Angadi Theru was like writing
my 10th standard exam
is it work for your mentor K V Anand in Ko?
Theru was like writing my 10th standard exam
and I was nervous and scared. Bana Kathadi
was like 11th exam and there was not much
of tension as I had already written an exam.
Therefore, Ko was more like the 12th standard
exam that could decide the future path be
it arts, sciences, engineering or medicine.
Ko is a crucial period in my profession. Working
with Anand sir was writing my 12th standard
exam with my teacher by my side. He was always
there to guide me and clarify my doubts. It
was like doing a complicated project under
my mentor’s guidance and support. .
You had a lot of physical work in Angadi Theru. Did
such things happen in Ko too?
In Angadi Theru, the strain was more physical than
mental as I was the sole member responsible for the
camera work. There was no huge pressure. Director
conveyed his demands and my job was to execute it.
The onus of right and wrong rested completely on me.
But in Ko, it was entirely a different scenario. Here
I was working with someone who had won a national
award for cinematography for his debut film and it
was imperative that I satisfy him. This was the biggest
challenge and sometimes it was difficult too. Anand
knows all about the frames, how to light them, enhance
them so I couldn’t buy the excuse of extra time
to do it as he would wonder why I was taking more
than the required time. Sometimes it was advantageous
too when he would help me out and simplify things.
Hence it was difficult as well as easy to work with
you did for Ko
There would be something technically new in each and
every film of Anand sir. In Ko also, he was always
there with me in the cinematography process. When
we started shooting, we had with us the Phantom Flex,
then new to the market, a camera that shot an astounding
2500 frames per second. We were the first ones in
India to use it. We sourced it from Hong Kong and
have shot the climax fight using it. Through this
camera, an event that happens for one second can be
shown stretched to 18 seconds. Such kind of cameras
has only been used in James Bond films. We have also
shot a song in Harbin, China. Although there was nothing
challenging technically in it, it was demanding in
a different vein. In any electronic equipment, there
is a mention of an optimal working temperature which
ranges from -5 to 45 degree Celsius. I had never paid
much attention to this fact. But I understood its
significance only after landing in China where the
temperatures were -27 degree C. Although this temperature
sounded cool, it had many physical and technical difficulties
in store for us. At this temperature, blood started
clotting and electronic equipments started malfunctioning.
When the temperature dipped below -5, my digital meter
went dead in 5 minutes and started functioning after
1 hour of vigorous warming. Digital cameras failed
and lens got fogged due to condensation. It was a
great challenge to make these equipments work.
How did you overcome
Anand sir had sent me loads of information and links
from the web to overcome issues relating to shooting
at such temperatures. We read and applied them. Of
course there were a few problems beyond all these.
We had protected the lens using plastic sheets in
an airtight manner minimizing the air transfer. When
digital cameras failed, they had to be taken to a
hotter place with at least a temperature of -5 degree
C and revived. In short we equipped ourselves to tackle
these issues in the technical department. Anticipating
the failure of light meter, in the evenings, I used
to measure around five places in the shooting spot.
When the meter did fail, we used digital cameras and
fixed the exposure with it. Hence we were prepared
for the situation and managed.
While in China, the problem was with minus temperatures,
whereas in Norway, we got to understand how environment
affected the process of cinematography. We don’t
have such issues here. Out there, we walk for around
four and a half hours to a shooting spot, fix the
camera and ready to shoot, a fog would materialize
from nowhere and completely morph the location. The
visibility was just about 5 feet. So we had to wait
till it cleared and then shoot. All the locations
that we shot were 3500-4000 feet above sea level and
there was no sign of any one living there. For some
locales, we used chopper to reach and for some, we
In one such location, fog had suddenly set in and
there was no way a chopper could come in. So one set
of people decided to trek the way down and bring in
some help and the other set including me (I did not
want to walk), director, heroine decided to stay up
in the mountain. Fortunately for us, fog cleared and
help came in and we went down in the chopper. For
the group that walked, help came only in their last
leg of trek. In Norway, it was more of a physical
strain. When we came back, the news was flashed all
over the media that Ko team had an adventurous experience.
This is true for the people who walked down and not
your opinion, what are the films that can
be termed as reference point for technical
you have any doubt on the technical aspects
of cinematography, all that you do is, watch
any of K V Anand’s work and you get
the answer. I am not saying this because I
worked under him. When I had completed Viscom
and was in the process of taking up cinematography
as my career, I used to read a lot of books
to clarify my doubts. But today I seek Anand
sir’s help. For instance when you say
cross processing, he would have tried this
in his film. Today, whenever a
Anand sir is an encyclopedia
any doubt on the technical aspect, he will only turn
to Anand sir because he keeps updating himself on
the latest development in the field by reading books
and surfing the net. Anand sir is an encyclopedia
in the cameramen’s group. Although he has done
around 11-12 films as a cinematographer, the solution
to all the (technical) problems can be found in his
body of work. When he did Mudhalvan, he had around
200 TVs and shot the scene without a single flicker
in any TV. Today we have plasma TV but at the times
of picture tube TV, to shoot a TV without any flicker
needed a sound knowledge of subject. I only refer
to Anand sir’s films for any of my technical
doubt. Five years ago, Anand sir alone was the encyclopedia
but google and Wikipedia have joined him only now.
What are your special touches in Ko?
A good cameraman should not have any special touch
of his own. It is not required to render good images.
Your film should decide on your touch. When the director
tells you the story, you will know how to treat it.
When you try giving a special touch to the film, you
will end up spoiling the story. You should try to
show your technical prowess in ad films where there
are only 10-20 shots and there, it is necessary to
exaggerate every shot. You can use such opportunities
to show who you are. But when you are narrating a
story for 2-2.5 hours, as a cameraman you should only
give what the script demands. In that way, I have
not tried anything to give my touch. Director had
visualized the shoot in Norway. It is not because
we wanted to tell the world that we are technically
sound that we went to shoot in China with -27 degree
C. In the film, the song features at a very complicated
and tense situation and to give the audience a relaxed,
cool feel, Anand wanted to shoot in a place with ice.
That was the drive and nothing else. Hence a good
cameraman should not have any style of his own and
it is only the script that decides it and his visualization
should be based on it.
When director of Bana Kathadi narrated the story to
me, he said that the film is about the life of a boy
belonging to lower strata of community living in a
government quarters and he wanted a realistic take
on this and needed no exaggeration. But he also said
that he does not want to show the dark side of such
people. If you see films speaking about too poor or
too rich, either they are bad or they are too good.
Actually people from below poverty line are happier
than others. They live for this day; have no commitments;
enjoy the money they earn without giving a slightest
thought for the future. Hence the director wanted
to portray the life of such people. We did not erect
a huge set; we just went into a small house of 8X10
and shot there. We captured the real life experiences
of such people as such without any feeling of sorrow.
I think as a cameraman I have done justification to
The kite festival
in Bana Kathadi
The kite festival in Gujarat happens once a year.
You cannot prepare for anything there. People would
come with their families to fly kites and we cannot
dictate terms to them to fly kites as per our convenience.
There would be around 2000 kites being flown in one
place. When such event happens, we just have to go
and shoot. As it is, it is free and we cannot exploit
the situation by asking them to fly the kite as per
our convenience. But the challenging part was the
kite fliers forgot to fly their kites and turned their
attention to us. Hence we had to request them politely
to go about their job and then shoot. It was an easy
experience. All that you do is put the lens, fix the
frame and shoot and when there are 2000 kites, it
is a beautiful look and we did not have to do much.
The only tough thing we did was to go all the way
to Gujarat. That’s all. Everything was available
ready made; good sunlight, 2000 kites and we just
My intention is not to brand
myself in one particular slot
kind of projects excites you?
first film was Angadi Theru in which the director
dealt with an issue prevailing in some part(s)
of the city and it was a realistic one. Next
was Bana Kathadi which spoke about the happier
moments of people bordering around poverty
line. These two films were realistic ones
where I recorded the happenings in a pragmatic
manner. When you look at an ad film, for instance,
the Mirinda ad that features Asin, the auto
looks very clean and trendy, the auto drivers
neatly dressed and so on. But in real life,
it is difficult to spot such autos and auto
After I did my two realistic films, an image had set
in that I can only do realistic work and the world
of ad was at an unattainable height. Balu Mahendra
and other cameramen appreciated my work in those films.
But people from ad world were not able to relate to
my work because their sphere is an exaggerated one.
But after started working in Ko, I did Arun ice cream
ad and started getting busy in ad films. My intention
is not to brand myself in one particular slot. I want
to be known as a cameraman who can work on diverse
subjects like the realistic Angadi Theru or the glossy
Ko. I am neither interested in fixing myself in raw
films nor fantasy films. Ko‘s songs are like
ads but the film will be realistic. So a blend of
everything is challenging. It is enough if I do just
10 films but these ten films should have encompassed
Favorite contemporary cinematographer
If you have posed this question a few years back,
the list would have been short. But now the list is
very long, the reason being there are many talented
cinematographers arriving everyday who impress you
with their work. I like Manoj Paramahamsa’s
work who has just done three films but they are very
interesting and extraordinary. Velraj also differs
from film to film. This apart, P C Sreeram, Santosh
Sivan and of course my mentor K V Anand are always
my favorites. When I saw Vettiayaadu Vilayaadu, I
liked Ravi Varman’s work. Everyday the list
of my favorite cameramen grows lengthy as there are
Which is better- cinematography in Tamil or in Hindi?
If you want me to answer this directly, I would say
Hindi because it involves huge budgets, lengthy duration
and sophisticated equipments and so you get good results.
But when you do some in-depth research, you will realize
that the cameramen who shoot there are all from south.
Anand sir had shot the big budgeted Khaki and the
legend of Bhagath Singh. Ravi K Chandran is one such
accomplished cinematographer in Hindi. Manikandan
who did Om Shanthi Om is from here and is settled
there. The reason why Hindi films can deliver quality
work is they have money. We, here have to prove ourselves
within a limited budget which is a constraint even
though we are talented.
Tips to become a good cameraman
“An aspiring good cameraman should see a lot
of movies, should have worked in at least 10 films
to start out independently”. This was the scenario
some years back. But now you can become a good cameraman
by reading relevant material from the internet and
by seeing films in DVD. For me, in those days, to
find about exposure time, it took three months. But
now it is just a click away. Cinematography in current
times is not difficult. It requires dedication and
sincerity. Five years ago cinematography meant light,
camera, light meter, framing, film and negative but
today it means data, computer and softwares. If you
want to adapt yourself to these, you need to learn
more and equip yourselves by reading voraciously the
pertinent information. It is not necessary that you
need to assist 10 cinematographers in 30 films. I
have assisted Anand sir in four films and have never
worked for anyone else. You need to allot two hours
daily to equip yourself for the work. It is not suffice
just to watch films in DVD; to know more about the
technical aspects of it, go to the net and browse
the related links and you will know.
Dream of setting up academy of cinematographers
It still remains a dream. It is a big step and I know
only little and naturally I am not in a position to
teach others. I am in the process of learning things
and the day when I feel I have learnt to a certain
extent, perhaps, I will start an academy then. Hence
it is just a dream as of now and will take time to
I am zero in direction
people have asked me if I have plans to follow
my mentor K V Anand. I am zero in direction
and know nothing in it. And it is a very difficult
job. I may have given it a thought before
joining Anand sir but not now. The difficulties
of being a director are ten times more than
that of a cameraman. I am not yet ready to
undergo such strain and will not take up direction.
Anand sir’s assistants follow only his way.
We don’t take up another project while we are
working on one as it is difficult to give our 100%
to multi projects. Some people may do it, perhaps,
they can handle. But not me. Ko is releasing on 15th
April and I would take up another project only after
its release. I believe in one project at a time.
As I had told you earlier, I joined Statistics in
Loyola but shifted to Viscom as I did not like Statistics.
I used to look enviously the Viscom students who roamed
around with a camera and girls for company as it was
the only course in college which had girls too. But
as my bad luck would have it, the year that I joined
Viscom, the course again became only for men. Now
that I have left one course, come into something else,
the need to study hard became mandatory. Hence I used
to shoot (with camera) whatever that caught my attention
but most of it was ‘out of focus’. There
was one group in college which was intent on driving
me crazy and teased me with a nick name ‘out
of focus’ Richard. Sometimes it was fine to
take it as a joke but not always. I wanted to settle
scores with this group but I was not interested in
calling them back names or fighting with them. Hence
I took to vigorous studying and came back armed with
sound knowledge of photography and bombarded them
with questions for which they did not have answers.
Now they came behind me wanting to find answers. If
at all I want to thank someone for being a good cameraman
today, it is that group which teased me which was
a catalyst to my grooming. Thanks to those people
who called me ‘out of focus’ Richard that
I am in front of you talking as Richard M Nathan.