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The Rediff Interview
'Films I work in should give me a high'
Shobha Warrier | January 21, 2003
That Ravi K Chandran acquired a passion for the camera was inevitable. He is the youngest brother of award-winning cinematographer Ramachandra Babu who shot memorable Malayalam films for Bharatan, Padmarajan and K G George.
Ravi started his career in Malayalam films, but carved a niche for himself in the Tamil film industry with Minsara Kanavu, Kandukondain Kandukondain (both for director Rajeev Menon) and Kannathil Muthammittal (for Mani Ratnam).
His first Hindi film was Priyadarshan's Viraasat in 1997. With Farhan Akhtar'sDil Chahta Hai, he became a force to reckon with in the Hindi film industry. His latest work in Hindi is Rakesh Roshan's Koi Mil Gaya.
Shobha Warriermet him at his Chennai home after he had returned from New Zealand where he shot Boys, Shankar's new Tamil film starring newcomers. He confessed to working on commercial films for money while working for parallel films like the award-winning Punaradhivasam, directed by Prakash, starring Nandita Das and Manoj K Jayan, for creative satisfaction.
Your brother is a cinematographer -- did that inspire your choice of profession?
Ramachandra Babu is the eldest; I am the youngest. I grew up seeing cameras and cinematography magazines lying around. During my formative years, my brother was working with great directors like Bharatan and K G George. Every month, I got a chance to see very good films. I even went to the shooting spots and saw how he worked. I got a chance to meet many people.
It was natural for me to start my career working with my brother. One day I met Rajeev Menon and he called me to do a film for the course he was doing at the Adyar Film Institute. When he started doing ads, I was with him as an assistant. My first independent film was Kilukkampetti for Shaji Kailas.
Was it easy for you to get a break?
I got my first film by accident. I met a producer on a train. When he asked what I did, I said I was doing commercials with Rajeev Menon. He then asked 'Why don't you do a feature film?' I replied if somebody gave me a film, I would do it. He collected my phone number and said he would call me once he reached Chennai.
He surprised me by calling me the moment he reached home. He asked me to meet Shaji Kailas -- they wanted to start the film the very next week. That's how I got my first film in 1991.
Before I could finish my first film, I got my second. I did 10 films that year, all in Malayalam. Shaji and I did around six successful films like King, Ekalavyan, Mafia, etc.
How did you get your first break in Hindi films?
It was because of Priyadarshan. My first film was Viraasat followed by Saat Rang Ke Sapne and Kabhie Na Kabhie, all made by him. It was a great moment when I did Tinnu Anand's Major Saab with Amitabh Bachchan. I have always wanted to do a film with Amitabh.
You have said you could experiment only in small films likePunaradhivasam, and that you couldn't do the same in a commercial film. What gives you satisfaction: working in a film like Punaradhivasam or a commercial film?
Commercial films give you money to survive. But a film like Punaradhivasam gives your soul satisfaction. You can't live on Punaradhivasam alone. To make this film, the producer and the director did a lot of commercial advertisements.
It is not that we don't have stories. Look at the Malayalam film industry. It is totally commercial now. What has happened to directors like Bharatan, K G George, Padmarajan, etc? Even Sibi Malayail who used to make very good films has stopped. This is the industry that produced great filmmakers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan and G Aravindan. Look at the kind of films in Malayalam.
It is a rarity to find directors like Bharatan or Padmarajan now. You see women wearing Rajasthani costumes and dancing all the time in Malayalam films. I don't know why it is like this now. I think it is a question of survival. Similarly, I do not want to do only one kind of film. I would like to do films like Punaradhivasam, and also films like Minasara Kanavu, Kandukondain, Dil Chahta Hai, Koi Mil Gaya and Boys.
The films I work in should give me some high. Otherwise, there is no fun. You have to bend a bit but as long as you don't break, it is okay.
Your stamp as a cinematographer is evident in your films. Do you plan how to shoot a film in advance? Do you get the full script so that you can plan the film?
Yes, I do get the full script. All big directors work like that. They won't start without a proper script. Rarely do I get to do a film without a proper script like Citizen (starring Ajit).
But I am proud of Kannathil Mutthammittal. It is the kind of film you would like to have in your DVD collection.
I don't plan much in advance. I prefer my instinct. The first time you hear a story from the director, you get an image and you discuss that with the director. He then gives his inputs. Visuals come to your mind according to the story.
I need some time to get my rhythm while shooting. Four, five days after the shoot starts, everything falls into place and you feel the rhythm.
Farhan Akhtar'sDil Chahta Hai had a young, hip look and vibrant colours. How much of it was your contribution?
It was a team effort to have such a look and colour to the film. The story was from Farhan's heart, and he didn't pretend. That reflected in the film. Farhan's script was fantastic. He gave me the full script in advance; he did not give any film as reference. He wanted his film to be very fresh and different. It was very close to his heart. He knew what he wanted.
Do you considerDil Chahta Hai one of your best films?
Yes, it is one of my best films. I also like Viraasat, Kandukondain, Kannathil Mutthammittal. Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu. They too were shot differently.
But I did not get any recognition. Many, including cameramen, appreciated my work. Even the person who received the state award liked my film.
Do you feel disappointed?
It is like this: when you get a chocolate for the first time, you will be excited. After that, there will not be any excitement. I got some 20 awards but no National Award. But a lot of people haven't either. Even Mani Ratnam hasn't received a National Award, but that doesn't make him a lesser known filmmaker in the Tamil film industry.
If you know where you stand, you will be satisfied.
Do awards matter to you?
Awards do matter. They are interesting. Steven Spielberg had to wait a very long time to get an Oscar although he was nominated several times. He did not get an Oscar for his best films like Jaws or ET.
In India, a commercial film takes ages to get completed. How much does it affect your creative process?
The delay really affects you. If you don't shoot a film in one flow, you will never get a good visual. If you come out of a film and then go back after a while it definitely affects [the quality]. It is a bad style of working. That is why we haven't reached anywhere near world standards. We are living in a small well all the time and we think we are the world. We are not.
I do only one film at a time. Shankar's film happened because the film has newcomers and they could adjust according to my dates.
Are you doing Farhan Akhtar's next filmLakshya?
I am not doing it. It is a war film. I read the script and it's very good. You have to be in Ladakh for three, four months. Healthwise, it is very difficult for me to be there.
I will be shooting continuously till March as both Rakesh Roshan's Koi Mil Gaya and Shankar's Boys will get over only in March. Lakshya will start in April. I will not be able to do justice to the film -- I will not have any time to do pre-production planning.
I told Farhan it would be unfair on my part to come and work without any planning. They have opted for a foreign cameraman.
Tell us about your future projects.
I don't know. After the two major films (Koi Mil Gaya, Boys) I am doing right now, I want to do some small films; small budget, small films like Revathy's Mitr. I might be working for Revathy's new film. I also want to do a Malayalam film. I haven't done one in a long time.
This year, I will definitely do a film for Jayaraj.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj