Directed by Farah Khan and produced by Gauri Khan under the banner of Mumbai-based production company Red Chillies Entertainment, "Happy New Year" is one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time. It was captured with ALEXA XT cameras and ARRI/ZEISS Master Prime lenses by cinematographer Manush Nandan, who spoke with ARRI about the production.
How did you come to choose ALEXA for this film?
I was a fan of ALEXA right from the time it was introduced and I used it to shoot my previous feature film, "Ishkq in Paris." I don't believe in comparing film and digital and do not agree with the term film-look; unless there is a side-by-side comparison it is difficult even for a seasoned technician to differentiate between film and digital footage. I always choose a format that gives me the freedom to present a story visually, without any hindrance.
Out of all the digital cameras available I prefer ALEXA because it gives me complete freedom in terms of the visual spectrum. The arrival of XT only made it better; I was happy with ProRes, but the ability to record full ARRIRAW in-camera has given me even more to play with.
What lenses were you using, and why?
I used my usual choice -- the Master Prime series -- because I feel that they complement the kind of clarity and crispness ALEXA offers. I also prefer them for the huge range of available focal lengths, although my favorites are the 25 mm, 65 mm and 35 mm. I tend to do a lot of handheld work and always used to appreciate the Ultra Primes for the weight factor, but Master Primes definitely give me more sharpness so I came to terms with handling that little bit of extra weight.
Why did you decide to record ARRIRAW?
We had a lot of VFX work and the option to record ARRIRAW in-camera without any on-board recorders gave us so much freedom in our day-to-day work. Our VFX supervisor preferred shooting ARRIRAW because it gave them more room to play with and also gave me more scope to manipulate the image in post. In fact, "Happy New Year" was the first film in India to start shooting with ALEXA XT cameras. Red Chillies Entertainments bought a brand-new ALEXA XT for this project; it was delivered directly to Dubai, where we began our principle shooting.
Was the ALEXA XT workflow an easy one?
The workflow was simple and fool-proof, hence there was nothing to worry about. My DIT team handled the footage with ease and they were very happy about the simple workflow for ALEXA XT. The transcodes were made with Rec 709 for most of the footage, since it was close enough to the look we wanted to achieve. It allowed the director and other HoDs to see the footage in the very same way as we intended the final film to look.
The film has some very vibrant colors. Do you feel color rendition and skin tones are strengths of the ALEXA system?
The color rendition with ALEXA is simply superb. On "Happy New Year" we had a wide-ranging color space but it was very easy in post for us to get the colors looking the way we wanted them. My colorist comes from a photo-chemical lab background and was quite familiar with color grading with an analyzer; he was so happy and found it easy and quick to get the colors right, unlike a few other formats where he has had to struggle even to get the base right. We extensively used intelligent lights and other colored lights that filled up the frame with a gamut of colors. Usually the colors seen with the naked eye are not transformed exactly into the camera, but with ALEXA we never had that problem; it all looked precisely the same as we had seen it on set with our naked eyes.
Were there any scenes or situations where ALEXA features proved particularly useful?
ALEXA has been useful in every sense; for me it is a very simple camera without much confusion in terms of the functionality and features -- it has everything one needs for any kind of feature work. I do a lot of handheld operating and I find ALEXA to be more comfortable even than other smaller digital cameras because it sits so well on your shoulder and the balance makes things very easy for an operator. We shot a lot in Dubai, with rough conditions and very high temperatures -- we even had a sandstorm while shooting in the desert -- but ALEXA didn't shut down or misbehave once. I love that piece of equipment!