In this series, Film Companion picks movies and shows of the past decade with memorable long take sequences. We get directors to take us through the process of creating these scenes.
Amazon Prime Video's popular gangster drama Mirzapur is full of shoot-outs and violent fight sequences. But none are quite as memorable as episode seven's standout 3-minute long take chase through a building. The scene sees brothers Guddu (Ali Fazal) and Bablu (Vikrant Massey) on the run from a group of armed assailants sent to kill them. The brothers enter a tall building and fight their way to the top. The camera rises up through the centre of the structure, following the action floor by floor, until they eventually make it to the roof and escape.
The show's co-director Gurmmeet Singh spoke to me about conceptualising the ambitious sequence and how they pulled the whole thing off in only 10 hours.
"This scene wasn't planned this way initially. It was earlier going to be like a first-person shooter video game, where you follow the characters through a kind of maze. It's only when we did the tech recce at the location that we decided to do it as a long take and have the parts of the action play out off-screen," he says.
The scene was shot in Mirzapur. It was part of our outdoor schedule which meant we didn't have a lot of time to pull this off. Ideally, you require a lot of prep for this kind of scene and we wanted to storyboard the entire sequence. But budgets were tight and with the kind of cast we have, schedules don't allow you to break away and spend 2-3 days on a single sequence.
The production gave us one prep day where the rigging team could go in and rig the camera equipment. But the schedule wouldn't permit me as a director to go there and choreograph the sequence beforehand because we were shooting other scenes. So all we could do was to prep how we would execute this sequence on paper. We went back and forth with the action director (Manohar Verma) as well as the camera team and figured it out using calls and WhatsApp.
We had all the big moments planned, such as the guy who was going to fall from the second floor, and the fireball at the start of the scene. However, the intricate choreography was unfortunately left till the day. I think the initial bit of figuring out the flow of what will happen on each floor was the toughest part because it needed to be convincing and seamless. Ideally you would do a complete dry run with the actors before you actually shoot, but we only got the actors on that day. We did about 6 hours of rehearsal and then another 4 hours to execute it. We were very lucky that we managed to pull this off.
We were also lucky to have Ali and Vikrant for this. Both are brilliant actors and since we were well into shoot, they knew how their characters would react to the situation and brought that into the sequence. It also helped that they're young, fit actors because they had to run up and down throughout this sequence which was exhausting. But they were very excited and raring to go right through the night.
I think a lot of credit goes to our First AD Pooja Kadam because she devised a system of counts, so the entire shot was on a count from 1 to 120 and everything happened to a beat.
You had 50 to 60 people working on a count and they all had to be perfectly timed in terms of when people appear and disappear and when stunts should come in and all of that stuff. These kinds of sequences become much more of a team effort as compared to other scenes.
Safety was also a big concern for heavy action set-ups like this. In fact, after 3-4 takes, the stuntman who was falling from the second floor onto the mattress said that it was taking a heavy toll on him. So for the last few takes we got a thicker mattress for him and reworked the timing.
The camera has a lot of movements through the shot – starting from the first floor, right up to the top and then coming back down again. Thankfully our producers gave us probably the best crew in India for complicated camera moves and rigging. We had special equipment and crew flown into Mirzapur just for this sequence. We even had the best remote operator Prakash Mohapatra who is a legend as far as jimmy jib operations are concerned.
Since this was an actual location and not a set, there were more restrictions on what the team could do in terms of camera movements. Once the rig was done, we knew the camera could travel up and down. But there was a latency in terms of tilting so we knew that fast movements were not going to be possible and we had to integrate that into the choreography. That's when we came up with the idea of following up the action through each floor rather than arriving at the action happening, which is why we always hear the incident happening off-screen first and then the camera goes to it.
For any fans who want to try and spot it, there is one cut in the shot. There were two separate takes that we liked which we merged together.