Going by the trailers of Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, it appears as though film-maker and music composer Vishal Bhardwaj has put the debacle of 7 Khoon Maaf (2011) behind him and moved on to sunnier and funnier topics. The 11 January release, whose promotional videos instantly remind us of Serbian serial absurdist Emir Kusturica’s mad-hatter movies, is set in Haryana and follows the adventures of Mandola, a businessman who is named after the village in which he lives, his daughter Bijlee and her lover Matru. “The story is about a capitalist who turns into a socialist when he starts to drink,” says the film’s cinematographer, Kartik Vijay. We have always maintained that alcohol has its uses.
Matru is only Vijay’s fifth film—the 34-year-old cinematographer mostly shoots commercials, but is lured away every now and then by the big screen. Last year, Bhardwaj contacted Vijay, who has shot Taxi Number 9 2 11, Anwar, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Game. Vijay liked the way Matru’s script was written, as well as its rootedness in contemporary issues. “The film says something about life, about what we are going through today,” Vijay says. “I relate to films much more when they have something from life.”
Vijay was especially keen on working with Bhardwaj because he likes his musical compositions. “I come from a family of musicians, and Vishal is an amazing music director,” says Vijay. His father, T.K. Thyagarajan, sings and plays the mridangam and ghatam, while his brother, Harish Thyagarajan, plays the mridangam. “Vishal doesn’t make music for the sake of it, the music communicates something and takes the story forward,” Vijay adds.
The cinematographer says he would drop in on acting workshops being held by Bhardwaj for the cast so he could best gauge the mood and direction of the script. “Vishal likes to leave his actors free, he would work on them before they came on the sets to get them into the environment,” says Vijay. Matru was shot between February and April in Mumbai, Chandigarh and parts of Gujarat. “The story has a realistic approach—I have used natural lighting,” Vijay says. “I didn’t want to overpower the performances.” The camera movements and lighting have a spontaneous quality, he adds. “There are a lot of hand-held shots—here, hand-held is used to convey nervous energy, while in some parts, we walk along with the characters, which gives the impression that the camera is breathing.” Matru has been shot entirely on an Arri Alexa camera in the ArriRaw format—jargon for a data-capture process that delivers images that are higher and richer in resolution and have a lot more detail than the standard high-definition format, he says.
Vijay did a five-year course in commercial art from The Sir JJ Institute of Applied Art, Mumbai, and worked in advertising agencies for three years before going to The Los Angeles Film School in 2002 to learn cinematography. After working in the American city for a year, he returned to India in 2004. By then, the film industry had started worrying much more than before about the quality of the screen image. Vijay came into the profession at a time when greater attention was being paid to cinematography, sound design, production design and editing.
“People are willing to experiment even in big-budget cinema,” Vijay says. “General audiences too are exposed to many more movies now, especially world cinema.”