Meet cinematographer Hemant Chaturvedi, the part-time pilgrim
From cemeteries to monasteries, cinematographer Hemant Chaturvedi will regale us with vignettes of religious sites
Debre Damo, Ethiopia
Reaching the top of this sixth century monastery is something like a ‘parikrama’. It is a 75-feet climb up a rope. “You are secured to another rope tied around your waist and held by a man at the summit. He won’t let you fall, but he is not going to help you either,” recounts Chaturvedi, continuing, “and that’s the first thing I saw when you reach the top — that tree and the monk.”
Cinematographer Hemant Chaturvedi’s Madh Island residence is home to an enviable collection of comics and our conversation begins with American cartoonist Will Eisner’s graphic novel, A Contract with God. It is a fitting start to the subject of Chaturvedi’s upcoming talk. On November 13, the cinematographer -- best known for his work in films such as Maqbool and Kurbaan -- will take us through a visual narrative of faith at a talk hosted by Junoon’s Mumbai Local at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Byculla.
Paro Taktsang, Bhutan
First encountering the serene Buddhist monastery while shooting for Aparna Sen’s 15 Park Avenue in the mid-2000s, Chaturvedi stayed on for more than a fortnight beyond work. “I’d rather spend five days in one place than visit five places in a day. It’s nice to track sunrises, catch the morning light and form a routine,” he says.
Rajapur Cemetery, Allahabad
Chaturvedi’s hometown is famed for the religious fervour surrounding Kumbh, but the talk will also pique our curiosity about the Rajapur Cemetry. “There is an evolution of tombstone art — basic plaques give way to elaborate columns and then cherubs, until we are rudely brought back to the present by aluminum structures,” he says.
Having journeyed down into the heart of India’s only meteor crater, Lonar, in Maharashtra, to as high as the mountaintop monastery of Debre Damo, Ethiopia, Chaturvedi realised that many of the trips were incidentally to religious sites. “There is a lot of character in these spaces; Mount Kailash or the Sangam at Allahabad are infused with history and mythology,” he says, adding that ‘religious’ is not a term he would attribute to himself. “My team, when we take up the odd film job these days, has a Maharashtrian Brahmin, a Muslim from Uttar Pradesh, a Catholic and myself. I consume Ratnagiri mangoes, Goan chorizo and biryani -- all brought by them -- with equal gusto,” he says. The flavour of the talk, titled ‘Places of Faith: Finding belief through a camera’, is something along these lines then -- full-bodied and full of local spice. The one golden rule that Chaturvedi follows on his trips -- and something we are tempted to follow -- go solo and keep your camera for company. Chaturvedi takes us through the tales behind four monochrome photographs (a conscious decision to keep them black and white and free of distraction) that are part of his talk:
Known only as a meteor crater lake, this site came as something of a surprise for Chaturvedi. “The crater is surrounded by 13 Shiv temples, one of which is looked after by a Muslim caretaker,” he says. Just two metres away from the saline lake, one can find freshwater on the shore, fed by a perennial spring up the crater’s walls.
When: November 13, 5 PM – 6.30 PM
Where: Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Byculla East
Entry: R10 (for adults); R5 (for children)