Award-winning cinematographer, Sudeep Chatterjee ISC, is widely recognised for his expertise in cinematic lighting. With a career spanning over three decades, his mastery of light has elevated films to new artistic heights, creating mood, atmosphere, and emotional depth. Collaborating with renowned directors, his keen eye for detail, technical skill, and ability to harness the transformative power of light has shaped the visual language of many iconic films and made him a sought-after professional in the Hindi and Bengali film industry.
He has won the National Film Award for Best Cinematography two times, once for “Chotushkone” and then again for “Bajirao Mastan”. Most recently, he received the Best Cinematography award from the International Indian Film Academy and Filmfare awards for his work on “Gangubai Kathiawadi”, which he lit using multiple Litepanels Gemini panels.
The Hindi-language biographical crime film is based on actual events that took place in the criminal underworld of Mumbai in the 1960s. Its engaging narrative follows the life of Gangubai Kothewali, a powerful figure in the Kamathipura red-light district, as she perseveres and thrives against all odds.
Working with visionary director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali to bring the story to life, the epic production began in 2019 but continued into 2021 with Covid working restrictions. The colossal set included a reconstruction of the red-light district.
The Transformative Power of Light
“We created Kamathipura on a set and covered part of it, so I had complete control of the light. Natural light did not limit us. We could make it look like daylight and shoot into the night.” Says Sudeep. “The initial plan was to complete the main parts, take off the cover and film wide shots, in real daylight. The film was to be completed by June because we did not build the set to last the monsoon. Eventually, we shot the entire film with artificial light made to look like daylight.”
The covered set avoided any problems that can arise when using natural light. Sanjay is a big fan of scenes with huge groups of people. “It takes a long time to choreograph that correctly,” says Sudeep. “On past projects with him, it was challenging to finish scenes in a certain light. For example, if the scene took place at twilight or any time during the day and the Sun Keeps shifting, it’s difficult to keep the light consistent.
“I offered a new solution with the Litepanels Geminis on Gangubai. With the ease of being able to control the light, I could have the twilight for the whole day or a 7.15am sunlight for the whole day. It's a big advantage.”Sudeep ChatterjeeCinematographer
Sudeep used 40 Gemini 2×1 Soft panels on “Gangubai Kathiawadi”. With highly accurate colour temperature control across the full spectrum of white light from a warm 2700K to a cool 10000K, any time of day can be replicated in an instant.
“In the past, for twilight scenes, we used HMIs for our bounce and we had to add blue gels to all the lights to adjust for the time of day correctly.” Says Sudeep. “And that would be a three hour lighting job. Now with the Geminis, I can say I want to move from daylight to twilight and change the whole look in minutes. People on set are amazed.”
The filmmakers premiered “Gangubai Kathiawadi” at the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival and released it in cinemas in February 2022. The film grossed over $26 million worldwide.
A New Collaboration
Following the success of “Gangubai Kathaiwadi”, Sudeep and Sanjay have teamed up once again to produce an ambitious and lavish Netflix original series set in the backdrop of pre-independence India, and centred around a powerful group of courtesans and their patrons. A mix of love, betrayal, succession, and politics. The eight-episode series will be in production for 365 days.
The Big One
A big set means big light, so Sudeep added 60 powerful Litepanels Gemini 2×1 Hard panels to his 40 Gemini 2×1 Soft panels. With three times more output, delivering up to 23,000 lux, Sudeep could use Gemini Hard panels to replace many other types of lighting.
“I'm lighting the set completely with Geminis.”Sudeep ChatterjeeCinematographer
“On Gangubai I used Gemini 2×1 Softs and Skypanels and to create some of the sky ambiance, I had to use 4k HMIs. Now I’m just using Geminis, mostly the 2×1 Hard fixtures”.
Despite its sheer power, the Gemini 2×1 Hard is lighter than any comparable fixture weighing in at just 25.3lbs (11.5kg) with no separate ballast required. “That’s another tremendous advantage,” says Sudeep. “I can put the Geminis up on top of a boom rod because they are so lightweight. I couldn’t do that with other panels, they are just too heavy and need extra support. Having a lightweight panel makes rigging so much easier.”
For the opulent period drama, lighting flexibility proved invaluable. “There are many interesting and complex looks in the series,” says Sudeep. “In the street scenes, there are between 500 and 600 artists performing. Some scenes are mysterious, some dramatic, and some dark with a few candlelight settings. There are extremely lavish performances and gorgeous street scenes with over 500 artists performing – so amazing. It’s a lot of lighting. It takes time to get the shots you want.”
Sudeep takes full advantage of the light shaping and control accessories available for the Gemini fixtures. “Sometimes, if the fixture is placed far away, I use it raw with no diffuser,” he says. “I use a grid to control the beam or sometimes I use the domed or ultralight diffuser. So, depending on the scene, I use Geminis in every way possible.”
With over 100 lights rigged on the expansive set, the ability to control and change moods without delaying the production was a key consideration. With integrated DMX and CRMX, colour control and dimming can be operated remotely.
“All my lights are all DMX. You do not know how much that has eased my life with the speed I now have to control the lights. So much more flexibility and creative choice.”Sudeep ChatterjeeCinematographer
“When I was using HMIs and a light that was bounced was a little too bright for the scene, I had to send someone for a few minutes and reduce it. Add some extra bounce to it or whatever. People don’t want to work like that. Now, for example, if Gemini number 40 in the rig is too warm or a little bright, we can just change that over DMX instantly.”
Sanjay is renowned in the industry for his love of production design and aesthetics. Using Indian textiles, artwork, and designs, he showcases the royalty of Indian arts and creates a glorious ambience on screen.
“We have a lot of ornate costumes with complex designs of various textures and colours,” says Sudeep. “Sanjay is very particular about getting those colours right because he spends a lot of time with the costume designers creating gorgeous, expensive costumes. He’ll notice immediately if that rendering is not accurate, and the green is not his green. So I was thrilled when I called him for a DI to see some daylight interior scenes the first time we were using the Gemini 2×1 Hard lights.
“Our jaws dropped when we saw the results. It is so spectacular and perfectly complements the ARRI cameras we use.”Sudeep ChatterjeeCinematographer
“The combination of ARRI Alexa 35 with the signature primes and Geminis is a magnificent combination for accurate color and skin tones.”