Slapgate may have overtaken all other news from Oscars, with the incident of Will Smith punching Chris Rock dominating headlines, but India had its proud moment when Namit Malhotra’s visual effects and animation company DNEG’s work for The Dune was recognised at film world’s most-prestigious awards ceremony.

Speaking to BusinessLine over a Zoom call, Malhotra, Chairman and CEO of DNEG, smilingly said: “It’s always those who are in front of the camera who get spotlighted. But we are fine being behind the scenes.”

Behind the arclights, Malhotra’s company DNEG has quietly contributed to seven Oscar-winning films – Tenet (2021) , First Man (2019), Blade Runner 2049 (2018), Ex Machina (2016), Interstellar (2015), Inception (2011) and now The Dune.

“People spend their entire careers trying to win one... forget about nominations. We feel incredibly fortunate to have this sort of a run,” he said.

Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor and Gerd Nefzer were the VFX supervisors from DNEG’s team who received the award for The Dune.

Malhotra said The Dune was a very unique project for the company as it set new benchmarks in visual effects.

“Traditionally VFX is used by film-makers to bring a wow moment for a particular scene or a shot. But here the director’s vision was to transport the entire audience into this world 10,000 years into the future and make it believable. It was not about wowing the audience, but drawing the viewers into the story and the characters and the world and that to me is a massive undertaking and a different level of vision and discipline.”

Malhotra says it took 18 months with hundreds of people working across the world, including India, for DNEG to realize the director’s vision.

Family background

Namit Malhotra’s grandfather MN Malhotra was a cinematographer who shot one of the first colour movies in Hindi, Jhansi ki Raani, in the fifties and his father Naresh Malhotra was a co-producer of Amitabh Bacchan starrer Shahenshah.

Namit Malhotra began his movie journey by opening an editing studio Video Workshops from a garage in Mumbai’s Linking Road with just an Apple computer.

“I grew up wanting to be a film director but my dad advised me that rather than be a director in an overpopulated film industry, why not do something with technology. Normally, sons do not listen to their fathers, but I did, and here I am,” says Malhotra.

Video Works moved into VFX in 1997, becoming Prime Focus, and in 2014, the company was merged into DNEG, with a global rebrand. In 2010, Malhotra moved to Los Angeles and since 2015 has been living in London.

Asked if he sees India becoming an animation powerhouse, he says, “I believe it will happen very quickly because we have got the talent and the infrastructure.”

Upcoming projects

While over 90 per cent of DNEG’s projects come from the West, it has been involved in big Indian films like RRR. He also excited about the forthcoming project Brahmastra, directed by Ayan Mukerji, in partnership with Karan Johar and Fox Star studios.

“It will be India’s biggest budget film and stars Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. I am excited about bringing a very Indian and very original story from India onto the platform of high quality storytelling,” he said.

To draw audiences back into theatres after two years of the pandemic, by which time they have got used to OTT at home, Malhotra says the use of visual effects will redefine the big screen experience.

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