COLUMN: LOCATION DIARY
Cinematographer Shamdat talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Sahasam’, ‘Prasthanam’ and ‘Streetlights’
Photos: Shamdat at a location; the poster of 'Streetlights'
By Shevlin Sebastian
In the Telugu action film ‘Sahasam’ (2013), there is a car chase on a mountainous road in Ladakh. One car was supposed to hit a fallen bike and then veer away and fall off the mountainside. “We placed four cameras at different locations,” says cinematographer Shamdat.
Then he placed one camera, 150 feet below so that he could capture the fall of the vehicle. But the director Chandra Sekhar Yeleti told Shamdat it looked a bit risky. “I said that when the vehicle falls it will bounce a bit and come to a stop because there is a hole there,” says Shamdat. “If we get it, we will have a Hollywood type action shot.”
The fight master Stunt Silva told Shamdat that in case something went wrong, he should move to the left and not the right.
So, the car went off the road and, as predicted, fell into the hole. But it unexpectedly bounced because of the momentum. “I immediately moved to the left,” says Shamdat. “And a moment later, the car landed at the place where I was standing. That was how close I was to losing my life.”
In Ladakh, a sequence was planned where a car would come at high speed, skid on a sandy road, the driver would brake hard and the back of the car would come and stop right in front of the camera lens.
The shoot began. “As the car came at high speed, I got scared,” says Shamdat. “To calm down, I focused on the monitor. All the other assistants ran away. The driver braked at the right time and the car stopped right in front of the lens. I was able to capture the sequence.”
Silva went up and hugged Shamdat. “Courage is good but if the driver had made a mistake, you could have lost your life,” said Silva. “The industry will say a few words of condolence and they will forget you. Whenever you want to take any risks, please remember there are some people who are dependent on you at your home. Life is more important than this shot.”
As Silva was talking, Shamdat was reminded of an incident which involved him during the shoot of the Telugu film, ‘Prasthanam’ (2010), at Hyderabad. It was a scene where a crowd ran down a road. Shamdat held a hand-held camera and ran beside them. But suddenly he slipped and fell into a 10 foot deep well by the side of the road. It was filled with broken fluorescent lights, glass and jagged stones. “There were cuts on one part of my face,” he says. “I started bleeding. But as soon as I got up I said, ‘One more take’. In that moment I did not know what had happened to me.”
He was rushed to a nearby hospital. A doctor from Britain was in attendance. “After he took a scan of my face, he said that nature will cure me and there was no need for any surgery,” says Shamdat.
It may have been an erroneous diagnosis. Because, nowadays, when the weather becomes cold, Shamdat suffers from a severe pain in his neck.
In Shandat’s debut directorial venture, ‘Streelights’, it was the turn of actor Vishnu Unnikrishnan to suffer a mishap. On the second day of the shoot, at Mattancherry, Vishnu was supposed to run very fast, then stop suddenly, skid a bit and then move down another road.
Unfortunately, Vishnu ran too fast, and when he stopped he could not prevent his right hand from hitting an electricity post with force. He began crying because of the pain.
On the way to the hospital, Vishnu said, “Shamdat Chetta, this is your first film. More than 200 people are working on the set. Because of me, the shooting has come to a stop.”
Shamdat said, “Don't think about all this now.”
At the hospital, it was discovered that Vishnu had fractured his hand in three places. He immediately said, “Chetta, why don’t you get [actor] Dharmajan [Bolghatty] to replace me?”
Shamdat was undecided about what to do. He showed the sequence of the accident to the film’s star Mammootty, who said, “Just ask Vishnu what we should do and we will do that.”
In the end, Shamdat opted for Dharmajan. As for Vishnu, it took him three months to recover from the accident.
(Published in The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)