Friday, November 16, 2007

David Macdonald impressed by Akshaye

He is not the quintessential Englishman; he laughs a lot and is not ‘prim and propah’. But 64-year-old cinematographer David Macdonald, very English otherwise, lives in Brussels to be ‘far away from the madding crowd’ in Londo n, his hometown.

An ad cinematographer for the best part of his life, (his ad on Waterman’s pens was one among the all-time 10 best ads in Europe) he is in the news now as cameraman for Feroze Khan’s “Gandhi, My Father”. He describes the film as ascetic photography. “Except for a few wedding shots where there is a burst of colour, there is utter simplicity,” he says, surprised to know that Gandhi had children. In the West, he says, many people do not know Gandhi, the man for the Mahatma overshadows the man.

Universal theme

Though the movie is about the complex relationship between Gandhi and his son, Harilal, Macdonald says it is a universal theme, as it portrays the problems faced by children of famous parents the world over. Macdonald was greatly impressed by Akshaye Khanna, who plays Harilal Gandhi, and Shefali Shetty, who plays Kasturba.

Making this feature film after many ad films was a change; his portfolio overflows with ad films and documentaries. For someone who made only ad films for four decades, it must have been a challenge to shoot a feature.

The idiom of cinema and that of ad movies are almost like two visual languages. One is like a précis; the other is like a novel. Eye-candy shots and instant recognition formulae dominate an ad movie. Most admen are prone to too many crane shots and emphasise eye-candy shots. “But I did not make that mistake. In a feature film, it will be like living on a diet of syrup,” explains Macdonald.

The use of colours must depend on the theme, he adds. “I am not someone who wants his cinematography to be noticed. In fact if someone says the movie was touching, it means my cinematography was good, it melded with the story,” he remarks, stressing that cinematography must not be seen in isolation.

ith the many experiments in digital cinematography globally, Macdonald is optimistic. “It might be costly now and cumbersome compared to film, but digital cinematography is getting more compact. Like it or not it is coming and it is going to change the face of the industry. People must find ways to combat piracy, the main obstacle now in the digital format,” he says.

Talking about graphics in movies, the cinematographer isn’t averse to the idea. He suggests the cameraman and the graphics person talk more to each other for better results. “Only, it doesn’t happen enough. Graphics must not intrude and it must not be an end in itself,” he comments. He was in Kochi to inaugurate an animation school.

Macdonald has not seen many Indian movies, but is all praise for Ravi K. Chandran. He calls Chandran’s work in “Black” “an astonishing piece of filmmaking”.

The movie industry people here have a very different attitude to work from their European counterparts, Macdonald feels. The set is utter chaos; there’s a lot of physical labour, unlike in the West. “For instance, where we use an electric saw in the West; here, it is done manually. But I must say that the results are the same. The problems always have a solution here; that’s the attitude I like: positive thinking,” he laughs.

Culture shock

Macdonald did get a culture shock when he first arrived in India, he reveals. The Indians he knows in London are, like the English, very sombre and reserved; in Mumbai, the laughter and the fun-loving ambience shocked him. “That was the culture shock,” he jokes.

Unionism in the industry is very important, according to Macdonald, who has been in the European film industry for 40 years. “For people who work freelance, a union membership helps because they are vulnerable to so many factors. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, unionism was strong in the Western cinema industry but not any more.”

He has worked with people like Ridley Scott and Bruce Willis too in the short time that he was associated with feature films.

In Belgium, where he lives, film makers get modest grants from the government and yes, it is recognised as an industry, he says.

David Macdonald vowed to come back again to Kerala to keep his camera busy.

(The Hindu)