Mumbai Diaries 26/11 DoP Explains The Visual Approach Of The Show

From referencing the colour palette in Shame, to making one floor of the hospital seem like three, here's a photo-story by Kaushal Shah explaining the method behind the madness in the Amazon Prime series based on 26/11.
Mumbai Diaries 26/11  DoP Explains The Visual Approach Of The Show

Mumbai Diaries is a 26/11 story told largely from the vantage point of a hospital and its staff (and partially from a five star hotel, a stand-in for Taj). In the second half of this eight episode series, the action shifts almost completely to the hospital. The cinematographer, Kaushal Shah (Cargo), writes in detail about the anatomy of the hospital space, the lighting strategies and the way they found creative solutions to some of the problems they faced on the set.

For Mumbai Diaries, I was really inspired by how When they see us and Shame had a very hyper realistic feel to space and how the use of colour added to the drama.

Still from Shame
Still from Shame

I felt a bland looking white walled flatly lit hospital wouldn't be right for this narrative.

I proposed a more stylised yet real feel to the space contrary to matching how the existing ones are, along with the amazing Priya Suhas, the production designer, who had so many more lovely ideas to add to this thought.

We arrived at a hospital with a very corridor oriented design where every room opens into another. The directors Nikkhil Advani and Nikhil Gonsalves were clear from the get go that visually the series had to flow with the characters. The camera had to move fluidly from one place to another. And so the cinematography had to always reciprocate with the beats of the scene and what the character was thinking and feeling.

A lot of scenes happened while characters were on the go, and thus the space (the hospital) had to be designed in a way that the camera moves from one space to another and doesn't break the momentum of the scene. Hence a lot of scenes sometimes were blocked as longer takes.

I was really inspired by this one image, sourced from a metro train station in Japan.

That decided the feel of the hospital space–long corridors, lit by tubes, with a very 'maze' oriented treatment to it.

Also, 26/11 has a strong recall value in the minds of so many people. Imagery wise it needed a sense of sophistication to really create the intensity the show needed. Mumbai had evolved, and changed to a very LED oriented street light space.

We had to change the street lamps to how they actually were when the incident happened (Sodium vapour).

Amber, as a colour is a visual cue from a lot of footage/news footage which came from these lamps. For the look of exterior Mumbai, we stuck to that feel. I wanted the audience to be in those moments. As real as it could feel.

Inside the hospital and in 'Palace hotel', the hotel in the series, there was a very interesting shift in the later half of the show when all the lights have to be turned off in the hospital. It's a tricky situation when it comes to executing long three-four episodes in a 'no light' environment.

To create the feeling that there isn't any around yet having enough to maintain drama and mood was the intention. We devised a plan already during pre production to tackle this.

I had the production designer rig ground lights all over the set of the hospital and the hotel set. The logic was of 'emergency' lights. It added to the drama and tension of the series seeing long corridors with nearly rigged ground lights through the corridors. For atleast a good three episodes we had to only work with this logic of light.

Actors walking, cameras moving across these and doing long steady-cam takes was the challenge. This visual treatment also heightened the drama as the series flows towards the end of its narrative.

As a cinematographer it's very important one catches the essence of what's written from one scene to another and the above few visual choices guided us to create not just an appropriate environment that looks right on camera but also helps actors be and feel the environment that should be during that beat in the scene.

The hospital was one large set in film city. With corridors, alleyways and different rooms for different things, the one big limitation was that I was asked to make it seem as if it has three floors, even though it had one.

Yes, the design would change but I felt we needed to alter the colour of the walls, the lighting approach and also the shot-taking a bit to give the audience the illusion that it is a different floor.

Floor 1 had a very cold hue feel to it. We rigged the place with colder tubes, had slightly colder walls and I added warm practical's here and there to break that.

Floor 2-3 had a more yellow/warm feel to it with predominantly those colored tubes across the hospital rooms. We also played with the emergency lights and made floor 1 a warm light space when the lights go off and made floor 2 a cold light space when the lights go off.

These visual cues, as the series flows when intercut created the illusion that the hospital is three times bigger and also with three floors and yet was consistent with its looks and feel. The choices one makes visually, need to always move the emotion in the right place. And all the above discussed visual cues and choices were made to help the narrative.

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