We left the hotel at around six in the evening to a location near khalsa high school in Srinagar where we would shoot the bombed orphanage scene. The sky was overcast since late afternoon. Twilight occurred early and it was all blue and grey. We reached the place in about twenty minutes.
As I got down from the car, I saw the generator van and other utility trucks were already lined up. Crew was up and about, unloading grips and lights. I had a clear view of the place once I walked through the gates. It was a huge house – palatial I must say. The total area the house and its surroundings occupied was about 4 acres to be modest. I was hit by the monstrous size of the place. How am I going to light it? I began a frantic calculation of the lights I had. Not much, just two 4K pars and one 6K Par. Others were all tungsten and kinos. It was twilight but cloudy as I said earlier. I could make out the house structure very well. The house had seen days of opulence until the outbreak of full scale militancy. All I could gather from bystanders was this house was hit by a mortar fire. Ok, so be it.
During the reccee three months earlier, self and Dipesh had seen a different location for this scene. Just before the shoot he got hold of this location which I hadn’t seen till now. So, I had no plans how I would go about to light this huge property. It was a challenge. I was lost in some mental calculations and apparently it didn’t occur to me that my gaffer, 1st AC, and light men have been asking me where to start the background lighting from? And what would be the field and where should the vehicles be parked? I was deaf to them! And to make things worse, it began to drizzle.
Once I made a clear mental picture then I started with the lighting. Vehicles had to be repositioned. Camera was readied and kept. Once we struck the 6K par, the light was too much for the otherwise dingy street lights. It attracted local residents in hordes. By rough estimate there were at least 200-300 people. There was something smart about them I felt for their presence didn’t interfere in my work. Somehow, they had found out where the camera would be and stood away from the field.
The other major issue was to dress up (actually dressing down) the place as if it had been bombed a couple of hours back. So the production designers were running around arranging rags, half burnt wooden logs, kerosene and loban for creating smoke. Since a lot of my lighting scheme had to go in tandem with the production designers the progress was a tad slow initially. Both art director and self were bouncing questions off each other. There were tempers building up but overall it had moments of fun too. To be frank, we didn’t realize there was anything funny while we were slogging to get ready to roll. The humour was realized over a couple of drinks in the red light bar a few nights later with my rum-buddy – Sid, the production designer.
There were real soldiers to be used in this scene and by ten o’ clock the CRPF soldiers and their vehicles arrived. Now was complete chaos because there is lighting going all around, production designer’s men running around with props and smoke to lend authenticity to the place, and ADs trying to figure out how to control the crowd and where to place the soldiers and how to give the real soldiers some fake business. Some VIPs were there too to watch the shooting. Chairs were hastily arranged. Crowd was pushed back to give the VIPs some breathing space. Chaotic but interesting. It made you feel that something really worthwhile is happening.
By the time I said I am ready to roll it was half past eleven and many took a deep sigh – Oh finally! Their sighs were a single response to multiple events that evening. I didn’t stir from my viewfinder because what I saw through it was wonderful and deserving after a collective 4 hour effort of the whole crew.