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 â€˜canteen boy’ inside the studio. He begged ?for a job ?as a â€˜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 â€˜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