We shot Gargi in documenatry way: Cinematographers Sraiyanti and Premkrishna Akkatu
The technicians speak about they interpreted Sai Pallavi’s latest film, the choices that went behind it, and more
The first look of Gargi didn’t go the usual route of showing a glimpse of the film. It was, in fact, a minute-long video of the film being made. You see why the makers decided on a bit of indulgence, as this emotional courtroom drama, Gargi, seems like a product of great deliberation and speaks of a distinct visual aesthetic. Cinematographers Sraiyanti and Premkrishna Akkatu found that the script didn’t immediately give them ideas for any visual approach. The duo had shot documentaries together previously, and this came in handy. “It is common in documentaries to have two cinematographers, as you need multiple angles. Gautham liked the plan of having multiple reactions being captured at the same time. He wanted to capture the people onscreen and their reactions in creative ways,” says Sraiyanti.
Gargi was shot for about 45 days in live locations in Chennai. “Live locations demand a different approach to lighting. So, when we found Gargi’s house, the palette of the house—blues and greens—became the visual theme of the film.” A striking visual idea in the film is of flowing liquid. There’s blood, water, and ink in different scenes. “It’s to communicate a certain fluidity. This applied to actors’ positions as well, as they were allowed to go with the flow without their movements being restricted,” says Sraiyanti.
A key objective, of course, was to reflect the mentality of Gargi and her circumstances. “When the lighting changes every morning, you get new opportunities to frame differently,” says Prem. Sraiyanti shares that the framing looks to communicate the tone of each scene. “For example, in that sneak-peek video, where Kaali Venkat and Sai Pallavi’s characters speak, we used a window rod as a line to symbolise their disagreements. We also went with a handheld camera after a point, in order to show how her situation is volatile. Till then, we use static to symbolise the stability of her life.”
There’s also the use of the frame-within-frame idea to communicate her entrapment trapped and claustrophobia, with the occasional aerial shot coming as a breather. “We didn’t want the stereotypical shots of Chennai. As documentary cinematographers, we know the city intimately and know when to shoot too. We didn’t want clichéd shots and sought to capture Chennai in a way that reflects her mood. The film also shows how the world seems just fine, even though she isn’t,” says Sraiyanti.
The duo also used single shots to show Gargi’s pace. “To cut in between might disrupt the movement of the character. We planned many single shots that show how quick she is. There were instances where Sai Pallavi continued to perform, than the intended time and the scene would end when she was satisfied!” says Sraiyanti.
This sensitive film deals with the disturbing topic of child sexual abuse. Sraiyanti and Prem, who specialise in shooting films on caste and gender violence, have noticed that feature films often show such scenes with the male gaze, to portray masculinity. “We knew to break away from it. You need to see trauma, without seeing it directly. It was hard, but we managed not to show her face or the men’s expressions of lust.” Director Gautham Ramachandran suggested the use of frosted glass and silhouettes to communicate the crime. “While individual frames may not define everything clearly, the overall mood will haunt you.”
Prem also underwent a lot of unlearning for this film, particularly when it came to understanding how patriarchy works. “The seed of patriarchy gets sowed within you early. It breaks when you work with women,” he says.