The joy of being judged the ‘Best Cinematographer’

Manipur-born Tushar Nongthombam worked on several music videos, short films, and also started a YouTube channel to document stories of indigenous foods of N-E. But his big break came with ‘Samnaba’

The joy of being judged the ‘Best Cinematographer’

Garima Sadhwani

When Manipur-born Tushar Nongthombam first got to know that director Surjit Nongmeikapam was looking for a cinematographer for his new project, what Nongthombam didn’t know was that he won’t just be selected as the cinematographer for Samnaba-Merge, but also go on to win the “Best Cinematographer” award at the Himalayan Film Festival 2021 in Leh, Ladakh.

Born and brought up in Imphal, Nongthombam has been interested in photography and cinematography for as long as he can remember. He worked on several independent music videos, short films, and even started a YouTube channel to document the stories behind the indigenous foods of the northeast. But his big break came from the Samnaba director, whose unconventional storytelling style inspired him, says he.

Nongthombam shares that the film is inspired by the Japanese philosophy of kintsugi, which says that every mistake should be mended with a “golden” lining (literally). But hitting closer home, the film binds the traditional practices, rituals, lifestyle, and food of indigenous Manipuri communities and experiments with it as “contemporary art”.

The cinematographer feels that the pandemic forced all of us to look within, examine our lives and find a metaphor for the meaning of our lives, the challenges, and the things close to our hearts, and that is exactly what the film is about.

Having won an award for the film, Nongthombam says that he is now even more inspired to work on his art and skills. He feels that film festivals bring opportunities for artists to meet each other, learn from each other’s works and that is all the encouragement he needs. And as his first attempt at a 15-minutes film project, Nongthombam feels that he’s learned more than ever. “Working on this project gave me so many new experiences,” says he.

He adds though that there were many challenges the crew faced while shooting. “We faced technical challenges because we didn’t have enough equipment to assist with our shots and we even made our own bamboo cranes for some of the shots,” he explained. But he feels that the whole crew was always ready to pitch in and help, and worked together to overcome any issues and make Samnaba what it was.

The joy of being judged the ‘Best Cinematographer’

Ask Nongthombam if he has any advice for those just starting out, and he is all ready to help. He says that to be a good cinematographer, one needs to observe the shot from all perspectives, be it that of the audience, of the director, their own, and then set the frame accordingly. He emphasises on the importance of the director’s point of view aligning with that of the cinematographer to produce a really good shot. “If we fulfill these criteria, I think a majority of the shots will be close to perfection,” he says.

But all technicalities aside, Nongthombam feels that if you’re passionate about being a cinematographer, all you require is practice and before you know it, your dream will be a reality. His mantra? Just love what you do and never stop doing what you truly love. He adds, “Everyone has got a smartphone these days, you can easily start from there. If you really love films, watch films which will encourage you, until it adds up to your daily routine and soon everything will go in a flow.”

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