I love to play with lights and images narrating a story with my craft: Modhura

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By Rituparna Sengupta Basu

Modhura Palit is the first Indian women recipient of the prestigious Angenieux “special encouragement” award at the Cannes this year. She is a vivacious 28-year-old upcoming Kolkata cinematographer and a former alumna of the much revered Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute who has grabbed the attention of everyone at the recently concluded Cannes Film Festival.

At Cannes

Modhura has worked on numerous short films, feature films, documentaries among others and hasn’t changed a bit in spite of the prodigious acknowledgement at Cannes. She loves playing with light and images and tries to tell a story with her craft. In a quick chat with Expresso, Palit shares her passion for playing with images, her love for cinema, international recognition and opportunities for women cinematographers in India.

Expresso: How does it feel to be recognized internationally within a very short time?

Modhura Palit: I was very ecstatic when I heard about my work being recognized and become overly excited. Receiving such a prestigious award is always inspiring and being the first-ever Indian to get this award makes me feel all over the moon. This award will encourage and motivate me to work harder and put my best in all my future endeavours.

Expresso: What was your first reaction when you got the news?

Modhura Palit: I couldn’t believe it at first as I never expected something like this to happen. I received the mail while I was shooting and thought it was something like those ‘one million dollars’ spammers. Finally, I got confirmation from IWCC and I was astonished. This recognition imparts on me a huge responsibility to carry the good work forward.

Expresso: How did you feel when you first meet Bruno Delbonnel?

Modhura Palit: It was a huge fan moment for me as I have always been a great admirer of his work since my college days. His work in ‘Amelie’ was very amazing and inspiring to me as well. In his cinematography, Bruno always uses bold colours, which attracts me the most. At Cannes, my dreams came true like a fairy tale and meeting Bruno was a greater achievement for me than all the awards I received.

Expresso: You are a classically trained dancer so what prompted you to choose cinematography?

Modhura Palit: Yes, although I have learned dancing I never wanted to be a professional dancer. I had always wanted to do something innovative and creative. My parents are art photographers, so, films, camera, and dark rooms have been my constant companions. While studying at St. Xavier’s, I heard my inner calling for cinematography and since then photography has become my best buddy. I got enrolled at Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute to further pursue my dreams.

Expresso: How did you start your professional journey?

Modhura Palit: I started my professional journey two years back. I had always wanted to be an independent cinematographer and never wanted to assist anybody. My first work ‘Monohor and I’ bagged the debut feature film award at the Kerala film festival last year. While as a student of SRFTI I have worked for Aniket Mitra’s ‘The Paper Boy’, & Anindya Pulak Bandopadhyay’s‘ Watchmaker’. I would have also loved to mention an Indo-British VR project in which I started working but unfortunately, that project fell through during post-production.

Expresso: As you have mentioned about the film ‘Monohor and I’, tell us what the speciality in the film was/ why it was so special to you?

Modhura Palit: We had a very small team and it was very difficult to shoot the movie. We didn’t have the luxury of lights, props to work with and also we were running short on budget. Eventually, we decided to shoot this film with an iPhone and it was highly challenging for me. But this experience helped me to understand many new aspects of cinematography. We shot all over Kolkata and used the natural light of the location to shoot our movie. It was quite helpful to shoot with a tiny device. Every technology has its pros and cons but knowing its proper uses helps you a lot.

Expresso: Are you choosy while taking up projects?

Modhura Palit: I have always worked on projects which connected to my heart. I have always worked for a lot of different genres like short films, documentaries, and independent films each involving different types of camerawork. I have always strived to maintain a variety at my work and tried to cover as many genres as I could.

Expresso: You have worked in short films, brands, features, documentaries. Probably the only common issue you faced was a low budget. How would you overcome it?

Modhura Palit: As I have started my career only two years ago, I don’t expect producers to trust me with high budget films, so I worked with my fellow companions who are struggling to make a mark in this industry like me. When you work for low budget films you need to be a fast thinker. When people go to watch the movies they are least concerned about the problems you have faced and the challenges you encountered in your shooting location. The most challenging part is to create a good image of the film despite several burning issues associated with film making. You have to always remain positive irrespective of your budget constraints as you can’t let your director down. You have to do justice to your film with all your knowledge and expertise.

Expresso: What’s the craziest thing you have done so far?

Modhura Palit: I have done lots of crazy things because when you work for a low budget film you have to be a bit nutty. The latest crazy thing I did was to tie myself to a jip for a rig shot. The director wanted a rig shot and as we were shooting atop a mountain, we were short of the rig. So, I tied myself to the jeep and shot the mountain holding to my camera which was a funny moment for me. When you are doing a low budget film you have to understand and adjust your work accordingly even if it involves craziness.

Expresso: Do you think this profession is a male dominating profession? What’s your take on that?

Modhura Palit: Yes, absolutely it is a male dominating profession. I have faced many obstacles to convince people of my work, professionalism, and devotion towards my profession. The phrase ‘woman cinematographers’ is not quite popular in our society as people think as women you are weak and incapable of taking up the work. Still, women are not famous in spite of doing remarkable work for quite a long time and I have faced lots of problems. Sometimes I was rejected only because I was a lady even without looking at my work. Awards like the Angenieux award at Cannes motivates you to work harder and put sincere efforts in your professional field despite various obstacles.

Expresso: What is the role of IWCC in India?

Modhura Palit: IWCC means Indian Women Cinematographers’ Collective which is a very important forum to bring all the women DOPs in India under the same roof. This is a huge support group for all women cinematographers in India.  I believe we have to forget the gender constraints and have to focus on the work. We have many friends from the field of cinematography set down under this forum. We discuss our work, new ideas, technology and almost everything about filmmaking. Sometimes the works of so many brilliant women filmmakers go unnoticed and as a result, many upcoming aspirants become diffident to enter this profession. Here IWCC plays a key role in bringing them under the spotlight and encouraging them to keep up the good work.

Expresso: Who is your inspiration?

Modhura Palit: It is a very difficult question to answer as there are many role models in my life. I revere the works of Subrata Mitra whom I admire the most. I admire the works of Abhik Mukhopadhyay, Shirsha Roy, and Santosh Sivan. Internationally, Christopher Doyle. Alfons Cuaron and Roger Dickens inspire me a lot with their unique styles of camerawork.

Expresso: If you could name any recent work that you enjoyed?

Modhura Palit: Yes I enjoyed Alfons Cuaron’s work on ‘Roma’ and Pankaj Kumar’s work on ‘Tumbaad’.  This kind of works would a treasure trove for any budding cinematographer and I would love to do some of this work one day.

Expresso: In your website, you say I want to create emotion through the image. Can you talk more about that?

Modhura Palit: I believe when you see a film, the first image which comes on the screen sets the whole mood of the film. A film is an amalgamation of various aspects, sound, music, and editing. Everything is important but me the most important thing according to is the visuals or images of a film. The image talks about many things in one shot. I love playing with light and images and try to tell a story with my craft. Image is an emotion to me which I am always trying to catch. A single image can have various layers of emotion just like raining makes you recollect lots of associated memories. I think the image is a very powerful tool to express your thoughts. It is something you can’t explain literally, you need to experience it.

Expresso: Tell us about your upcoming films or projects? 

Modhura Palit: Right now I working for two Bengali films, two short films, and few web series are in the pipeline. I wish to explore the world of cinema, new people and want to do lots of experiments with cinematography.

Expresso: If Modhura Palit, not a cinematographer what would be you?

Modhura Palit: I don’t know as I have never thought like this before. I could have been a dancer, painter or writer. But at the end of the day “Cinema is something I love and I want to spend the rest of my life with this; getting closer; making it more intimate.”

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