Sherry Bharda, head of yFX at Yash Raj Films, was all set to do a Masters in business administration when she got seduced by computer generated imagery (CGI). After working on films like Mohabbatein (2000) and Lagaan (2001), she and her team of 50 people set up Yash Raj Films’s visual effects (VFX) studio, yFX. Since then, Bharda has worked on high-budget projects like the Dhoom and Tiger franchises, and also lent her expertise to projects like The Darkest Hour (2011) and The Expendables 2 (2012). She’s also the creative supervisor in YRF's spyverse, which includes Pathaan (2023).
Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
Working on blockbuster films like War, Pathaan, and Tiger 3 must be both exciting and demanding. What aspects of your job do you find most fulfilling, and what challenges do you enjoy overcoming the most?
I think there's this overarching need to bring a visual spectacle on screen that's not been seen before. It's always about doing something bigger, better. I think what I find the most fulfilling is the initial development and pre-production process. It's actually where the brainstorming process happens and the beats and the punches are discussed, and explored. Techniques are discussed, ideas are exchanged between all these creative stakeholders. It's like planning the movie before the movie. That's the part that's really the most fulfilling.
Can you tell us about working on Pathaan? How did you and your team complete the entire film in nine months? Is that some sort of a record?
Yeah, absolutely (laughs). It was shot during Covid and it was challenging mainly because, as you know, there were so many limitations on travel and how many people you could have on set, et cetera. Because we weren't able to shoot on location, a lot of these sequences had to quickly be repurposed to be shot on chroma [green screen]. … All those various exotic locations had to be then built out digitally or in computer graphics and added to our VFX pipeline. There was a lot of what we call world or environment building in CG. And we're not a very large team, so it was definitely a challenge.
We heard Tiger 3 involved extensive pre-visualization in near real-time. What does this mean?
So I'm talking about the Tiger-Pathaan sequence in Tiger 3. That's the one that we used pre-visualisation in near real time, as we are calling it. This was a sequence that was shot fairly late in the schedule, and it was a long-ish sequence. … We actually flesh out the story shot by shot by shot, from the beginning to the end. Now, this is a process which is called previsualization, and we use it across all our films. But in this particular sequence, we dived in deep and did this in a great level of detail. So every shot was planned out, down to what cameras they'll use, what lenses will they use. … This was really something that was able to get everybody aligned early on in the process, and then we could just get down to making the scene.
How do you balance the creative and technical aspects of your role? Are there specific projects or sequences that hold a special place in your heart because you've been able to crack it just the way you wanted to?
I think the most recent was the Tiger-Pathaan sequence because we did stuff that we've never done before. Getting this entire environment done in CG, which looks fabulous and it looks real, this was something we hadn't done before, so we're really proud of it. But I think balancing creative and technical — I think technical aspects of this role will always follow the creative vision of the filmmaker. When a director is outlining a sequence for us, we work together on the creative vision first, and then it's just our job to figure out how the technicalities of pipeline and process will materialise or fall into place. Having said that, I think our first projects are the most memorable because the leaves that we did in Mohabbatein, the rain clouds we did in Lagaan — you know the technology hadn't reached that far, and we just had to figure out every step of the way how to get these things done. I still look back on those days and say it was so challenging.
Do you look at the work that you've done in the past and spot the errors?
I think sometimes I look at shots many years down the line and say, ‘Okay, that's looking a bit dated now’, or some shots stand the test of time, but being analytical — not so much critical about the work you've done — I think it just helps form a base for what you're going to do in the next one. I think we have that objectivity to be able to look at the work we've done in the past. I have that. Just make sure that we do better in the next one.