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Djordje Stojiljkovic: Crafting the Extraordinary Visual World of ‘Kalki 2898 AD’

One serene morning at 6 AM in Serbia, Djordje Stojiljkovic’s phone rang. On the other end was director Rajaram, a collaborator from the science fiction film “Rani Rani Rani.” Djordje, a Belgrade-based cinematographer and visual effects artist known for his work across ad films, shorts, documentaries, and features, was informed that a prominent production house from Telangana was inquiring about him. “I then had a conversation with one of the main producers—Priyanka Dutt from Vyjayanthi Films—followed by a discussion with the director Nag Ashwin,” Djordje recollects. “I reached out to Zoran, my gaffer and friend, and asked if he wanted to go with me to India. He thought I was joking. Soon, we were on a plane from Belgrade to Hyderabad.” Thus began Djordje’s journey into the making of the ambitious mythology-meets-science-fiction film “Kalki 2898 AD,” starring Amitabh Bachchan, Prabhas, Deepika Padukone, and Kamal Haasan.

As the film is set to release on June 27, Djordje sheds light on the intricate efforts that went into its creation. Here are edited excerpts from an email interview with The Hindu.

**Origins in Cinema**
Djordje’s passion for the cinematic world ignited early in Vlasotince, a southern Serbian town. Surrounded by video and photo equipment, thanks to his father—a dual-role Information Technologies teacher and event photographer-cinematographer—Djordje began wielding a VHS camera at the tender age of 10 in the early 2000s. This early engagement with photography and cinematography quickly turned into a deep-seated passion.

Coupled with his brother and mother, Djordje nurtured his interest by watching movies almost nightly. The rise of the internet allowed him to refine his skills further, thanks to numerous photography and cinematography forums, where he received critical and growth-enhancing feedback. His early works involved creating short amateur films with school and basketball friends, often taking on post-production tasks like editing and basic VFX himself.

Djordje’s self-taught journey also extended to documenting the daily lives of his family in television-style documentaries and creating music videos for local bands, effectively fusing visual storytelling with audio. By the time he attended university, his portfolio included edited videos for clients as well as motion graphics, animations, and basic VFX work. Initially, Djordje considered studying editing but ultimately decided on cinematography at the prestigious Faculty of Drama Arts in Belgrade, a choice he is grateful for. Throughout his journey, family support played a crucial role in his success.

**Working on “Kalki 2898 AD”**
One might ask how Djordje landed the role in “Kalki 2898 AD.” Interestingly, his short film “Anima,” created between Kalki’s schedules, has not yet been released as he is presently focused on supervising Kalki’s colour grading. While Djordje jokes that he still doesn’t know why director Nag Ashwin chose him for this project, he notes that Ashwin has a knack for finding great collaborators.

**Pre-Production Process**
Extensive pre-production discussions defined the cinematic vision for Kalki.

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. Djordje and the team delved into the intricacies of the world they were creating—its inhabitants, their lifestyles and technologies, and even cultural elements like music. Director Ashwin had many of these aspects in mind long before Djordje joined, but it was crucial for the entire team to explore these ideas together.

Key technical preparations involved working with scale miniatures of large locations to identify potential problems and plan the lighting strategies. Djordje also engaged in production workshops to understand the intricacies of lighting movie vehicle interiors, ensuring practical aspects like sunlight penetration were considered.

Collaboration was vital, with constant communication between Djordje, production designer Nitin Zihani, and costume designer Archana Rao to harmonize lighting and color palettes suitable for the film’s overall visual tone. Djordje recalls fruitful sessions with composer Santosh Narayanan, whose work-in-progress scores often inspired the day’s shoot, solidifying the film’s emotional landscape.

Support from producers C. Aswani Dutt, Priyanka Dutt, and Swapna Dutt Chalasani ensured a robust pre-production phase. Immersing himself in Indian mythology with the crew enabled Djordje to ensure the film authentically represented the rich cultural heritage of India while also crafting a believable futuristic landscape.

**Visual Experience for the Audience**
Envisioning the city of Kasi in the future was a significant departure from typical Western settings in international sci-fi films. Djordje aimed to portray Kasi as a densely populated, culturally diverse, and globally significant megacity, adding a unique canvas to the film. His approach involved creating atmospheric moods that reflected characters’ inner emotions, aiming to deliver an immersive and memorable visual experience to the audience.

**Choosing the Right Equipment**
Given the film’s vast scale and ambitious vision, Djordje chose the IMAX digital camera along with the Arri Alexa 65 and Arri DNA lenses for their superior resolution and intricate, lifelike imaging capabilities. The Arri DNA lenses, crafted from vintage glass, provided a distinctive character to the visuals, particularly with their swirly bokeh effect and natural skin tones. Djordje received crucial support from his DIT Sai Krishna Koppolu and focus puller Hari Krishna in managing the digital workflow.

**Preparing for Diverse Screening Conditions**
Understanding that Kalki would be screened in various urban, semi-urban, and rural regions of India, Djordje ensured a high-quality audio-visual experience across diverse projection systems. Despite variances in technical capabilities, the production aimed to deliver an equally compelling visual and audio experience at all locations.

**Colour Palette and Realism**
The distinctive colour palette seen in the trailer was a deliberate effort to establish unique visual treatments for each sub-world within “Kalki 2898 AD.” Djordje and his team paid meticulous attention to the segments’ tones, dynamic ranges, and contrasts.

**Set Building and VFX Integration**
The physical construction of sets was crucial for authenticity. About 90% of what the audience sees of Kasi was physically built, with VFX extensions employed for the far backgrounds to create an expansive cityscape. Djordje credits the collaborative efforts of the crew for bringing these ambitious sets to life despite challenges like adverse weather conditions.

In conclusion, Djordje Stojiljkovic’s journey from Serbia to Indian cinema’s ambitious project showcases the intricate artistry and collaborative effort behind “Kalki 2898 AD.” As audiences await the film’s release, Djordje’s detailed and immersive visual storytelling promises to deliver a unique cinematic experience unlike any other.