Cinematographer Russell Carpenter Brought Outsider Perspective to Hindi Indie ‘Parched’

Cinematographer Russell Carpenter Shot Hindi Film 'Parched'
Courtesy of Wolfe Releaseing

Among the credits for Hindi indie “Parched,” which Wolfe Releasing is making available on DVD on Aug. 9 following a limited U.S. theatrical run, one name stands out: Russell Carpenter, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of “Titanic,” whose more recent credits include the highly admired “Jobs” and the box office hit “Ant-Man.”

“Parched” follows the bittersweet lives of four women who live in a drought-stricken rural area of the western Indian state of Gujarat. Oppressed by a patriarchal society, they must try to break free. The film’s director, Leena Yadav, is married to Bollywood DP Aseem Bajaj, but he had his hands full as a producer on the film and wasn’t able to lens it as well.

Yadav says Bajaj told her, “If I’m not shooting your film, I have to find you somebody I admire.” They reached out to Carpenter, whom they had met when he was lensing the India segments of “Jobs.” The timing worked, and Carpenter took the gig.

One advantage of hiring Carpenter, Yadav believes, is that non-Indians are able to spot attractive aspects of the country that are invisible to its natives. “There’s some beauty that we forget to see,” Yadav says. “Foreigners come and click much more interesting photos of India.”

Yadav says she explained to Carpenter that the mood of her movie was upbeat. “I told Russell, ‘I want to celebrate the beauty of these women; I’m not making a dark, depressing film.’ ”

But there are subtle differences in the ways Americans and Indians look at beauty. “In mainstream American filming,” says Carpenter, the mission is to “make your actress look great, and if they already look great, you have to make them look better. Here, there wasn’t that mandate.”

Other differences between Hollywood studio films and Bollywood productions include budget size (far lower in India) and length of the shoot (much shorter).

Among Yadav’s concerns was that Carpenter wouldn’t have all the resources he needed. She recalls that when the DP had a requirement, “Aseem said some-thing I didn’t understand to someone who passed it on [to someone else]. It was like ants building. I thought it might be something unsafe. OSHA wouldn’t like it, but it worked.”

The language barrier wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle between the producer and the cinematographer. “Maybe he understood a third of what I said,” Carpenter says of Bajaj. “But he understood the language of cinema and the language of storytelling. Cinematographers understand where the story shifts and where it comes back, and that is an art form.”