We don’t see his face until a quarter of the film has passed. We only see parts of his body; his face blocked with staging or framing. Until the moment inside the car. The father, D.K Malhotra (Naseeruddin Shah) rolls down the window. Light, slightly diffused due to the windscreen, falls on his creased palm. For a fleeting second, his fingers touch his illegitimate son’s fingers. The son, Rahul (Jugal Hansraj), moves his palm away. The camera tilts up and those timid blue eyes shine in the sunlight, asking questions. We see Rahul’s face for the first time.
This image stuck with me. A friend thinks Masoom is one of the best shot Indian films. I could not agree more. The simple act of revealing Rahul’s face in such an awkward moment serves the larger narrative of guilt aptly. It is not suspense or mystery that Shekhar Kapur is trying to achieve by delaying a potent reveal. He does it for emotional poignancy: Rahul’s face says it all.
It is not just his face though. The camera is employed to elevate sequences successfully. Characters are framed in compositions that accentuate their relationships with each other. The camera participates in their motions and emotions. Apart from such techniques, one salient feature is the look of the film. It is brimming with softness. The colours are bright and soft. Light brightens every frame. Faces of children look lively, adults look childlike. Such an effect renders the film with a sense of innocence vital to the story. Several camera and light techniques are adopted to create this atmosphere. The primary one being: Eastman 35 mm colour film.
Film captures light. Digital codes light. There is a significant difference between the two. In the first one, microdots of chemicals capture photons. The latter codes for them in 0s and 1s. Cinematographers and technicians say both processes are the same. Film-makers involved in preserving the medium of film suggest that in the latter process, a large amount of detail is lost. Caught between a process we completely understand and one we completely don’t, there is certainly a lack of experience and knowledge. How can my generation Z differentiate between film and digital?
Masoom provides an answer. The interaction between light and camera decides the look of a film. In Masoom, their relationship provides an innocent layer, softness, to compositions and colors. Bollywood films were not specific about types of film. Perhaps one of the reasons why Masoom is timeless is because the details captured on film do not age. They are automatically preserved. An encoded sequence can be altered to fit changing needs. With film, that is not possible. What is captured is captured. What isn’t, is lost.
It is not, and should not be, film versus digital. Both processes can co-exist
Richard Linklater shot Boyhood on 35mm film. His reason was that he wanted the film to have a feeling of timelessness. Perhaps there could be more tangibility to this argument, but it all boils down to what a film-maker is trying to express. David Fincher’s cold, calculated and sharp palette works successfully with digital. Paul Thomas Anderson’s rich, vibrant and bold colours blossom on film. It is not, and should not be, film versus digital. Both processes can co-exist.
Masoom’s childlike touch is felt because of its medium of shooting. Certainly, only the usage of film does not guarantee results. But when other techniques are applied effectively, our viewing experience is elevated. Whether we watch it on a digital screen or a film projection, we feel things differently. The language of light communicates emotions and thoughts differently. As Marshall McLuhan once wanted to write, “The Medium is the Message”.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.