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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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Entertainment

Even today, I call up people I want to work with: Sharman Joshi

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Elina Nayak | India

Sharman Joshi

Sharman Joshi came to fame with romantic-comedy ‘Style’ (2001), his first hit. But, he was already a known face by then with few films to his credit. However, the actor was still trying to set his foot in the industry and had his share of struggle too. In a recent interview, the actor remembered his struggling days.

The ‘3 Idiots’ actor used to call the director for work in those days. “There was a director, who used to have telephone numbers of many directors from Bollywood. I took the list from him and would call them on their landline as those were ‘no mobile’ phone days. One thing that helped me big time was my background in theatre,” shared Sharman. 

But Sharman also confessed that some directors’ would also be considerate. “When I would call the directors and they would talk very respectfully, some even called for a meeting. See, people from showbiz business understand what it takes to be here. So whether you work together or not, that doesn’t really matter. In fact, even today, I just pick up the call and dial to people I want to work with,” said Sharman who made his debut in Bollywood with Godmother in 1999.

Also read: Mannat se guzar raha tha, toh ek mannat maang li: Ayushmann Khurrana

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Entertainment

Mannat se guzar raha tha, toh ek mannat maang li: Ayushmann Khurrana

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Elina Nayak | India

Ayushmann Khurrana with Shah Rukh Khan and right in front of SRK’s house Mannat

Like many, even actor Ayushmann Khurrana is a Shah Rukh Khan fan. And when the actor happened to be in Bandra on Sunday, he stopped by in front of King Khan’s house Mannat. In fact, he made a wish in front of the gate looking at Mannat through the sunroof of his car.

The actor shared a picture on his social media page from SRK’s house and captioned, “Mannat se guzar raha tha. Toh ek mannat maang li #AnActionHero #2ndDecember #SRKian” He added the song ‘Baazigar O Baazigar’ from Shah Rukh’s film ‘Baazigar’ along with the picture. 

Ayushmann, who’s busy promoting his film, ‘An Action Hero’, received lots of comments from SRK as well as his fans.

Also read: I’m known for small and mid-budget films, so I can never enter 300 crore club: Ayushmann Khurrana

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Legal

Just because you don’t like Mr Modi doesn’t mean India is under threat: Harish Salve | Interview

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Radhika Dhawad | Mumbai

Harish Salve

Senior advocate at Supreme Court, former Solicitor General of India and King’s Counsel Harish Salve, in an exclusive interaction with Nation Next, speaks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Prime Minister late Indira Gandhi, recent gruesome murder of Shraddha Walker involving her boyfriend Aftab Poonawala, Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) and much more!

Corrigendum: In one of the questions during Mr Harish Salve’s interview, interviewer mistakenly quoted former Chief Justice of India Justice Sharad Bobde, saying, “Constitution is under threat.” Justice Bobde never made this remark. We sincerely apologise to Justice Bobde and the audience for committing this mistake. Inconvenience caused is regretted!

Watch the full interview here: 

Also read: Special Court grants bail to ex-Home Minister Anil Deshmukh’s son in money laundering case

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