Tryst With The Lens: Vishal Punjabi
“Nothing is ever lost to us, as long as we remember it.” Your words truly embody the art of creating memories. So tell us, how did the idea of “The Wedding Filmer” was born?
My childhood dream was to work in films. I always wanted to work in movies. I worked with Shah Rukh Khan from 2001 to 2010, and that’s the only company I’ve ever actually worked with. Everything I’ve learnt from films or advertising, I learnt while working there. I started working with Santosh Sivan on his first film Asoka. I worked with Farah Khan on her first film. I was getting married and I really could not afford to get a videographer for my wedding. I decided to shoot it myself with some help from my cinematographer friends. I figured nobody else could shoot it the way I could. And nobody would understand it the way I would, and that is how “The Wedding Filmer” was born.
In the time of such technological advancements, how do you perceive the shift from pictures to videos as the main souvenir of a wedding?
Some tell stories on papers, some through photographs, and us, we tell stories in 25 frames per second. The exciting thing about filmmaking is the use of sound and music to bring to life, not just a beautiful, moving shot, but also the audio of your memory. A picture is a moment frozen in time, but every great film has a gripping beginning, an engaging middle and climactic end which allows us to not just look at, but also relive and appreciate what we went through.
What’s it like shooting celebrity weddings? And how different is it from shooting a regular wedding?
With celebrity weddings, the hardest part is keeping your mouth shut until the event is over. Sometimes you really want to say it, but you can’t even though you’re really excited, so that’s the fun. The hard part about celebrity weddings is the post-production and the secrecy that goes with it, along with the privacy we have to entail while making those films so that nobody else gets to watch them, but the couple. Every couple is a celebrity on their wedding day, and my crew and I approach each wedding with the same amount of excitement and nervousness. The films we make are impossible to imitate.
What has been your greatest achievement, and what do you infer to be your greatest failure?
I am truly proud of the team of people that I have managed to bring together to film and make these memories. When I started “The Wedding Filmer” back in 2010, nothing like this existed. I soon realised that I have created a whole new industry that has provided employment and a better income to thousands of aspiring filmmakers who like me, didn’t have an opportunity to earn a sustainable amount through wedding videography. My greatest failure has been my inability to hold a romantic relationship in life, something I have craved for. A few years into my marriage, I realised, yet again I failed, and I got divorced. What ensued was years of insecurity and addiction to cannabis. It didn’t help that what I did was wedding films, and I would get nightmares, frightened about what people would think. I started to believe I was a fraud. It came to a point where I neglected my work and looked for validation in all the wrong places until everything came crashing down. When you end up hurting the people you are closest to, you realise it that time to wake up. It’s only recently I started to seek help to come out of depression, anxiety and addiction. After all these years I am learning how to choose between right and wrong.
If you hadn’t become a cinematographer, what other roles would you have taken on in the wedding industry?
I would have probably been a bartender or a DJ, considering those were my first jobs in England as a student, and I do make some mean cocktails.
What advice would you give to someone who is contemplating joining the industry as a cinematographer? Would you enjoy mentoring the novices in the wedding world?
If you’re a good photographer, you’re halfway there to being a good videographer. A passion for films is a must, and experience and knowledge would be an addition, but it’s not a necessity. Since we can’t take novices for shoots, their primary work profile would be in the studio; either editing or with production management. April through September would ideally be the best months for a novice to learn from us since we would be in the studio most of the time. Since our base is currently in Mumbai, another thing for aspiring cinematographers to consider is the feasibility of living here but we are open to talent from all across the world, and the doors are open for you.
In your opinion, what are the essentials that all great cinematographers should have in mind while filming?
Regardless of what you are shooting, I think it is imperative to go in with some idea of what you want to achieve in terms of footage, and then how you need to do it. This wish-list of shots helps to determine the equipment you will have to carry.
What’s next for you on this front? Planning to make films perhaps?
I am currently working on a script for a movie about a wedding photographer who has been given a second chance at love. Fiction is very different from filming real-life weddings, but being able to watch life unfold in front of my camera empowers me to stage my scenes in the most realistic way possible.