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All actresses today resemble one another, says ace cinematographer Aseem Bajaj

Aseem Bajaj
Ace cinematographer: Aseem Bajaj

Aseem Bajaj, one of the finest Bollywood cinematographers, has been giving aesthetic treats to the audience for years with films like Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Hum Tum, Chameli, Golmaal, Khoya Khoya Chaand, Son of Sardaar, Bodyguard, Shivay (to be released), etc. Aseem, who’s co-producing his wife Leena Yadavs directorial venture Parched along with Ajay Devgn, feels that today’s actors and actresses have nothing distinctive in them. In an animated interview with Nation Next, Aseem Bajaj gets candid about his journey of filmmaking, how cinematographers are better off than actors and why he felt cheated by Yash Chopra when he visited Switzerland for the first time. Excerpts:

You started your Bollywood career with Bandit Queen as an assistant cinematographer in 1994. With a rich body of work spanning more than two decades, you have come a long way as a celebrated cinematographer. How has the journey been?

I never really started as an assistant cinematographer. I was doing theatre and that’s how and when I started my journey as a cinematographer. I was the junior most member of the theatre group called Act One, where we had seniors like Imtiaz Ali, Anurag Kashyap, Shoojit Sircar, Ashish Vidyarthi, Manoj Bajpayee, Gajraj Rao, etc, to name a few. My contemporary was Swanand Kirkire, though he was a lyricist. We were as young as each other or may be as good as each other. In fact, I was heavily involved in composing music with Piyush Mishra. I was inclined towards music. My father (Padma Shri) Ram Gopal Bajaj was the director at National School of Drama. So, sooner or later, I had to be involved with theatre.

When I met Tigmanshu Dhulia, who was assisting Shekhar Kapur in Bandit Queen, I told him that I wanted to see how films are made. He asked me what I was ready to do. I said I was even ready to play a dholak! He once required many bandits in a scene, to which I immediately agreed to work as one. In retrospect, I was actually cast as an extra in the film. I wasn’t interested in cinematography then. A 5 feet 4 inches man called Ashok Mehta fascinated me, who was a maverick cinematographer of all time. I always wanted to be like him and not any cinematographer. I could never become Ashok Mehta because there can never be another like him. Cameraman Vijay Arora and French cinematographer Jacque Bouquin too inspired me. I worked with Jacque for Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2003), which he left midway and I was given the responsibility to complete the film. Sudhir Mishra, despite knowing that I was an assistant cinematographer, had faith in me and gave me a chance to complete the film.

What do you enjoy shooting more – a realistic and boorish film like Bandit Queen or an aesthetic treat like Shabd

I don’t know how to answer that! We (cinematographers) are suckers for good visuals. You can’t have a rasgulla every day! One needs variety.

Your father, a theatre doyen, fiddled with certain films but never shifted his focus to Bollywood. What does he have to say about your shift from theatre to films and your success in Bollywood

Hes happy with my work. It’s just that hes really sad about we (today’s generation) not reading enough of literature. When we do theatre, we interact with a lot of people from all backgrounds. Today, we are just bothered about whats happening in Bollywood. It’s our world where we don’t want to deal with reality, which is so harsh. 

You are co-producing Parched with your long-standing close friend Ajay Devgn. Who’s your favourite – Ajay Devgn, the friend or Ajay Devgn, the co-producer?

Both are my favourite! How can I choose one?

You had said that Kajol is a dream to work with and Ajay Devgn is the most disciplined actor to work with. What kind of bond do you share with the both of them?

I share an absolutely professional bond with the both of them. It’s extremely generous and kind of them to allow me to enter their personal world. Still, I never cross my boundary. I love them!

Today most of the films are shot at foreign locations, which makes the films look aesthetically appealing. How important are locations for a cinematographer?

Everything depends on the film. If we’re shooting a Mastizaade or a No Entry or a Golmaal, it doesn’t matter where you’re shooting. Such films are not location specific. Everything is supposed to look good. All actresses today resemble one another; and every actor has six pack abs. They are people who don’t look like humans. They are supposed to sing songs around trees and in the middle of the road! Has your partner ever done that to you? I mean, who does that?

As a cinematographer who’s worked in international films, how do you look at the song and dance genre of Bollywood

Sometimes, when you are shooting in London, Australia, etc, you feel embarrassed when your actors, out of nowhere, start dancing. Having said that, as a cinematographer, I can always hide behind the camera, but imagine the kind of embarrassment an actor has to go through! Somebody like Priyanka Chopra, who’s studied at Boston University, is doing a dance sequence in front of her own university! What must she be going through?

When I visited Switzerland, I saw those yellow flowers, which Yash Chopra depicted as sarson ke khet (mustard fields) in most of his movies. They were not sarson ke khet, my friend! I felt so cheated (Laughs). You know there’s a Chopra Lake named after him because hes shot there so frequently? How did Yashji manage to show such a beautiful Punjab? (Laughs) Unlike Yashji, Shyam Benegal can never make a film, which is based in Switzerland. If his film is based in Dharavi, he?ll shoot in Dharavi. He?ll not put up a set and shoot in the film city or in Switzerland.

You have worked with superstars like Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Kajol, Kareena Kapoor Khan. Whom did your camera fall in love with the most?

It’s a very difficult question. I’m not known to be politically correct but I feel camera loves all of them. Otherwise they wouldn’t be stars today.

You shot with Ashton Kutcher for the Indian portion of Jobs – a biopic based on the life of Apples CEO Steve Jobs. Do you think the west gives the cinematographers their due, unlike in India, where they are the most underrated

I don’t think we are underrated at all. We are fairly rated here. If cinematographers weren’t fairly recognised in India, I wouldn’t have become one. We have chosen this profession wisely. We can’t expect people to hound us, like the way actors are hounded, if we go to a restaurant. I know a lot of people who feel they aren’t given their due but I’m not one of them. I’m happy with what I get and I don’t want more. Audience doesn’t go to watch a film after learning about the cameraman’s name. It’s the actor or the directors who pull the crowd to the theatres. If people in my profession want to be publicly recognised, they should become actors or politicians instead.

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DR Karthikeyan attends Rocketry: The Nambi Effect premier, recalls experience with Dr Nambi Narayanan




Radhika Dhawad | Delhi
Former CBI Director DR Karthikeyan, ex-officials from the probe agency recently attended special screening of ‘Rocketry: The Nambi Effect.’

R Madhavan with DR Karthikeyan (centre)

Former CBI Director DR Karthikeyan, former officials from the probe agency and members of the film industry recently attended a special screening of film ‘Rocketry: The Nambi Effect’ at Siri Fort auditorium in New Delhi.

DR Karthikeyan writes…

“On personal invitation phone call from Dr Nambi Narayanan, I had the opportunity to see the very first premier show of the film ROCKETRY – The Nambi Effect – at Sirifort Auditorium, Delhi on 26th June – Sunday evening.

On arrival at the venue, I was happy to be met by the talented Star/Director/Producer  Mr R Madhavan and senior officers of the Ministry of I&B, Govt of India. It was an amazing production – destined to get an award – nationally and globally! The movie was screened all over the world on 1st July – produced both in English, Hindi and Tamil and also dubbed in many more languages.

Former CBI Director DR Karthikeyan, ex-officials from the probe agency recently attended special screening of ‘Rocketry: The Nambi Effect.’

At the end of the show at the packed auditorium, I was invited by Mr Madhavan to the stage and given a bouquet of flowers along with my colleague PM Nair IPS. I shared a couple of words with the audience. “At that time when there was sensation about the so called “ISRO Spy Case,” I was asked by the CBI HQ for my opinion. I was then investigating Rajiv Gandhi Assassination –  as Chief of SIT CBI – I spent a few hours of conversation with Dr Nambi Narayanan who was in our custody at Malligai, Headquarters of SIT CBI at Chennai. I had no hesitation in reporting to CBI Hq my finding that not only Nambi Narayanan is innocent of any of the charges alleged against him but also he was a noble person.” It so happened when his case came up before the National Human Rights Commission for compensation, I was the Director General, NHRC at Delhi.

After hearing from me what actually happened to Nambi Narayanan, the Commission awarded him financial compensation, as interim relief. Dr Nambi Narayanan has been in touch with me since then from time to time. 

Here is one of his recent communications to me on WhatsApp – “The role you had played in relieving me from the charges was immense.Thank you very much Sir. I will be certainly very happy to meet you in person when I visit Delhi. Once again thank you very much! With regards Nambi Narayanan”. 

As early as on 30th June 2021, Dr Nambi Narayanan had sent to me on email – the extract – MEETING KARTHIKEYAN  ‘Pray to God, he will come.’– chapter 14 of his just then released Biography “Ready to Fire”- (How India and I Survived The ISRO Spy Case).  The same is also attached herewith. The life of Padma Bhushan Dr Nambi Narayanan, the celebrated space scientist, which is very powerfully portrayed in the movie Rocketry – The Nambi Effect carries a powerful message to everyone.

Satyameva Jayate – Truth alone triumphs – Mundaka Upanishad.

While the guilty should be identified and punished promptly and severely, no innocent or the family should suffer physically or mentally or emotionally. That should be the commitment on the part of everyone of us – particularly those in charge of governance, administration, law enforcement, intelligence and the judiciary!”

Released on July 1, the film is a biographical drama based on the life of Nambi Narayanan, a former scientist and aerospace engineer of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), who was falsely charged with espionage in 1994.

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Marathi Cinema

Chandrashekhar Bawankule unveils poster, releases trailer of Nagpur film ‘Aamhi Butterfly’




Nation Next Newsroom | Photographer : Nitin Mankar | Nagpur

Former Maharashtra Minister and current MLC Chandrashekhar Bawankule unveiled the poster and released the trailer and songs of the upcoming Marathi film – Aamhi Butterfly – at an event held at Deshpande Hall in Nagpur. The film, which has been shot in Nagpur and other parts of Vidarbha, has been directed by Aniiket Limje and produced by Rajesh Rangari and Shrinivas Shiras.

Many child actors who have worked in the movie are from Vidarbha. During the trailer launch, MLA Tekchand Sawakar, actor Girish Pardesi and other actors from the movie, were present. Aamhi Butterfly is going to be released in August 2022.

Above are some of the pictures from the event!

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Dialogue at Nation Next

‘Shah Rukh Khan didn’t even thank me for supporting Aryan Khan,’ says Shatrughan Sinha




Radhika Dhawad | Mumbai

Actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, in an exclusive interaction at Dialogue @ Nation Next, speaks about the comparison of today’s actors with yesteryear actors, Aryan Khan drug case, NCB and why Shah Rukh Khan didn’t even ‘thank him.’

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