Interviewer : Inian & Daya Kingston | Camera : Ganeshbabu | Text: Daya Kingston
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Pulsating action and brilliantly vivid song sequences that pack a punch are all in a day’s work for cinematographer Gopinath. With big blockbusters like Ghilli, Dhil, Dhool and others to his credit, he understands the language of larger-than-life heroism and delivers it with brilliance onscreen. His latest film was Vettaikkaran with Vijay. We catch up with him for his take on Vijay, Vikram, Anushka, Trisha and other interesting topics.

Tell us about your entry into films?

Mentally, I entered films in my childhood. Even when I was studying 6th standard I could appreciate Sreedar’ s films and those of Bharathiraja, Balachander, Balu Mahendra, Mahendran... I lived in a small village near Thanjavur called Needamangalam where films used to be screened in tents and would reach there 3 months after release and big films even after 6 months. It was here that I started watching films and was familiar with the work of big cinematographers like Vincent, B.S.Loganath, Balu Mahendra and others. I was very involved. I was a good student who secured ranks. While I was doing my 10th standard exams I decided my way of expression is a camera and cinematography and my place is the film industry. I decided not to study well because then my family would want me to go to IIT or study something else. I wanted to just pass my + 2 and join the Film Institute. That was my big dream..

How did you get the break with Rajiv Menon?

I secured admission in the Film Institute at Chennai but could not pursue the course as my dad was sick and I had to go back to the village and take care of the family grocery business. I stayed there 5 years and then returned to Chennai. I became a photojournalist for Kalki. My photograph was nominated for an international competition at Netherlands in 1994. It’s like the Oscar for photojournalists and even gaining a nomination was a big thing. However, it disturbed me a bit; I started asking myself, is this what I came to Chennai for? I then happened to see Satyajit Ray’s Charulatha and could not sleep the whole night and then I knew I had to move towards my goal of cinematography. Immediately I told my boss, that I would not work for more than three months there and completed my commitments there.

I did not have any source to approach Rajiv Sir and even did not even have his phone number. However, I had faith in myself and went to see him. I also knew printing and I demonstrated this at his lab. He told me that he could not take me on immediately but asked me to return after 6 months. I then asked for permission to observe his ad films, the 2nd day I joined him! It was June 15.

How was it working with Rajiv Menon?

He is abreast of the latest trends. He is a perfectionist and expects a lot of performance but he teaches standards of an international level. He had every facility in-house and his previous work was well-documented and one could refer to it. Rajiv Menon is like a university.

" Rajiv Menon is like a

university"


How did you get the opportunity to work on your first film?

After Minsara Kanavu where I was an as associate, I started looking out for independent opportunities as I had been instructed. The cinematography in the film was much talked about and I worked for both DoPs Venu and Ravi K Chandran. I expected lot from myself and did not want my first film to look like a first film. I wanted to equip myself before starting my first independent film and did a lot of clash work. This which gave me a lot of experience especially with big artistes and Hindi films.

" Dharani is a very

fast director "

In January 2001 my friend told me of an opportunity which he could not take up as he was already committed to two films. Then I met director Dharani but had no expectation and had not shown any of my work. Next day, I got a call from the company and when I went there, Dharani sir and the producer told me that I was on as cameraman for the film. It was a pleasant shock and I never expected it as I knew many big cameramen had met them. The next couple of days were spent in location hunting and non-stop shooting. I had no tension because of the prior experience. Dharani is a very fast director and very clear about what he wants, it was a learning process for me but I had no fear despite it being my first film. We shot for 70 days.


You have worked on 5 films with director Dharani, how was your experience and how did your relationship grow?


It is always been good. Even before our first film ended, we had bonded well. We became like brothers. I call him anna and he treats me like that. He is a good teacher and trusts me. He is very classy especially when it comes to mass entertainment and commercial films like Ghilli. Working with him is wonderful as he communicates what he wants clearly and leaves you to achieve that.


What was your experience working with Vikram?

My first film Dil was with Vikram and so can’t forget him. He is very co-operative and has a passion for cinema. Even during the shoot, he never treated me like a first film cameraman. He is very involved in his craft even to the extent of changing his looks and body to suit a role and even works for 2 years for a film.

You have done a lot of action. Is this a conscious decision?

Well, it has happened like that since I have done a lot of action. Action works when the situation it’s placed in is correct. The story, the place, the villain and hero conflict are all important in building audience interest. For instance, the song in Dhool that appears during a fight sequence Singam pola with Paravai Muniamma is something that no director would have thought of and it was a trendsetter. He wanted the placement there and was strong in that; you need guts for that. The tempo helped the success of the film. To me, working for the need of the script is important, if an element like the composition or lighting dominates the scene, the emotion and mood of the performance will be lost.


Would you call yourself a director’s cameraman or do you have an individualistic style of work?

My style of work is working for the script. That is tough. Today, My Name is Khan is extraordinary work by Ravi K. Chandran. He worked for director’s vision and artiste’s performance, there was no major scope for camera and light but it was one of his best. As a DoP, when you want your work to dominate a film, it’s because you fear that you will be lost. You want to show you are there. This is team work and the base is the director and script. Those who are mature in cinema understand this fact.

Action involves many risky shots. Is there anything dangerous that you have attempted?

There have been many risks, action itself is risk. The risk the stuntman faces is the same for the cameraman. I will be in the most dangerous spot; I do not let my assistants to do it, because in my experience I know how much risk I can take. The Sumo chase in Ghilli left me with a sternum fracture, where even my life was at risk. However, I took it in my stride and have taken many others too. Once I had to shoot amidst a hailstorm where the temperature was so low, bones would be chilled. For a song in Kuruvi, I had to shoot alone in a chopper, I single-handedly had to focus, turn the camera on and off and balance. At that time I don’t think of my wife and kids, only about canning the shot. And when the audience appreciates the shot, all the risk is forgotten. All my films have fights and I have a good rapport with the stunt masters. I am like their assistant and have learnt a lot from them.


How did you like working with Vijay? What is he like?

Vijay is mature for his age. In word or deed he is balanced, I want to learn a lot from him. On the sets, if he is given a position, he will stay there however long it is needed and won’t move until told despite being a big artiste. Despite having assistants, when it comes to things like holding his umbrella, he insists on doing such things for himself. If the director asked him to come to the sets at a particular time, he would be there before us. Vijay is 100% professional and very involved.

" Vijay is 100% professional

and very involved"


Vijay is very good with fights and dances. How did you like working on them?

When it comes to song sequences, he becomes very happy and his whole body language is different. He loves songs and dance and nobody can match his timing and most of the songs I have shot with him have become big hits. His timing and performance are good and this works for all elements like action, song and comedy.

" Trisha has the capacity to

succeed not just in

Bollywood but even in

Hollywood"

How do you see the growth of Trisha as an artiste? Do you think she will be successful in Bollywood?

She has definitely grown a lot. In Ghilli, when I looked at her through the camera, I saw her involvement, the anxiety to perform well and the determination not to get upset with whatever the director says and perform. She had a good timing. In Kuruvi, she attained a new level of maturity. She is very open, very friendly. When I was hurt in Ghilli, she would speak to my wife and show care. I count on her as one of our people. Trisha has the capacity to succeed not just in Bollywood but even in Hollywood.


How was it working in Vettaikkaran?


Babu Sivan, the director is my friend. He was the AD in Dhool and Kuruvi. I had never worked with a new director and it was the first time. However, everything went smoothly, it was an AVM production which had good planning and was a commercial mass entertainer. The director was clear that a Vijay film has to be like this. If you work with Vijay you never get bored because he goes to the next level, the next time you see him.

Indiralogathil Naa Azhagappan was a film that was totally different from the ones you have been working on. Tell us about this?

I felt that I needed a change and I got this film which was a total contrast to the kind of work I have been associated with. I met the producer and the hero Vadivelu and everything worked out. It was challenging and turned out well and very different from other films.

What was your experience working with Anushka? What do you think her future In Kollywood will be like?

Her future is there. She is equal to big heroes and is very talented; good height, features and performance that is very rare. I had recommended her in films but only worked for this. Very disciplined and involved.

How important is cinematography to success?


Cinematography alone cannot make a film a success but its very important for a film, what really matters is how much it helps the script. If you look at mass commercial films, the MGR types, the heroism is maintained through the cinematography. The cameraman must be clear about how to portray this to the audience. 80% of our audience does not look at the film from the top but look up in awe from down. The Satyam theatre audience is different but beyond Tambaram there is a change in mindset and the DoP has to bear this in mind right from the lensing. This is what works to create super duper hits but the script should be good too. What makes Ghilli and Basha evergreen is the script. When Okkadu was remade as Dhill, the base was retained but it was like a new film.

" What makes Ghilli and

Basha evergreen is

the script"


A perfect script will have the right balance of performance, cinematography, music, editing and so on. A good scene will inspire you to light well and help translate the script from paper to visual.

What plans do you have?

I have not signed any new film yet. I always give some time for relaxation after a film, for instance after Ghilli, I had an 8-month break. That is because once I get into a film, I am 24 hrs into it. Even after it releases, I go to the theater to check the print.

Do you have any plans to direct?

Direction must happen as it is the ultimate for everyone. I want to work on good films with good directors for now.
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