Ansar Sha: A well-shot film is not necessarily successful
The Ishq cinematographer Ansar Sha talks about his humble beginnings, the experiences that led him to his current career path and the challenges of shooting a low-budget film
More often than not, the technical merits of big-budgeted films with notable production values are discussed when they turn out successful at the box office. But what about the successful low-budget films shot with limited sources? How does a cinematographer, especially a newcomer, manage to be innovative, despite the limitations?
Ansar Sha, who made his debut with Ishq, is a technician who excelled in this area. After assisting veteran cinematographers like Rajeev Ravi and Satyajit Pande, Ansar Sha landed an opportunity to take on this small, daring film helmed by another newcomer, Anuraj Manohar.
Ansar Sha, who started his journey as a journalism student, decided to switch paths after he chanced upon Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanovic's No Man’s Land at a film festival. It was the film’s captivating final shot that gave him the push to pursue films. “I decided instantly that I wanted to be a cinematographer, not a journalist,” he recalls. In addition to No Man’s Land, he cites the work of cinematographers Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men) and Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis) as major influences.
Ansar Sha managed to get into Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) after trying—and failing thrice—to crack their entrance exam. “Initially, I had no idea about their exam pattern. Plus, I was not that fluent in English or Hindi back then. By the second time, I got a basic idea and later started preparing for it vigorously. I managed to clear it in the fourth attempt because they had changed the pattern,” he laughs.
He met Rajeev Ravi during his time at the institute and he calls it the biggest turning point of his life. “Rajeevettan’s Dev D came out around the same time I joined FTII. I was floored by his work. I got to meet him and other eminent cinematographers such as Santosh Sivan, KU Mohanan, and Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love) in FTII through workshops. Ashok Mehta’s workshop was another life-changing experience for me,” he says.
Ansar Sha kept in touch with Rajeev and eventually he got a chance to assist him in Udta Punjab, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, and the Telugu film Naa Peru Surya, Naa Illu India. All this led to his first solo assignment, Ishq. It was mostly shot during the night, something Ansar Sha loved doing.
“There is freedom to experiment in a small film. But at the same time, there are also budgetary constraints to work around. It’s sometimes the smallest details that pose a challenge. Since the events in the film happen over the course of a single night, we had to make sure the audience don’t notice the time passing. The credit for that goes to the entire crew. In the first half, we went with wide shots and later switched to close-ups as the tension is cranked up in the second half,” he explains.
Though the usual practice is to use a green screen in a studio for interior shots of characters driving a vehicle, the Ishq team opted to shoot it for real, by using two cars—a regular and a modified version. “It was not necessarily the best idea but certainly the cost-effective,” he says. As they couldn’t acquire a ‘low loader’—a platform attached to a heavier vehicle to drag the actors’ vehicle—they designed a normal, less expensive rig that would enable them to film the characters while they were driving.
But that was not the only challenge, Ansar Sha tells us. “For the first half, we were filming as per the scene order, but that approach didn’t fully work for the second half. Shine Tom Chacko experienced exhaustion due to overwork—we were shooting continuously during the nights and then when we took a break for a day, Shine was unable to sleep during the night, which took a toll on his health. Since we were unable to shoot a few daytime portions because of that, we went for the ‘night for day’ approach—lighting up night scenes to give the illusion of day.”
So what, according to him, makes a successful film? “A well-shot film is not necessarily a successful one. Everything about it has to work.”