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From Rang De Basanti to Ram Leela : In Conversation with Colourist Ken Metzker

The man behind some of your favourite Bollywood colours

The back room genius who ensures that your films red, blues and greens really pop and catch your eyes!

Ken Metzker

Without us even realizing it, the colours of a film play a huge part in our overall impression of it.  They are one of the reasons you leave from Rang De Basanti feeling aglow in a warm patriotic fervour, or Barfi! in a sepia-tinted cloud  of nostalgia.

A colourist works closely with the Director and the Director of Photography to add post-production colour to film. He is responsible for not only translating the Director’s vision into a rich colour palette but also ensuring continuity between the scenes shot at different points of time. Often, he plays an integral role in making the actors look their best as well! And his role of colour correcting or colour grading  plays a huge part in manipulating the audience’s perceptions and evoking certain emotions subliminally by focussing on particular aspects of each scene.

Ken Metzker- Chief Colourist for Reliance Mediaworks has worked with some of India’s best cinematographers ranging from Ravi Varma to Santosh Sivan to Binod Pradhan and has been part of the post-production team for nearly any visually arresting Bollywood movie you can think of from the last ten years, not to mention many crossover Telugu hits!

You’ve oohed and aahed at his work in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, or Ram Leela or Rockstar and we are fortunate to have him here as part of our Colours Issue. Here’s what he had to say!

BarfiHow does one become a colourist?

Luck and hard work. Usually working for nothing until you achieve a following that loves you so much and they can afford to start paying you. Also involves working with a lot of other nice colourists to help you achieve an understanding of colour and clients; luckily there were a lot of nice colourists and paying clients in my case.

Who are the other people that a colourist works with to bring a scene to life?

The most important person in a colourist’s life other then his wife and child is the Director of Photography. He guides you in the images he has created and helps you help him tell a story. Then it’s the Director. Then it’s everyone’s favorite- the Producer. A very good VFX team are also a lovely addition to help bring a scene and story to life.

At what stage do you as a colourist get involved in the process? Do you travel with the team, or is most of your work post -production?

In Bollywood, generally one does some tests before the movie begins shooting and discusses the palette and vision of the story. This helps develop an overall visual language and helps in avoiding any major post problems. Then when the editing is complete,  the colour grading of the movie begins. After that the colourist spends his days in a dark room anywhere from a week to a couple of months.

Who are some of your favourite directors and producers to work with?

Are you trying to get me in trouble? Seriously, I have had some great experiences working with many production houses and some wonderfully intelligent Directors. From the production side, I love Dharma because they have great wrap parties and for among the Directors I love Anurag Basu because he gives a great back massage and always tells an interesting story.

What are some of the movies whose colour palette you personally like most?Ken Metzker

Anything by Wong Kar Wai. Blue. Amelie. Children of Men. City of God. Moulin Rouge!  Pans Labyrinth. Perfume. Volver.

Some of your favourite non-movie artists?

My favorite artist is Degas, with Rembrandt coming a close second. I absolutely love the portrature of Annie Lebowitz and Karsh. I am generally very traditional but also love a lot of the new visual artists

Your favourite movie from among your own work?

I’m fond of Rang De Basanti, Delhi 6, Barfi!, Banaras and Talaash.

Since so much of a colourists’ work is in the Dark Room, is there any specific music you like to listen to when working?

Belle & Sebastian, Nina Simone, Blur, Rufus Wainwright, Louie Armstrong, Elliot Smith, Pixies, Cake, and on and on. Seriously, it also depends what stage of the grading your at and the movie you are grading.

Finally, a couple of quick ones for you:

Ram Leelaa. Film or Digital

Film in Digital out!

b. Elvis or the Beetles


c. Star Wars or Star Trek

Star Wars

d. Hollywood or Bollywood!

Bollywood all the way! Until musicals make a comeback in LA, at least

Thanks Ken! The next time a movie’s look and feel leaves you sighing in delight, don’t forget to look for the name of the colourist in the End Credits!

Ram Leela and Barfi! Stills from

Ken Metzker’s Photographs courtesy Ken Metzker

My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Check out other articles from our Colours Issue, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB. See you on the other side!

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