Home Bollywood Hemant Chaturvedi: The Man Who Left Bollywood to Return to the Cinema

Hemant Chaturvedi: The Man Who Left Bollywood to Return to the Cinema

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Hemant Chaturvedi: The Man Who Left Bollywood to Return to the Cinema

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Small screen to big screen

Although Varma’s Company was Chaturvedi’s debut film, his career in cinematography began when he was a first-year student at St. Xavier’s College and new to Mumbai. A friend from college said his uncle was in town to shoot a documentary and that Chaturvedi should work with him. The uncle turned out to be Ismail Merchant of Merchant Ivory Productions (best known for films like A Room with a View (1985) and Remains of the Day (1993), which were both commercially successful and critically acclaimed). Merchant was shooting Richard Robbins’s Street Musicians of Bombay (1994). Chaturvedi showed up whenever the team would shoot in Mumbai and watching cinematographer Jehangir Choudhary at work convinced Chaturvedi that this was what he wanted to do.

Years later, armed with his postgraduate degree from Jamia Milia Islamia, he became a freelance cameraperson for the state television channel, Doordarshan. Chaturvedi found himself filming everything from Rendezvous with Simi Garewal and Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) to Parliament sessions and table tennis tournaments. “After you’ve done the lighting and you’ve locked it, it’s boring as hell. You’re just sitting there and doing the same thing,” he said about shooting for television. With Rendezvous, it was entertaining to watch Garewal probe into the guests’ lives, but KBC was monotonous. The show’s producer and director Siddhartha Basu, regarded as the father of Indian television quizzing, would share a cabin with him. Chaturvedi remembers indulging in tomfoolery to “alleviate the boredom”.

Then along came Company and Varma, whom Chaturvedi describes as “the most democratic director”. On his first day of shooting, Chaturvedi remembers panicking when he operated the camera for the first shot and there was a noisy hum. “I had a meltdown saying, ‘What the fuck? What’s going on?’ My world was exploding,” Chaturvedi remembered, “but then I said to myself, ‘No stupid, it’s a film camera, this is what happens’.” He’d quickly establish himself as a cinematographer. Chaturvedi has worked with some of Indian cinema’s most respected directors, like Vishal Bhardwaj and Aparna Sen, as well as on films produced by the likes of Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions. “You work with people like Ramu [Varma], Vishal and Aparna Sen, and you learn a lot, and give a lot. That collaboration and exchange are very fulfilling,” he said.

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