Richard M Nathan
Interviewer : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar & Inian | Coordination : Venkatesh | Camera : Pandian | Text : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar
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RICHARD M NATHAN INTERVIEW
The realistic feel in Angadi Theru was accentuated by its camera work which was headed by Richard M Nathan, who harnessed the essence of the training rigor under noted cinematographer K.V. Anand. Elated to be heading the cinematography department for his mentor Anand’s Ko, Richard is an embodiment of Joie de vivre and discusses in a freewheeling chat about Ko, the Norwegian and Chinese experiences in addition to technical aspects of cinematography with Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar and Inian.
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Entry into film industry


My entry into filmdom was just a happenstance and was not planned. I come from a middle class family which has no connections with the film industry in any form. After I completed my 12th, I joined B.Sc Statistics in Loyola but did not like the course and was looking for an alternative subject. That’s when I stumbled upon a new course called Viscom (Visual Communications) and enrolled in it. After graduation, I decided to try my hands in cinematography and joined K V Anand as an assistant cameraman. Hence my being a cameraman was not something that was planned or focused, it was all an accident.



Angadi Theru was like writing

my 10th standard exam

How is it work for your mentor K V Anand in Ko?

Angadi 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 Anand sir.

Experimentation 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 these troubles?

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.

Ko’s Norway experience

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 walked.

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 for me.

In your opinion, what are the films that can be termed as reference point for technical knowhow?

When 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

cameraman has 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.

Bana Kathadi experience

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 my part.

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 captured it.



My intention is not to brand

myself in one particular slot

What kind of projects excites you?

My 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 drivers.

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 all genres.

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 many favorites.

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 take shape.



I am zero in direction

Any direction plans?

Many 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.


Future projects?

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.

Your nickname

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.
 
Tags : Richard M Nathan, Ko, K V Anand, Angadi Theru
 
 
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