RIP Ashok Mehta: The man who looked at things differently
From Bandit Queen to Ram Lakhan, Ashok Mehta will be best remembered for bringing a certain finesse to our films
Mumbai Mirror Bureau (August 16, 2012)
One of Ashok Mehta’s last appearances was at Whistling Woods, where he reached on a wheelchair. He was suffering from an advanced form of lung cancer, but his spirit, as always, remained indomitable. Recalling the gooseflesh inducing moment, Subhash Ghai says, “I remember how he got up from the wheelchair, climbed the 13 steps to reach the stage, where 400 students honoured him. Ashok gave a truly motivational speech that got him a standing ovation from the students.”
Those who have had the privilege of working with one the finest cinematographers of our time, will vouch for the fact that, Mehta, who died on succumbed to his illness on Wednesday at 65, elicited such effusive responses wherever he went.
A man with flair – whether it was with his way of using light or wearing his signature hat – he has been credited with brining in a certain finesse in our films. A quick look at his repertoire is revealing – Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane, Paroma, Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen, Shyam Benegal’s Mandi and Trikaal – which is shot almost entirely in candle light, Shashi Kapoor’s Utsav, Subhash Ghai’s Ram Lakhan, Khalnayak and Kisna and M F Hussain’s Gaja Gamini. From the unabashedly commercial, to the fiercely artistic, his genius found expression in every milieu. A reason why, when word of his demise first came in, the tributes came thick and fast. Shekhar Kapur, for one, declared that Mehta was responsible for unlocking his creative potential. “A large part of who I am in the West, is thanks to what he taught me,” he said to this paper. Anil Kapoor was among the first ones to reach the hospital and bid a tearful goodbye.
Mehta will be missed by the industry for the way filmmakers looked at the frame. For instance, on the very first day of shoot on the sets of Ram Lakhan, Ghai was in for a surprise when Mehta insisted he wanted the lights on for a daytime shot. “The results shocked me. I had never envisaged that keeping the lights on would add so much sparkle to that particular scene. And mind you, he could light up a scene with a matchstick.”
A perfectionist, Mehta would not hesitate to ask for retakes till he was satisfied with a particular shot. Even if he was working with a stalwart like Dilip Kumar in Saudagar.
For the man whose vision redefined Bollywood, his life was no less dramatic. He was just 14 when he ran away from his home in Delhi. He started off in the early sixties, doing odd jobs that barely kept him going, before he landed up at R K Studios as an office boy. Soon, he graduated to being a camera attendant and proved to be a very efficient one at that. The turning point came when Shashi Kapoor happened to notice how deft Mehta was with the camera while working on a film. Shashi went on to ask Mehta to work on his home production 36, Chowringhee Lane. Later, Rakhee, who was hugely impressed with Mehta’s skills during the filming of Paroma, suggested his name to Subhash Ghai for Ram Lakhan. The film was a turning point for the cinematographer, who never looked back thereafter.
The news of Mehta’s illness reached the industry on the sets of Raveena Tandon’s television show. He had appeared in a segment featuring Arjun Rampal, whom he had launched in Bollywood with his only directorial project Moksha. He had addressed his protégé from the hospital bed, reducing Rampal to tears.
Mehta’s funeral will be conducted on Friday after his family members arrive from abroad.
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