DP Aseem Mishra shooting in Mardin, Turkey (Photo by Zahir Abbas Khan)
Currently thrilling Indian audiences with its blend of high-octane energy, action sequences and exotic locations is the newly-released blockbuster, Ek Tha Tiger. The Tiger of the title is a rugged, handsome and mysterious bachelor, played by Salman Khan, who is India’s top spy. He is sent on a supposedly easy and safe mission to Dublin, Ireland to observe a scientist of Indian origin suspected of sharing his research findings with the Pakistan defense establishment. Tiger attempts to befriend the scientist’s caretaker Zoya (Katrina Kaif). Together the two embark on a roller-coaster journey battling the dark worlds of intelligence and espionage.
Director Kabir Khan and DP Aseem Mishra go back a long way. Both went to the same college at the University of Delhi and after graduating they both worked together on documentaries and commercials. They decided to use their documentary background as a means of filming Ek Tha Tiger. DP Mishra explains, “The director and I wanted the film to look as real as possible. The idea was to capture events without interfering too much with the set-up and artificially stylize it. There is a lot of docu-style camera movement, always edgy, yet fluid. The choice of film as the shooting medium was not really a conscious one; we just both decided that a film of this scale should be shot on film to achieve the kind of depth that we required. Film provides a certain look, a certain depth that is imprinted on our subconsciousness.”
Ek Tha Tiger was shot in multiple locations, Dublin, Ireland; Istanbul and Mardin in Turkey; Havana, Cuba; New Delhi, India and Phuket in Thailand, each of which presented their own lighting and shooting challenges. Mishra explains, “Everywhere we went, it seemed like the weather was against us. It was really cold and rainy in Dublin. Mardin, which is an old Mesopotamian city, was supposed to be dry and normal temperatures but a storm came over from Syria and the temperature dropped to just two degrees C. We reached Havana thinking it would be sunny but it became cloudy and Phuket was full monsoon. For the ‘look’, I gave Mardin a nice warm look, Dublin a cooler European look and Havana something I can only describe as the Havana look. We did not do much work in DI because most of the places had an inherent tonal quality.”
“As this was largely an action-oriented film,” continues Mishra, “we shot with three ARRIflex cameras a 535, a 435 (3-perf) and a 235 Phantom for a few high-speed shots. Regarding lenses, we used Ultra Primes, an optimo zoom 290mm and a short zoom. Many of the action sequences were shot handheld with the optimo zoom to give more energy and aggression. In terms of film stocks, it was a combination of KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219, KODAK VISION2 50D Color Negative Film 5201 and 5203 and KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207.”
“Most of the shooting was in daylight which I shot mainly on 50D and 250D,” he continues. “There were though some really huge lighting set-ups in Turkey. One in particular centered on a UN party/ball where all the diplomats were meeting. That took six Dinos and an 18K. All the lights were on a rostrum and were tied to the ground. I used 500T for that scene. If I had to use a phrase to describe my cinematography style for this film in terms of camera and lighting, I would say it is carefully careless. By that I mean that you know compositionally what the right frame should be but you frame it slightly off or keep it a little bit fluid.”
“If you were to ask me what was the greatest challenge during the filming of Ek Tha Tiger,”concludes Mishra, “I would probably have to say that it was the language barrier. We were working with crews from different countries, different cultures and different languages. These ranged from Irish to Punjabi and Hindi via Spanish and Turkish! Every country that we went to, we formed some sort of sign language for flags, stands, cutters, lights etc. It was great and a really interesting experience working with such a diverse group of people.”