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Shooting Rain Songs is No Walk in the Park

21 Aug, 2020 | Long Features by Cinemaazi Team Member Nichola Pais
Shree 420 (1955)

What goes into filming the ubiquitous rain sequence? Nichola Pais speaks to the artists behind the camera to find out

Many decades have passed since it made a splash, so to speak, on the screen; yet the rain song is yet to lose its freshness in Hindi films. Filmmakers remain captivated by the power of the rain to express a plethora of emotions, whether love and romance, passion and intensity or poetry and sadness. While the moods and melodies vary vastly, the famed rain sequence remains a popular and effective story-telling device, from the evergreen Pyar hua iqrar hua hai (Shree 420, 1955) to Baarish (Half Girlfriend, 2017).

Hindi film songs over the decades have encapsulated the romance of the season, both melodically and visually, bringing alive the quickening pulse of lovers against a background of dark clouds symbolising desire, showers that wash away inhibitions and rules, and wet earth redolent with the scent of longing.
The sensational month of Saawan, when the monsoon reigns, has inspired poets, writers and artists over millennia. If ancient Indian scriptures and Sanskrit poetry and literature delved into the magic of ‘varsha ritu’, the relatively contemporary canvas of Hindi cinema has also done justice to the season of rains. Hindi film songs over the decades have encapsulated the romance of the season, both melodically and visually, bringing alive the quickening pulse of lovers against a background of dark clouds symbolising desire, showers that wash away inhibitions and rules, and wet earth redolent with the scent of longing. The sense of freedom, hope and joy in post-Independence India found fitting expression in the cinema of the times. If Hariyala sawan dhol bajata (Do Bigha Zamin, 1953) portrayed the joy of the agrarian village community at the life-giving showers, the shift to a new urbanised world also grew apparent. The rains were now a more personal celebration, depicting love in a manner that was natural and unaffected, heady yet innocent. The mood was perhaps best mirrored by Nargis and Raj Kapoor (Pyar hua ikrar hua hai from Shree 420, 1955) passing the umbrella to each other, till they throw caution to the winds and share its intimate shelter together… And Madhubala and Kishore Kumar (Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958)’s charming cat-and-mouse antics on a rainy night in a motor garage. By the 60s, the rains get bolder, with the distance breached as lovers Shammi Kapoor and Mala Sinha get willingly drenched in the showers, frolicking unabashedly to Dil tera deewana hai sanam (Dil Tera Deewana, 1962). The need for escapism in the 70s is depicted in a wet and winsome Zeenat Aman, trying to entice the prim hero to join her under the showers, crooning, Haye haye yeh majboori, yeh mausam aur yeh doori (Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, 1974). Successive decades have produced such memorable songs as Aaj rapat jaayen (Namak Halal, 1982), Lagi aaj saawan (Chandni, 1989), Tip tip barsa (Mohra, 1994), Koi ladki hai (Dil To Pagal Hai, 1997), Ghanan ghanan (Lagaan, 2001), Barso re (Guru, 2007), and Tum hi ho (Aashiqui 2, 2013). The power of the rain song endures! 


Challenge accepted!

“Rain is a very powerful emotional factor in our lives and so in the films too. It can depict romance, drama, stress, difficulty, soothing atmosphere and many more moods,” vouches Amalendu Chaudhary, Director of Photography of films such as Harishchandrachi Factory (2009), Aiyyaa (2012), Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3 (2018), Stree (2018) and Chhichchore (2019). “In fact, the pre-shot announcement of ‘Sound, Camera, Baarish and Action...’ always sends a tingle down my spine. However, to generate the desired result on the screen is a little tedious and demanding as well,” he admits.  
 
Amalendu Chaudhary
 
Shooting a rain sequence is litmus test of a cinematographer’s skills, experience and practical knowledge.
Shooting a rain sequence is litmus test of a cinematographer’s skills, experience and practical knowledge. Shirish Desai, DoP of films including Naam Gum Jaayega (2005) and It’s Breaking News (2007), breaks it down for us… “Shooting generally requires two to three waters tankers on location to convey water through pipes using pumps to the strategically placed shower heads. Rain and wind go together and so we also create wind using huge industrial blowers and helicopter-type devices. Water falls straight from the showers but these blowers create wind which has the rain showers dripping more naturally. Naturally, cameras also have to be protected by plastic covers as well as heavy umbrellas, which also shield the crew.”
 
Ravi K Chandran

Ace cinematographer Ravi K Chandran, known for a slew of films in the Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi film industries, confirms, “Shooting rain is basically a difficult job. For starters, water spotting hits the camera lens. That makes the rain deflector, a rotating device fixed in front of the lens which deflects the water drops from the camera, a must. What’s more, in India we don’t have a proper rain machine like they do abroad, which allows the showers to be controlled at the touch of a button, depending on whether you want heavy rain or light drizzle. That leads to a more even spread of rain, which we don’t have access to here. In India we haven’t invested money and technology in developing this process. I find this strange because smoke and rain are very crucial to filmmaking. But for some reason, in India it remains neglected,” rues the DoP of hits like Virasat (1997), Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Yuva (2004), Paheli (2004), Black (2005), Fanaa (2006), and Saawariya (2007).
 
Kishore Kumar and Madhubala in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)
Incidentally, most rain requirements are met by the film industry’s ‘Rain Man’ – Shiva. Rain sequences apparently survive on Shiva’s understanding and expertise.
Safety is another issue that is of primary importance. The use of ‘storm fans’ which are huge propeller-type fans demands proper fixing. Similarly, the use of apparatus to create lightning effects, such as HMI lights, welding arcs and sky panels, also require careful handing. As Amalendu informs, among the essentials of a rain sequence shoot is the proper cabling of the electricity supply to avoid any accidents due to electric shock. “To prevent it you have to use water proof sockets. There is a discipline expected from the unit,” he points out. 

Incidentally, most rain requirements are met by the film industry’s ‘Rain Man’ – Shiva. Rain sequences apparently survive on Shiva’s understanding and expertise. “Over the years he has figured out the proper ways of creating rain, whether in soap ads or flood scenes. Without him we will simply not get that desired quality,” vouches Chandran.

Lighting up

Shooting a rain scene naturally calls for advance planning, and we’re not talking just the equipment here. Informs Shirish, “Prior to coming on the sets, the entire song or sequence is decided in advance – how to shoot it, where to place the camera. We make several visits to the location to see the possibilities, mark down the angles etc.”

And then, there is that key factor – lighting. Ravi K Chandran cites proper lighting as being of utmost importance. “Basically, you need a backlight to light up the rain alone against a darker background. The foreground is not lit up much, to ensure separation. This is necessary to show the rain otherwise the rain will not be visible. The backlight level needs to be absolutely right otherwise the rain will look artificial. The backlight and crosslight are key to lighting up a rain scene.” He explains that to a newcomer DoP, it might seem like the backlight is less and needs to be increased. However, when shooting begins and the rain comes in, the whole area could appear hazy and washed out. “The spray of the rain catches the light, leading to a whitish effect. After a few initial mistakes, one is able to get it right. Experienced cameramen will test the rain, shooting a couple of takes, before going ahead with proper filming,” he explains.
And then, there is that key factor – lighting. Ravi K Chandran cites proper lighting as being of utmost importance.
Lighting up the faces, especially in a romantic song, poses an additional challenge. “Earlier we would use harder lights, but now we use softer lighting for a more natural effect. Lights have to be placed very strategically for a natural effect,” Chandran shares.
 
Shirish Desai

He is echoed by Shirish Desai, who avers that the type of lighting depends on whether you are shooting indoors or outdoors, and the time at which shooting is taking place. “If it’s day time then it’s easier as you don’t have to light up the rain but if it’s night, it becomes a little tedious. For day rain scenes, you do need additional light to light up the whole scene and the actors’ faces. Also, if you are creating rain with the help of showers, you have to take care that you are shooting in the shade and not in the sunlight as it looks fake, for the simple reason that sunlight and rain don’t go together. On account of shooting in the shadow, additional lights are needed to model the actors.”
Lighting up the faces, especially in a romantic song, poses an additional challenge. “Earlier we would use harder lights, but now we use softer lighting for a more natural effect. Lights have to be placed very strategically for a natural effect,” Chandran shares.
The intensity of the rain being created comes with its own challenges. “If it is heavy rains and there are dialogues or action or both, it is tricky to maintain the continuity and resetting of the shot,” says Amalendu. “Yes, it is different than the usual to shoot a rainy sequence but it is fun too. To get the desired image and the story you need to be more focused on what you are getting rather than getting bothered by the rain and the bit of chaos and noise.” 

Shooting stars

A well-shot rain sequence does seem to be doubly satisfying to the men filming it. Shirish Desai alludes to the song Rhimjhim rhimjhim (1942: A Love Story, 1994), which he had been roped in to shoot, as the principal cinematographer was unavailable. Picturised on Manisha Koirala and Anil Kapoor, it involved creating idyllic Himachal Pradesh at good old Film City, Mumbai. “We had even brought in the vegetation and flowers of the hills, to make the set look like a hill station,” recalls Desai. “We had to create the rain, the whole atmosphere. The song is set outdoors in the daylight. I shot using mid-shots, almost close-ups along with a couple of wide shots. It went swimmingly well,” he smiles.
 
Smita Patil and Amitabh Bachchan in Namak Halaal (1982)
A well-shot rain sequence does seem to be doubly satisfying to the men filming it. Shirish Desai alludes to the song Rhimjhim rhimjhim (1942: A Love Story, 1994), which he had been roped in to shoot, as the principal cinematographer was unavailable. Picturised on Manisha Koirala and Anil Kapoor, it involved creating idyllic Himachal Pradesh at good old Film City, Mumbai.
Chandran harks back to the rain sequence he had photographed in the Rajiv Menon-directed Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000). “The road is flooded, it’s raining and Aishwarya Rai is crying as she walks. There is an open manhole and she steps right into it. To create that sequence, we built a road six feet above the ground level, lined by a pavement and shops. Then we filled the area with water.” He also recalls shooting the rain scenes in Virasat, the romantic rain song Dekho na featuring Kajol and Aamir Khan in Fanaa, and of course the National Award-winning song Idhar chala main, udhar chala in Koi Mil Gaya. “It was well choreographed by Farah Khan. It featured post-rain scenes as well, showing puddles, water droplets. We had wired Hrithik so that he could jump higher and flip etcetera. When he jumped and clicked his heels, we would pull him up. Also, when he would fall to the ground, it would be in a floaty manner.”

Shower power

Amalendu loves rain sequences so much, he always tries to suggest it to the director as it shows the mood, time of the year, and great atmosphere with sound. “Even a small drizzle contributes a lot. I have done a Marathi film गंध Gandha (The Smell, 2009) directed by Sachin Kundalkar in which one story had rain throughout. I had a great time shooting that story. Also, the climax of my film Nude (2018) directed by Ravi Jadhav was shot on the beach which was also challenging to manage with the time and also with the high tide,” he points out.
 
Sharmila Tagore and Rajesh Khanna in Aradhana (1969)


Rain and thunder have been used to set the tone for many different moods such as romance, sadness and action. However, the rains in Hindi films are mainly used to depict sensuality, and erotica. “It helps to build the mood,” maintains Shirish, citing the example of Namak Halal (1982)’s Aaj rapat jaye toh rain song featuring Smita Patil and Amitabh Bachchan. Some of Hindi cinema’s most seductive songs have been set against a backdrop of rain. From Sharmila Tagore and Rajesh Khanna in Roop tera mastana (Aradhana, 1969) to Kaate nahin katte (Mr India, 1987), rain is the leitmotif for passion play. “Rain songs are generally used for seduction,” affirms Chandran. “The girl dancing in the rain has been a fixture in films. It was done aesthetically in earlier times, and the songs looked beautiful. However, it veered towards the vulgar in later decades such as the 80s. It was the norm then but now they don’t make films like that.” He personally likes the way the peppy rain song Na jaane kahan se aayi hai featuring a raincoat-clad Sridevi was shot in Chaalbaaz (1989). Shirish Desai singles out O sajna barkha bahar aayi (Parakh, 1960) and Bheegi bheegi raaton mein (Ajnabee, 1974) and Meri jaan mujhe jaan mat kaho (Anubhav, 1971) for being well shot. Besides the more obvious trope of passion, Amalendu likes the way the rain in Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) sets the mood of the film with all the characters trapped together. “The silence between the characters gets enhanced with the sound of pouring rain,” he points out, adding that Ijaazat (1987) by Gulzar also uses rain very effectively in the narrative. “It contributes to the present tense in the waiting room where the ex-couple meets and are isolated. You always come back to the present in the waiting room with rain pouring outside and it’s night time.”
 
Sridevi in Chaalbaaz (1989)


However, if rain songs can raise the pulse, they apparently also have the power to cool audiences down. According to Shirish, “Rain comes at specific points in the film when things get heated up a bit. Also, in the 60s and 70s you will find that majority of the films that released in the hot season, had rain scenes to give that feeling of the approaching monsoon and to psychologically help cool down the audiences in times when the cinema halls were largely non-air-conditioned.”

Can’t touch this

Needless to say, the Holy Grail, the gold standard, so to speak, as far as rain on celluloid goes, remains Pyar hua iqrar hua (Shree 420, 1955). Can we ever match that level of brilliance again? If we do, it could only be in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, believes Chandran. “In the times of black and white, there was a lot of darkness, shadows and highlights. It was almost like a painting that they were able to pull off. It was all shot indoors on a set. This meant your lighting and other aspects were in your control. What’s more, in those days, they had a lot of time to do a song in a detailed manner. Now we shoot songs in a hurry, within two to three days generally. Those days, a song would be shot over 10 days. That’s why I say that the only person who could do songs like that now is Sanjay Leela Bhansali!”
Needless to say, the Holy Grail, the gold standard, so to speak, as far as rain on celluloid goes, remains Pyar hua iqrar hua (Shree 420, 1955). Can we ever match that level of brilliance again?
Discussing the different approach of that era, Shirish shares, “Nowadays one shoots with two or three cameras and the shot is edited. Back then, the entire shot would be planned, and it would be planned in sync with the music. In the song you literally feel Raj Kapoor and Nargis travelling. The camera pans on a chai shop, which provides warmth in the rain. You can see the wisps of smoke arising from there. The background of the rain is in tandem with the orchestra, which is playing in the song. They have actually tried to get the rain moving to the cellos and violins of the orchestra. It was not random; it was planned well: why will the rain move in the shot? What does the umbrella mean? It underlines the hero as a protector who will keep her safe from everything. But he will also sing songs for her and bring music in her life. The rain plays its part in bringing them together, fuelling the passion. It was organised. Every shot had a meaning.”
He also points out that this was the time of shooting with real film - digital was not even a distant dream then. “This meant you didn’t know what you were shooting while shooting it. You just shot blindly and only saw what you captured after a week. The technicians needed to be very sharp and competent as it was their responsibility.'
He also points out that this was the time of shooting with real film - digital was not even a distant dream then. “This meant you didn’t know what you were shooting while shooting it. You just shot blindly and only saw what you captured after a week. The technicians needed to be very sharp and competent as it was their responsibility. Apart from that, the cameras were heavy, the movement of the cameras called for heavy equipment, and heavy lighting was needed.” 

Amalendu is appreciative of the production design of the song. “The set is a good example of the perspective in a small space and that too with rain. The mood and intimacy between the actors in the rain with umbrella is timeless.”

With the sharpness of the digital format, the more natural blurred effect of the rain as seen in physical film is a thing of the past. Chandran is one of the many who feels its loss. “It isn’t really magical any longer,” he concludes. 
 

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