Friday, March 25, 2011

I thank my stars for failing to clear my MBA Entrance...

This is one person who thanks his stars for failing to clear his MBA Entrance exams as that gave him a chance to experiment and getting into what he loved pursuing – Cinematography. Not that he is one of the most sought after lens man of tinsel town, but Riju Samanta has carved his niche in a very short span of time. From doing short films to the India series of ‘LUX Lifestyles’ - a Lifestyle show for the US homes, to doing a feature film, Riju has been on a roller coaster ride. Casually sitting at a CCD outlet in Mumbai’s plush Oberoi Mall close to FilmCity, Riju Samanta talks to Films & TV Editor Soham about Strings of Passion and myriad other interesting subjects. 

Films & TV: How did you get into cinematography?
Riju Samanta: Well, I picked up amateur photography as a hobby from my father since childhood. When trying to pursue MBA as any other commerce graduate, luckily for me I did not clear the MBA entrance in the first year of its attempt. That gave me some time to try my hand at advertising with a company in Kolkata. My disinterest for Commerce and my interest to do anything but commerce started growing. The only other thing I could do well was photography and my boss who is also a dear friend now, ignited the passion and courage to take up professional photography. My family and my girlfriend supported me immensely after a wee bit of understandable apprehensions. I applied for cinematography, got accepted in my film school and here I am, far too rewarded and satisfied than an MBA would have been. Laughs...

Films & TV: How is the overall scene in Indian cinematography?
Riju Samanta: Oh it’s great, very energetic and progressive. There have been a lot of young cinematographers who have come in to the scene and have tried to experiment and contribute something new to the Indian film and television industry. This has also inspired many veteran cinematographers to rethink their style and approach to visual story telling. The end product is that there is a lot of fresh thoughts and competition. Not all of them have succeeded which is good, as then there won’t be any competition. Indian cinematography is now more exposed to world cinema which we lamely refer to as the ‘international look’

Films & TV: How do you choose your projects?
Riju Samanta: “I choose my projects based on the story, script and its sole (and the money)” – phew.... no, I am no big shot to be giving away statements like that. Honestly people like us who have just started off in their careers do not have much choice. But luckily for me I have done all kinds of projects from the smaller ones to the big ones and from the good to the bad and even the ugly ones. This has taught me to understand the industry, judge its people and the prospect of any project, something you are not taught at film school. So today I feel much more comfortable and confident in choosing something which interests me unconditionally.

Riju Samanta
Films & TV: Is there a difference between the terms - cameraman, cinematographer and director of photography? How do you prefer to be called?
Riju Samanta: Hmm.... technically a camera man is a camera operator and his responsibility ends there. A cinematographer is a term used specifically for motion picture photography. He is the person heading the camera, grips and the lighting departments and is responsible for achieving the artistic and technical decisions related to the image. Director of Photography used more commonly in India is synonymous to Cinematographer used prevalently in the American context. Well I would prefer to be called by my name which I am very proud of...laughs. But yes, Director of Photography does sound very big and important. Who doesn’t want to feel important?? ...Laughs again

Films & TV: Your film got some awards at the Nasik Film Festival. Do you think this puts pressure on you to perform the utmost?
Riju Samanta: Yes our short film, ‘Kalapaani’ won the Golden Camera Award at the NIFF 2010. It meant that our film was liked by many people. And it makes me happy to learn that my efforts to make a good film earned acknowledgements. My intentions would be the same, to make every project look and feel as interesting as possible. So honestly the award should not be a pressure on my intentions, but if ur talking of pressure on my expectations, yes like any human being, I will tend to get carried off at times. But it would be a conscious effort on my side to stick to what I can do best and not try to please everybody. 

Sanghamitra Chaudhary
Films & TV: How did you bag Sanghamitra Chaudhury’s "Strings of Passion"? This is your first feature film. Right?
Riju Samanta: I happened to know Mohan Das, my friend and a producer in Mumbai. We were lazily chatting up one day in a coffee shop when he told me about Sanghamitra Chaudhuri and her new directorial venture. Luckily for me, she was coming to Mumbai in the next few days and Mohan ji introduced me to her at Prithvi Theatre, if I remember correctly. However I do remember her saying this to me very candidly later, that she did not take me seriously at first but slowly started altering her ideas after seeing my work reel.  Thereafter we had a series of chats about the film and its requirements and grew quite comfortable with each other’s style of working. We had struck a common chord amongst the strings of passion for film making and a month later I received a call from the producers for the formalities.

Girish Nagpal with his on screen mom Zeenat Aman..
Yes, this is my first feature length film, but let me specify it is not only my film; I work with my very own team which has Magoo Neeraj as the Associate Cinematographer and Priyanka Singh as the Chief Assistant. They have been wonderful people and I owe equal credit to them. We were lucky to get an opportunity to showcase our talent so early in our career.

Films & TV: You mentioned about your own team? How important is that to you?
Riju Samanta: Ask anyone from any department and nobody would differ in saying that film making is a collective art (...and commerce as a producer would clarify...smiles) Every member in the team is equally important. Magoo and me are batch mates and Priyanka is a year junior from the same film school. Its not only about getting the best people on the job – its also about tuning yourselves into a perfect rhythm with them. We work in close proximity and share an unsaid mutual respect which gives us that edge over any other professional teamwork. We hangout together all the time and work is only a serious part of the fun for us. And it works well for us that way.

Films & TV: Did you treat the cinematography of SOP differently from the projects you are doing - especially the international travelogue series?
Riju Samanta: Yes every project is different and the boon for me was that I was not many projects old. So I have not acquired a style for myself yet. I wanted to play around with a few elements and my director happily agreed. She was youthful and unconventionally inspired which trickled down to every department in the process. SOP was a subject which needed an uncanny edge to it which I tried to contribute through my camera movements and lensing. Other than that it was deeply grounded to reality in terms of lighting and shot taking.

‘LUX Lifestyles’ on the other hand is an entirely different ball game. It is a Lifestyle show for the US homes, and I was shooting the India series. There it was a lot more of glamour and prosperity ruling the show as it was called LUX which stands for Luxury. The cinematography for this show was quite in contrast to the realistic and edgy feel of SOP. There was a huge quotient of classical frames, grand lighting schemes and poised movements throughout, but with an intention to show India’s treasure in an unconventional yet erotic manner.

Films & TV: How was it working with such a stalwart as Zeenat Aman in your debut film project?
Riju Samanta: She is a veteran actress and very cooperative with young people like us. She has been very sweet to me and my team. I will cherish the compliments that I received from her about her first close up in the film that we shot in Kolkata. SOP being my first feature film, Zeenat ji will be a very important part of my memory throughout my life. We really enjoyed working with such a stalwart of the industry.

Riju with his Mom
Films & TV: Your special Moments while filming Zeenat Aman and others in SOP?
Riju Samanta: Well there were many special moments. Our opening shot at the Shibpur Ghat in Kolkata and the near escape from the tide sweeping us away, the small talk with the wonderful and cheerful support staff behind the scenes, the black tea that we got addicted to in the course of our shoot, the nightingale voice of Mantu da, our trolley man (as he likes to be called which ripped the sets apart, thanks to him our producer saved on the loudspeaker budget) my mother visiting my sets for the first time, the differences and patch ups I have had  with Magoo & Priyanka (don’t  I dare to speak about my director...laughs) and of course the lovely wrap party with Zeenat ji. Thanks everyone to make it so memorable.

Films & TV: Who is the most beautiful actress today (through your lens)?
Riju Samanta: Well I have not shot many stars through my lens. So it would be unfair to compare on a superlative basis. But I think Zeenat Ji looks beautiful even today. Shirin who is debuting in SOP also looks graceful and I am sure I will be able to make Aishwaria or Priyanka or Katrina look nice through my lens too. ...smiles

Films & TV: You have grown up watching Tollywood and Bangla Films. Now you are debuting with a Bollywood film. Any comparisons?
Riju Samanta: Why do you need to compare? I have grown up seeing Bangla, Hindi and English films as a child. Now I am growing up seeing films in Marathi, Tamil, French, German, Arabic and all other possible languages. I like some of them; I do not like some of them, that’s the only comparison. And because we are cinematographers, language seems to be less relevant at times. In fact I remember, in my film school days we used to watch films without dialogues to help pick up the visual elements more prominently. It’s an enriching experience.

Films & TV: What will be the most challenging project for you, if you could do any of the bollywood films of today’s times in your style?
Riju Samanta: Well the most challenging task would be to shoot something like a Golmaal 3 in a Kaminey style. I wonder if that would make sense anyways. As for me, I donot have a style as of now. I am working towards it.

Zeenat Aman in "Strings of Passion"
Films & TV: Which movie had the best cinematography in recent times?
Riju Samanta: I do not know if they were the best but there were a lot of films which I have liked for its cinematography. Most recently I had seen ‘Kings Speech’ by Danny Cohen and the 1:1.85 aspect ratios looked really interesting with portrait references used in framing and art design. Then ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ by Ranjan Palit had this uncanny feel and lensing which was interesting though I thought the real edgy camera work in ‘Kaminey’ by Tassaduq Hussain was much more to my liking. I am really looking forward to ‘Gangs of Wassipur’ by Rajiv Ravi for the interesting mix of formats and cameras they have experimented with.

Films & TV: A director you want to work with?
Riju Samanta: Directors who are already friends with me or directors who will become friends with me. ....smiles!!


  1. all the best wishes ... and goood luck for ur future projects! waiting for more of ur works... :D

  2. All of us are behind you... cineme berole amrai sob ticket kete nebo... all the best broda... Soumen

  3. Wishing u bestest 0f LucK 4 future.....keep r0cking...:)

  4. riju da!! u rock and will keep doing wishes are just understatements for what we..ur well wishers have for you.. u make us beam with pride!! :)

  5. aage ke liye 'all d very beshht' daddaa... :) :)

  6. nice wrk and interview...first few steps in the miles to go

  7. Dear Riju,
    Aside of Baba and Ma we are the proudest persons for your achievements. We have no doubt in our minds that you will reach the pinnacle of cinematography within a very short time. It was wonderful to read the interview which portrays you as matured as the best of them. Ajoy Kaku and Jaya Aunti

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