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Between The Steps

The 23rd anniversary of Sarfarosh – the critically-acclaimed film by John Mathew Mathan – brings back memories of my shoot with the brilliant director

John Mathew Mathan

As a young photographer, I worked with editorial teams at lifestyle magazines. One of my initial assignments with Society magazine was a portrait shoot of John Mathew Mathan, the director of a critically-acclaimed film, Sarfarosh. The film was an instant hit not only for the acting chops of the star cast – Aamir Khan, Sonali Bendre, Naseeruddin Shah – but also its offbeat subject and its brilliant direction.

I had watched the film and was quite impressed with the way it was shot. I went to the director’s house not knowing what to expect. He didn’t have much time; that was as much as I was told.

I strolled around the house looking for interesting spots to frame my pictures. The house was full of artefacts, a part of his art collection. I carefully placed my lights and equipment in some blocks that could incorporate these beauties. We shot around the house using such compositions.

Those were the days of film photography – before digital photography made shooting easier for us all. We would have a tight budget for most of our assignments. The restriction on this one was that I could expose only one film role – that’s just 36 frames.

Within an hour into the shoot, I had exposed almost the entire film roll, even though I was selective with my shots. It was almost the end of our scheduled appointment. I had only two frames left.

The house had a beautiful staircase. The director was resting on it between shots. I shifted one of my lights below the staircase so that the light beams would spill through the gaps between the steps. I could see that his eyes suddenly lit up; he had understood the composition and liked it even before I took my last two shots.

Back at the magazine office, we all loved these two shots best. One of the shots was chosen by the magazine editor for the article and received a lot of encouraging feedback. I later heard from the writer that the director had loved it too.

The article printed in Society magazine in the late nineties


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