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April 4, 1997*****


Haute shot

Duniya Dilwalon KiThe 'recycle factory' which, increasingly, sustains the Bollywood film industry is about ready to regurgitate its latest warmed-over Tamil hit - Kaadal Desam, which after storming the southside marquee and proving one of the year's top grossers, will now make it to Bollywood as Dilwalon Ka Duniya. (right)

And as per usual, it will be the technical finesse - most especially, the cinematography, that will be the talking point of a film that tells a bittersweet love story (Tabu, incidentally, playing the main love interest) with the help of some brilliantly picturised song-dance sequences.

And then the credits will roll, and those looking to salute the lensman will find the name K V Anand listed as cinematographer.

Remember the name? The man who, last year, debuted with the Malayalam hit Thenmavin Kombathu, directed by Priyadarshan of Miss World fame. And for that debut outing with the camera, Anand won the national award for cinematography, going one better than the best efforts of the likes of Santosh Sivan, P C Sriram, Rajiv Menon and the other whizkids of the cine camera.

It could all have been so different, though, if famed still photographer Raghu Rai had looked on his application with a more benign eye. Anand, whose love affair with the camera began when he was in school "Whenever there was a wedding in the family, I would be the one deputed to take pictures," he recalls, went on to major in Visual Communications at Loyola College, Chennai, and then took to photo journalism.

He first came to public notice with the series Oru Maadham, Oru Maavattam (One month, one district), a series of photo-essays featured in the Tamil weekly Kalki in which, concentrating on one district of Tamil Nadu at a time, he sought to capture in words and pictures the feel of each area.

But the lensman's life, for the most part, is that of an adjunct to the journalist - and so it was with Anand, as he lugged his camera and, in freelance mode, went around shooting whatever story the journalists - of India Today, Illustrated Weekly, Aside... were covering.

At the time, his ambition did not extend higher than becoming a full-time photographer for some reputed periodical and thus, when India Todayadvertised vacancies in the department, Anand applied.

Today he recalls how he went for the resultant interview with hope in his heart, and a folder full of his pictures in his hand. Raghu Rai, the famed lensman who was then the IT photo editor, flipped through the folder - and then shook his head, unsatisfied... K V AnandAnand (left) was devastated.

Looking back, he saw what looked like a wasted past, looking ahead he saw no future. And so, in the manner of young people everywhere, he sought escape. Taking a couple of thousand bucks, his camera and as many rolls of film as he could procure, he took off for the Andaman Islands...

Wandering the deserted beaches of that idyllic island, shooting when the spirit took him, Anand reorganised his priorities. And somewhere during that sojourn, he decided to try his hand in films.

For P C Sriram, Anand's portfolio of stills must have indicated some hidden potential - for the wannabe got taken on as Sriram's assistant, and went on to work in films like Gopura Vaasalile, Meera, Thiruda Thiruda and Thevar Magan.

It was when Sriram was busy with May Madham that hot shot director Priyadarshan approached him for Thenmavin Kombathu. Since Sriram did not have the dates, he recommended his young assistant - and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history in the making....

"For me, the biggest award was the fact that Sriram himself recommended my name, I couldn't dream of a more encouraging start," recalls Anand. "And working with Priyadarshan, first thing, was great. He didn't treat me like a debutant, but more like a professional. From the first schedule itself, he gave me total freedom to shoot the way I wanted to... for instance, I didn't want backlights except for night interiors.... and as long as what I was doing didn't interfere with his narration, he let me handle the camera my way."

Anand recalls how, when time came to see the rushes, he refused to go anywhere near the projection room thanks to an unaccountable attack of nerves. "And then Priyan came and hugged me saying, 'This is your film'.... I was so thrilled. And when it went on to win the national award - the first cinemascope film to win that honour - PC (Sriram) was so proud of me, and that mattered more than the award, even..."

MinnaramAnand went on to do Minnaram, (right) with Keralite superstar Mohanlal in the lead, and then did the Telugu remake of the Hindi hit Krantiveer. "Just for the experience," he says. "After doing a Malayalam film, a Telugu film is such a contrast, they believe in heavy dialogues and packing in as many ingredients as possible. A Malayalam film is shorter, does not go in much for commercial lighting and other such ingredients."

And then, of course, came Kaadhal Desam. soon to be released in dubbed version on the Hindi marquee.

Discussing his cinematographic mindset, Anand avers that his stint as a journalist has helped him to an enormous degree.... "I learnt to be alert, instantly responsive.... to compose frames... to tell a story through pictures...."

But the ultimate challenge, and greatest kick to date, he says was when, for Thenmavin, they shot a song sequence using a Rajasthani backdrop - only, the sequence was shot in Pollachi, in Kerala, as far removed from a desert-scape as you can get. "Getting that peculiar burnt orange look of a desert in the midst of Kerala was challenging, we shot the whole sequence in one and a half days and it came out looking like the real thing... and what is more, we used the difficult top-lighting technique almost throughout...."

Anand spends a lot of time watching films, everything he can get, and says his favourite cinematographers are Subrata Mitra, the late Satyajit Ray's lensman, and of course P C Sriram. Among the foreign films, he says that he has seen Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor at least ten times, for Vittorio Storraro's spectacular camerawork and Sigmund Volmos's lighting.

Interestingly - given that one of the talking points of Kaadhal Desam is how well he has used Tabu's tall elegance on screen - Anand says he is not into fashion/glam photography. The reason? "I feel very shy with women," he smiles. In fact, that trait is noticeable even as I interview him... the start is hesitant, it takes him a long while to work up... and even when he does, his words come not in torrents but in thoughtful trickles. At the same time, he has the knack of staying focused - though we were interrupted by several telephone calls, he never once had to go the 'Er.... what was I saying...?' route, but always picks up the thread of his thoughts after each interruption.

A big turn on, for the lensman, is when he goes scouting for likely locales. "I can actually feel my hands trembling with excitement," he smiles, "when I see some locale I like... there's a realisation of the possibilities, a big thrill... it heightens when I take camera in hand and prepare for the actual shoot... but when I get down to shooting, I find myself becoming totally calm..."

Calmness is a pervasive quality of the young lensman - and his wife, who has all the while been listening to him talk about his passion for work, interrupts laughingly to remind him that when he is home between shoots, he spends all his time snoozing, lazing around, reading or just flipping through his portfolios when he is not playing with his baby daughter. "But then he goes away for 45, 50 days at a stretch and we miss him terribly then," she adds.

That period of separation from the wife and daughter he obviously adores is almost on him again - having spent a brief while in Bombay shooting an ad for director Mukul Anand, Anand is now preparing for the shoot of Nerukku Ner (Face to Face), a Tamil film to be directed by Vasant under Mani Ratnam's banner...

"It's a challenging assignment," he admits. "Partly because of the Mani Ratnam banner, Vasant is a very good director... and besides, after winning that award, I am aware that people will judge my work by that yardstick, and I cannot afford to slip...."