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Jay I. Patel discusses cinematography of 'Sam Bahadur', lensed with Cooke Anamorphic/i FF SF and S7/i FF lenses

Header image Sam Bahadur
By: The Cooke Team  |   2 min de lectura

Based on the life of India’s first field marshal, ‘Sam Bahadur’  is a Hindi-language biopic set over five decades. The film visits Sam at various stages of his life as he ascends the ranks of the Indian Army, including his time as Chief Of Army Staff during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. To older generations in India Sam is a well-known figure, but more recently awareness around him is beginning to fade. This film acts as an ode to the man – bringing his service to his country back into the limelight.

Cooke spoke to cinematographer Jay I. Patel about his work on the film, shot on Cooke Anamorphic/i FF Special Flair and S7/i FF lenses, his second collaboration with director Meghna Gulzar.

Having previously worked together on ‘Raazi’ (2018), director Gulzar first approached Patel with the script for ‘Sam Bahadur’ in 2019. From the beginning there was a desire to be as historically accurate as possible and to avoid taking too many creative liberties. Initial prep between the duo was sporadic but meticulous, sharing images and articles in an attempt to get a real sense of the time periods they were going to reference.

Once the film went into full time pre-production, historical research ramped up. With many of the reference images originating on black-and-white film, historical consultants became crucial in helping to interpret shades of grey into accurate military colours to build truthful colour palettes. Much effort was taken also in accurate set design, which included dark wood panelling and period-accurate lighting, which Patel had to take into consideration when it came to finding a style for the film.


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“When you look at these offices there’s a lot of colonial influence obviously and a lot of the structures back in the day had a lot of dark wood. A lot of those interior spaces would not have much electricity, so spaces by themselves would be dark. We had a lot of support from the art department trying to find lamps, although it’s always a struggle to find nice practicals that look good but also serve the purpose of putting out some light.”
This process involved many photo tests and, at a later stage, a mock shoot. A small set was constructed, which would later feature in the film proper, and actors in various costumes were filmed. Patel finds this exercise to be invaluable in determining the look and feel of the film as well as acting as an icebreaker for the cast and crew. Colourist Robert Lang received the live camera feed remotely and begun dialling in the look, culminating in the creation of a show LUT.

These tests were also shot on 35mm 500T 5219 Vision 3 film stock and Patel admits that he’d be lying if he said he didn’t want to shoot the entire project on celluloid. In practice however this would have been tricky to reliably facilitate across the 11 cities that were filmed in and with India’s limited labs and infrequent baths. Instead the production employed an ARRI ALEXA Mini LF, with Patel finding that shooting digitally ended up giving him a slight edge in the DI to push the boundaries. To aid in achieving a simulated celluloid look, Patel and chief camera assistant Aastha Bana took stills throughout the location scouting process on Ektachrome, Gold200 and UltraMax400 (all Kodak stocks), as well as CinesStill800 and Fujichrome Provia 100F Reversal, which he used as references with colourist Rob along with the footage from the tests. In particular he studied the contrast, highlight bloom and greens, and would pick qualities he liked from each stock to build the final look. Simulated grain was also applied to the final output.

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When it came to format, Patel and Gulzar had shot anamorphic previously and the director enjoyed the way that canvas projected, so there was a shared leaning to go in this direction once more. To make sure this choice wasn’t just a theoretical one, the cinematographer shot tests on spherical and anamorphic lenses matching the field of view, to assess the difference in look when it came to backdrops and faces. Off the back of these tests they confirmed anamorphic as the hero format.

This was the first feature the cinematographer shot on Cooke, but he’d previously shot a commercial on the Cooke Anamorphic/i S35 lenses and resonated strongly with the look. “I really liked them; they seem to have a vintage quality in terms of the fall-off but they don’t have the artifacts of an older lens in how it breaks apart. It still holds the image – the place where it’s sharp is sharp, but you can see the sharpness vignettes and that gives it a feel of being a little nostalgic, like the older imagery of anamorphic.”

Opting for large format led to the testing of various lenses which culminated in choosing the Cooke Anamorphic/i FF lenses with the Special Flair coating. Patel found them to be the perfect balance between nostalgia and performance.

“It’s that quality of having a feel reminiscent of older films but still having a sharp image when you end up projecting it on a big screen. There are certain lenses, especially nowadays with the amount we have, that end up looking good on a smaller screen but when you project it and how they hold up on a bigger screen… it’s a much different story.”

Jay I. Patel | Cinematographer

Throughout the film Sam visits his parents’ house, and for these sequences Patel shot spherically on Cooke S7/i FF lenses for an alteration of the look. The aspect ratio remained constant with these images being masked to 2.39:1.

Another part of the cinematographer’s mock test involved shooting each actor on the widest and longest focal length available in a set and matching the field of view by altering the distance of the camera to the camera. Subsequently he shot each cast member on the 32mm and 180mm to see how the face changes on a wide angle versus a telephoto. Sometimes he finds this leads to a preference of lensing certain faces on certain focal lengths, but for this film it lead to a real admiration for the power of a “Spaghetti Western” sized shot on the 180mm.

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“It ended up being that for any scene that we would shoot if there was a moment that we wanted to emphasise we’d go for the 180mm. For dramatic emphasis and vanity! The impact that had with his eyes and the performances that were coming towards the lens was mesmeric.”

The production carried two cameras, sometimes shooting simultaneously in order to keep the energy levels of performances up and make the day. Patel admits to preferring to shoot single camera, especially in locations when the lighting becomes compromised through not being in control of the walls and ceilings.

The strive for realism extended to the lighting style for the interior work. In the 1920s and 30s there wasn’t the option to have large chandeliers in the middle of the rooms that could suggest more ambience and allow for supplementary top light. Patel admits this was a challenge, but one he enjoyed facing. “It was a challenge to show that the light is motivated from these wall fixtures but at the same time still maintain a certain luminance so that it’s not too dark.” As the film reaches the 60s and 70s, post advent of fluorescent lighting, Patel was able to employ more top light, even if they didn’t always show these overhead fixtures. Plus green gel was occasionally used to replicate the fluorescent feel.

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When it came to handling flares, Patel embraced them. The Special Flair coatings he found gave very pleasing results and there was a desire for flares that were reflective of the periods they were depicting.

“It goes to what I would have grown up seeing. I would term it as a reminiscent factor where flares look good to me. Something that’s anamorphic and doesn’t have flare just seems like it a bit too modern in terms of its story.”
On multiple occasions Patel would seek out flares. “We have cars shooting their lights right at the lens and doing all sorts of things which I loved, and there’s intentionally multiple times we’ve had subtle movements, where there would just be a lampshade which would just come to the edge of the frame and graze the lens all the way through with its flare. A veiling curve – I love it when it like subtly just does that, it’s not like a flash it just comes in and I enjoy those kind of artifacts and things to play with so it was fun.”

Patel felt the pressure of lensing a biopic about such a respected figure, but is proud of his results in capturing the truth around Sam Bahadur, finding the experience fed his soul. “When I watch it now, it’s surprising that we ended up pulling this off with what we’ve gone through. The challenges from right away to the film being made; every day and every new city came up with its own challenge, and how the team has collaborated, how my team, all the department heads and everybody has come together to make this feel as seamless as it seems on screen is a tribute to everybody and I’m happy with what we’ve done here.”

‘Sam Bahadur’ was released in cinemas worldwide in December 2023 and is available to stream on the Zee5 platform.

Jay I. Patel recently won best Cinematography for this film at the Zee Cine Awards.