‘West is West’, the follow up to the hit 1999 feature ‘East is East’, is currently on theatrical release across Ireland. To mark ‘West is West’s cinematic arrival IFTN caught up with the film’s Irish cinematographer, Peter Robertson to discuss his approach to creating the rich Indian look of the film.
‘West is West’, from Assassin Films/ BBC Films, brings audiences back to the bosom of the Khan family. Time has passed and this sequel is set in Manchester in 1975. Sajid, the youngest Khan, is deep in pubescent crisis under heavy assault both from his father's tyrannical insistence on Pakistani tradition and from the fierce bullies in the schoolyard. So in a last attempt to 'sort him out', his father decides to pack him off to Mrs Khan No.1 and family in the Punjab, the wife and daughters he abandoned 35 years earlier. It is not long before Ella Khan (Mrs Khan No.2), with a small entourage from Salford, England, swiftly follows to sort out the mess, past and present. The film is directed by Andy DeEmmony (Father Ted, Red Dwarf).
Peter Robertson received an IFTA nomination for his work on ‘Inside I’m Dancing’ in 2003 on which he also worked with ‘East is East’ Irish director, Damien O’Donnell. He received further IFTA nominations for ‘Garage’ and won the award for ‘Song for a Raggy Boy’ which also claimed him the Haskell Wexler Award at the 2003 Woodstock Film Festival. He has worked on many successful features over the years including ‘Zonad’, ‘True North’; ‘Michael Collins’; ‘The Nephew’ and ‘Disco Pigs’ as well as several TV dramas including ‘The Clinic’; ‘Inspector George Gently’; ‘Stardust’ and ‘Proof’.
IFTN: Peter, would I be right in saying that Irish producer Ed Guiney helped get you the ‘West is West’ gig?
PETER ROBERTSON: In a way, possibly. He knew the producer Leslee Udwin and she asked him if he knew anyone who would be good for the job. He said me – but, as far as I know I had been in the running anyway and then out of the running. But then they offered me the job!
IFTN: ‘West is West’ marks the feature film debut of Andy who has been a TV director up to now. Did this mean you had more of an input than you might normally have as to the look of the film?
PETER ROBERTSON:: What happened with this film is that I met with Andy in London and within about 20 minute we had hit it off completely and I just knew I had the job. We were definitely singing off the same hymn sheet from very early on. The great thing was that he showed me references - which is fantastic to have as a cinematographer - and I had almost exactly the same vision as him. We didn’t agree about everything but we had the same basic vision.
IFTN: You’ve worked with director Damien O’Donnell (director of ‘East is East’) on a few projects in the past, were you disappointed he wasn’t involved with ‘West is West’?
PETER ROBERTSON:: I’ve done quite a few films and ads with Damo alright, the highlight so far being ‘Inside I’m Dancing’. The funny thing is that I applied to work on ‘East is East’ but my CV wasn’t the CV I now have so I wasn’t even considered for it. And then of course Andy was brought in to do this film and I’m here so it has changed around somewhat. I’d loved to have done it with Damo of course, he’s fantastic to work with!
IFTN: ‘East is East’ was made in 1999 and the same cast and many of the same crew members came back for ‘West is West’ – did that make for a strange atmosphere on set?
PETER ROBERTSON:: It was really nice on set. It was particularly nice to work with Om Puri because he was like the elder statesman on set, he has such a great presence and he really was an absolute joy to work with.
IFTN: You used a combination of hand held and bungee rigging on Kodak 35mm in shooting the film – is that your preferred approach or the look that Andy requested?
PETER ROBERTSON:: Well Andy wanted to use hand held and though it was initially an intimidating thought when I was in Ireland, it became more do-able when I arrived in India. I love using 35mm but I’m not a luddite – in fact I haven’t shot on 35mm since ‘Garage’ which was such a completely different look. I like the different looks you can get from it; ‘Garage’ has a somewhat portraiture feel to it whilst ‘West is West’ has far more of a fluid feel to it. Normally though I am a huge fan of RED, I think it looks fantastically cinematic.
IFTN: Andy wanted you to use as little lighting as possible on set, how did you get around that?
PETER ROBERTSON:: Because of the reliability of the weather in India I was able to use mirrors with silk or muslin over them to reflect the sun and create whatever look I wanted. It’s obviously something that we can’t do in Ireland because the windows would have nothing to reflect but it worked really well. I light through silk a lot because it’s a great way to soften scenes.
It was a lot of luck really because we shot in September just after the monsoon season and then, just when we finished the shoot, the weather changed and was a bit changeable. I was also hugely lucky in that I had 12 sparks on set with me whereas the most you’d get in Ireland is usually about four.
IFTN: And what is your normal choice of lenses?
PETER ROBERTSON:: Well, I used the Zeiss Ultra Primes with this film. I’ve used them before and they work really well in getting across different contrasts and they’re a great size too for hand held work.
IFTN: Have you any upcoming projects?
PETER ROBERTSON:: Nothing immediately – a guy rang me about doing a short in May which I would have loved but I’m sadly already signed up to do something. It’s a bit of a pain when that happens obviously but, after almost 30 years in the business you just learn to get over it!
- ‘West is West’ is currently on nationwide general release. For film times see local press.