did you enter the industry?
My entry was easy as my father
was my senior in the film institute. He passed
out in the batch of 76 and learnt cinematography.
However, he was interested in direction and
has directed 8 to 9 Telugu movies. So I grew
up in an atmosphere of cinema. From my 8th standard,
I would accompany my father to shoots and was
fascinated by cinematography, the mystery of
the camera and lights. It was decided that I
would get into the technical side. I took the
Science group in +1 Science group and later
worked for a cinematographer. That way, my entry
into cinema was well-planned.
I grew up in an atmosphere of
Who are the cinematographers you have worked with?
I have only worked for Saravanan who has done a lot
of commercial films. My first film with him was Pammal
K. Sambandam. Piriyamana Thozhi, Arasatchi, Tirupachi,
Madurai and a handful of Malayalam and Telugu films
and one Hindi film followed later. In a 5 year span,
I worked in 15 films with him. The advantage was that
he worked with different directors like Suresh Krissna,
Vikraman, Mouli, Perarasu, and Shaji Kailash in Malayalam
which gave me a great deal of exposure and helped me
learn too. It was a fantastic experience.
You had film connections,
but for those aspiring cinematographers without them,
how can they enter?
It’s very simple. If you have found that you have
an interest in the field during your school days, choose
the Maths with Science group and then enroll in the
film institutes in Pune or Taramani or other private
institutes like LV Prasad and Rajiv Menon. Many colleges
offer Visual Communication too. It’s good to have
a formal education but one must work with a cinematographer
for at least 3 years.
How do you approach
a cinematographer to be his assistant?
That is easy, many of them have sites. When you are
pursuing your course, you can use your final project
usually a short film to showcase skills. Many who approach
me show me the stills or show reel they have shot to
exhibit their talent and this makes it easy to shortlist.
It’s better to be prepared before entering the
industry and when you do a course, the basics are covered.
If you do Viscomm, you have career options both in advertising
that he wanted to put the best shots and present it.
We shortlisted 30 to 40 shots and shot them with domestic
lights and small cameras, then fixed a tone and showed
it to Shankar sir. He liked it and asked for a bound
script which Arivazhagan made ready in 2 months. He
took 3 months, analyzed and saw how the film would be
viable and gave us a green signal. At that time, I had
no clue I would be doing the film. I had got a break
from Gautham Menon with Chennayil oru Mazhaikaalam.
The opportunity came through my friend Manikandan and
it was being shot in the gaps between Vaaranam Aayiram.
Then, there was a break and it was at this time Arivazhagan
approached me. I was reluctant and actually refused.
I asked him to look for a senior cinematographer who
could help shoot the film as visualized since both of
us were new.
Director Arivazhagan is my
did you get the Eeram opportunity?
Director Arivazhagan is my classmate and he was
working with director Shankar for Boys and Annian.
When Sivaji was about to start, he left and spent
2 years for the script. We were good friends and
spent a lot of time together. One day he asked
me and my friend to shoot a trailer. I wondered
why and he said
After hearing the story I was very interested. He is
a very soft-natured person and I never expected a thriller
from him. I was a little scared when I read the script
as it was greatly dependent on the cinematographer.
He tried with senior cinematographers and it did not
work and he came back to me and my friends encouraged
me to take it up. Then Shankar sir told me to take it
up and gave me the confidence. Following this, I sought
permission from Gautham and he encouraged me to go ahead.
We did 6 months of homework.
did you bring in the mysterious feel into the
The script had an eerie effect,
ambience was already formed. Every scene was
set before rain, after rain or during rain.
We decided to fix the lighting scheme without
sunlight and also had a specific color palette.
Generally, in Tamil cinema not many have a color
palette and even if there is one initially,
it’s not maintained. In post-production,
a tone is fixed. However, we fixed grey as the
The red tonic was used to
symbolize an instinct, like an
The red tonic was used to symbolize an instinct, like
an omen. Since, the whole film was in grey scale, this
was highlighted. We had instructed the junior artistes
not to come in warm colors but they did not listen.
Finally we got all of their costumes stitched in our
color scheme something no-one usually does.
To get the grey apartment building that we had visualized,
we looked at 50 to 100 houses in Chennai besides Cochin,
Hyderabad and Pondicherry. Finally we settled on Doshi
Gardens, Vadapalani which had a grey exterior. In newer
constructions, the car park is in the basement and the
compound walls close, so we could not have the huge
blocks we wanted. Initially, the flat owners were very
strict and did not give us permission to shoot. However,
Shankar sir stepped in and got us permission to shoot
for 8 days and we worked with this constraint. However,
the colors and atmosphere gave us that eerie feel. Our
success is because of our homework.
Have you had any
I have never felt it but once Aadhi left the tap closed
while coming to work and when he went home he found
the home full of water and was scared. A similar thing
happened to me one day. I was in a hurry and there was
no water in the tap. I left it open and when the motor
was switched on the water spurted from it and it overflowed,
my neighbors called me up.
What was the most
challenging about the film?
The most challenging was the exterior shots. We used
to joke that the previous film from the production house
had Veyyil as its title and this is very easy as Chennai
and Tamilnadu are very sunny, but for Eeram it was the
opposite. We got stuck on the sets during rains so when
we went outdoors, the sun was strong. For all the outdoor
shots, we shot early in the morning before sunrise and
gave it an overcast feel. It was tough to give that
wet look to the outdoors.
I was very careful about the major murder sequences
where the water CG appeared. In India, usually, the
CG work is very obvious and this would make the water
appear as a mere fantasy element which would make us
lose the audience interaction. We wanted the water to
be realistic and revealed as spirit only during the
We adopted the HDRI (High Dynamic Range Image) technology.
It was very tough as even a simple shot called for 5
layers; in fact the whole process was complicated. We
made a storyboard with virtual lensing. We shot for
quite long to reach the level of perfection we sought.
What has been your
experience working with director Arivazhagan?
After seeing the film, I received a lot of appreciation
but the major credit must go to Arivazhagan, he was
very particular and deeply involved in the cinematography
right from the lighting. Generally when artistes perform,
we give them lighting on the face, but he said he did
not want so much detail, since they were new artistes
he felt that if there was too much light, if they made
a mistake, it would show.
He had this light control and made the shot divisions
which made my job simple. Many ask me the question why
only some films are visually good; I think the credit
would go to the director. If you want to take a shot
in the early morning for instance, organizing artistes,
dialogues and other things are in his control. He was
very co-operative; he helped the execution and organizing.
There were lot of his inputs in cinematography and so
I could maintain tone and we got a full-fledged visual
Tell us about the
The concept was that when the motor was off, a tap was
left on and overflows. We made the total virtual set
on 3D Studio Max and planned shots with a virtual camera.
Arrow marks were made to show the water direction and
HDRI gave realism to the water. In Arundathi, they had
done water, even I got scared seeing it but they could
not bring authenticity to it, it looked like CG and
lost audience interaction.
The full film had
dark tones. What gave you the confidence to go with
The confidence comes from what we know about audience
psychology and body language. If there is a light and
clear image that is easily identifiable, the body language
would be a casual seating. However, when you have select
lighting and shallow depth, the body language will be
that of an edge-of-the-seat thriller. The audience will
scan and pan the screen, this will bring down the distance
between the audiences and screen. Any thriller or horror
film will maintain dark tones to make the audience watch
keenly and this is a worldwide theory. This Hitchcock
theory makes the audience come closer to the screen
and have a greater interaction. We have used a lot of
white and blacks in equal balance in this film.
cinematographers competed for this. However, there
was a pooja and I was asked to do a test shoot, he liked
my first shot as I had added a little extra without
his saying it and he liked it. From that day till today
he likes my work and supports me.
Gautham is like the CEO
was it working with Gautham Menon?
One day while working as an assistant, I received
a call from him for Chennaiyil Oru Mazhaikkalam
which would have music by ARR. Actually, he had
initially planned a big cinematographer like PC
Sriram but with VA being shot, he wanted to do
a quickie in between and if it was a senior cinematographer,
dates would clash. He was looking for a new cinematographer
and my friend recommended me. Assistants of big
At the end of Eeram, VTV started and his script book
was given to me. While reading it, I found it so interesting
and inspiring. It was new and fresh. I had not seen
a genre like that in cinema and it was conversational,
something he also explained. He wanted a lot to be
created visually and there would be great scope for
visual and music. Working with him gave me the opportunity
to have a lot of interaction with him. On the sets,
he does not have the director feel, l have worked
with many directors but Gautham is like the CEO of
a company, very humble and quiet on the spot. No-one
knows shooting is happening. He is so soft and gives
freedom to execute something in the script if its
For instance for the title shoot of VTV, we shot
200ft with crane up. When we saw the location I felt
it would be good as a concept, he said ok though it
was expensive. We had to hire an agela crane, take
it to Kerala for just that one complicated shot to
reveal the church. He gives a lot of freedom and inspires
you a lot while narrating the scene or in the script.
He gave me the opportunity to use a lot of wide angle
shots, scope and space for camera movements. This
script he said it should be very visual and we made
a color palette. Since I had already done this in
Eeram, I was very happy to hear it from him and after
doing so much dark, he wanted white, this gave me
more energy. Usually, a love subject is colorful but
he wanted white and first I could not understand.
However, once I read the script, the character is
Syrian Christian and many things about Jessie are
white, the church white for instance. We searched
a lot for white, the Thiruvanmiyur house gave us a
white backdrop and so did the 450-year old Church
where we got permission after a lot of persuasion
and donation. Malta is an off white island city and
this suited our color palette.
What was your
best shot in VTV?
Going by the feedback, the Malta songs and New York
were well-appreciated. In the Mannipaaya song, there
is a lead scene, a night scene across the backwaters
where Simbhu jumps over the wall to see Trisha and
then they both sit on a lawn and talk. This is followed
by an intense scene where they kiss and the song begins.
He goes on the boat after this; we underplayed the
moonlight and the place Allepey was new. Many appreciated
this. I like this night effect scene.
How is Vinnaithaandi
Varuvaayaa different from other films?
From the Tamil films I have come across, this has a
very different screenplay and treatment. Usually, there
are a lot of artistes, an action block and even in a
love element; there might be vengeance and a lot of
negative elements. Suppose they are not there, it would
become a family drama. This script breaks all this.
There are two characters and the only thing between
them is love. The two characters keep talking to each
other throughout the film, the supporting cast is very
less, the cameraman character is the only major one
and worked out well. Parents have a small role. This
two character drama was new and interesting and it was
wonderful working with artistes who had a lot of experience.
I had a high energy level and confidence that I could
give good visuals as it had such as structure.
and available light, back or direct. Even when scenes
were shot at home, we decided to make it look like sunlight
streamed in. White would look pure when the sunlight
fell on it and shadows cast on it.
did you manage to give Simbhu an image makeover?
Many have asked this question. Trisha and Simbu
look very good. We have done a lot of things that
were not done in his earlier films. Basically,
we decided his look. Hrithik Roshan’s hairstylist
gave him the haircut. Nalini’s input was
a lot and she gave him casual clothes generally
middle class. She did not select them like a hero’s
costume. Before shooting, his look was set and
on my side, I planned and fixed the lighting pattern.
The full film would be shot in sunlight
we never gave Simbu
Unlike normal commercial films, we never gave Simbu
special lighting but used a lot of available light,
the reason for success of the makeover. In many places
the duo were talking and the camera placed at a distance.
In fact, many felt that it looked like two lovers
who were captured on screen without their knowledge
and this was appreciated. The reason is good planning
without disturbing them with too much light and working
in available light, maybe this looked fresh and new.
Generally, for a hero, a lot of glow is used or he
is given a backlight, both of which we avoided. Same
goes for Trisha, her main scenes were done in available
light. Only in the song sequences we have tried the
glow because in his imagination we wanted her to look
We selected good lighting conditions. I got enough
co-operations from all three, Simbhu, Gautham and
Trisha. When shooting in available light, when the
sun’s direction changes, the continuity will
change, usually, the sun will stay in a single angle
only one or two hours but they completed the scene
within that time frame. Generally other directors
would take a lot of time and lot of shots, track movement
and complicate it before finishing the scene. However,
Gautham understood that would be good in available
light and within one hour finished even big scenes.
No rehearsals or retakes and many shots were okayed
in a single take and this was good for the continuity
and realism of the film.
Trisha is carefree artiste
was it working with Trisha as an artiste?
When I was an assistant, I have worked with her
in Tirupachi. Trisha is carefree artiste who is
very jolly, with no stress and tension. Since
she is from here, she had no problems with the
dialogues, only Malayalam she found tough, Tamil
was easy. Our entire team is a jolly one and it
was very comfortable working with her.
Tell us about
the camera you used?
VTV was shot on a regular Atrri Extreme 435. The lenses
were very selective Optima Zoom a new one from Angenix
and Storeye lenses. The lenses were useful in the
blocks and DI. We had employed the best technology
in today’s market.
What are your
I am waiting for Gautham sir. Ajith’s 50th film
was confirmed for Cloud Nine productions but since
he is going for the races, it has been postponed for
2 months. Meanwhile, we will be finishing a project
that we have already started; a thriller by Gautham
sir with Sameera Reddy, Tabu and two newcomers. This
is the same as the COM but not with that title, some
scenes have been changed too. The next could be Ajith’s
project and Arivazhagan’s next followed by a
film by Gautham’s associate Manikandan.
is your dream?
My dream is getting fulfilled. It’s to do
good cinema. I like surrealistic films. This is
the trend in Hindi, in films like Omkaara, Kaminey
and Fashion. Blockbusters are also experimenting,
take Ishqiya for instance.
I like surrealistic films