Veteran cinematographer Ravi K Chandran has worked on memorable films like Dil Chahta Hai, Ghajini, My Name Is Khan, and Saawariya. In this interview with Baradwaj Rangan around Dil Chahta Hai completing twenty years since release, he recollects five stories from the making of the film, from how they almost lost their first day of shooting to how he captured Sid's excitement in a scene using a now-famous single shot:
When we started doing the film, Farhan [Akthar] was new and I was from the South. They're very organized and planned while I was used to unplanned work. When I just wanted Aamir to just walk across in a location for 'Tanhayee', Zoya [Akhtar] would say that it wasn't planned. Aamir would change his clothes right there and be ready for the shot. There was a tunnel next to the hotel. I told Aamir to stand leaning on a pillar. Everyday, while waiting for something else, I used to take a shot for the song.
I went to my gaffer's house and there was a cemetery behind it. I felt it would create a mood for the death of a love. In the entire song, he's at the edge of a frame. In the end, he's almost going out of the frame.
The first scene we shot was when the three friends are talking in their house and Sai Ali Khan is talking about his girlfriend. We lit that place. It was an indoor set. Ashok Mehta was shooting next door and he came in. He saw how the light was so soft. He asked me how I'd done it. I told him that I double-bounced the light. He went up to the terrace to see the lighting I had done. He told me that it looks real. That set the benchmark for me. That set the tone for the film.
After shooting, Prasad Lab (who was processing the prints) called up to say that the lens had a problem and that everything was out of focus. We got a brand new camera and opened it after doing puja. They said it was a calibration issue. We saw the rushes at various theatres to check. We even sent the camera back to Germany. They said the camera was perfect. You know what happened? When printing, there was a micro-millimetre error in the machine, and everything had become mildly out of focus. So, that shot is actually there in the film. Imagine Farhan's plight on the first day of shooting, with big actors, and after Ashok Mehta's appreciation?
When Tara (Dimple Kapadia) asks Sid (Akshaye Khanna) if he could paint her, he starts to walk out and then starts running, because he doesn't want her to know. Farhan wanted to capture the excitement and we got the best steadicam operator Nithin Rao. I asked him to follow Akshaye out of the gate and then sit on a scooter which would then start moving. When I took the shot, I never realized that it would become so famous. We achieved it by the precision of the operation. All the cameramen who saw it asked me how I did it.
After almost two decades, even now a few of my friends call to talk about the film. During the pandemic, one of my friends, a director, called me saying that they showed the film to his teenage son. He wanted to speak to me to ask about how the film looks so fresh. So, the writing, performance, setting, costumes, everything looks today. That's what makes a work timeless.