Malhotra, the man behind one of the biggest international post-production companies – DNEG, Prime Focus – is heading the VFX for Ayan Mukerji‘s magnum opus ‘Brahmastra’ starring Ranbir Kapoor in the lead. ETimes sat down with the man of the hour for a candid chat about ‘Brahmastra’ being a gamechanger for the Indian film industry, the possibility of the film getting an Oscar nod next year and more…
‘Dune’ won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects this year, could ‘Brahmastra’ be a contender for an Academy Award next year?
Anything is possible. I would not discount anything. While we got nominated for ‘Bond’ and ‘Dune’, it’s not like we have not done 5 other movies that are just as good. We did a film ‘Last Night In Soho’ and got the outstanding supporting VFX award, why did that not make it to the Oscars, I don’t know. We also got an award for ‘Ex-Machina’ the smallest budget VFX film ever.
How will Brahmastra act as a game-changer in Bollywood?
I believe that VFX is a tool in the hands of the filmmaker. What I love about what we are doing with Brahmastra, is that we are bringing a story that is ingrained in the fabric and DNA of our country. We are using VFX to bring the audience an experience that originates in our country and not copy or create something that the west has done before.
I must give credit to the director because that is his vision of doing something that is really complicated and massive and putting it together. We are enabling that by playing our respective roles.
When the world sees Brahmastra, they will be very positively infused by the fact that we have done something that speaks to our people, culture and core, without trying to copy someone else. In that regard, its very exciting to be a part of it, and not just pushing innovation and high tech creative storytelling in the West, but also doing it in India as well.
What is the hardest part about your job in the VFX department?
The hardest part is blending the computer-generated content with the real world. That has always been a challenge in the VFX industry because you are always trying to create a perception of reality. That is some of the hardest things you can do. There is a lot of meticulous work put in by our artists to ensure that you as the audience are not taken out of the film.
How easy or difficult was it working for the VFX of Dune and Brahmastra during the lockdown?
‘Dune’ was post-produced in the lockdown and delayed from its original date. I think from a digital creative standpoint, artists have been able to continue working at a pretty creative level. That’s the work you see onscreen. While the world was in shock, in our industry, we were able to navigate through it very effectively. Despite the lockdown restrictions easing, we still continue to work from home.
Where does Indian cinema stand in this era of visual effects?
This is an art form that has been evolving very rapidly, even in India. The biggest film in India, ‘Sholey’ came in 1975 and ‘Star Wars’ came in 1977. If you see the evolution of Hollywood, they took inspiration from ‘Star Wars’ and they created these worlds and made 100 more such movies using visual effects and digital capabilities. While in Bollywood, we ended up making a lot of social, romantic and other genres of film.
In the last 8-10 years, we have seen a big shift happening in our own with the promise of big-screen entertainment coming back with releases like ‘Baahubali’, ‘RRR’. We are producing ‘Brahmastra’ with Ayan Mukerji directing it. We’re seeing that we are pushing that agenda and sale substantially forward. There is only one way for the Indian film industry to go and that is up! We have the capability and talent. As more and more filmmakers are excited about using this technique, I believe more and more great work will come.
If you could pick a favourite project, which one would it be?
These are all very interesting points. I can give you a point on each of them. If I talk about ‘Ramayan’, all Indians know the story. It is ingrained in our culture and the fabric of who we are. To me, that has one position. It has a space that is unique, so that is why it is difficult to pick because each one has its own impact on your mind and heart. Then you talk about growing up as a kid and watching James Bond play out as one of the most iconic characters in the history of films. ‘Dune’ is the greatest standard that director Denis Villeneuve achieved with his spectacular vision and the standard that he has been able to create is something never seen before. To me, that has its own space. ‘Brahmastra’ is again bringing all the things we have done, working with Ayan Mukerji, Ranbir Kapoor, Karan Johar to really help bring this aspiration we can bring to our kids and the young generation of India to feel pride in what our cinema can produce.
Can you tell us your favourite moments and best learning experience with a director?
That is massive. I’ve had the privilege of being attached to so many films and so many directors’ works. It is hard to pick one, but my all-time favourite is Christopher Nolan. My favourite film of all time is ‘Forrest Gump’. I am mesmerised by Denis Villeneuve after working with him in ‘Dune’. Then there are a slew of Indian directors from Ayan Mukerji to Nitesh Tiwari, Sanjay Leela Bhansali. They are all people whom I deeply admire. As a kid, I watched Mr Bachchan’s ‘Agnipath’ and wanted to make movies after that.