At a recent press meet held in Hyderabad, filmmaker Shankar urged everyone to watch his latest sci-fi feature film 2.0 in 3D. “The experience will be 10 times better than the 2D version,” he remarked. Truth be told, no Indian film, shot in 3D, has been in the limelight as much as 2.0, starring Rajinikanth, Akshay Kumar, and Amy Jackson, in recent years, despite several attempts by filmmakers in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Hindi.
In complete contrast to this trend or the lack of it, Hollywood has been riding high on the 3D wave post the jaw-dropping success of Avatar, and almost every other major Hollywood blockbuster has a 3D version releasing in theatres on a regular basis. 3D has become the new normal and right now, it’s on the verge of another revolution in the wake of James Cameron’s efforts to make 3D glasses obsolete with the sequels to Avatar.
But, why is it that 3D films have never really become a major trend in India? The answer is complicated, to say the least. The evolution of 3D films in India dates back to Jijo Punnoose’s My Dear Kuttichathan, which released in 1984. Even after all these years, it is still rated as one of the best 3D films made in India.
Talking about the genesis of My Dear Kuttichathan, in an interview to Film Companion, cinematographer Ramachandra Babu said, “Jijo was the brainchild behind Navodaya’s technological innovations. After 70MM, he was looking for something new for his next. That’s when I came across a 1974 issue of American Cinematographer, which detailed the concept, the origin and the technology behind 3D. After a golden period in the '50s, the technology was making a comeback with films like Jaws 3D. I gave Jijo the magazine and asked him to think about it. If there was anyone who could do it, I knew it would be Jijo.”
Jijo had to reportedly make multiple trips to Burbank, California, to understand the technology, and after a lot of struggle to convince his father to make a 3D film, he got a budget of Rs 40 lakhs to make his passion project. It’s been nearly 36 years since My Dear Kuttichathan released, and in the meantime, several Indian filmmakers including Vikram Bhatt, Ram Gopal Varma, Remo D’Souza, Gunasekhar, Anubhav Sinha, Soundarya Rajinikanth among various others have either made films in 3D, or converted their films into 3D at some point.
Incidentally, 2.0 is not the first film that will have Rajinikanth in 3D. In the past, his own film Sivaji (2007) was re-released in 3D in 2012, and later, Kochadaiiyaan, directed by his daughter and filmmaker Soundarya Rajinikanth, released in 3D back in 2014. It was India’s first photorealistic motion capture animated film and Soundarya says that the film was released in 3D to enhance the visual experience for the audience.
Speaking about the making of the film, Soundarya says, “Kochadaiiyaan was not shot in film or digital. We had the motion capture of the actions shot only, these are the body movements and facial reactions, the entire film was animated. Everything in the film was created in the 3D space. We always knew we wanted to release the film in both 2D and 3D versions. Unfortunately, some of the Indian theatres at that time didn’t support 3D viewing. I’m very glad the theatre infrastructures and facilities have improved a lot now.”
Post the worldwide success of Avatar, which ushered in a new era of 3D filmmaking in the West, quite a few Hollywood studios also lapped up conversion of 2D films into 3D since it was more cost-effective. Although the experience isn’t the same, compared to a film which is shot in 3D, the conversion process has become so efficient that several VFX experts say that you can’t make out the difference whether a film has been shot in 3D or not. Yet, a lot of films don’t pass the test for the simple reason that they fail at the design level.
One of the key aspects in 3D films is how filmmakers and cinematographers use depth in a frame to create an immersive experience. If there’s a lot of empty space, the makers ensure that there are quite a few elements which force our eyes to lead up to something. Srinivas Mohan, VFX supervisor of 2.0, says, “Long time ago, I had worked on Magic Magic 3D, and that experience helped me a lot to understand the basics of 3D films. During the making of 2.0, I was supporting the stereography team, and the entire film had to be designed keeping in mind that we are shooting it in 3D. You won’t find too many empty spaces. In films that are converted from 2D to 3D, a lot of times, it’s not the conversion which is a problem, but the lack of depth because the film weren’t designed for 3D right in the beginning.”
The challenges involved in making a 3D film are immense. For the actors, it has a lot to do with their movements within a frame and the slow pace of shoot due to the excessive amount of time it takes to change a camera set-up. Nithya Menen, who was part of Gunasekhar’s Rudhramadevi cast, recalls, “We didn’t really have to prepare anything in specific for 3D, but I remember on the first day of the shoot, the camera itself looked quite different than what we are used to seeing. Our movements had to be precise and specific while shooting. And we didn’t have a choice but to wait for long periods of time before the camera set-up was ready.”
In normal cases, this change in camera set-up takes anywhere between 20 minutes to 1 hour; however, when it comes to 3D films, the time it takes is nearly doubled, which means the team can shoot only few shots per day. For cinematographers too, there are quite a few restrictions in terms of camera movements. And the margin of error is greatly reduced, otherwise, it might result in motion sickness while watching the film.
Filmmaker Shankar says, “We shot the entire film using four lenses that were viable for the 3D format. The cameras and rigs were heavy and you can’t pan easily. We would mount the heavy 3D cameras on steadycams and while moving them, invariably some cables would get disconnected. Re-aligning them would take time. We learnt to be patient.”
It’s equally complicated, if not more, for the VFX team working on a 3D film.
“Rendering takes double the amount of time, and not to forget, it’s a lot of data to handle. If you are doing something in 3D, there has to be a reason to do that. It needs a lot of meticulous planning, otherwise it will end up looking like a gimmick if you only have few objects popping at you randomly,” Pete Draper, who has worked on the VFX of films like Eega and Baahubali, avers.
That’s not all. The way a 3D film is edited, even the action choreography differs so that it doesn’t distract the audience while watching the film. The success of 2.0, beyond the efforts of Shankar and his team, also depends on how well-prepared the theatre owners are to provide a better experience for the audience. One of the common complaints when it comes to 3D film is that it looks dim the moment you put on the 3D glasses. More than the quality of the film, several technicians opine that it has a lot to do with the projection system at the cinema halls.
“They really need to crank up the luminescence by some notches, and the projectors need to be calibrated to screen a film in 3D. Otherwise, the experience isn’t the same. And quite often, the 3D glasses we are handed in the theatres have scratches and they are smudged which ruin the experience,” Peter Draper adds.
With such complexities in hand, it’s little wonder that not many filmmakers in India have tried their hands at 3D. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of 3D films which claim to be the ‘first-Indian-film’ in various aspects - First Indian historical 3D film, First Indian Comedy 3D film, First Indian Horror 3D film…the list goes on. In the process, the failure of such films have made the industry and the audience skeptical about 3D in first place.
Amidst all this, it’s a million dollar question whether 2.0 will make people believe in the power of 3D filmmaking. “I believe audience would love watching their favourite actors from close quarters,” Shankar says, adding, “I wanted 2.0 to be an experience, more than just being another big budget film. That’s why we made the film in 3D.”
Sometimes, the biggest of trends in movies start with the success of one film. Now, all eyes are on 2.0 to see if it can revive Indian cinema’s interest in 3D, or if it will remain as a one-off visual extravaganza. Whatever might be the case, this might very well be the watershed moment for 3D in Indian cinema. And there are no two ways about it.