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Interview Team : Abishek Raaja

Sub-Editor Abishek Raaja manages to get an exclusive interview with the 'Eye' of Madras, G. Murali - a Pune Film and Television Institute pass out, who has cranked the camera for the recent sensation, Madras. Murali has been unanimously accepted and appreciated as a class technician who has filmed the realms of Madras beautifully in his debut Tamil film itself. 

Tell about yourself even if its painstaking!

I am G. Murali. I was born and brought up near Krishnagiri. My spoken Tamil dialect will have traces of Telugu and Kannada put together, which invariably helped me for Madras since the slangs are really similar. Mainstream studies were never my cup and in fact I started as a musician. Carnatic music was really hard for me to learn, and when I was in search of an alternate expression, that's when the nearest form of art, painting appealed me. When through seniors I came to know about the prestigious FTI in Pune, I so badly wanted to join there. Applied for direction and didn't get through by a mark. The very next year I applied for cinematography and here I'm shooting films.      

Arts was my first attraction !  

How did Madras happen?

Director Ranjith was my contemporary back in college. Since then, we had known each other and have dreamt of working together for a feature film. I was supposed to work with him for Attakathi, but I was busy with a Telugu film. Ranjith and I share the same wave-length and even we mutually agree at certain levels. I've been associated with the product right from the scripting stage and I knew everything about the story before it transformed into a Karthi starrer. I believed in the vision of the director and I was sure about being part of a product with a difference. When films talk on globalized topics, I was floored by Ranjith's detail on a very microscopic view of a place in Chennai and the political memos of it. Now, we're really happy of having given a quality product.

I've known Ranjith for years ! 

How hard was it to orchestrate your shots while shooting in the real locales for Madras ?

It was a terrifying experience. When we went on location scouting to areas in Vyasarpadi and Ramana Nagar, I realized, if we could literally capture the colors out there, half my work is already done. But the minute we went on floors to shoot and when people knew it was a Karthi film, the crowd became uncontrollable. For the first few days, we couldn't shoot at all. Ranjith and I literally got lost in the shooting spot. We were trying to find each other for over twenty minutes. The intricacies and the spacing of the location spot were really hard to shoot, but later with the help of the art department we've doubled up shots of the interiors with the exteriors of the same street. Certain shot, especially the climax portion where the paint was thrown on the walls was a real challenge. We had close to 200 people in the atmosphere and there were movements planned in the mise en scene.


I have maintained eye-level shot divisions throughout the movie to grab attention from the audience, so the junior artist cannot afford to look into the camera. Initially we had hiccups on staging the script, but later on, we were surprised with the cooperation from the residents there. Half the time was spent on field clearing, but when the locals got used to the camera and crew, they were no more cautious and started being themselves. That is why this film looks so real. I made it a point to not manipulate the lighting methods and just articulate the natural light falling to set the mood or the temperature. 


Karthi's house in the movie was the only house the tenants could live. When we had an early morning schedule, we used to go knock their doors by 2 am. There are shots when the camera was placed next to people sleeping when the talkie portions were shot. Since the cut points were all discussed with the editor, we were glad about the preparations which greatly helped us execute lengthy shots among the public. Over a period of time, we didn't even stop the commuters living there from passing through the frame, since they were so real. This movie was a learning experience to all of us 

Madras is a dream city for me ! 

Your approach to the script as a cinematographer stands out. What was the very first shot of the film and how was it framing for the differently toned people?

Thanks for being nice. We made it a point to go with the script and not compose noticeable stand alone shots. The script was visually treated in such a manner that it doesn't stray from the narration. I opted for the bird's eye view, establishment and wide angle shots only when required. Most of the film was shot hand-held imposing movement and travel. Serious scenes were deprived of POV (point of view) and OTS (over the shoulder). I preferred extreme close ups and bokeh shots for emotional scenes, mid-range shots for the character Johnny to particularly record his body language, top angle shots to ascertain the demographic setting and low angle to show the importance of the wall.  


The very first shot of the film was Karthi's love portion. Places like housing board have people with a variety of skin tone and complexion. Karthi's wheatish color was pretty easier than Catherine's glossy face to shoot. Ranjith requested the heroine to have zero make up while acting. During the group shots, I have desaturated Catherine's face a little more during post production to make her look like one among them.

I love to shoot in film than digital.  

We have lots of favorite shots in the film. What is yours?

I don't have anything of those sorts as such, but I really did enjoy the much talked about shadow shot. Since the setting was already filled with vibrant colors, it was a challenge to tone down potions of remorse, pain, grief and loneliness. Coming to the shadow shot, it was something Ranjith and I planned out during script discussion. Though Kali being an angry young lad throughout the film, that is one instance where he resurrects from the losses incurred, takes the time to gather all the outburst and finally settles down to score it even.


There is another similar play with the shadow in the scene where Kalai is placed in the dark and Kali is talking to her. Initially the artist was apprehensive about her positioning but then realized the intent.

I should either work for an amazing film or just sit at home !  



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