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An interview with Sanjay Kapoor, Cinematographer of Mirzapur Series

Mizrapur shot on Cooke s7/i
By: The Cooke Team  |   2 min de lecture

We’re in conversation with Sanjay Kapoor, a seasoned cinematographer with a career spanning over 20 years. Sanjay has worked on various films, including Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya, and Badmaash Company, showcasing his expertise in cinematography. His portfolio also includes short films, TV commercials, and international projects like The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb and The Bourne Supremacy. Notably, his work on the web series Mirzapur and Inside Edge has received critical acclaim. Sanjay has also ventured into film production, producing One by Two in 2014. We’ll explore his journey, inspirations, and experiences working on Mirzapur series in our conversation.

Welcome, Sanjay Kapoor.

Q: Sanjay, congratulations on the tremendous response to Mirzapur 3’s trailer! The visuals are quite striking and different from the previous seasons. What inspired this change in style?

Sanjay Kapoor: Thank you! The change in visual style was a conscious decision. Each season of Mirzapur reflects the journey of the characters and the evolution of their environment. In Season 1, we introduced characters who were violent, dark, and unpredictable. By Season 2, these characters had calmed down a bit, with a growing thirst for revenge. Now, in Season 3, they’ve matured significantly, becoming more cerebral and organized in their actions and their pursuit of revenge.

Q. Can you walk us through how you achieved this visual evolution across the seasons?

Sanjay Kapoor: Certainly. For Season 1, we wanted to convey a sense of intense heat and pressure, so I used overexposure to make the visuals feel hotter. The highlights were allowed to blow out to emphasise the oppressive heat and harsh conditions. We used no eye light on any of the characters – we didn’t know any of them and wanted to accentuate a sense of how much of them was hidden. Moving into the second season, the frames became more static and organised, with cooler hues and darker tones to reflect the characters’ more strategic pursuit of revenge. By the third upcoming season, you will see a reflective quality in the light and composition to emphasise the individualistic introspection of the characters. We introduced more fill light to create a more traditional look, reflecting the evolving story and character dynamics.

Mizrapur shot on Cooke s7/i
Mizrapur shot on Cooke s7/i

Q. The intimacy of the camera work in Mirzapur is quite notable. What was your approach to achieving this?

Sanjay Kapoor: It was important to have an emotional proximity to the characters and their worlds so we used a lot of wide lenses up close with really minimal depth of field – hopefully the experience is immersive and we succeeded in freeing the audience to make their own choices about which of the characters they wanted to invest in.

Q. What challenges did you face with this intimate approach, especially considering the diverse locations?

Sanjay Kapoor: The locations posed a significant challenge. The characters’ living spaces are designed to be dimly lit, reflecting their dark and cool interiors, while the exteriors are exposed to harsh, burning heat. This contrast required a nuanced lighting approach. Our Production Design team incorporated a lot of lighting choices into their designs, which was a great blessing for us. We used the idea of these contrasting environments as a central theme, balancing the intensity of the outside heat with the cool, dark interiors to maintain visual consistency.

Q. You mentioned using distinct colour palettes and tonal ranges for different characters and spaces. Can you explain this process?

Sanjay Kapoor: The camera is supposed to tell the story without anyone noticing it. Each character and their space, for instance, had a unique colour palette and tonal range. This differentiation was essential to highlight their individual personalities and living styles. For instance, a character’s home might have cooler tones to reflect their calm and calculated nature, while another’s might have warmer tones to reflect their fiery personality. These visual cues help the audience to distinguish between characters and feel their motivations and emotions more deeply.

Q. What can you tell us about the technical aspects, like cameras and lenses used?

Sanjay Kapoor: We’ve used RED cameras throughout all three seasons, moving from the RED Weapon to the RED Monstro. I’ve always loved the Cooke S4/i lenses for their soft hues and beautiful bokeh, particularly with the Super 35mm format. The S4/i lenses are renowned for their ability to render skin tones naturally and their gentle fall-off into bokeh, which creates a pleasing, cinematic feel. Transitioning to the Cooke S7/i lenses for season 3 felt like moving to a bigger version of the S4/i. The S7/i lenses maintain similar characteristics but are designed for full-frame coverage, which offers a wider field of view and shallower depth of field, enhancing the cinematic quality. The S7/i’s also retain the signature Cooke look with warmth and gentle contrast, but with the added benefits of modern optics and larger image circles. The 5/i lenses, on the other hand, offer a warmer and more contrasting look, which is distinct from the softer S4/i and S7/i. Shooting with Cooke lenses for over a decade has allowed me to maintain a consistent visual language while also exploring new creative possibilities.

Q. How did the director’s meticulous approach influence your work on Mirzapur?

Sanjay Kapoor: The director’s meticulous approach was crucial. Our collaboration ensured that the visual storytelling matched the depth and complexity of the narrative. His attention to detail and clear vision for the series allowed us to push the boundaries of what we could achieve visually. This partnership was instrumental in creating a cohesive and compelling visual experience.

Q. Can you describe the project or the synopsis behind the series Mirzapur?

Sanjay Kapoor: Sure, it’s a bit complex, but I’ll try. In simple terms, Mirzapur portrays an underdog’s battle against established power, driven by a desire to ascend within that very structure. This struggle unfolds into a personal vendetta. Some may perceive Mirzapur’s USP, as Guddu says, as violence. This violence is contextualised within Indian society. The narrative explores the tension between aspirations for wealth, power, and integrity versus the pursuit of justice, often overshadowed by challenges to authority. As characters embark on their journeys, their original dreams are often overridden by circumstances – whether aspiring to inherit a crime empire, becoming a police officer, politician, teacher, or simply young individuals coerced into decisive choices.

By the climax of Season 1, the protagonist’s family suffers tragic losses, intensifying the power struggle into a deeply personal conflict. The series delves into themes of power dynamics, caste disparities, and gender roles in India, culminating in an explosive battle for dominance.

Mizrapur shot on Cooke s7/i
Mizrapur shot on Cooke s7/i

Q. When you got the job, was Season 2 already planned or scripted?

Sanjay Kapoor: Season 2 was confirmed but not yet scripted when we started. Season 1 was fully written and ready to go. As we were shooting Season 1, the writing for Season 2 began. By the time we finished shooting Season 1, we had a storyline for Season 2 mapped out.

Q. Did you shoot all of Season 1 before starting on Season 2?

Sanjay Kapoor: Yes, we completed all of Season 1 first. The continuity of the visual and scripted story was a priority, and we tried to build a consistent look for the series, although the story and character aspirations evolve.

Q. How does the timeline progress across the seasons?

Sanjay Kapoor: The timeline progresses naturally. Between Seasons 1 and 2, there’s a gap of a couple of weeks. The same goes for the gap between Seasons 2 and 3. It’s very linear in that sense. For example, Season 2 starts just a couple of weeks after the end of Season 1, and Season 3 begins with the aftermath of the events at the end of Season 2.

Q. So there isn’t much time passing between seasons?

Sanjay Kapoor: Exactly. There’s very little time passing between the seasons. We are blessed with superhuman actors that don’t age, so there was never any need for help in maintaining continuity through the seasons. We’ve always ended up shooting in the summer, which is tough due to the heat, especially in central India.

Q. What’s an average shooting day like under those conditions?

Sanjay Kapoor: We stick to 12-hour days. Despite the challenging conditions, we’ve been lucky to maintain this schedule. Some productions in India can have longer and more unpredictable schedules, but our continuity and familiarity with the crew helped us stay structured.

Q. Do you have the same director for all episodes or do they change per episode?

Sanjay Kapoor: The principal director has been the same for all seasons, with second unit directors changing. This consistency with the lead director and all heads of department including Production Design, Costume, Sound, Hair Makeup and Prosthetics, Editors has really helped us maintain continuity and quality.

Q. How has this continuity impacted your production?

Sanjay Kapoor: It has made things much easier. Knowing everyone’s strengths and having a familiar team has been fantastic. It’s quite unique in the industry to have the opportunity to collaborate with the same people over several years, and it has certainly contributed to the series’ success.

Q. With the trailer receiving such a positive response, what are your expectations for the full season’s streaming debut?

Sanjay Kapoor: The response to the trailer has been incredibly encouraging. We are all eagerly anticipating the audience’s reaction when the full season streams from July 5. I believe the viewers will appreciate the evolution in both the narrative and the visuals. We’ve put a lot of effort into making this season engaging and visually stunning, and I hope the audience enjoys it as much as we enjoyed creating it.

Thank you, Sanjay, for sharing these fascinating insights. We look forward to the premiere of Mirzapur 3.

Sanjay Kapoor: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure talking with you.


Article Drafted by

CJ Rajkumar