Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Unlocking Memories – Part 2 – Going Behind the Scenes with cinematogrpher Kamal Bose.

Photo by Kamal Bose

Those of you who have been following my blog will remember that I had unlocked some precious memories some months back. There was one person who was an integral part of those memories and that person was the late director of photography Kamal Bose. As soon as you are born some people automatically become a part of your life for instance, your parents, grandparents, siblings and so on. For me along with my parents and sibling, Kamal Bose became a part of my life as soon as I was born. He was the paternal uncle I never had. My parents and he shared a wonderful bond almost as if he were a blood relative.

Like I mentioned in my last post there were a few film personalities I wanted to interview, Kamal Bose was one of them. He was one of the leading cinematographers of the industry. He had won five Filmfare Awards - Bandini (1963), Anokhi Raat (1969), Khamoshi (1970), Dastak (1971) and Dharmatama (1975).

Kamal Bose wanted to be a fine artist but for some reason he was unable to pursue it, seeing his disappointment, his older brother got him a job as assistant art director at New Theatres. Here his interest in photography was aroused by a still photographer. Bose watched him closely and learnt all about the technical aspects of photography from him. One thing led to another and Bose switched departments and he became an assistant to Sudhin Majumdar who along with Bimal Roy was one of the leading cinematographers of New Theatres.  Majumdar took a liking for him and allowed him to operate the camera, which was surprising as in those days cinematographers jealously guarded the camera and did not allow their assistants to touch the camera. It was Bimal Roy who gave him his first break as independent cameraman. He did quite a number of films with Roy at New Theatres. Roy later came to Bombay and sent for Bose in the year 1951.

Screen, December 6, 1991

Excerpts from the interview (this interview was taken in December 1991) in which he takes us behind scenes and narrates some interesting experiences he had while shooting some difficult scenes.

How was it like working with Bimal Roy?

I spent some of the best moments of my life at Bimal Roy Productions. Bimalda was a great visualizer. Since Bimalda was himself an ace cinematographer and a master technician, I was able to acquire a wealth of technical knowledge from him. He taught me how the quality of a scene could be enhanced with the effective use of light and shade. From Bimalda I also learnt the importance of maintaining the source of light. He was a meticulous filmmaker. For instance he was very fastidious about the time of shooting a scene. He would insist on shooting a night time scene at night and an early morning sequence early in the morning. He would do this even if it meant returning to the location again the following day early in the morning, so as not to mar the continuity in the highlights. Today the filmmakers are so hard pressed for time that very few of them bother about such details.

Balraj Sahani and Master Rattan walking on he Howrah Bridge in 'Do Bigha Zameen'
Bimalda placed a great deal of importance on realism. ‘Do Bigha Zameen’ is an excellent example of this realism. An interesting incident took place during the making of this film. Bimalda wanted some realistic shots while we were shooting in Calcutta. For one particular scene Balraj Sahani and Master Rattan were required to alight from a tram. Both Bimalda and I were seated, some distance away, in a jeep. With the camera being camouflaged, no one was aware that a shooting was in progress. As Balraj Sahani alighted from the tram, he fell down on the ground. Dressed as a villager, Balraj Sahani was unrecognizable. A bystander, thinking him to be a villager, remonstrated with him saying, “You villagers watch out, don’t you know how to alight from a tram? You could have been hit by an oncoming car.”

Besides the late Bimal Roy you have been particularly close to Asit Sen and Feroz Khan. Could you say something about these two directors?

Bimalda and Asit Sen belonged to the same school of filmmaking. Like Bimalda, Asit Sen too was a talented cameraman and visualizer. He had a unique way of taking his shots He would take low-angle shots so as to lend dynamism and power to a character. He was able to create some interesting and dramatic moments on the screen, with the help of some rather interesting camera movements. 

At left is a typical low angle Asit Sen shot from 'Annadaata', Kamal Bose was the film's director of 

Feroz Khan is quite a dynamic director; I was able to widen my horizons with him. He is rather westernized; his perception of a scene is quite interesting.
The beautiful landscape of Afghanistan in 'Dharmatma' captured by Kamal Bose's lens.
Dharmatma (Feroz Khan - Hema Malini - Rekha) was one of your most significant films. The Bushkashi sequence for instance is one of the most brilliantly shot scenes in the film. Would you say something about it?

This scene was quite a thrilling and exciting scene and I had to take considerable risks to shoot it. Bushkashi is a sport peculiar to the Afghan tribes. They try to grab a sheep while riding a horse. The horse riders try to snatch the sheep from one another. The horses move at great speed often rubbing against each other. In order to take some realistic shots, I stood with a camera held in my hands, right in the middle of the speeding horses while Feroz Khan held me from behind to keep me steady.
(This scene is quite a long one but I have tube chopped a portion of this scene, here is link to it. Watching it you will get an idea of the risks involved in shooting such a scene)

Who are the other noteworthy directors you have worked with?  

Well, I worked with the late Ramu Kariat in the Malayalam film '7 Nights'; with the late Sukhdev in 'My Love' (Shashi Kapoor - Sharmila Tagore) which incidentally was my first colour film; with the late Rajinder Singh Bedi in 'Dastak',  Salil Chowdhury in 'Pinjre Ke Panchi', late Hiren Nag in 'Aakhri Mujra' and with Hrishikesh Mukherjee in 'Musafir'. While working in 'Musafir' I had the unique experience of shooting the entire film with artificial lights. I was a little apprehensive at first, but Hrishikesh insisted and I later on found that it did have quite a wonderful effect.

You have been abroad a few times and you also had the opportunity to work with the technicians over there. How would you compare the situation here to that in the west?

The Indian cinematographer or technician is in no way inferior to them. They have access to some of the world’s most sophisticated equipment. Here I would like to mention an incident that took place while I was shooting in Germany for 'Apradh'.

We were shooting a motor car racing scene. In order to get some authentic shots, I sat with the camera held in my hands in a racing car. There was just the driver and myself in the car. The car was moving at tremendous speed, at about 200 mph. At that speed, with the wind blowing in my face, it was extremely difficult for me to hold on to the camera. The camera would sometimes bang on my forehead and sometimes onto my cheeks. I began to feel quite ill after I had taken some shots, my voice too had begun to choke. Later I learnt from the technicians, who were working with us over there, that for shooting such a scene they fix a 16mm camera in the car so that, they are able to film all that they want without the cameraman himself having to sit in the car.

Would you say cinematographers in India need to be more versatile?

(Laughs) Well. You could say that. Abroad they have various cameramen specializing in various aspects of cinematography. For instance, they have stunt photographers for shooting scenes that involve stunts. Here in India we have to shoot everything ourselves.

Did you at any time regret that you were not able to be a fine artist, as a young boy you wanted to paint pictures?

No, certainly not. I still consider myself an artist for instead of a canvas, I paint pictures on celluloid, my medium being not the brush and paints but lights and camera.

As a cinematographer which film or films do you consider most satisfying?

Bimalda’s 'Sujata' and 'Bandini'. These films were truly artistic and as a cinematographer I found satisfaction in every frame.

Personally I am not surprised that Bose mentioned his award winning film 'Bandini' as one of his favourite films, after all this was the film which had that timeless scene where Kalyani (Nutan) commits murder in a fit of rage. This scene is a rare combination of good direction, acting and excellent cinematography. Here is  link to that scene. I had discussed this scene at length here.

Kamal Bose passed away three years after I took this interview in 1994. He was active right till the end and his passion for his profession even at that age was admirable. One of the films that he was working on at the time of his death was Dilip Kumar's maiden directorial venture 'Kalinga'. Unfortunately this film never saw the light of day, it remained incomplete.

In my last post I had mentioned that members of the film units are often requested by the director to do bit roles, Kamal Bose also appeared in a scene in Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen. It is the scene where Balraj Sahani and Master Rattan are moving around in Calcutta, when Rattan notices a man wearing a shirt with a newspaper printed on it, he is absolutely amused, this man is none other than Kamal Bose – a very young Kamal Bose.

(Left to Right) Balraj Sahani, Master Rattan and Kamal Bose in 'Do Bigha Zameen'
Most aspiring models and actors get their portfolios done by well-established photographers. I must be the only one who had a portfolio done by a very respected cinematographer. The difference between me and aspiring models and actors was that I was an aspiring nobody, just a two year old blissfully unaware that she was being photographed. It so happened that I had  this unruly curly hair, actually it would be wrong to use the past tense, my hair is still unruly and curly. Once I completed two years my parents decided that it was time for my hair to be shaved off as is the custom,  Uncle Bose was not too enthusiastic about it, in fact his wife felt that my parents could ignore the custom they both loved my curly hair. Seeing that my parents were going to do it anyway, he landed at our home armed with his camera and decided to shoot pictures.

 He allowed me to play around while he shot the pictures.  You can understand, I guess, why I call this bunch of photographs my 'portfolio'. He later came back to shoot some pictures after I had gone bald.  Although I have no memory of that day, thanks to these photographs this is a sweet memory I shall always carry with me.

Kamal Bose’s autograph was quite interesting. Whenever he went abroad on outdoor shoots, he always returned with some gift, once I requested him to autograph the gift. This is his autograph, the letter K is in the shape of a camera.

It was gifted to me way back in 1978. The years have taken its toll on the box in which the gift was kept, that is why you see those tell-a-tale signs of aging around the autograph.

 I still have plenty of memorabilia that I would like to put up on this blog. However sifting through them is quite a time consuming task, therefore I have decided to take a leaf out of the books of  fellow bloggers Dustedoff and Anu Warrier who on and off post beautiful songs based on some theme or the other. I thought why don’t I do the same, after all there are a number of songs from my father’s films that shrike a chord in my heart. So inspired by my fellow bloggers I will post some of my favourite songs from my father’s films (my father may or may not feature in these songs) in my next post.


  1. Oh, Shilpi. What an absolutely delightful post! I loved those little bits of trivia (especially that one about what the passerby said to Balraj Sahni), and though I've never seen Dharmatma, that clip has convinced me I should watch it sometime. It was fantastic - those shots from below actually gave me gooseflesh. Superb.

    And you were such an adorable little girl! That portfolio is a treasure. :-)

    Looking forward to the songs post! (My mind is already racing, trying to think of the songs I would put in a list from your father's films). Let's see how many of my favourites turn out to be yours too. There's one in particular, which is actually sung to your father, which I like a lot...

    1. Thank you very much Madhu for this wonderful response, yes you are right these little bits of trivia really make us take a second or a closer look at a film. As for me being adorable, I guess all babies are adorable, at that age kids are so innocent.

    2. Oh yes, let's see how many of your favourite songs match mine.

  2. Echoing dustedoff here - what a treasure, Shilpi. Those shots of Bose's autograph, your 'portfolio' - delightful! I'm so glad you decided to continue posting!

    Looking forward to the songs, and of course, when you find the time, more memorabilia. It's like sneaking a peek into a long-forgotten world - you have no idea how thrilling it is! Thank you!

    @dustedoff - yes, do watch Dharmatma. It was Feroze Khan's ode to The Godfather; he plays Michael Corleone. Very stylish, very technical, exactly like Mr Khan himself.

    1. Thank you very much Anu for those words of encouragement, you and Madhu really make my day, guess what? Thanks to this response from both of you my head is already buzzing with some more ideas.

  3. "my head is already buzzing with some more ideas."

    Lovely! My heart had sunk when you'd mentioned that you were coming to the end of this series of posts.

    1. Thanks a million Madhu for this wonderful response, actually I have become emotionally attached to this blog, so I guess I am finding it difficult to let go. Now thanks to your response I have a good reason to continue.

  4. Absolutely delightful!
    It was such a delight to see your portfolio. My fav foto amon gall the fotos on your blog. I'd heard about Kamal Bose but never knew more than his name. Now I know the person behind the scenes of my fav films like Bandini. Thank you!

    1. Those days the media was not as active as today, so people behind the cameras went unnoticed, that was the reason why I decided to interview Kamal Bose and also to post it here.