Kolkata-based cinematographer Modhura Palit grabbed spotlight recently by becoming the first Indian to receive Angenieux Encouragement Award at the Cannes Film Festival 2019. This prestigious award is conferred to young and upcoming film school graduates.
Modhura is the recipient of the Angenieux Encouragement Award, becoming the first Indian — and first Indian woman — to be recognised in this category.
The 28-year-old alumna of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, and Asian Film Academy (AFA) has three feature films and numerous short films, documentaries, and ad films in different languages to her credit, and is a member of the Eastern Indian Cinematographers Association (EICA). One of Modhura’s films, Paper Boy was shot in black and white and another, titled The Girl Across The Stream was a part of the 2015 Looking China Youth Film Project. She has worked on one of India’s first virtual reality films, has also made a 15-minute-long Korean film, titled Meet Sohee, in collaboration with the AFA fellows. In this interview with SheThePeople.TV, Palit discusses the changing landscape of cinema, finding international recognition and opportunities for women cinematographers in India.
What personal inspiration led you to become a cinematographer?
I was never interested in studies when I was young and my passion grew towards the creative side. I would paint and art gave me power, always. I never wanted to settle for a serious job, the kind which would eventually bore me to death. I wanted to make a life out of creativity, and getting into the media industry was most exciting for me. My parents are art photographers, so I was brought up amidst conversations about films, cameras, dark rooms and basically every fundamental about art was the way of life in my family. I was initiated into the process very early on.
At St Xavier's, I found my true calling in cinematography; lights and camera became the instruments of my life. The first time I tried professional videography I was hooked. I was elated that the field didn't involve math or any kind of problematic equations. I enrolled myself into the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, and the rest is history.
What were the challenges you needed to overcome before getting such international recognition?
I think I still have a long way to go and was fortunate to be recognized by Cannes. However, initially at the job, the main obstacle I had faced was trying to convince people of my worth. I was passionate about cinematography and that's not a convenient career choice for many people in the country. I had to make them understand that I have enough zeal to showcase. The idea of a woman becoming cinematographer is not very popular in society. They don't trust you'd actually go through it since you are a woman.
How does it feel to be the first Indian to receive the Angenieux award at Cannes?
It feels really great to be the first Indian to get this award. It's scary and overwhelming simultaneously because suddenly you stand with responsibility and have added a first before your name. I hope this achievement will somehow inspire the young who aspire to get into filmmaking. I want people to get motivated by me, that if I can anybody can make it big. My real triumph will be encouraging young women into believing that nothing is impossible if you put your heart and hard work into it.
Did you face any criticism and discouragement from society for your career choices? If yes, how do you manage to overcome those?
Thankfully, I have never faced any discrimination from society. My parents are always supportive and never did I have any problem with my family. I have been very lucky.
Over the years, how has the landscape of cinema changed for young artists?
I think now is the time for young artists to flourish because even a few years back it was a struggle for newcomers to make themselves heard. Now we have the boon of digital media with overflowing information, entertainment, very handy across the environment. We have high-quality mobiles, YouTube channels, Netflix, so anybody can go about and do the things they like. It is a very dynamic time for young artists to make their presence felt in cinema or otherwise. Newer ideas, newer ways of filmmaking thoughts are coming up and the younger generation has a fresh take on on the whole scenario.
It is just about having the undivided focus on your goals and be determined to achieve those with a fresh viewpoint in a much simpler time.
How did your life change after being recognized internationally?
Life is still the same and better. The big bang change hasn't hit me yet but hoping to get more exciting work, meet more exciting people and doing the dynamic work
How is the cinematography scene in India for women? Why isn’t it popular among women in the country?
Women are never in the spotlight even though the work they are doing is remarkable. The focus should be on the work, not on the gender but still, so many brilliant women filmmakers are sidelined, having not been spoken about much. We are about a hundred women are registered under Indian Women Cinematographer Collective where we discuss our works. In the forum, we notice national level work done by these women but somehow the visibility of this group stays unnoticed by the masses. When a certain section of the society is actively working but that is not celebrated or spoken about in the respective field other aspirant women don't get motivated into following the path. If these girls or women know what a wonderful turf we are on, if they come to know how our work is celebrated there would definitely be a surge in the number. They lack confidence and role models.
Could you briefly tell us about your goals and upcoming films or projects?
I am passionate to do some meaningful, outside the box projects next. I want to explore new places, new people and very much want to do an experiment with this language called cinema.
Right now I am shooting two Bengali films, and after that I'd work on two short films and a few web-series.
What would your message be to young girls who dare to be different and want to go against the societal barriers?
To all those girls who are trying to break through barriers, social norms, I would say more power to you. This is definitely what you are supposed to do, listen to your heart. Being driven by your own ideas and yourself is very important. Society would talk behind your back and they do nothing for you to reach anywhere. So if you are determined to go forward in something you think you are good at never ever hesitate to take it up. The world is out there for you to win. So go, win! Have full confidence and be sure of what you want.
What is it that drives you towards this profession? What does it mean to you?
I truly love my job. Being behind the camera and shooting is addictive to me. I love being on sets, I love shooting and the fact that I fear that the whole industry is so volatile, I am scared of not having my next work. I fear losing the peace of not shooting, or holding a camera. I fear losing the space which drives me to find better work.
Share your strategies and insights before a shoot. What do you think of before going to the film sets?
Before every shoot I talk to the director, trying to understand the perspective and ideas on a broader scale. I try to see their visions, put forth mine. I advise them on the locations where I think a particular scene would come off great. So having a detailed chat with the directors is one of the key points before hitting the set. I pre-plan myself, how I am about to go for the shots, how I want a certain scene or look to be, being sorted in my own head are very important before I walk onto a set. Because on the sets there are many units and the crew waiting for me to give them the direction so I cannot be confused in my own head when I am dealing with so many people.
What do you think India lacks in terms of appreciating niche films? Why is it still undervalued?
India is now appreciating all kind of parallel or niche films throughout the industry. The problem is that it is undervalued because it is not taken up as much as money-making films. Indian films have suddenly become money-minded and we have lost our love for cinema. All films are looked at as to what can give them profit or what can bring the money into the bank. That's not what Indian films were supposed to be. It's the love for cinema that brings this country together. And that has changed. We have lost our souls in the process of money making. This thought is killing lot of ideas and motivations. Niche films are not propagated or helped out by the authorities. They need to be watched in more wider platforms.
Do you face any struggle for sponsors to continue with your passion?
My passion is beyond money as I have made films in the past which had hardly any relation with it. I don't think from the brain that only caters to money, but from the heart and hope the audience should remember me for my amazing work.
Passion is such a strong word which is not synonymous to money. Of course, finance is important but if you are passionate about the work you so you care less about the money.
The balance to be in this industry is to do some films for money and then do the other kind for the love of cinema.
How Indian women can be liberated in this profession? Do women now seek to take it up professionally?
We all need to create awareness to un-gender this profession. Create an atmosphere that knows only hardwork and ideas. This industry is not supposed to be a male-dominated but work-driven space. Women are already liberated but lack the motivation to break-free.