If you have learnt your craft well then the best thing that can happen to you is that you get a chance to express yourself with this new craft. Cosmic Sex gave me that opportunity.

After an eye surgery I had spent some time teaching Cinematography. Before that I had spent a good fifteen years shooting all kinds of films. As often happens, you may become habituated to certain ways of working. Your expression gets defined and you may get stuck in some methods which have worked well for you in the past. One often hears the phrase “let’s get back to basics”. The teaching stint helped me to revisit the fundamentals of my craft.

The basics of Cinematography are in a sense Framing, Lighting and Lensing. A Cinematographer works with visual content. This is different from the story of the film. Visual content means the whole gamut of images the Screenplay of a film offers. Like a novelist finds language and words for his content, we cinematographersfind a visual language for these images. In a sense the visual language is more direct than text because anybody can see,feel and understand it. That way it is larger and deeper than text. But it may seem less precise, so often people resort to obvious imagery to establish meaning.

The Cosmic Sex Screenplay presented the human body in its boldest form - the bare bodyin the very physical and sexual act of seeking the ultimate reality!

The physicality of the image had to be respected. But the depiction of the sexual act had to lead the emotion from being sensual and exciting to being spiritual and ethereal.

The director had already hit the boldest visual stroke by deciding a central composition for the whole film. This matches the Indian aesthetic and penetrates deep unconscious imagery. The sexual act comes from the centre of the body. The two bodies move to converge in an explosive climax. The orgasm is the outward bursting of the most central physical pleasure.

All religious and mythological imagery also rests on the gathering of concentration on the centre.It could be inside on the heart or outside on an altar or a deity. Dehotathya (Body Practice) seeks toturn the route of outward orgasm into inward unionwith the Higher Self- the ultimate formless reality.

The central framing solved the issue of choice of subject placement, but then it threw up other questions. What do you do with the background? We went for acertain simplicity in this regard; we avoided clutter and balanced the frame with simple shapes like a horizontal line of the river. Indoors we avoided clutter and used plain textured walls.

Now lensing is a key concept in establishing a point of view for seeing the image. It is a more subtle thing than composition. It is supposed to define perspective. But more importantly it defines the position of the viewer from where he is seeing the main subject in a frame. It is the distance of the camera from the actor which is the more crucial aspect of lensing.From this arises an attitude of seeing the human BODY. Too far a position gives a voyeuristic view and a wide angle closer view of the body can give proximity to the viewer which may be unnerving. My aim was to give a dignity to the actors. They were vulnerable and as naked as naked could be! We saw them from lenses just wider than normal. This made them just a bit monumental rather than realistic and neutral. It made them strong but not disproportionate or distorted.

This lensing with a central composition in my view enhances the viewer’s own dignity and prevents any pornographic association with the image! For some people used to pornographic imagery this may cause a conflict or discomfort. But for more conscious viewers it may be liberating!

The outdoor framing of landscapes was with wider lenses to give an all encompassing view, a feeling of being surrounded with infinite space. The land and the river meeting the sky form an endless extension of Nature - the cradle for human beings to play out their dramas of life. Here they could be really small in the endless natural surrounding. I really enjoyed putting the camera at the right distance in a central composition. The usual off-centre framing seeks to keep your eye on the picture. An image with a strong Centre seeks to penetrate the obvious picture space into a deeper mind zone. It makes you enter rather than leave you as an observer.I kept thinking of the painter Raza who has spent a lifetime painting the ‘Bindu’.

Shooting on Super 16: Before I discuss the lighting I must talk of this beautiful format which is dying. Because we were shooting on celluloid Super 16, there was an inherent abstraction in the image. The bigger grain mixes with the light in delicate and textured patterns yielding a very organic image. This suited the nude bodies. 35mm would perhaps have made the bodies too glamorous and digital may have taken away the physical quality of the image. The grain in 16 is invisible but not absent - it isalive,pulsating and breathing!This provided me an emotional equivalenceto skin and bodies. In a temporal sense we are a host of pulsating rhythms - arising, peaking and disintegrating! That is the reality of our cellular structures. We are the random physical form, living and dying every moment!

In both spatial and temporal sense the celluloid origin helped me come closer to the ‘image truth’ of this film. On film too the grain of each frame rises and collapses giving the illusion of a continuum. It is never repeated!

I must admit the choice of shooting on 16mm arose from a budgetary need. But I am so thankful for this forced choice! We also shot some parts on Canon 5D where permissions were an issue. Here I raised the film speed to get some noise happening in the image.

At the heart of the lighting of this film is the concept of contrast. From contrast arises the conflict between the dark and bright energies. The various degrees of contrast are generallyexpressed in ratios. For years I was resistant to the concept of ratios. I was a bit arrogant as a student in disregarding them as being ‘old time’. In my teaching stint I kind of suddenly rediscovered ratios as the simplest means for expressing with light and shade. In fact cinematographer Subrata Mitra the ultimate craftsman, mastered ‘Lighting Ratios’ in the most remarkable manner. I feel highly indebted to him for dwelling on all Cinematographic essentials at the highest level of the craft. And doing so even when filmmaking technology was at a very basic level in our country.

How much of the shadow and the background is seen? A Lighting Ratio of 1:16 and 1: 8 are both seen as favouring darkness, but if maintained consistently they may express vastly different feelings.

Because the Director had a shot breakdown and he really appreciated lighting I could giv e adequate attention to this part of filmmaking. In fact Amitabh encouraged me to interpret the light as I wanted. You cannot explore lighting with your Director being‘not interested’ in it.

I don’t per say believe in ‘realism’ for lighting. For me lighting in most films has to ideally approach an experientialzone which finds a direct equivalence to the emotional content of the scene. This could be done both by realistic or by abstract approaches to lighting. The latter is more challenging.

I must admit the choice of shooting on 16mm arose from a budgetary need. But I am so thankful for this forced choice! We also shot some parts on Canon 5D where permissions were an issue. Here I raised the film speed to get some noise happening in the image.

At the heart of the lighting of this film is the concept of contrast. From contrast arises the conflict between the dark and bright energies. The various degrees of contrast are generallyexpressed in ratios. For years I was resistant to the concept of ratios. I was a bit arrogant as a student in disregarding them as being ‘old time’.

In my teaching stint I kind of suddenly rediscovered ratios as the simplest means for expressing with light and shade. In fact cinematographer Subrata Mitra the ultimate craftsman, mastered ‘Lighting Ratios’ in the most remarkable manner. I feel highly indebted to him for dwelling on all Cinematographic essentials at the highest level of the craft. And doing so even when filmmaking technology was at a very basic level in our country.

He was the father of organized realistic Cinematography and we all stand on his shoulders in a sense. Ratios and the tonal zone system were cornerstones of his work.