Varicam is widening the horizon for cinematographers

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Cinematographer Aseem Bajaj was extremely impressed by the Panasonic Varicam when he first tried it while shooting ‘Sacred Games’

Do you remember the first digital camera that you used?
The first digital camera I used was a little Kodak film camera. I was travelling with my wife to Edinburg where I picked up a use-and-throw camera, which was my first camera. It never struck me that my cinematic journey would go this far.

Is there any particular reason why you chose Delhi as your film location for the current movie, ‘Rajma Chawal’?
Delhi was the director’s choice because this movie is a story about a close-knit family that went away and how it returns back because of the surroundings. This movie is about the old and new, where we talk about people, values and families. Slowly and gradually, we have become satellite families where we don’t like interacting with our parents.

As a producer, how was your experience working with international cinematog-rapher, Donald McAlpine?
We were scouting for an experienced and brilliant eye to look at Chandni Chowk differently, because ultimately we take things for granted after seeing them daily. There might not be anything unique about this location for us, having seen it several times. But when someone who has not been to this part of the world sees it, they visualise it in a different light. We needed for someone to look at all these elements
from a new perspective and present it differently.

As a cinematographer, what qualities do you seek in a camera?
I always look for a camera that does not have too many buttons, which is simple and friendly – which is what Panasonic Varicam is.

Why did you decide to shoot ‘Rajma Chawal’ with Panasonic Varicam?
It was my cinematographer’s choice, and not mine. I did not even think of Varicam. I had not considered Panasonic Varicam at all until one fine day Don McAlpine said that he would like to use Panasonic Varicam. My reaction was, “What’s that?” He told me that it was a brilliant camera and he was surprised that I had not seen it. He asked me to get hold of it and insisted that he would like to use that for this movie. This was his remark when I had sent him an email about all the cameras and lenses available in India and Varicam was not mentioned in that list! So when Don McAlpine asked for Varicam, I called Omkar Talwar of Panasonic India enquiring about this camera. Thankfully, Panasonic India helped in sourcing three units of Varicam Pure from their rental equipment partners.
I was shooting Anurag Kashyap’s Sacred Games for Netflix and on using the camera, I was amazed. For an instant, I thought that the result was because of the monitor! I never thought the camera could capture something so perfectly. So, I took it to the DI suite to confirm whether this was metadata or data. To my surprise it was data that we were dealing with — which was much more sensitive than my eyes. With it, we can now do things that we could not think of. Varicam is widening the horizon for cinematographers, photographers and people who are dealing with digital media – whether it is a director, production designer, cinematographer or a filmmaker.

What are the pros and cons of shooting in film and digital?
The pros of film are more of nostalgia – I miss the smell of it! Cinematographers initially resisted digital for a very long time and were very condescending towards digital cameras. I did not see that coming and look where they have reached. The best part about digital capture is that it has made film making so democratic and I love it.

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