Experiments with light

He snubbed a life of politics to follow his passion. From behind the lens, Shirish Desai has captured India on film and worked with some of the best minds in the business

Meera Vasudevan/The Goan | FEBRUARY 09, 2013, 11:22 AM IST

“At dawn, I would wait at the darkest corner of my house fora single shaft of light to pierce the shadows through a small glass opening onthe roof” reminisces Shirish Desai, a cinematographer by profession, born onMay 31, 1959 at Altinho, Panjim. His attraction for light as a child led to histryst with the film camera, his constant companion for twenty-seven years. Heis the eldest son of Goa’s second MLA (1966), Yashwant Desai of the UnitedGoans Party (now Goa Congress Party).

Why choose films over politics? “My dad loved photographyand was inseparable from his Rolleiflex camera. He taught me to developphotographs in the dark room at home” he declares. In 1968, the senior Desaigifted the masterpiece Mamiya 645 to the young Shirish, a fourth standardstudent at the People’s High School, Panjim. At the Goa College of Art, Panjim,Shirish met Baiju Parthan, acclaimed painter, who made him considerCinematography as a career and he dreamed of working with his idol, acclaimedcinematographer Govind Nihalani..

On February 13, 1986, Shirish stepped into Sahyadri Films,Shyam Benegal’s office in Tardeo, Mumbai as assistant to film-editor, a fellowGoan, Bhanudas Divkar.   In 1990,Shirish’s dream came true when John Rodrigues, an art-director colleague calledhim for help in constructing a set of Rajasthan and capturing working stillsfor cinematographer Govind Nihalani’s picturesque film Rukmavati Ki Haveli atRajkamal studios, Lower Parel, Mumbai.

Shirish assisted Govind Nihalani with the telefilms, Pithaand Jazeeren (Irrfan Khan’s debut) and the film Droh Kaal (debut of actorsAshish Vidyarthi, Manoj Bajpai and Milind Gunaji).

He assisted cinematographers, Sanjay Dharankar on thetelevision series, Ek Kahaani, Adhikaar and Remembering Nehru and films, AndhaYudh and Karma Yoddha; Ashok Mehta on the film Ram-Lakhan and V K Murthy on theTV series, Bharat Ek Khoj and Tamas and the film Deedar (Akshay Kumar’s debut).

From Govind Nihalani, Shirish learnt to be tolerant and respectfultowards technicians slower at grasping the finer elements of film-making. WhileV K Murthy treated his assistants as colleagues, not subordinates. Shirish hasshot TV commercials for Gold Spot, Vodafone, Surf and Mc Donald’s; Fox HistoryTV’s ‘The Master Class’, Discovery Channel documentary on India’s East West GasPipeline and more.

Recently, Shirish initiated the move to rescue and restorethe much-abused and ignored mermaid statue originally installed in 1938 at theMermaid Garden, Panjim, which served as the prime socializing ground of thePortuguese era. The striking art-work now stands as the sign of triumph forthose passionate about preserving Goa’s rich cultural heritage.

After a strenuous work schedule, Shirish returns to Goa torejuvenate and recharge with family and friends. He applies this fresh creativeenergy to his work-home in Mumbai. In the pipeline are English films with Goanscript-writer Leslie Menezes and on Abe Faria-the Goan who foundedhypnotheraphy and a Konkani film. “Konkani cinema must strive to earn its shareof recognition among other regional Indian films,” Shirish states. 

Shirish has ample experience in handling film and digitalformats. He parts with encouraging words for aspiring cinematographers - “Learnto love light and be willing to adapt to new developments in cinema.”

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