Soaring and Submerged


Filming in the Sundarbans is not an easy task as all movement had to be designed keeping in mind the rise and fall of the tide. It was great fun visualizing fantastic ariel shots and seeing them on our storyboards and pre-viz but getting them on film was like opening a can of worms. We spoke to various chopper agencies and their pilots about our requirements. Only one agreed to comply but that would require us to ship down barrels of aviation fuel in advance to an outpost then have the chopper flown from Dhaka to Khulna, refuel then fly down to the outpost in the marsh land, rig our cameras and pray the wind and the mist wouldn't play havoc. The choppers would then return to Dhaka the same day so that would give us limited shooting time. This situation was not workable. We then spoke to Ninad from Zoo Grips in Mumbai. He introduced us to the Helicam team who were on their way back to Helsinki after a shoot for a TVC. The overall combination of the chain of events was god sent. Ville Hyvonen and Kristjan Tiimus were excited and spirited. They were keen to film in the Sundarbans but had never been with a film unit for the duration of time we proposed. Finally the challenge of operating under radical conditions supported by a huge pay cheque clinched the deal.

Generally every man and boy feels confident of operating a remote controlled flying toy. It usually crashes in the first few minutes after take off. Imagine a rig and camera equipment worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars mounted on a large fan with scores of little blades, on a moving boat with a area measured in inches for the rig to take off and land, following another boat with actors half a kilometer away in the middle of the deadliest jungle with a job assignment to track and film close ups of the actors then move into a wide ariel shot to have birds flying in the foreground, which will be generated by Visual Effects. It became another day at the office for Ville and Kristjan. Soon the challenges got bigger; we started shooting some of our talkie scenes with the flying camera. We wanted to let the actors behave more naturally so we would let them steer their boats through the labyrinth of canals and have Helicam film the entire scene in a master shot.Precision, stability and improvisation should be considered as some of the words to add in a sentence to describe the Helicam team. But the icing on the cake would be the one single shot that Michael Watson our DP would really put the Helicam team to test. In the sequence of the "boat attack" we had written a time slice shot where the camera would rotate around a character throwing a knife, as the white tigress is in mid-air on the verge of pouncing on him. It was the money shot of the sequence and there was no way we were ready to drop the shot for any technical reason whatsoever. The pressure was on. The Helicam team rehearsed the movement over some days. They delivered as promised; this shot should be considered as a first ever to be achieved with a single camera. From the production prospective it gave the Helicam team the status of "money well spent".

Technical specifications – Mounted Camera used by Helicam was the Red Epic Mysterium-X. Lenses were Duclos Tokina 11-16mm F2.8, Zeiss 21mm F2.8. Rez – 5K at 96 FPS – R3D raw


Projecting surface action from underwater creates sensational drama. Shots like these were written and boarded well in advance. We knew any kind of underwater shots in the Sundarbans was impossible. So we only filmed the surface shots. Once we wrapped up our schedule in the marshland, we got into some interesting studio shoots in Mumbai. These shoots were set up mainly to accommodate Visual Effects. The underwater sequence being one of them. The sequence portrayed Jhumpa to swim under the tigers in order to escape, while Cheena, a giant of a man struggles underwater to free himself from a fishing mesh. Fortunately for us our DP Michael Watson was also an expert in underwater photography. We called upon the Underwater Film Services to accommodate us. With years of experience behind them in underwater photography they had the patience and aptitude to understand the demands from Visual Effects and a Hollywood cinematographer. Headed by Anees Adenwala, a highly qualified Scuba diver, the gear and housing unit was provided by his company the UFS. Though at the time of shoot there were no housing units available in India to load our Red Epic cameras so this was the only stint where we used 35mm film. We shot on the ARRI 3 using the hydroflex housing. Our location was an Olympic diving pool, as we required the depth to place our cameras. Virendra Singh, our actor had limited skills in swimming and to put it kindly was a little nervous during the shoot, as the sequence demanded his performance underwater. But attached to Underwater Film Services was one of the most qualified Scuba Divers. Denzil Linhares, a course director for Padi and also an emergency first responder instructor & trainer. His presence and support gave Virendra and the rest of the unit the confidence to get the job done. Overall the underwater shoot was the least hectic shoot in the entire film.