Cannes 2019 diary: Kolkata filmmaker Modhura Palit on meeting French cinematographer Bruno Delbonne
THIS YEAR’S CANNES Film Festival made it to social m e d i a t i m e l i n e s f o r a number of reasons. And, if city girl Modhura Palit wasn’t one of those reasons, you might just be hooked onto on the wrong radar. The SRFTI grad won a special encouragement award (namely, Promising Cinematographer) at the Pierre Angénieux Excel-Lens in Cinematography event at this year’s festival, making her the first Indian to be recognized in the category. We caught up with Modhura just a couple of days after her return from the French Riviera, only to find that she has already begun work on her next venture. Modhura tells us that she hasn’t exactly had the time to process it all. “I might still be in a haze! But it was definitely magical. I got the mail two months back I think, and it has been quite crazy,” Modhura reveals. As ecstatic as she was about the recognition, she was also extremely thrilled to be able to catch the Cannes premiere screening of Parasite, the South Korean dark comedy, helmed by Bong Joon-ho, who has also directed acclaimed films like Okja and The Host.
Modhura also tells us that meeting with acclaimed French cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel was a high point of her Cannes sojourn. “I was asked to screen a scene from Ami O Monohor, my first ever project. Post that, Delbonnel actually came up to me and then over dinner, he talked about my shot and analysed it. I remember thinking, ‘Now I can die in peace!’” says Modhura.
The cinematographer has worked on projects including short films, music videos, TV shows, commercials and feature films. Besides Ami O Monohor, which was shot on an A7sii and Iphone, Modhura has worked on some of the most impressive indie projects in recent times, like the 15-minute black-and-white short film Paper Boy by Aniket Mitra, which has already travelled to some of the most esteemed festivals across the country.
The Girl Across the Stream is a Chinese film made by Modhura, which she shot while she was a part of the 2015 Looking China Youth Film Project. Furthermore, her experimental short film Watchmaker is a part of the film studies curriculum at Dhaka University.
“Paper Boy, for instance, was a chal- lenging project for me. Aniket was self- funded, and we shot it over 24 hours. There was hardly anything to work with. Ami O Monohor is a film that is close to my heart, and it was also quite budget-strapped, but we worked around it. As a cinematographer, you have to shoot in a way that doesn’t let the financial constraints of a film show up on screen. Most independent films I’ve worked on had strapped budgets, but we find ways to make them happen,” says Modhura, whose parents were art photographers, and just as familiar with such machinations of the visual medium.
Modhura was studying video production at St Xaviers when she realised this was something she wanted to do for a very long time. Modhura, who is also a part of the Indian Women’s Cinematographers’ Collective, also spoke about how the field of cinematography in India suffers from a gender bias, and female cinematographers are consistently struggling just to make it to the shooting floor. “There are many female DoPs working in the country, and our collective itself has around a 100 members, pan-India. There are some changes happening, but it’s still not exactly easy for women to break through. Even some of the most accomplished senior DoPs seem to be facing some patriarchal obstacles. There have been situations where a male DoP was picked over me, not because he’s better, because the makers were like, ‘No, she’s good, but we’d rather hire the guy. And maybe work with her later,” she explains.