Considered by many as the greatest Indian cinematographer of contemporary times, Ranjan Palit has definitely been among the most prolific camera personnel in the Indian nonfiction scenario. His baby steps into the world of cinema happened in the late 70s when he got enrolled in FTII, Pune. His diploma film caught the attention of filmmaker Anand Patwardhan and soon they began working on a film which would go on to become Bombay, Our City. He went on to become the most sought after cinematographer by nonfiction filmmakers everywhere. His works include Reena Mohan‘s Bhopal – A Licence to Kill, Sanjay Kak’s Jashn-e-Azadi and Ruchir Joshi’s Tales from Planet Kolkata. Among the films which Palit directed are Forever Young, a film about the life and music of the Khasi icon Lou Majaw and In Camera, a self-reflexive film where he traces back the highs and lows of his 25 years behind the lens. Over the years his films have won numerous awards across the world, out of which he returned his three National Awards last year protesting against the State’s draconian moves in FTII appointments.
Talking about his earliest memories of working with Anand Patwardhan as a fresh pass out from Film School, he points out a lessons learned early in the day about the thumb rule of shooting nonfiction. Unlike fiction where the perfect take is valued in terms of its technical perfection, in case of nonfiction, more than often it is the sheer content of the shot or image! It is about mood, above everything else. However the long years of nonfiction has resulted in two things: a monotony of form which has drained him as an artiste and the harsh realities of the film subjects whose real life accounts had nearly wrecked him as a human being. Although he has managed to defeat his nervous breakdown, going through some major external and internal changes in his outlook and lifestyle, he is on the lookout for the next project that’d excite him.
Having said that, Ranjan Palit’s large and enviable repertoire of nonfiction films didn’t stop his entry into the world of fiction films. His major break was the big budget Bollywood venture 7 Khoon Maaf, directed by Vishal Bhardwaj. While recounting various experiences of shooting the film, he continuously stresses upon the point of how his years of working with the nonfiction platform has left its mark even in his fiction work. Be it a passionate scene in the dark between two lovers or a violent fight scene out in the open. He also gives the example of using flares which although accepted in documentaries was considered an anathema in fiction films. But now it seems that filmmakers or Ad agencies want to have flare, the imperfection, in every other images. This is something symptomatic of a larger shift in aesthetics which in a way somewhat bridges the gap between the fiction and nonfiction formats.