but not more than that: it was a very tight shoot.
Ashish A: Can I ask you another question? How many cans were you exposing per day?
Maximum two? if you take a hundred cans, and length of the film being ninety minutes, so 1:2 or 1:3, but not necessarily, it was less also.
Mani never... in this particular film, he never over-shot. Only if he had a budget then he would roll a lot. Otherwise he was very conscious, as a filmmaker. So that's why the black-and-white came in. And of course, the camera - there was no budget for camera, so Mani had found out that there was a camera at Lucknow, which used to belong to the UP Chalachitra Nigam, so I went to Lucknow, with some negative, did the test. When I did the test - it was lying in a cupboard, and they said it was lying there for eight months.
Basab: What camera was it?
Piyush: This was the Arri IV BL. Which made it possible to shoot even sync. Then we processed the negative, checked it out. Then, because this camera had come from the UP Chalachitra Nigam and all that, one of the practices which I remember doing often through the shoot - I must have done it two to three times, that's what I remember, is that I would take some negative, put it in the cam, the day I got some time, process it, and we had set it up with one local stills-negative developer, who would process it. And you see what happened was that, our negative, when it went in those baths, it would destroy their chemicals, so we were very open to him, and we told him that he should charge us extra. He would say that I will do it in the evening, or when my bath is going to be replenished, and stuff like that.
But he used to do it for us. And that was the only method for me to judge that the camera was functioning well.
Piyush: The negatives never left...
Basab: So there was no concept of a rush print coming in..
Piyush: No, you need a budget for that.
Ashish A: So it was very hot. So you were keeping the negatives in the refrigerator?
Piyush: No, we were keeping in an air-conditioned room.
Ashish A: And then, all together they went?
Piyush: Yes, we carried them with us: I remember, to fight the heat, we were in a non-airconditioned first-class compartment, so we had the six-seater coupe, and in the centre we had kept this, and we kept a lot of towels, so every one hour we would wet the towels and put it on it. That kept the stock. It was very good.
It stays well - and that's how you survive. Because you have to shoot in desert - how do you survive? You don't have a choice. And the stock came back with us.
Ashish R: This was your second film, with Mani. Before My Eyes was shot in colour, and I remember discussion that you had never done work in colour before. So what had been your discussions with Mani before you went? For Siddheshwari?
Piyush: See this was already... already I had done one film with Mani.
Ashish R: That was the haiku...
I thought...by the time we started this, I didn't realize - what actually moves Mani Kaul - in the sense, I thought what I had spoken with him, what I understood.. In Before My Eyes there was this continuous attempt - like, for the haiku, if I have to pan camera to right, before that make a slight inflection to left and then to right. I'm giving only one example. There are many more.
Ashish A: Give me one more example?
Piyush: Like using the zoom continuously, but not using as a zoom. So the whole film has nothing else...- it is continuously zoom.
You are continuously zoom-in
But, that was the game. It's like, you are moving the camera, but shifting the zoom range in a minimalistic way, so the lens has that slighty more inflection, slightly more pressure, slightly more tension.
But that's not like, it's going in. Its a very slight zoom, but it is combining with a pan and tilt etc.
Piyush: I went to Siddheshwari with this mindset. Its just that it was a new film, and it was a new Mani Kaul.
Ashish A: How old were you?
Piyush: I must have been around 25. 26.
So all went out. And here was a new Mani Kaul. Actually Siddheshwari didn't shoot... actually, me, Mani, Anup, we had spent almost 15-20 days in Benares, in February, or March, researching the film, so we kind of knew... by the time we knew Benares in and out, and also, by that time, I had already realized that this was a new film. Mani never remained the same, he just threw out himself. He would find his aesthetic parameters from the subject that he had. And it's not that he found them - he would continue discussing, to arrive at something. And it is not necessary that he always arrived at it. It was always a process. Siddheshwari was made very differently.
Like in Siddheshwari, Mani had said - it was not fully implemented, it was not a question even of implementing - because the thumri singing and all has a lot of lilt, and movement, which is more of a curvature, and also the nature of that singing, Mani had said he didn't want to use those kinds of movements. He said I would rather use verticals and horizontals. But that was his starting point. The majority of the film doesn't have - it has the verticals and horizontals. And there are some leftovers, of Before my Eyes, (that) do continue, but very less.
Ashish R: I was thinking of the curious way of description of a film - Before My Eyes was a filmed haiku, and Nazar was about Matisse, it was like you could bring the film down into a set of ideas, like you wanted to work with the Matisse-effect. You used those light cutters which had the Matisse effect.
So Siddheshwari was what? Was there also something you could define, some endeavor?
Piyush: No, not on terms of - physically, I cannot. But it was a huge canvas, to begin with, Mani had written a long - can't say poem, but like a poem, which as the script. 25-30 pages.
Ashish R: Which Sharmishtha (Mohanty) had written?
Piyush: No, himself. That film is him. She was not involved in this film, she was involved in Nazar. He wrote it in Hindi, and we spent 20 days in Benares, and his research, plus we spent a lot of time at NCPA, listening to old recordings, so there was quite a bit of research. Around six months of research I guess, or four months, which went in: so it was like a huge amount of data, and the process was how to pick up, what to pick up. And if that was haiku, then Siddheshwari was Mir Taqi Meer.
All of us had that Meer Taqi Meer, that Sardar Jafri had edited, but he had published not in Urdu but in Devanagri, but the zuban is Urdu, and at the bottom the difficult words meaning is given. And there were cheap paperbacks. We all used to have. So Mani night say, lets open page 55. And always a very dense discussion about Meer's poetic work, poetics. And then the film's shoot used to happen. The two had no connection, but I think that's the connection I can see, I can feel it, although there is no direct connection.
Piyush: That was his method of... it was not steering everyone towards one form, he was steering himself, towards that difficult goal. For him, it must have been a difficult film.
Ashish A: Why?
Piyush: I think Nazar and all had all a bracketed canvas, Siddheshwari as such didn't have a narrative at all. Her life story is so huge
Piyush: Siddheshwari ka woh tha.
Ashish A: Meer kharidna padega
Piyush: Padhna padega.
Ashish A: Nahin, Meer padha hai.
Piyush: Nahin, in connection mein - nahin, woh Mani ka aisa nahin tha ke - as an artist, which happens with all of us, we get plugged to a book, and we love it.
Ashish A: I'll ask some very small question - where did you stay in Benares? You know the name of the hotel?
Now - last time I went to Benares, I tried hunting down the hotel, I think gone. Anu, you remember the name of the hotel?
Was it near the Ghat?
No, not near. (Discussion on where the hotel was in relation to the old and the new city).
When we went for the recce we were staying around Godhulia, but with a unit of 35 - 30-35 people - there was no way we could have stayed.
Ashish A: How many lights had you carried?
Piyush: Nothing, there were two multi-20s and two multi-10s, maybe six of them instead of four. Which came from Lucknow.
Ashish A: But why was such a big crew? Why 35 people?
Piyush: 30-35, matlab, in and out actors, this, that, local actors, Bombay se production team, including all, in the hotel we were say 15-18. We also had the light crew, sound crew, camera crew, they all came from Lucknow. We all stayed in one place, that's how Mani worked.
Ashish R: For the outside and so on you used mostly available light?
Piyush: Almost no lights.
Ashish R: So the lighting was basically only indoor.
Piyush: Yes, indoor.
Ashish A: Another question - I was talking to this very interesting person who has been shooting Benares for the last five-six years, and and he was waxing eloquent, saying that the best Benares ever done was Siddheshwari, and he said something that I found interesting, he said - he used this word - how does Mani make the camera fly? You have a lot of these cranes, so tell me more about what was the process, how were you doing things?
Piyush: The crane was difficult to fit into the whole month's budget, so we got a crane for 7 days, I think, and Mani had planned out the work with the crane. He had planned out a lot of shoots with the crane, that was compressed in that period. We were working day and night, a lot more in those days, the crane being so expensive.
Ashish R: This was the light-weight crane?
Piyush: Not so light-weight, in 1989 nothing was light-weight. Light-weight things only came now. Light-weight in that it could be disassembled. It came from Chennai. (In a train?) No, they drove. (They had their own van, I think). Then we had to even take it, at times - some ghats we have taken it like offloaded Assi ghat or put it on the boat at Assi then go to the other ghat, which is what everybody has to do. And then assemble it. Like there's one long crane movement shot which is on a ghat where there was no other way to approach it. I don;t remember whether it was Assi or Dasaswamedh Ghat, where the crane was put on the boat and brought there, assembled. It was not a very big crane, actually, it was 21-22 feet crane, that's all, it was only the way it was used, it looks big.
Basab: How much of the music thing that you researched influenced your composition, in terms of the lighting, and so on?
Piyush: Actually, when I was working with Mani, I didn't have all these divisions in my mind. Mani it was like being with him, so it's like getting into that. That was more important. getting into music, getting into Siddheshwari's world, getting into Benares, because that city is a world by itself. And what do you do? Whatever you do, you cannot ever understand it fully, you can become a part of it, some part of it. So I never differentiated - and with Mani that was the biggest advantage. Because the creativity came like all the angles, anybody could be creative.
Basab: I was asking along those very lines - for instance, V.K. Murthy said in one of his interviews that whenever he used to track, and because he was a musician himself, he would - just to justify the rhythm of the track, make it slow or fast or whatever - he used to hum a tune.
I never used to, but after listening so much to music, it does affect the way you move the camera, but at the same time in Mani's world or Mani's aesthetics, he never went for parallels - so slow music and you go for slow camera - Mani's effort was always to create an antithesis or some form of conflict or some form of juxtaposition, some form where they collide.
Basab: Reason I was asking was last time we shot in Vrindavan, Ashish had a song he played a ghazal by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and I found myself increasingly being, you know, I don't know how to articulate that, but somehow playing that thing in my mind, so I was just thinking, since you did a lot of music research before that, how were you approaching it?
As I said, no compartment, and there used to be a lot of other energies coming in, and you might have to think what Meer you read then - the connection could even come from there!
Ashish R: You remember that set of statements Mani wrote, called The Director Reflects, one-liner statements, which I think happened to a great extent around that time, and a lot of his theorizing on the role of the cinematographer was happening in this time. Now many things there that he says - like, light up the path of the actor - what does that mean, and what did you understand of it?
I think that comes from Nazar, if I am not mistaken. Actually, how the practice is... when you set up a frame, the first thing a cinematographer wants to know is what is the path of the actor: where they are going to come in, where they are going to sit, what they are going to do. He wants to see, so that gives him a clue to light it. But Nazar was a totally opposite experiment. Mani said, I will tell you the area, you light it, and then I will place the actor wherever I like. And, don't change the light.
Ashish R: So he lit first and then he decided.
Piyush: Yes, then he decided. That's where those Matisse cutters came in. Because I had to find something by which to create a whole range of variations and play of light and shade, plus soft and hard light, all kinds of variations within the light possible, without knowing where the actors are going to be. I wanted every inch to be mapped differently. That was the logic. And that's where it came from. That is probably what he means.
Ashish R: But wasn't there another meaning, also, for Before My Eyes and probably Siddheshwari also, something else that he was interested in, which is that the shot stages - works out - the encounter with the object, where the object is not produced, the object is always there, there is nothing new, what happens is that the cinema produces the space within which the encounter takes place between the viewer and the object, so that space of the encounter - does that mean anything in terms of the practical film... he would say, you turn and say, ah, here's a tree, that particular thing, where you have to find that in the process of taking the shot.
Piyush: I don't have a direct answer, I mean I would be having, I would have to think about it. I will get at it another way. It's an indirect answer. As a director, when you see a shot in front of your eyes, you like the shot very much, you tell your continuity person to write it down, that this was a very good take. So Mani had invented for himself a different method, which is that when the shot gets over he would say cut, and sometimes from his voice I could make out that it didn't happen, the shot didn't happen, I didn't know what he was looking, I had no clue, and sometimes his voice would have a cheerful 'cut it!', and I knew that, ok, it happened. The third thing is, he kept a track of shots he liked, not necessarily because he would use them in the film; this was also his way of questioning himself, he would walk into the camera and look at the lens, and say, janaab, kya ho raha hai? Cut it man! But he would see that on the screen. This is his way of - this is what I am reading. This was his method of creating his own encounter to a shot which he liked. And I have seen - shots which he liked he has not used. So again his debate would start: the one he liked at the shoot, then eventually didn't translate, he translated something else. So what you asked me - let me think, something will come.
Ashish A: For Nazar or Siddheshwari, you have the rest of the footage, don't know where it is, it's destroyed?
Piyush: Nobody can afford to keep that. It costs money. The system is always like that. For Before My Eyes we had two and a half hours of aerial footage of Kashmir. The film is 22 minutes long, which uses only 6-7 minutes of aerial footage, maybe 10 minutes. Two and a half hours of OK aerial footage, it's all gone, nothing gets preserved. That was the disadvantage of this system - I guess, a bigger producer, bigger company can afford to keep it.
Basab: The cutters, are they deliberately in frame?
Piyush: No, they are not in frame, they are lighting cutters. It's lighting patterns, in a simpler way. What you do when you have a pattern - you have a window pattern or a door pattern, they are fixed patterns, how do you create an irregular pattern? That's where it started. There was a great reference to Matisse during the prep of Nazar, and I said, I'll do Matisse, it's so simple.
Ashish A: But why would you go to Matisse?
Piyush: We were referring to Matisse a lot.
Ashish A: So it was like the Mir Taqi Meer of Nazar?
Piyush: In a way - but there was a lot of visual reference to Matisse and his work, and its also about talking about his philosophy, a lot about the way Matisse thought and worked, with colours. And all these things were what was preoccupying Mani at that point in time became part of the filmmaking. And it was not something that he wouldn't share with anyone, he would actually share with everyone in his team, and talk about it.
Basab: So it was like a strong discursive process through the making of the film...
Piyush: Through the film. Even post. It was not like, that's achieved, and finished.
Ashish R: The thing is... this is what's my (concern). Obviously the film was with a low budget, obviously you could not afford to experiment or overshoot or do things, but at the same time the kind of seamless quality the film has - I remember Paul Willemen saying that the film has the quality of, what did he say, like Lewis Carroll's cat, it's an incredibly elusive film, a film that comes and goes, and is a strangely difficult film - that is what I am trying to get to now. Conventionally, I understand, cinematographers often give directors 'editing points' in taking the shot, here is a point at which you can cut, but Mani also says - in that same 'The Director Reflects' that he would want to cut into the shot.
Piyush: In a most abrupt way.
Ashish R: Using the cut almost like a knife, an incision. Mani always printed everything, right?
Ashish R: But was this part of the consciousness of the shooting? That you had no idea how he was going to cut. You were not helping him edit the film in the camera, because what would happen later was completely something else.
Piyush: That something else starts happening from Nazar onwards. Not in Siddheshwari. Something else is always there, that is the case with Mani, from Uski Roti onwards. That is there, shimmering, but it becomes distinct from Nazar onwards. But we didn't expect the way he cut. But then it also became part of his practice during Nazar, which was like - if he planned a shot, lighting was done before actors came into the frame, Mani would not tell this is what actors were doing, this is where they would walk, whatever, sitting etc., So often he would plan a shot on a small panther crane arm, dolly crane, small arm, camera is travelling from let's say down to up in the other angle, if the shot went wrong, if it didn't happen, he would say, fine, now start from the second point to come to the first point. Then there would be all kinds of variation. And we assumed that he would - it's a question of assuming, i thought or anybody would think - that he would use one shot. But what he did is that he used all the NG shots and created... so 'cutting into' becomes very sharp by Nazar. In Siddheshwari it must be shimmering, of course, but in Siddheshwari as a cinematographer had I known my cutting points? No, because these are not predictable, these are not narrative films, not straight narratives that you know that cutting will happen. Not necessary that the character has to walk out of the frame for the shot to be cut, or the character has to come and settle into the frame. So in terms of being innovative in editing, he was always, and he always chose that method.
Ashish R: But was there - this is what I am trying to getting at: one of the things is that video has got a bad name vis a vis cinema, but keeping that aside, the fact is that in video, there is no beginning or end to a shot - was there also this peculiar continuity structure that you were working with celluloid in that low budget, that sinuous, no-beginning-no-end..
Piyush: That's possible, that's possible as a part of Mani's world vision. That's possible, as a part of his aesthetic: he was always talking about that. He would have preferred the video - what we call the video - the infinite shot-talking technology, he would have loved it.
Ashish R: Paul Willemen had often compared him to (Hollis) Frampton
Piyush: But no, it was not possible - also if you think continuity and all, it's achieved how? That's why he would work a lot with the cinematographer. It's not about to do or not to do, it's it's about coming to that point, that now you are improvising around that point. As a cinematographer I am not generally improvising, because my instincts are very primate, you know, I would look and say wow, what a good light, take a shot, or I'll end the shot and compose it. No, it's to perfect that mind, that instinct, and to arrive at a point so you are always starting and ending around that space. And that is where, to him, to work for thirty days with that cinematographer, he needed one year or two years with that person, for me that was the greatest time of learning, because he would arrive at that basically, and that is something else. That is why the sense of continuity. It's not me only, it's also Anu who did the costumes, the person who did the sets, we all fell in that. We never had anybody in the unit who came to the set, this is my job, done, I'm going back. No, there was no one like that. Everyone was there all the time. If the discussions were happening, everyone was there. For Siddheshwari's music sessions, we all used to go to NCPA. It was not necessary for... if you look at the current practice, it's like, OK, maybe two people, two unit members will go there, here six, seven, eight people are going there, listening to music. Why? What? No, just listen.
Basab: It's like creating the universe in which the film happens.
Piyush: And creating that specific universe. But to do that, there are two ways of doing it, broadly speaking, One is that one person knows what that universe is, and other is, nobody knows what that universe is, (but) one person is a step, or half-a-step ahead. Mani chose the second path. Because he didn't want to arrive at a universe which he knew. He wanted to break away from the universe he knew.
Basab: Because that would be pre-empting the whole film..
Piyush: Pre-empting himself, which he was fighting against. So it was also taking the whole unit to arrive. And at the same time keeping all accidents, all probabilities, allowing them to happen, and yet, meandering around very specific areas, space, so you don't break away. The formalist in him was always alive.
Ashish R: Just wanted to continue the video question. The film (Siddheshwari) ends on the video. And the entire climax was almost pushing towards video. That bit where she walks and you first get the photograph of Siddheshwari herself, and then the time when she is leaving, and she walks over the frame and then it comes to black-and-white, and you have her in the video monitor. I am suggesting that there is a sort of 'video-consciousness' that the film in a sense has, and this would become quite important when you start looking at what I would call 'Siddheshwari-II', which is right now on your (restored version)? Would you say there was something - and linking it to the idea of an infinite film, and this parallel emphasis on video, as something that brought a tactility to the film, a sense of touch...
Piyush: I think in retrospect we can say it but I don't think it was there. But I must say that during Siddheshwari, this was the first time Mani had got hold of a video-8 camera from the French consulate - Philippe... (Lenglet) he had given Mani a camera which we had used for some recce purpose, not much of it, but Mani used to play a lot with it. He used to love doing it. And he used to say, I can make a film with this, it's so beautiful. And I can shoot as much as I like.
The video-8 camera - that was between the VHS... then came HI8. There used to be a camera... that was the exposure for Mani, and as an artist probably he reflected on its... I mean it's very difficult for a person of his vision not to be able to see where that was going towards. With his experience.
Ashish R: Have you seen - changing topics for a second - Gurvinder Singh's Riyaz? Mani's use of home movies...
Piyush: I just saw it once, lot of memories of Mani.
Ashish R: But is there any possible aesthetic... the point is, what's happening is... Here's what I think. I think that basically, as celluloid film moves into this, there is a lot of experimentation that Mani was doing - you had metioned this the last time we met, this business of using freeze frames in Duvidha to stretch the shot, so that movement frees movement
Piyush: Yeah, when you see it then you connect to it
Ashish R: And of course the famous 96 frames-a-second end of Dhrupad. So there were things that he was doing there that seemed to suggest some anticipation of some kind of change. And Siddheshwari has this quality too: the plasticity of the film, the tactility of the film, seems to presage the kind of technological...
Piyush: I completely agree. So the kind of budget the film was made in, it would have been made far easily with video technology. That's one way of seeing it. But it didn't exist, video technology. But I think Mani had the feeling for its coming in.
Ashish R: That's not what one would say about Nazar: Nazar is a celluloid film.
Piyush: Nazar is a celluloid film, Nazar was shot like a celluloid film, Nazar came with a bigger budget, Idiot also. Siddheshwari... I think also Benares plays a big role. Because Benares has that capacity to multiply. Mani started to speak of multiplicity and all at around that period or a littler later. Of course Deleuze and all comes in then. But the multiplicity - and already the influence of Benares - because if you live day and night in a city like that, all you can think is multiplicity. I think for him it must have been a bigger challenge how leave Benares intact, and not affect (it) by the act of filmmaking.
Ashish A: What was the budget of the film?
Piyush: I don’t know correctly, it was Rs 9 lakhs, but subsequently I think one lakh or one and a half lakhs was increased.
Ashish A: And Nazar>
Piyush: Nazar I don't remember too well, must be around thirty.
Ashish A: Idiot also the same?
Piyush: Idiot, if I remember correctly, was 46 or 48 (lakhs). But Idiot is much longer, much bigger. Between the two, Nazar is a well-funded film. Idiot, for the scope, and the span it had, the budget was not enough. And using 35 mm was not like a 'decision': there was no decision to be made. That was it! The option was to go to 16 mm. But Mani, given a choice, given a chance would... he had done films in 16, and gone through the problems of 16 mm, because 16 mm - even today - runs on A and B roll while negative-printing, so it is very primitive technology compared to 35.
Basab: I had question about the use of filters in Siddheshwari: did you use filters?
Piyush: No it was just shot straight. To use a filter you need a script. Otherwise you can't use it. I had a broader idea about the (film)... what Mani had written, if I can dig out - it's lying with me somewhere. What he has written, if you read it, you don't have an idea - I don't have an idea what I am shooting today is where? I can't make out from that script. It was only in his mind - or after seeing the film, I can place it, I can connect it, everything, but while shooting there was no possibility for anyone of us to connect.
Ashish A: So for instance, how would you start your day?
Piyush: We knew... we knew the location, we knew the characters, we are doing this kind of scene, there were scenes like, her aunt's scene, her home, Siddheshwari's place, which were part of that poetic script, as well as more details were discussed.
Ashish A: You have those?
Piyush: No I don't have those scenes, I have that Mani's long - poem? - I hope I have. I can't find it.
Ashish A: So how much of recce - you said you did recce for 20-30 days - 20 days - so you knew the location where you wanted to shoot?
Piyush: Kind of, not finalized. First of all, finalizing - it was not about finalizing, it was about getting to know Benares, getting to know the lanes, getting to know the ghats, getting to know the interiors, meeting people who kind of knew Siddheshwari, seeing a lot of old interiors. We had broadly narrowed-down many things, then eventually Kamal Swaroop went ahead, and and finalized, so it was a question of whatever we got. It was not a question of what we wanted. But I don't think we ever... - Mani could improvise at any place, it was getting the feel of it, getting the feel of being in Benares.
Ashish A: So in the 20-30 days you were there, there was absolutely no question of you as a cinematographer - the kind of tones you would like.
Piyush: No, nothing like that.
When we went, it was the end of winter, it was a different light. By the time we went to shoot it was a different world. But also Benares changes like that. And one thing about Mani, what was most interesting about him, he would never tell the cinematographer to make the scene 'dark', 'bright', no, he never would do it. He didn't believe in it. If he wanted his scene to be dark he shot it at night, if you shoot at night it's going to be dark. It's not going to be bright.
Basab: So in terms of setting of the exposure, say, in terms of the grey values, it was completely your interpration of what was going through your mind at that time.
Piyush: Yeah. None of the films I experienced he ever would tell me, I want this to be dark. One experience of Siddheshwari, is that after they did the schedule, after they did the edit, in the month of August or something, we went back for a week - not all of us, not the whole unitl just seven-eight of us, for a small shoot, because that was based on the edit, and whatever he needed extra. And we have a train to catch next day morning, back to Bombay, and its 5-5.30, which means Benares starts getting dark, and we are at the ghat, and he has a whole song - one of the songs of Siddheshwari - a chunk of four minutes to be shot - and he says, Piyush we'll shoot it, now we'll shoot, we'll have to shoot at night. I had nothing except camera, so I sat there at the ghats, I said, abhi idhar hi nirvan ho jaye apna. We knew the location - so, electricity theft, we did it. We got hold of a lot of halogens, marriage halogens, and then light up kiya ghat, raat ko ek baje tak shoot kiya. That's there in the film. Matlab kuch tha hi nahin, saman nahin tha, kya karenge, aur Mani ko pata hai, rasta main dhoond loonga, matlab main nahin, hum dhoond lenge. Aur dhoonda rasta. Ab kaise dhoonda, kya kiya - electricity theft is not new.
Ashish A: Another quesiton - jab shoot ho raha hai, and you are setting up the camera, how much would Mani interrupt you, in terms of placing the camera...
Piyush: No, very often - placing the camera, he would take over. Not exactly placing the camera, but he would frame, see, compose - he would go into a deep reverie, lot of thoughts. but he had a one capacity, ke if one would put a camera here for him and give it to him, he would make a frame from here - and it would be a true frame. His improvisational capacity - which meant, what?, It was that you were in one corner or area, you can't shoot, he had a way to figure out how to shoot. He could figure a way out through those difficult moments. Or he could improvise a frame everywhere. I could see him very often looking through the eyepiece, in a deep thought, very, very deep thought: he would get involved in his... and he would tell the actors, sit here, sit there, and he would frame it, organize it, kind of rehearse it, then while the take is there, he might just break the shot. Kisiko kaha hai, yahan baitho, ai, yahan mat baitho udhar chale jaao..
Ashish A: In the shot?
Piyush: Yes, in the shot. He would suddenly improvise, suddenly do something to break the tension, or change the thing. How much was planned, how much he did intuitively, it is difficult to say.
Ashish R: This business of never re-shooting (a shot), how much was that actually implemented?
Piyush: In Nazar, yes, and in Idiot, yes. No retake. But it is not retake-retake: retake, yes, but not the same movement. Which means, point A-to-B became B-to-A, or maybe C-to-D-to-A..
Basab: Alternatives? <br?
Piyush: No, but now the movements are changed, the shot changes completely. Say you are starting with character A's close-up, and ending on a composite of two. Now you are staring with B's closeup - it is a different shot. So in that sense different shot.</br>
Ashish A: So they would be saying the same dialogue<br<
Piyush: Everything same, but the camera movement would change, the framing would change. This was the case during Siddheshwari. This doesn't happen during Siddheshwari. Also Siddheshwari uses a lot of non-actors: except Meetas Vasisth, nobody is an actor, mayne one or two of them local theatre, but not film actors. I think that that doesn't come there at all. It comes post-Siddheshwari, and it could have come post-Siddheshwari because, in Siddheshwari, I think... it has happened, when we are using the crane, Mani would suddenly say abhi aisa, let's do movement like this. Don't do this way, now go this way. But that game we play always while shooting, but to take it further, to evolve that into a way of seeing cinema - that...
Basab: It's very interesting, about not -pre-empting the process, but the lenses used, that puts a delibereate restriction on the framing in terms of its depth of field and all that. or did you decide to shoot with one lens throughout the film?
Piyush: That's the case with Ahamaq: Idiot. Its only one lens, 28 mm. Whole film. Not Siddheshwari: we didn’t have a choice of lenses, we had standard old zoom, 25-250 or 225, same zoom which we use - HR zoom but its earlier variant, and three block lenses.
Ashish A: In a shot who would decide what lens to use? You would decide, or Mani
Piyush: Aisa kuch nahin tha. Mani would see the frame, he would say mujhe zoom do idhar, or if I had a problem, I would say, Mani, yahan pe yeh problem hai, so hard-and-fast nahin tha. If he would say yeh lens sahi hai, I would accept it. I had no problem, that was the process of doing it. We have done things in Siddheshwari which technically are wrong/
Ashish A: Like?
Piyush: Like heavily underexposed, because we ran out of time and we are still shooting. But they became part of the film's aesthetics. For me they were very scary things, but through the film I loved it, they became not so scary. Because, see, if you have the captain who knows the job, then you don't have to worry. The problem is that, as a technician, it gets scary when the captain is very narrow tunnel-visioned.
Ashish R: (On the pre-fogging): How did you decide?
Piyush: We took one print, it was too colourful, too vibrant, that was the immediate response of Mani, and he wanted to reduce the colour. <br?
Basab: To de-sat?</br>
Piyush: In the additive colour printing technology there is nothing called de-sat. Only way to de-sat is by placing a grey layer. And that's where the idea of post-flashing came. So we took a number of tests, 10%, 20%, 30%, and then we locked at I think around 10% of flashing, and printing on it. The lab had done some kind of compensation on the actual negative exposure. </br>
Ashish A: This is pre-fogging?
Piyush: Prefogging the print stock. Its post - I mean, pre- in that first the fogging is done, then the contact print is made. We took two or three prints like that, maximum. And that's it. After that that process was never repeated. All the subsequent prints were without flashing.
Basab: So you used only for two or three prints? And what happened to those prints?
Piyush: You would have seen the film without the preflashing.
Ashish A: How many prints in all have been made?
Piyush: Over the years, many would have been made. 15-20? Could be thirty - Films Division will have a record.
Ashish A: They don't have a record of anything.
Piyush: They should have, technically, its their negative, each time print is taken they should have a record.
Piyush: Only two or three prints. Yes, that's right, initial prints.
Ashish A: And why were they not done later?
Piyush: First of all, the prints were made in Chennai, then at some point, the negatives were shifted to Bombay. In Bombay, to carry out that whole procedure was next to impossible. It was a very complicated calibration. So we took one test without it. And I think by that time we had accepted it. And we had got used to it. It was fine. It was not required. But it had an amazing effect.
Ashish R: What was the effect?
Piyush: It's a certain amount of... a dilution of the overall image. It's not desaturating, it still holds the saturation, but the image becomes a little denser, and the colours still come out, still reach out, or still spread out, but there is some amount of diffusion in that. But it is not a diffusion as diffused image, its just a reduction in the overall colour information. But it creates a very beautiful... a very fantastic grey image. Which I tried - when I did this, I tried it by overlaying a 10% of grey layer. I have to still try it, I have to do it on a proper 2-K scanned material to arrive at that imagery.
Ashsih A: Probably you can speak to Dr. Kundu and say that Siddheshwari is such an important film, why don't you do a 2-K?
Piyush: No, I have been speaking to him. He is trying, but always it is funds issues.
Ashish A: He is saying he wants to get a 2-K set up in FD.
Piyush: Again, I have heard about that. But that will come, it will take time. See, they are not going to get into negative scans. All that they are doing is getting a colour correction and film restoration set-up, digital set-up, so negative scans... that's a different cost. Today, if they can do a negative scan, I can do the colour correction. Its not a big deal at all. Because I don't need their set-up.
Ashish A: Nazar you did, right?
Piyush: Nazar I have done, but Nazar still there is a big fight going on, with NFDC.
Ashish A: What is the problem?
Piyush: The process they have is a very funny process. they call the cinematographer to sit through and look at the screen, in the standard way, and that's it. Then there has to be a render. I asked them, show me the render, they said, no, render will take a few days.
Ashish A: Were you not sitting with the colour grader and colour correcting?
Piyush: Colour correcting, yes, I was there. Then there is the render. They never showed it to me, and so I refused to sign, the paper, I said until I see the render I will not sign it off. Which I still haven't signed. Because when they did the render, they applied the correction twice.
Ashish A: Why did they do that?
Piyush: Well, nobody supervises. It's a government job.
Ashish A: So double ho gaya? Kharab ho gaya?
Piyush: Kharab ho gaya.
Abhi usme se restore karne ki try kar rahe hain. Poora black crush ho gaya. Ab black crush ho gaya abhi information hi nahi hai to kahan se aayegi? Main unse bol raha hoon ke ab wapis kariye. That's the only way
Ashish A: Scanning theek hua?
Piyush: Scanning was reasonable. Colour grading bhi theek tha.
Ashish A: How many days did the grading take?
Piyush: Two days?
Ashish A: Baseline? Yes.
Piyush: No, this is done in Prasad. Chennai. They have baseline. Basically, the problem is they don't show anybody the rendered footage. Because they have a pipeline where they don't send you. As soon as you finish the colour grading they ask you to sign the paper. I refused. They never sent me the render, and now they have processed the film and even put it in the market in DVD.
Plus, the film is 1.66, and they have done it in 1.85.
Ashsh A: This is a problem they have with all their DVDs.
Piyush: And they say that they cannot sell their films commercially. But at the same time, I have one more film, Shyam Benegal's Suraj Ka Satwa Ghoda, wich is 1.33, 1.37, and they have it with the gate, the circular, which is correct, a good thing. They have kept it in 1.33, which is its original format. So I sayr your one project you stick to the original format, and and in another project you go to 1.85, not 1.85, 1.77. But what happens in a film like Nazar is that we have no headspace, the film is framed like that. The composition is changed. For me... and on top of that, it is not one issue - the way they have cleaned out the sound, they have not consulted Padmanabhan - Paddy was never consulted - they have cleaned the sound. Now what has happened is that there is a sound which is not meant to be heard, there are dialogues which are not meant to be heard, and you can hear it. It is not the same film. Its a different film. It should be called Directed by NFDC.
Ashish A: Talking to Ashish, he was saying you have some ideological problems with restoration: so now what I read from you is not ideological problems with restoration but problems with the way NFDC is restoring.
Piyush: That's one. I also have ideological problems with the restoration, in the sense that, unless a detailed pipeline is worked out, and we have a reference to the original material - it is being done in a most unscientific way. The way it is being done, there is no guideline, no procedure. And on top of that, when I had gone, the colour - anybody who is free that day sits as a colourist. In any restoration project the colourist has to be trained. And this is training, very simple. This was made in an additive printing, the windows, the secondary colour corrections were never available, and it should not be done. Then there is the possibility to come kind of closer, but I don't foresee it happening in India the way its being done. Because, they have already committed a huge fund of money and they have already done a large number of films.
Ashish A: You also did colour correction for Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda?
Piyush: No, I haven't done.
Ashish A: But you shot the film.
Piyush: I was not called.
Ashish A: And are you happy with the DVD?
Piyush: Not at all, they have messed it up completely. We had shot the film with a three-colour filter, it's all gone, levelled out.
I don't think there is a white paper: there are white papers around the world, about these problems. It is not even about respecting the filmmaker, it is about what was available then, in that time: now the technology has spread, does it mean that - as soon as we put today's technology on yesterday's material we are actually creating a new film, which we should avoid. Now what they are doing is, like sound, they send it to somebody who is supposed to be extremely good, who has probably not even seen the film, takes the sound track, he passes through all kinds of noise gates, and cleans it out. The problem is that a lot of filmmakers work with noise. Will live with noise. Particularly a filmmaker like Mani Kaul, I have seen him mixing sound, in Padmanabhan's studio, and Padmanabhan says, Mani, if I make it lower than this - some effect, sound which has been compressed completely - nobody will hear. Mani says, I can still hear, make it lower. This is called noise-to-signal ratio, they go out and reduce the noise-to-signal ratio, I mean they increase it, and whatever is on the lower frequency comes up, which is not meant to be heard. For example, in a film like - I'm just giving an example - Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda, or Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, I think the sound doesn't play pivotal, as important a role a... I would say even a Satyajit Ray film, sound would play a very important role. It cannot be retouched like that. That's where I have a major problem.
Unless the pipeline is set - and the pipeline can be set: the question of ten minds sitting together for one month, to-and-fron, and the while line can be worked out. Because you define do's, and you define a much bigger list of do-nots. And you have somebody who is technically qualified, who sees to that.
Basab: And it is not as if people don't know how to do it.
Piyush: No, people know it, but you have to tell them. The problem is that... Prasad, whenever I go, when I go for Nazar, twice I went, it's a different person - aaj to yahi free hai -
Ashish R: One of the things one is constantly told is, that right now they are restoring films at the rate of 8-10,000 US Dollars budget, whereas to do it anything like properly, it would be a hundred-thousand dollars. That Pather Panchali and the Apu Trilogy...
Piyush: Are you sure they are restoring at the rate of 8-10,000 dollars?
Ashish R: That's what one keeps being told.
Piyush: I think we should verify that.
Ashish R: What do you think it is?
Piyush: I think it would be at least triple of that.
Ashish A: But they do a bad job anyway?
Piyush: They do a bad job anyway.
Ashish A: The figure should be Rs 10-15 lakh.
Piyush: The figures...should be between 20-30 lakhs. because this not only involves the colour correction - there are a lot of stages, it also involves touching of pinholes, and that's a very costly process.
Ashish R: Keeping the figures aside, there seems to be a very visible difference between how Martin Scorcese does it...
Piyush: Fair enough, we can't reach there. But I think with discipline, we can almost reach 90% of there.
Ashish R: With this budget.
Piyush: Of course, because we have the biggest advantage of cheaper manpower, larger number of facilities, a lot of facilities struggling to survive in the market, it is doable, very much doable, using the same equipment, it's just the work ethics. And also how do you respond? Suppose I am a colourist, and I'm doing something, first thing I will insist is, I want to see a print of that film, howsoever bad. That's where I will start. If only one reel is available, I want to see it. I want to feel the print. OK, it's washed out, fine, I want to see more prints from that period, to start getting an idea as to how colours were reproducing at that time. And then there are scientific methods of simulating certain looks. This is actually a very easy process.
Very easily achievable - again, as you said, the issue of translation does happen, but if you don't destroy the format, if you don't go out and digitally clean the sound - and the major problem lies in the sound, it was an optical sound, and now when we make a digital sound, it is a day-and-night difference. Two years back - you were there - when the prints were being screened, when the print came, there was a sound, a hiss, an underlying... and within a minute or two its gone, But nobody in the digital theatre wants to hear that. But we can't clean that, we can't... and we should not.
Ashish R: This is what I am struggling with in my head, a conceptual question - which is: suppose we make a distinction between conservation and restoration, suppose you say that any celluloid film at any point of time is in a state of decay, that from what it was it has come here, and conservation means keeping it at that level, restoration means taking it back to its original structure. Now the point is, what does it mean to restore if you are not taking it back into celluloid? Restoring on digital is a contradiction in terms. You are pushing it into a new medium in which you are, at best, trying to evoke or simulate the original effect.
Piyush: And a medium which is itself in a constant state of flux. there is no stability in the media.
Ashish R: So you are taking it out of a home and putting it in a very unstable space.
Ashish A: I'm now speaking as an archaeologist. In archaeology what you do is, when you find an artefact, you either conserve it or you restore it - in archaeology we don't do restoration. we conserve it - you stop the process of decay. However, there is another form - which happens when you restore paintings - there they are trying to go back to the original work.
Ashish A: There they restore it, more than conserve it.
Piyush: They touch it up.
Ashish R: Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel has been restored, and of course it has been a shock.
Piyush: We don't know what it looked like. We are imagining it, that it looked like that in the sixteenth century.
Ashish R: Exactly, and I am saying that if you are not putting it back into celluloid, then technically you cannot be restoring it, in which event you have to make a transit as effectively as possible into a medium which is probably not particularly well geared to receive it. And that's where the aesthetic ...
Piyush: I think the medium can be trained, and geared, to receiving it. It also comes a lot from our inefficiency - we have a machine, we have a technology, we have a mind. We have (also) a great apathy, of respecting others... We don't believe in authorship. As far as conserving - see, whoever is doing it in India, they can conserve also, when they do the first scan, then data can be conserved. Raw data. Stick it, forget it. But I don't think all these organizations are doing it.
Ashish A: No they are not, all that is kept is your colour-corrected data...
Which is wrong. Because even if they keep the raw data, which after 20-30 years is not, let's say, technologically as vivid - but at least you have stopped that process. You have got that data available. But they are not doing that. And these two processes can go parallel. That is, you create an immediate, viewable material which is so-called 'restored', or translated, and you keep the raw data untouched. So, untouched, and then the different processes, and final output, but you have this back-up. It's like, tomorrow's technology is better - who knows, tomorrow we may come up with a routine of restoring film in a much simpler way.
It's all software-driven now.
Ashish A: One question - what are they doing to the negative?
Piyush: Big question - very big question. Last I heard they were just dumping them. Not throwing them, dumping them in some storage. But they were not willing to speak to me about it. Basically, I think they are as good as being (unclear). Storage means what? Storage has to be...
Basab: Humidity-proof, temperature-controlled, you store in some room it's not going to work.
Piyush: See, that's what is happening now, because all the labs are shutting down, slowly, they are asking their producers to take away their negatives. Last I heard, some fishermen's ice-godown, lot of producers are now sealing their negative and putting there
Ashish A: My stuff is also there.
What I am saying is, that's not an option, is it? That's a dead option. Because our systems are not geared for that. Even if they are doing that - first of all, I would have started, if I were part of this digital process, I would have started - when the technology came, there was a 4-K available, I would have said, scan 4-K, only 4-K, because 4-K was the max standard available. Today 8-K is available, not in India, but at least 6-8 K has come, so today if I was to do, at least scan there, after that, for immediate consumption, you can make a 2-K, 3-K, 4-K, jo bhi karna hai, whatever you do, but your raw data remains. But then the problem with digital technology is, how do you store it? You don't have an answer.
Ashish A: Using LTO?
Piyush: Another dangerous game!
It's a sad scenario. My response has come after going through all this, I find a film negative a much simpler route. Provided - and that's where it is failing also - provided it is stored well. But at least for immediate usage of a few years, it doesn't have this whole problem of digital copies, and back-ups, and transfers, translations, and digital failures - the negative is there always, even if you lose five frames it is still usable. In a digital data, if corruption comes, it comes to the whole thing.
Ashish R: This work that you did on Siddheshwari, I realize you were saying it is an emergency thing, one had to do it
Piyush: No, I want to do it, again.
Ashish R:There was no choice, and you were working with very little data. But - here is my question - firstly, in the whole situation that we are in, and secondly, the whole larger aesthetic question of what happens to celluloid film: one is the India-specific or Bombay-specific question and one is a larger question around film. And this kind of translation that one is talking about. So two things: one is, do you think this kind of rough-and-ready structure that you worked with, was Siddheshwari a film that was most conducive for doing that work, that you couldn't do this with Nazar, for example. That Siddheshwari was a film that formally allowed itself to being worked on in the way you did.
Piyush: No, I could have done this much (more) easily with Nazar. It was a much easier film to do.
Ashish R: The aesthetics of Siddheshwari wasn't easier? The pre-fogging, etc?
Piyush: Siddheshwari is very challenging, extremely challenging. Like, for example, when I do 2-K, like in the black-and-white npbody ever saw the black-and-whites as black-and-whites in the print. Because whenever they were printed, that particular day the stock had a bias, the black-and-white had either a cyanish, bluish, it can even have a warmish tint, very mild - first of all, no two prints matched. Actually I have to keep all these things in mind.
Piyush: Just give it some tint, because that was how it was seen, that's how people saw it. Nazar is not a difficult film. Nazar is just owned by somebody else, and there is a complete mess of the material.
Ashish A: Who owns it?
Piyush: Its owned by NFDC. I don't have access to the material.
Ashish A: But how is the negative? Siddheshwari you were saying the negative is dead.
Piyush: I have heard the negative is dead. Nazar, looking at the scan, relatively good. for its twenty years of life, not bad. It has spent twenty years of life, which means that already one layer starts disappearing. If it is well stored, then even then. So Nazar, all the skins have turned reddish. That much damage is there.
Lot of pinholes and stuff like that. very poorly stored. but that's the best storage they get.
Ashish R: So what would you now like to do with Siddheshwari?
Piyush: Siddheshwari at least to get hold of a print, and do an immediate scan, from the print. Because the negative is gone. Now there is a print, at MOMA, MOMA has acknowledged they have a print, but said they won't give it, but once the owner of the print - once the organization moves, I think it can be done. Because that's probably the best print surviving. That's been least used. And it's my assumption that MOMA has a high standard of storage. So I am assuming the print would be far superior. So at least once that scan is done, at least film is conserved, is frozen. Now from that scan, whatever you want. Make a 2-K theatrical print. basically one has to create a 4-K scan, 4-K, 8-K, whatever scan, maximum scan, create the data, use that data to create a current version and then whichever... it can be done.
Piyush: And then what happens is, in future when they are doing, a whole data bank can be created about references, along with this data: this is how the image looked like.
Ashish A: You are talking about the classic way of doing restoration work.
Piyush: Aise hi karna padega. Yeh to galat hai sab. Maine to kiya because, mera to ek hi response tha, when I did, because it was anyway standard definition material, what i had, what I got, which was used only for DVD. And which was again a tele-cine scan - tele-cine on auto mode - so shot mein exposure change hota hai, so I said, DVD to at least achha banao, that was my response.
Ashish A: And that is what you did?
Piyush: Haan, lekin usme bhi bahut problem hai, colours bahut zyaada badh gaye hain, that was my first attempt, zeal, to improve it. And not only improve it - it is so badly damaged, we could not take it in, But I will go through it.