Two years after the blockbuster success of ‘PK’, Aamir Khan is back with another Christmas release - ‘Dangal’. The film is based on the true story of champion wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), who coaches his daughters Geeta (Fatima Sana Shaikh) and Babita (Sanya Malhotra) to follow in his footsteps, flying in the face of prejudice and societal oppression. Dangal was released in a record number of 5,300 screens worldwide, making it one of the widest releases ever for an Indian feature film, and Prime Focus is proud to have delivered Digital Intermediate (DI) services for the movie.
While still in pre-production, DoP Setu (Satyajit Pande) and Prime Focus’ colorist Ashirwad Hadkar conducted a host of tests for skin tones and costumes to finalize the principal color palette for the film.
“The majority of the film was shot using natural light in order to make it look as raw and real as possible. The color palette was derived from the story setting and milieu. The film starts in a small village in Haryana in the 80s and ends at the Commonwealth Games Delhi in 2010 - that's a fairly large and intriguing canvas”, began Setu. “For the first part of the story set in a village, a few factors were a given - like the men wearing white or various shades of it while the colors came from the dresses of the women.”
“The idea behind the first part of the film was to keep the sources white hot and the skin tones yellow-warm right from the opening fight sequence in the office to ‘Dangals’ in the open arena where we had white hot skies contrasting with the warmth of the mud,” he continued. “For night sequences, a consistent bulb warm tone was maintained.
“As the story progressed to the mat wrestling sequences, the saturated mat colors of yellow, red and blue were introduced,” said Setu. “Restricting the saturation to reflect authentic colors wasn’t an easy task; since the interiors were lit with fluorescents, which have a lower CRI, the exact color reproduction became a challenge - Ashirwad did a great job at getting the colors right.”
Another important part of the film albeit very short was Mahavir’s flashback sequence. The challenge was to come up with a vintage look without compromising on Mahavir’s sculpted physique during his youth. It was difficult to strike such a fine balance but the DI team was successful in coming up with a grade that was neither gimmicky nor too subtle.
"Since we hardly shoot chronologically, the transition between the scenes is apparent only at the editing stage. It is only after we see the film without sound in a DI suite that we get a sense of the flow of the film," said Setu. “The DI tools help smoothen the flow between scenes and enhance the emotional quotient, making the overall viewing experience seamless.”
“The color of the mud, burning white skies, chaotic colors of the city were all accentuated and formed a major part of the palette,” continued Setu. “Yet the final grade was restrained to achieve the same feel I wanted during the shoot while also adding a little punch to impart more depth to the visuals and create separation between characters and background - which enhances the storytelling.”
Another issue faced by Setu was the changing light conditions, which presented its own set of challenges. The training sequence of the Phogat sisters began as early as 5 am in the morning and at times much before sunrise, and shooting would sometimes continue till late evening, resulting in changing color temperatures. By adjusting color temperatures between the highlights and the shadows and seamlessly matching the varying quality of light, the DI team was able to accurately match the lighting. For one such morning sequence on a terrace, selective mattes for the VFX plates were shot at the location to which Ashirwad applied the required color effects in order for the foreground to sit seamlessly with the background plate.
“For the Commonwealth wrestling sequence, we wanted to give a realistic feel to the wrestlers and arena,” said Setu. “Multiple cameras and lenses and constant change of angle created variations in the texture of the final image. The DI process in this regard helped bring a consistency to the images. The grade was always concentrated towards creating a realistic, earthy feel while keeping the action and the characters foregrounded.”
“You should do all you can during the shoot. For me, color grading isn’t a ‘corrective’ process. It’s about taking the visual story forward,” continued Setu. “More important than matching, it’s about enhancing the various elements and make the narrative more fluid and free-flowing.”
Talking about his experience of working with Prime Focus, DoP Satyajit Pande said, “Ashirwad has done a great job with the grading and I really value his contribution to the film. The great thing about coming back to Prime is that I’ve seen it grow over the years to this huge facility with great cameras and post setup. It’s like coming back to meet old friends and it’s always a great experience.”
Sharing details of Prime Focus’ color grading work with his movie Dangal, Director Nitesh Tiwari said, “We did extensive homework and research on the locations, production design and costumes of Dangal. We also ensured coordination between production design and costumes as the entire film was shot with a specific colour pallet in mind. Our brief to Ashirwad (by Setu) was to make the shots appear beautiful yet realistic. There was this one particular sequence for which we shot the village exterior during the night but while editing we realized that it would be better for the storytelling if we had a night shot of the courtyard as well. Now we could have filmed a night shot of the courtyard in the final schedule but by that time the production design of the courtyard had changed since the narrative had progressed over 3 decades. So we chose an early morning shot of the courtyard which we had shot previously and converted that into a night shot. Post grading, it was impossible to make out that it was actually an early morning shot. The DI team at Prime Focus has delivered a top class output. They are extremely professional and talented and yet good fun to work with. I had a great time working with them.”
The Digital Cinema Team at Prime Focus also played an integral role with DCP services, delivering theatrical masters for Indian release and distributing the movie in over 33 countries and 11 versions to over 590 Cinemas overseas along with secure Fibre Link uploads of the complete feature to UK. This also marked Prime Focus’ entry into the GCC market, where we successfully catered to all the countries in the Middle East.
Produced under the banner of UTV Motion Pictures and Aamir Khan Productions, Dangal opened to unanimous critical acclaim and emerged as the highest grossing film in India – ever.
Project – Dangal
Production House – Walt Disney Pictures, Aamir Khan Productions, UTV Motion Pictures
Director – Nitesh Tiwari
Producer – Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao, Siddharth Roy Kapur
Starring – Aamir Khan, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Zaira Wasim, Sakshi Tanwar, Suhani Bhatnagar
Head of Production, DI – Nirmal Gala
Colorist – Ashirwad Hadkar
Producer, Digital Intermediate – Varun
Chief Manager, Digital Cinema - Sameer Arekar
DGM , DC Production - Siddharth Nayak