Ashok Mehta, DoP of Bandit Queen, with respect…

It very rarely that a director can say that his learning and career graph was propelled by his relationship with a DoP. But I could say that openly and honestly about Ashok Mehta. I have only done one film with unfortunately. And that is because Ashok refused to come with me to the West where I pursued my creative goals. He refused to be taken away from his roots here in India. I still wish he had come. I missed him a lot.

Ashok unlocked my creative potential in Bandit Queen. He showed me how to be brave and not afraid of expressing myself through the camera and not just through actors and story/plot. He taught me that my instincts were good , but only as good as my courage to follow them through.

Ashok Mehta taught me to be fearless in my visual expression, something that I have now become known for in Hollywood.

Ashok has an innate sense of visual story telling. It’s not just about how he lights, but also how he frames. Subtle shifts in camera angles sometimes, and extreme angles that create inherent emotional charge in the audience at other times. He looks through the camera and instinctively knows what to do to accentuate that which is often hidden in the subtext of the scene.

Ashok Mehta is self taught. Originally from Afghanistan , he started by selling boiled eggs outside a Mumbai studio. Then got a job as a lowly ‘canteen boy’ inside the studio. He begged ?for a job ?as a ‘camera attendant’ graduating to a focus puller and then to cinematographer. ?And the rest is history as he redefined the art of cinematography ?in Mumbai. And taking risks. He shot the interiors Shyam Benegal’s Trikaal almost completely in candle light at a time when film stocks did not have as much latitude.

He does not ask too many questions. Ashok came on to the location of Bandit Queen when I had to lose an original British DP, and walked on to the set and took the camera from me ( I was filming myself by then) and quickly readjusted the lens and the angle and in five minutes and said “lets shoot” !! How did he know what to do – He did not even have time to read the script All I can say he has the ‘Gift”.

A gift that has gone somewhat unfulfilled in Indian Cinema unfortunately. For his attempts to raise the art of the image beyond the needs of stars, schedules and mundane plot lines ultimately frustrated him. I think he just looked to God and said “whatever !!”.

Ashok should film. He should teach. He has so much to give that it would be a crime to not learn from him. He is a visual genius

14 thoughts on “Ashok Mehta, DoP of Bandit Queen, with respect…

  1. “…He has so much to give that it would be a crime to not learn from him…”

    Dear Ashok Mehta, could you please give to absolve yourself of creating criminals 🙂 how can one access your teachings?

    Hope Paani will see the brilliance of a visual genius!…

  2. Art – God’s gift to few chosen people. On-field experiences The Art – The sunshine rays.
    – Salute

  3. Dear Mr. Shekhar Kapur,
    I read on newspaper today about your tests for shooting Paani in 3-D. So thought I will connect to you.
    My apologoies for using this forum to reach you.
    I am a Pre-Viz Artist in 3D. It is the closest you can come to actually seeing the final result of a shot in 3D streographic without spending the huge amount of resources and saving valuable time.
    I can give you a demo in person to tap the potential of Pre-viz for Paani. I can guarantee that you wont feel the same way working with a traditional storyboard again.

    Dont take my word for it and see the sample stills of this amazing filmmaking tool yourself.
    Pls send me your e-mail id and I can send you the samples of my work.


  4. Yes ! Ashok mehta is a genius ! My first experiecne was when I was 12 yrs old and saw “Ijaazat” on Zee cinema. I watched the first song “Choti si kahani se” I was pleasantly shocked about the cinematography. Then I saw in titles DOP as Ashok Mehta. I was thrilled to know he was back with Bandit Queen. BQ is one of the most beautifully shot movies in “World Cinema”. In BQ chambal looks more beautiful than Switzerland. Every shot every frame gives you a emotional fulfilment. Ashok should make more movies. But there is ab bigger tragedy happening Gluzar not making movies. We need one more “Choti si kahani se” or “Katra katra”

  5. Sir,
    It is a real nice post to read on Ashok Mehta. every time i watch Bandit queen, I am just thrilled
    by the cinematography.

  6. Mr. Kapur,
    I must admit i was never a big fan of yours only until now.
    I never believed in the concept of fanning somebody for the sole reason that nobody ever touched my conscious. Of all people that people admire are so artificially correct and beautified that i rather feel repulsive and uninterested.

    I must thank technology never the less for giving us grounds to connect to some really worth individuals. Your postings are direct from heart and touch deep into conscious(of course who still have it alive).
    Thanks for these really interesting- hilarious, provoking, and informative postings.
    From now on, your humble admirer,

  7. Excusse since then have found out by googling…wondering why it did not occur to me before…getting old must say…

    RIP Ashok Mehta…

  8. I met Ashokji in Chennai where he came to shoot ad film, there I was assisting another famous South indian DOP Ashok Kumar. On a location beach he asked me in punjabi – how i manage Tamil- I just laughed- he immediately said come to Mumbai. I landed on set of Khalnayak and joined him. I got chance to work with him in Khalnayak, Trimurty and of course Bandit Queen ( only in Mumbai) & number of ad films.

    I remember he was very fond of dogs also- when ever “Kali ” came to set he was able squeeze some time and brush her hair coat.
    He told me that he had only 1.25 rupees in his pocket when he came from Delhi to Mumbai.

    After leaving him -Where ever I have worked what ever I have shot, I always felt him close to to me and tell me do it like this. AND He will remain

  9. Dear Shekhar Sir,

    Nice article on Ashok sir!!
    I met him personally when he came to give a guest lecture at our film school.
    Gem of person & full of positive energy.

    R.I.P. Ashok Mehta……..

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