Navroze Contractor, Photographer & Cinematographer

Multi-Award winning Cinematographer, Navroze Contractor is a huge contributor to the documentary world across the globe. He has been a part of many award winning films like The Legacy of Malthus by Deepa Dhanraj (Winner of Several International Awards), Limited Manuski by Nachiket Patwardhan (Winner of the National Film Award), Percy by Pervez Merwanji (Winner at Manheim International Film Festival), Love in the time of Malaria by Sanjiv Shah (Winner of the National Film Award), Last house in Bombay by Luke Jennings (Winner at the Bombay International Short Film Festival) to name a few.

A seasoned photographer, Navroze has won many one-man shows for his still photographs and a series of his shots of jazz musicians are in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum, Washington DC, U S A.

Jazz Musicians (Pics Courtesy TASVEER)

Navroze recently was the principal cinematographer for a short documentary film called Mr. Shanbag’s Shop which screened at the South Asian Film Festival in San Francisco, Annual Asian Film Festival of Dallas and the Asian American International Film Festival in New York City.

Currently Navroze is in the midst of several documentary projects and took a few minutes from his busy schedule to talk to Of Indian Origin:

Do you remember the first ever photograph you took, which made you feel like you have arrived?
NC: If I can remember so far back there were a lot of photographs that could be called like sketches. It is like when one is learning how to draw. I was struggling with exposure, developing and printing B&W and other technicalities that are a partof photography. Plus I was looking at the works and reading up everything I could lay my hands on about photographers of the world. I don’t really remember one picture that made me feel that I had arrived.. it was a body of work put together.

Who were your influences when you started out in Cinematography/Photography?
NC: My very first influences in photography were Gordon Parks and later W. Eugene Smith. From then to now I have studied the works of Euqene Smith and I would say his work has been my biggest influence. I feel he is one photographer who has blended ‘art & photo journalism’ to the ultimate level. Besides his photographs, his interest in jazz, his life and convictions have been a driving force for me for over40 years. I took these influences and what I learnt in painting at the Faculty of FineArts, Baroda were my initial influences in cinematography at FTII. I admired the works of Haskell Wexler, Raul Coutard, Vilmos Zsigmond, Lazlo Covaks (whom I later studied with) and in documentary Richard Leiterman. At FTII, at that time there were literally two camps, one that followed Shubroto Mitra and another that followed the work of V K Murthy. I was terribly impressed by the latter. I don’t think there is just one cinematographer who’s work I admire but there are many inspiring ones inthe world.

What would you say Photography is – Science or Art? And Why?
NC: I strongly maintain that to be a photographer you must study Fine Arts. Except for the rarest ones, all great photographers have come from an art back ground. The science in it is just a means of getting there.

What does a cinematographer actually do and how does it tie in with a photographer?
NC: Basically, a cinematographer visualises the dream of the director and through his ability and tools of photography makes it a reality. Cinematography, unlike photography is not a solo art. We are dependant on several factors to be able to make our images look ‘good’. Without a good idea, a good director, a good script and a good art director there is never ‘good’ cinematography.

How different is it working on a documentary film to working on a feature film? Which one do you enjoymore?
NC: Hitchcok said it all when he said: ‘ Feature films are made by God, and God makes documentary films’. The biggest difference is, in feature films the director plays God. What he wants, he creates. Time of day, light, night, rain, thunder, tears, anger, peace, violence.. he wants, he gets made. Everything is controlled. In a documentary there is no such luxury. We wait for everything to happen. I enjoy doing both as much, though my work has been more in documentary.

How does working on HD and 3D formats affect a cinematographer?
NC: I have never worked on 3D so I have no idea. HD is another format and if treated with what limitations it comes with, it can be great. At the same time because it is inexpensive it spoils you and makes you over shoot, which is a real folly as you lose your sense of judgment and discretion of selection. I am very troubled when people say ‘Oh, we shot hundred hours’.. a hundred hours of vague footage is not worth 3 hour of good footage.

How was it working on ‘Frames’? As it is the first feature film in India to be shot entirely on HD format, do you think it was easier or did you face more obstacles?
NC: FRAMES was shot entirely on HD and the workflow was HD. It is surely less time consuming and you get more out of less. While actually shooting it is easieronly because you don’t keep changing magazines like in film and see results instantly of the quality you will have at the end. Otherwise it is like shooting film. The expense for renting good HD cameras is still the same as a 35mm camera. What with cinematographers wanting HD cameras to work just like film. Once this mindset changes it will become smoother.

Do you think the digital era will enhance or take away the natural aspects of a documentary film?
NC: I don’t understand what you mean by ‘natural aspects’. I worked half my life with film. Made a switch to digital like many others but I didn’t fight it. Technologywill never stand still. I take it just as a tool and don’t get too involved or too upset with the change. Whichever way one looks at it, digital is the way it is going. It is still very young, but it is the way.

Which of your films would you say turned out the best as a cinematographer’s point of view?
NC: In documentaries I would say The Ballad of Pabu by George Luneau, Sudesha, Kya Hua Iss Sheher Ko, Something Like a War by Deepa Dhanraj, Famine 87 by Sanjiv Shah and Dreams of  the Dragons Children by Pierre Hoffman are some on the top list. In features it would be Duvidha by Mani Kaul, 22nd June 1897 and Devi Ahilya Bai by Chinu & Jayoo Patwardhan and Love in the time of Malaria by Sanjiv Shah are on my list. And many more.

Tell us a bit about what you are working on at the moment.
NC: I have just finished a film with Chetan Shah on painter SG Vasudev. I am working on a film on brooms in Rajasthan with writer Rustom Bharucha and artist Madan Meena. It’s a documentary about everything that concerns the broom. I am also working with Deepa Dhanraj on her latest documentary on Muslim Women’s Jamaat in Tamil Nadu.

Lastly, your advice to aspiring photographers or cinematographers?
NC: Look at art. Study the master painters of India and the west. Look at the masters of still photography. Look at international cinema, not just Hollywood and Bollywood. See why films look different. Study and observe ‘light’ all the time. Wherever you are study the ‘light’. LIGHT is the most important aspect of photography. It shapes and influences everything we see.

  1 comment for “Navroze Contractor, Photographer & Cinematographer

  1. arthur santosh
    February 14, 2014 at 9:11 am

    I saw some amazing photographs of your at High Note, Bangalore.
    Being a jazz fan, these pics were a solid treat! Salute…

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