26/11 attacks: Sidharth Kale takes us behind the scenes of Hotel Mumbai
The 38-year-old cinematographer was initially roped in for a couple of days, but eventually saw it through its Mumbai schedule
Hotel Mumbai, an Australian-American production helmed by first-time director Anthony Maras has piqued interest from the word go. It centres around the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, a subject that has not been explored in mainstream cinema, aside from the French film Taj Mahal (2015) by Nicolas Saada and Ram Gopal Varma's The Attacks of 26/11. Maras shot a large chunk of the film in Australia, before coming to Mumbai to shoot in and around South Mumbai. And that is where Sidharth Kale came into the picture. The 38-year-old cinematographer was initially roped in for a couple of days, but eventually saw it through its Mumbai schedule.
The film stars Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Jason Isaacs, Anupam Kher and Nazanin Boniadi in principal roles. "The team needed me to man the second unit of production," Kale tells us. Typically, second unit operates as a parallel unit that has its own support team and director. It's usually used for stunts, and more elaborate coverage of scenes. "We had to shoot scenes of chaos, recreate the panic that unfolded during the attacks. While the main unit continued to shoot with the actors, we shot with crowds which sometimes ran into a couple of hundreds. We also shot the Army movements which played a major role in the operation," he adds.
The schedule went on for nearly a month where Kale also had to shuttle between the main unit and the second unit. "It's a challenge to enter a film in the middle. You get into a certain camera setup, and you must integrate into a system that is already well-greased. What I shot could not look different from what the director had shot. One has to keep their ego aside and bring their product as close to the original as possible," Kale explains.
He draws an instance. "If there's an explosion scene going on, for example, I as a second unit DP (director of photography) have to catch the vibe instantly. Else you miss it, because these are elaborate scenes that combine several elements and things are happening so fast. One has to man the camera with instinct, match the energy around in that little window you have.
Also, one has to work with different temperaments and styles. But, there is no time to get adjusted," Kale says The film is preparing for a premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. We ask Kale about the actors he has worked with, Dev Patel being one of them. "Dev turned out to be much taller than I expected," he laughs, adding, "He's a cool guy, very professional and you get no starry vibes from him. He has a terrific screen presence though. Put him in a room with 50 people and you'd still notice him, and that's not just because he's famous."
Closer home, Kale has worked on films like Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola and the Ishqiya films. His Hollywood repertoire also includes the Leonardo DiCaprio documentary Before The Floods and the Jon Hamm-starrer Million Dollar Arm, which was partially shot in Mumbai. "Usually, in this field, one is seldom star struck. But, with Leonardo, I just couldn't help myself. His knowledge and insights about environmental issues is admirable. When I first saw Jon Ham on the sets, it was like Don Draper was standing in front of me. In fact, I told him no matter what, for me, he would remain Don forever."
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