India’s first sports director, Dhruv Panjuani spoke to Film Companion about weaving sports into the storytelling, curating a special team of sportspersons for every film, and the importance of having a dedicated department for sports direction.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
I've always been passionate about performing arts and visual arts and all the other art forms. So much so that I also wanted to pursue them further academically. I went to Boston, which is where I studied film as a major. That's where my whole passion for filmmaking kind of took form. … I was very passionate about films and I've been playing sports since I was a little kid. Both of those things are my passions. I was really blessed to work with directors who trusted me and let me run with whatever it is that I wanted to do. I was blessed to have got the opportunity to work on ‘83 (2021) where [director] Kabir Khan took me onto the direction team and said, “The sports department is yours to handle.” And I was in the thick of it.
Basically, each project has its own requirements. … When I got to work with Balki sir – he’s in love with cricket – he was very clear about what it is that he wants in terms of Saiyami Kher’s training [in Ghoomer] and how she would play as her playing style is deeply embedded in the script. When I came on board it was about understanding the director’s vision and using my expertise to deliver it for him. I was just amazed with how well Saiyami was playing so we had to do everything within our capacity to supplement Saiyami’s performance, to make her performance really stand out. Pre-visualsing, using the best camera angles, stylizing/ designing special shots, casting the shortlisted cricketers for the right part as per their abilities, and rehearsing cricket for the filming/execution.
I think that purely depends on the director's vision. It's very important to understand where he's coming from. For example, Kabir sir was very clear that for ‘83, the shots were going to be as traditional as they were. We were going to recreate the moments with the camera angles that were possible, and that's what we're going to recreate in the movie.
On the other hand, Balki sir wanted to take things to another level. He wanted to capture the way cricket is shot today. Of course, we had to go with the broadcasting style for capturing the shot and we went into the depth of that. From broadcast equipment, sports camera men, how to merge the different formats, to the VFX for it etc. I'm truly grateful to Balki sir for trusting me with it.
I think one of the main challenges for me has been just convincing people, or rather, just creating an awareness that this kind of a profession exists. The value that I can add to the project, whether it be at a conceptualisation stage, designing/previsualsing stage, casting sportspersons, rehearsing with the actors and the sportspersons, planning the execution, conducting the filming, through to the edit… See, a director can be completely well versed with action, but then they do hire an action director. Similarly, with casting directors, with costumes or each department, it doesn't take away that the director knows almost all about those particular things, but they need someone to they can just hand off the baton to and that particular person can take the department further up. I would like to be trusted like that with the sports department.