Cinematographer Ishwar Bidri who passed away on 28 December was a celluloid magician. The kind of stunning visuals he created for the films of the mighty J P Dutta were not only epic, they were sheer poetry.
I consider Bidri one of Indian cinema’s best cinematographers. My dear friend J P Dutta is understandably broken by the loss.
“Subhash, they are all going one by one.I feel a deep sense of loss each time a friend goes. Ishwar was that eye which saw the visuals in my mind. How we started working together is a story.You see, I had been signed to make a war film Sarhad with the Nadiadwalas in 1976. They told me my cameraman would be this guy who was shooting a Gujarati film. So I was being offered a regional technician. How was I to know that Ishwar was a world-class talent? Thank God, I was too raw and too new to say no. Because if I had refused to work with Ishwar then I’d have missed out on an important collaborator. . He went on to become the visual interpreter of the pictures in my head,” recalls JP with a catch in his voice.
They went on to work together in several of JP’s magnum opuses.
Recalls JP, “Sarhad was shelved after we completed 95 percent of the shooting. Ishwar and I parted. But when I was ready to make my second film Ghulami 9 years later , I called him again. And you know, the magic of the Rajasthan’s deserts that we captured in Ghulami, and then Yateem, Batwara , Hathyar and Border was what it was.
No filmmaker since then and only Sunil Dutt in Reshma Aur Shera , was able to capture Rajashthan the way JP and Ishwar did.
Chuckles JP, “Yeah , Sunil Dutt had to really had to really slog it out in the deserts for Reshma Aur Shera. We knew the hardships waiting for us from the stories we heard about the shooting of Reshma Aur Shera. Nothing comes easily.At least nothing worth trying in life.”
In short, all the J P Dutta classics were shot by Ishwar Bidri. It is no coincidence that JP’s weakest films Kshatriya, Refugee,LoC Kargil,UmraoJaan and Paltan were shot by other cinematographers , not Ishwar Bidri.
JP sighs, “Perhaps you are right. There is some magic that only the two of us could create together. I mean I worked with other cinematographers and he(Ishwar ) worked with other filmmakers. Lekin woh baat nahin tthi. Hamari kuch baat hi aur tthi.”
Now 71, JP says he has had a blessed career. “If as you say I could snap my finger and get anyone to work with me, then it’s not my talent. There are so many directors far more talented than me. Even in my debut Sarhad when I was an unknown, I had a dream cast of Vinod Khanna(one of JP’s dearest friends), MithunChakraborty, Kader Khan , Naseeruddin Shah, Pran, Mazhar Khan… I just had to ask them and they would do it without asking for a script.Yes I was just blessed.”