20 years ago, Indian-born cinematographer Gurdeep Singh had never even heard of any of the streaming websites which have now become such an indelible part of his life. India’s IT sector, although rapidly growing, was nowhere near that of its western counterparts. There was no Netflix, and certainly no YouTube, which is why cinema became, and still remains, such a sanctified industry for millions of Indians. One of these fervid film devotees was a 10-year old science student from Punjab, who fell in love with cinema almost instantaneously. The lack of Cable TV meant that the weekly films that were played on public channels were especially savored. In a society where STEM fields were widely regarded as the only ones worth pursuing, the thought of becoming a filmmaker was an alien concept to Singh, yet all he knew was that he was completely enraptured.
It wasn’t until much later that Singh realized he was actually capable of creating the same stories he had spent his childhood coveting. After shooting a documentary at his local Old Age Home, Singh was taken aback by the barrage of praise that followed. At a private screening for his friends and family, he recalls, there wasn’t a single dry eye in the room. To Singh, who had since then realized that he just wasn’t cut out for traditional careers in Medicine and Engineering, it was a turning point. He felt empowered and encouraged by the impact a well-directed film could have on any audience, big or small. According to him, this realization caused a significant shift in perspective: “It was like something inside me switched on. I started looking at things differently, searching for little things that most people overlook in people. When I sat in a bus, I observed the faces around me. I realized that everything and everyone comes with a story, and a good storyteller is one skilled enough to see it and brave enough to capture it.” After submitting a Short film to the Yes Bank Movie Awards, Singh won the third position in his first film festival, presented by none other than renowned Indian director Rakesh Om Prakash Mehra. For the first time, he knew this was exactly where he belonged.
Today, Gurdeep Singh is one of India’s trailblazing young filmmakers, who are changing the face of Indian entertainment with their technique, skill, and verve. He has a number of short independent films under his belt, including Fenced (2019), A Family Barbecue (2019), and Paranormal Monster’s Society (2018). In 2016, Singh enrolled in New York Film Academy to study cinematography. According to him, film school was one of his best decisions: “I love the way they taught us cinematography, starting us off with an 8mm lens and then slowly building it to 16mm and 35mm. Working with film is especially tricky; once it’s captured, there’s no turning back. It taught me to be disciplined, to plan each shoot meticulously, and to make sure I was selective, and focused.” Fresh out of film school, Singh was eager to apply his newfound skills and knowledge to real life movies. He worked with a number of production houses, under the likes of Brad Hamilton and Maria Quintana, and in the process received a film education more valuable than the one he had received in New York.
In 2016, Singh worked with Riyad Bin Muqrin in his crime thriller, The Soul, which was completely new territory for him. Previously, he had been part of a team, being coached by some of the industry’s finest. Now, the ball was in his court: he was responsible for leading an entire team. This opened the doors for other opportunities, and it led him to work on Paranormal Monster Society, Turning Tables, and From a Barren State in 2018. These projects were an integral learning experience for Singh, who became familiar with the sort of dedication and work needed to lead a massive team, plan and coordinate scenes and seamless shots, and be prepared to adapt and improvise.
Film cinematography isn’t the only feather in Singh’s cap. Shortly after venturing into the film world, he was introduced to Balwinder Singh, CEO of Speed Records, India’s biggest regional music company. They were fascinated by his ideas and offered him a position as Executive Producer, which was the lucky break Singh had been waiting for all his life. He began working for internationally renowned artists like Diljit Dosanjh, Jassi Gill, Babbal Rai, and Miss Pooja. He became involved in some of their most famous music videos, some of which have between 100M and 300M views. Talking about this experience working with these industry legends, Singh says, “Knowing them personally and professionally felt special. But during this journey, I learned the reason for their success: They’re positive people, and most of them are firm believers of meditation. They make you comfortable and talk to you without any of the pomposity common in stars of their stature.” This experience of working as a director and cinematographer at the same time felt like a special treat, one that Singh hopes will continue moving forward.
Singh’s dream for the future is to take it several notches higher: “I want to own my own production house, eventually. Work as a producer and cinematographer. I want to travel, find new stories, things that speak to people and are relatable.” With a number of riveting projects in the works and a determination to make it big in the filmmaking scene both in India and elsewhere, it is certain that Gurdeep Singh is a name we’ll keep hearing more of.