For a boy born in a family obsessed with Bollywood, Abhishek Chaubey has carved out a reputation for being an earnest filmmaker with the cinematic sensibilities of an auteur. Having started his career as an assistant director on Gurudev Bhalla's Shararat, Abhishek went on to join his mentor-to-be Vishal Bhardwaj on Makdee as an associate director, thus starting a journey that would begin with education and blossom into collaboration.
Being associated with Vishal Bhardwaj on films like Omkara, Maqbool, Kaminey and The Blue Umbrella, it was in 2010 that Abhishek emerged as a director with Ishqiya. The film starred heavyweights such as Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi and Vidya Balan, and was well received both commercially and critically. After the success of Ishqiya, Abhishek didn't look back. He went on to direct Dedh Ishqiya, a follow-up to his first film, Udta Punjab and his latest, Sonchiriya.
What makes Abhishek's cinema stand out from that of his fellow directors is that he figured out his voice from an early stage in his career. Judging by his films, Abhishek has a propensity to enter the world of his stories and then communicate them to the audience, as opposed to creating a world or a set based on second-hand material and then writing a story around it. Abhishek's allegiance to the craft reflects in the mesmerising effect his films have on the viewer, be it the drug-fuelled world of Udta Punjab or the sepia-toned mountains of Chambal in Sonchiriya.
Adding to his affinity for writing, setting and shooting the film in the world of the story itself is Abhishek's reluctance to be rescued by VFX in the later stages of the film. In an interview with Film Companion, Abhishek confessed that he is not a big fan of the popular phrase used on film sets very often, "post mein dekh lenge".
This mindset throws light on the collaborative and more hands-on nature of his filmmaking. Films are the culmination of various departments co-ordinating and working together towards an idea under the director's supervision. If all actors did was stand in front of a green screen and emote for the sake of emoting, it wouldn't be as captivating as compared to when an actor actually dedicates a chunk of their life and themselves to the part they are playing.
Having said that, there are pros and cons to shooting in a real location instead of building a set. While shooting at a real location adds a layer of authenticity, a deeper connection to the story and makes capturing the world that the story is based on much more realistic, it comes at a cost. For starters, logistics are a pain. The locations that suit the story may not be permissible to shoot at or travelling from the accommodation to the shoot site might be time consuming. On the flip side, building a set is relatively more convenient as it's a more controlled environment and there are no external distractions like the weather or large crowds of people. However, if the set is poorly researched and the elements aren't thorough, the audience is quick to know and, in some cases, be thrown off.
For the trained eye, Abhishek's cinematic style is moderately influenced by his mentor, who made Omkara and Maqbool. Both films are adaptations of Shakespeare and work well because the makers of the film went the extra mile by not only taking inspiration from the theme and mood of Shakespeare's work, but also setting it in a world more relatable to the Indian audience. This would be extremely hard to achieve had the filmmaker decided to try telling this story by setting it in a synthetic world, a world of sets built from researched images.
One of the major factors that dictate the logistics of shooting a film in most cases is the story and the ethos of the film. Shooting a film in the mountains, deserts or the wild outdoors isn't as appealing as it seems to be, especially from the position of the director. Being thousands of kilometres away from home, being responsible for a double-digit crew, racing against time to finish shooting the given material while simultaneously battling with elements beyond human control, are only a few of the many obstacles the director endures when he opts to stay true to the film and give it its due, no matter the cost.
The reward of this 'no corners cut' approach translates into films that carve out a place in the hearts of the viewer: they make the viewer feel things. Abhishek's films are not a second-hand interpretation of a story, they are the story.