YOU SHOULD KNOW is a small effort to shine a light on female filmmakers and artists in India who’ve made a big difference in the field. Because while you may know and admire a lot of their work, you may not know enough about them. That changes now.
Pooja S Gupte is a deceptively gentle powerhouse who goes above and beyond her role as a Director of Photography (DoP) on all her films. The pint-sized DoP has quietly been making waves for her work as well as work ethic. And it all started for Pooja in the most romantic way possible.
Pooja grew up in Pune. To be more specific, she grew up on the street opposite FTII. So in a way she grew up watching the buzz around the hallowed institute and always wanted to be a part of it. After going to small events at FTII she realized that she wanted to make films. More precisely, she wanted to be a DoP. After her 10th grade, Pooja knew she’s a visual person and studied commercial arts for 5 years. She then went to the Satyajit Ray Film Institute of India (SRFTII) where she learnt the ropes of her craft and made lifelong connections that have been pivotal in her career.
When assisting got tiresome, she collaborated with former classmate and director Sangee Dorjee Thongdok who had a moving script but no money. The two cobbled together a crew of former film school classmates and went off to shoot Crossing Bridges (2013) in Sangee’s village in shockingly difficult conditions. When asked what makes him work with Pooja again and again, Sangee says it is her courage and clarity that separates her from other DoPs. Sangee had limited resources and only a 5D camera for the shoot. That would have scared off most DoPs, he believes. He says Pooja cares about the film as a whole as opposed to others who can be stubborn about what camera and equipment they want, even if most of it is sitting in the truck outside.
Sangee also admires Pooja’s ability to come up with ways to economize without compromising on the look of the film. He was particularly stressed about the night scenes in Crossing Bridges since they were shot with practically no lights. “People find it hard to believe that it was shot on a 5D and not on an Alexa or something fancy,” he says.
Pooja grew up in Pune. To be more specific, she grew up on the street opposite FTII. So in a way she grew up watching the buzz around the hallowed institute and always wanted to be a part of it. After going to small events at FTII she realized that she wanted to make films.
Pooja’s second release Rukh (2017) was directed by Atanu Mukherjee and produced by Drishyam films. Atanu and Pooja are former classmates from SRFTII. They also happen to be married but Atanu is quick to clarify that that has little to do with his love for Pooja’s work. Like Crossing Bridges, Rukh was also crewed heavily by their film school family. Atanu says, “Other than being a DoP, Pooja is also a film’s first audience because she likes being involved from the script stage”. Rukh was shot in the same location for 8-10 days. When location and visual fatigue were setting in for Atanu, he told Pooja to “figure out something to make it look more interesting”. “On the spot, she redesigned the shots in odd ways and brought back momentum,” he adds.
Their latest collaboration is a short film called Wig. They wanted to go crazy and shoot something completely new. So Wig was shot without a traditional script or plan. The scenes were improvised on the spot and Pooja figured out the shots, lighting etc. on location.
Pooja has also shot Brij Mohan Amar Rahe! (2017), a film that’s drastically different from anything else she’s worked on. The funky, fast-paced film helped her try out new styles of shooting. The film had a straight 28-day schedule and almost all of it was shot on a handheld camera.
She credits director Nikhil Bhatt for giving her a lot of freedom in choosing camera language and look. The handheld shoot is no small feat for any DoP, given how physically demanding it is. But Pooja carried it off with ease. Sangee also praises Pooja’s ability to take on physically demanding shoots. He talks of the time Pooja carried equipment up snow-clad mountains for Crossing Bridges and easily navigated peaks that even the male crew members and Assamese locals were refusing to take on. He was blown away by the petite girl’s ability to effortlessly barrel through in unbelievably dangerous terrains. Sangee ends with a passionate call to axe outdated notions about female DoPs not being strong enough for rough shoots. The bias that women DoPs cannot do action films, big films or physically demanding shoots, he feels, is rooted in prejudice rather actual experience. I second that.
Pooja has just wrapped a series for TVF called Cheesecake and is currently working on a Marathi film for Madhuri Dixit’s production company.