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From RRR Fight Scene to Alia Bhatt's Vogue Cover, How Underwater Shots are Taken in India

By: Bohni Bandyopadhyay

Last Updated: August 14, 2022, 14:46 IST

Delhi, India

Alia Bhatt (L) and Katrina Kaif's magazine shoots were conducted underwater by photographer Sumer Verma.

Alia Bhatt (L) and Katrina Kaif's magazine shoots were conducted underwater by photographer Sumer Verma.

Sumer Verma, who has shot for underwater sequences in many Indian movie, described how such scenes are executed, whether in a controlled pool or in the real ocean.

Sumer Verma is one of India’s first professional underwater photographers and cinematographers. He is the man behind the smooth execution of underwater sequences in many Indian movies. He shot the entire cast of Gehraiyaan (Deepika Padukone, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Ananya Pandey and Dhairya Karwa) in a special underwater project in partnership with Amazon Prime Video. He has also shot magazine covers featuring Alia Bhatt and Katrina Kaif.

He has also shot an underwater sequence for SS Rajamouli’s movie RRR. Describing how such sequences are shot in India, Sumer tells News18, “Underwater sequences are shot in swimming pools. The swimming pool is dressed with backdrops and things to create the sense of ocean, but you need a controlled swimming pool for most underwater sequences. So once the exterior shot has been taken wherever, the underwater cuts are usually done in a pool studio.”

Also read: Baby Driver Director Edgar Wright Praises Jr NTR-Ram Charan’s RRR: ‘Absolute Blast, So Entertaining’

“We put backdrops, cover up the tiles, we even sometimes use art designed to put in the rocks and other props to match the water body which you are trying to show, whether it is a lake, or a well, or the sea, whether it is rocky or sandy. So depending on your continuity you have to create that environment underwater in a controlled set,” he adds.

“We use exterior lighting, re-train the actors, and then execute the sequence. We have underwater speaker system for communication between the camera team and the director. We have a live video feed from the underwater camera to the director’s monitor outside so he’s literally looking at the live video and speaking to us and directing the shots so it’s highly interactive for them as well. And that’s how we are able to now execute these high quality underwater sequences in this country,” Sumer describes.

Not every shot is in the pool, though. Sumer has also shot with actors in the real ocean. “For Maryan, Bharat Bala’s film, which was my first big feature project, we shot with Dhanush for many days in the ocean. Some of the ocean shots of him underwater were shot at sea for five meters under water in the Andamans. Many parts of a fight sequence were shot in Rameshwaram, in the sea in between the waves. So a lot of the live action shots are taken like that,” he says.

“The purely underwater shots are also shot based on scheduling, budget, practicality. You can’t just shoot in live locations unless it’s absolutely imperative to the story, because it’s much more challenging and difficult and many more other factors are to be considered. Swimming pool yet becomes a control and very believable,” Sumer explains.

Besides movies, the Canon EOS Ambassador also takes up advertising projects and works towards raising awareness of the ocean by showing the beauty of biodiversity. He also works as the managing partner at Lacadives India, the country’s first dive centre.

After two decades spent under the surface of our oceans, the 42-year-old photographer dedicates his work to spreading a message to the world and the young generation about the state of our oceans. He has championed the cause of the sea turtles that nest on India’s east coast, and has worked with organisations such as Reefwatch Marine Conservation to highlight the damaging effects of global warming, especially coral bleaching.

As a true pioneer in his country, Sumer Verma tends to raise awareness of the ocean by showing the beauty of biodiversity.

Talking about how he enjoys the various kinds of projects he gets to work on, Sumer says, “To be honest, I love it. Because I’m very grateful that for many years, I just wished that I must be able to make it as an underwater photographer, I must be able to make a living. And I was very clear that would include wildlife, fashion, advertising, anything that can be a revenue source.

“So when I’m in the ocean with a camera, where there’s absolutely no brief and no requirements, or even if there’s a brief frankly, to go and capture beautiful ocean images, is most relaxing and fun, it’s the way I spend most of my time. Then to be called on to shoot different feature films, each one so unique, whether I’m shooting a Jeep falling into the water, which is falling off a bridge, or I’m shooting that sequence with Ram Charan and Jr NTR for RRR with Rajamouli directing me from outside, which is a huge opportunity and totally different but so enjoyable, frankly. Each one I thoroughly enjoy, each one is highly different from each other and comes with its own unique challenges.

Although he enjoys working on various projects, a feature film gives him a different high. “One has enough experience now to have dealt with all kinds of projects. Obviously for the feature film ones you get paid decently. As a professional to go and do your stuff, be part of a film which is going to be on the big screen, and also make money, is the most satisfying and rewarding,” Sumer shares.

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first published:August 14, 2022, 06:55 IST
last updated:August 14, 2022, 14:46 IST