Cinematographer Modhura Palit talks about breaking stereotypes ahead of International Women’s Day
Known for films like Kacher Manush, Kishmish, Dilkhush and Amar Colony, Modhura won the Special Encouragement Award for promising cinematographer at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival
Winner of the prestigious Pierre Angenieux ExcelLens Award, city girl Modhura Palit talks about breaking glass ceilings in the male dominated world of cinematography ahead of International Women’s Day. Born to art photographers, Modhura’s inner aesthete was nurtured from a young age as she grew up amidst the magic visuals. Even though her stars were aligned for her to end up in the media industry, it was only after college that she zeroed in on cinematography as a profession and realised this is what she wants to pursue for a lifetime. She recently participated at the Berlinale Talents 2023. Excerpts from the chat:
Was it challenging to venture into the male dominated world of cinematography? Were there any preconceived notions that you had to overcome?
A tall and sturdy man lifting a heavy camera and running around the sets is usually what pops up in our mind when we imagine a cinematographer. For decades, a woman’s role in the film making process has been confined to a heroine who only adds glamour to the 70 mm screen. My personal hurdles are only a speck in this stereotyped universe. Initially many apprehended whether I will be able to lift the camera and there have been times when I have been mistaken as the costume designer. Even though I am used to and prepared for all the stereotypes and gender biases by now, I do get disappointed sometimes. I didn’t have too many known faces around me when I joined the industry and it has been a self-built journey. It took a lot of stereotype breaking, lots of conviction and hard work to find my ground. I realised that the only thing that will carry me forward is my craft alone. It was a very difficult ice wall to break through, since most didn't know me and then they had serious reservations about a petite female cinematographer. It was all about proving me, one project at a time and letting my work speak beyond my gender. The only thing I strictly believe can take you forward is good work.
What are some major learnings that you would like to carry with you forever?
Nothing else matters if your work is good. The quality of your work is your best and only weapon. If the craft is honest and unique, other factors like age, gender and experience become insignificant.
Which genre of cinema do you watch in your leisure time? Who’s your cinematographic inspiration?
I watch all kinds of films, except horror. I love thriller films so I watch that a lot. However, I am open to watch anything that excites me or makes me feel at ease.. My favourite cinematographers are Subrata Mitra, Christopher Doyle, Roger Deakins.
What does Modhura do when she is not working?
When I'm not working, I'm extremely lazy. You will either find me sleeping or reading a book or watching a film. It is like I'm on an energy reserve mode, or one may call it hibernation.
What is your dream collaboration?
I'd love to work with Vishal Bharadwaj or Sriram Raghavan one day!
Is there any other form of art that attracts you?
I love painting and I'm a trained Bharatnatyam dancer.
How would you describe your cinematography style?
My style is that there is no style. I adhere to visuals that are adapted according to the story, for the story. Since each narrative, each story is different from the other, I approach it differently as well.
You are an inspiration to many young cinematographers. Your words for them?
Get as much knowledge as possible about the camera and the movie-making process. Usually, the notion is that if you take good pictures, you can become a DOP which is not true since a DOP’s work is beyond lifting the camera. They replicate the lens of the film hence cinematography needs to be taken seriously. Study it as you would have if it was to be a doctor or an engineer. As for women who are hesitant or skeptical of getting behind the camera, be brave and treat each obstacle as a learning point. Do not wait for any favours and fight your battle with confidence. Be focused on your goal and let your craft speak.