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Interview Team : Sudharshan; Venkat

Ravi K Chandran, one of India’s best cinematographers, who holds to his credit some of the finest works of Indian cinema, including Kannathil Muthamittal, Dil Chatha Hai, Black, Aayutha Ezhuthu, Paheli, My Name is Khan and many others, turns a director with Yaan, starring Jiiva and Thulasi Nair. Sudharshan Giridhar caught up with the genius and here are some excerpts from the conversation. 


You are one of the best cinematographers in the country… Yet you stopped signing movies after 7aam Arivu. Now you are a director…

I’ve always wanted to be a director. People whom I’ve worked with always told me that each composition of mine had stories of their own.  

I hold on tight to my style of working, even if it is a Mani Ratnam’s movie. Had I brought myself the pressure of maintaining the standards of Santosh Sivan and PC Sreeram while working in Kannathil Muthamittal, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did. For me, cinematography is also a tool to narrate a story.

At the same time, I have also worked on some glossy works like Dil Chatha Hai. I have had the luck of exploring cinematography through contrasting subjects like Black, Yuva and many others. What I mean to say is, the story has always remained the major factor for me to choose a project and then I wondered why not make stories myself. That’s the birth of Yaan.

I hold on tight to my style of working, even if it is a Mani Ratnam’s movie.


Deadly Farewell…

A certain company asked me to do a camera test. A plain camera examination would be boring, I though and I wanted to use this opportunity to test my direction skills.

I wrote a script and made a quick film in a budget of 2 Lakhs. That’s Deadly Farewell. I used very minimal lighting, thus testing the camera and at the same time using different techniques to artistically enhance the film.

There’s in fact a shot in the short film involving large shadows on huge buildings. They were created with original lights and inspired from a shot in Ram Gopal Varma’s Shiva.


The secret behind remaining the best in the business…

Sometime it is the fear that brings out the best. People’s fear of their bosses makes them do their best. In my case, after every shot, I’d wonder what Rajeev Menon would say about it. I remember showing one of my Malayalam films to Rajeev Menon and after the film he was so outraged that he ordered me never to invite him for such badly made films.

Then followed a time when I’d never show any of my works to the people I respect. Dil Chata Hai was the first film that I invited Mani Ratnam for.

Art must conquer time. Decades later, people must appreciate your works. People celebrate The Godfather even today. After Thousands of years, we still admire the sculptures of Mahabalipuram.

But making such masterpiece is no easy task. Take a life of a photographer for example. He might have taken thousands of photographs in his career. But ask him to make a book on his works, he’ll probably pick 50 or 100 pictures. Put all those pictures together, It would span for a few seconds. That’s the case for all the artistes. Only a very few artistes like Kamal Haasan and Aamir Khan are capable of coming up with better works every time.

If you ask me to pick my best works, of all the films I’ve worked in, I’ll probably go with, Kannathil Muthamittal, Black, Dil Chatha Hai, Paheli, My Name is Khan and few others. Looking back, when I see I’m only able to pick five or six films as my best from my 25 year long career, it makes me wonder if I’d have made a better real estate dealer. I would have been richer.

Reinventing self is also very important to stay in the top. Always attempting something different is very important.

After every shot, I’d wonder what Rajeev Menon would say about it


Accepting criticisms…

Criticisms are part of the job. We cannot escape those, can we? Even Sachin Tendulkar has scored ducks. That doesn’t make him a bad player. Just because Kadal didn’t fare well, it doesn’t make Mani Ratnam any less than a master.

Just because Kadal didn’t fare well, it doesn’t make Mani Ratnam any less than a master


The cinematographers you admire…

Cinematography is an intense art. Some has the gift of cinematography and some struggle to excel at it. I’m a struggler, while cinematography comes naturally to geniuses like PC Sreeram and Santosh Sivan. Not everyone is blessed with that skill.

I tried to replicate a certain shot of Balumahendra. I went to the same very location, took with me the assistants who worked with Balu sir during that shoot and tried to capture the same visual. Yet somehow Balu sir’s shot looked much better.

The difference between a good and a great cinematographer is actually the few inch difference in the placement of the camera. Yet, it is huge. You cannot help but admire all these geniuses.

The difference between a good and a great cinematographer is actually the few inch difference in the placement of the camera.


Direction or Cinematography – the challenging one…

Both are equally challenging. Now I know what a director is going through. With my experience in cinematography, I exactly know how to instruct my cameramen. If they aren’t giving me what I want, I could just show them how its done. But now I know how a director, who doesn’t have any visual sense, struggles to explain a shot to me, when I was working for them as a cinematographer. Having no clue of the first thing about cinematography, it is highly challenging for a director to explain the visuals to his cameraman. And a good cinematographer will always have a suggestion that never matches a director’s taste. Until a cinematographer turns a director, he’ll not know why a director is asking for a certain shot. 

I can now imagine how much I made it hard for Murugadoss (laughs).

I can now imagine how much I made it hard for Murugadoss


What’s your take on the North stereotyping the South film industry?

For the North Indians, Keralites, Tamilians, Telugu people and Kannadigas are all the same. They do not know the differences. It’s the same with us too.

The stereotyping is particularly caused by narrow research. Take Chennai Express for example. It was mostly built on the inputs provided by Subhash alone, who also wrote the film.

Anyway, there are so many things in our own films that we never question. So why question about stereotypes now. Every hero can sing in five different voices in our films, Slum kids spoke in impeccable English in Slumdog Millionaire, The Indians were dressed as if for a stage Drama in Life of Pi and there are many more things we don’t question.


Why do you think the technicians from the South make it huge in the North?

That has always been the case. Starting from VK Murthy, who shot Kaagaz Ke Phool, the first Indian cinemascope film, there have been so many cinematographers and other techies from the South, who have made it huge in Bollywood. The reason being, the publicity that Tamil film Industry and Kerala Industry provides for the technicians. No other industry I know of interviews and promote cinematographers, like Tamil and Malayalam industry do. This trend is absolutely absent in the North. No one interviewed me when I did Black.

Everyone here knows who editor Anthony is. That’s not the case in the North. Even as a kid I was aware of cinematographers Vincent, PN Sundaram, S Maruthi Rao and others. Thanks to the South media that created a strong platform for technicians like me.


In the second part, we talk in detail about Yaan and the most expected film of all time, Marudhanayagam. Stay tuned!

No one interviewed me when I did Black



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