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Shooting these Tamil cowboys!

Last updated on: January 19, 2010 15:58 IST

Shooting these Tamil cowboys!

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai

Alagappan (inset), the Kerala State Award winning cinematographer for Shyamaprasad's Agnisaakshi has shot more than forty films in his thirty year-career. He has also won a National Award for his work for a tele-film for Shyamaprasad. His other notable films include Ore Kadal and Thalappavu.

His latest is one of the most eagerly awaited films in Tamil, Chimubudevan's Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam releasing on January 29.

He has also finished shooting Priyadarshan's Bum Bum Bole with Darsheel Safary and Atul Kulkarni. Two more directors with whom he really wants to work with are Mani Ratnam and Shyam Benegal.

But back to Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam. Shobha Warrier finds out more.

How did the assignment of shooting Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam come about?

Chimbudevan contacted me when he made his first film Imsai Arasan... At that time, I was busy with Vasantha Balan's Veyil. It is another matter that I could not finish it because of an earlier commitment to a Mohanlal film. Similar commitments made me not accept Chimbudevan's second film also. But this time when he said it was a cowboy film, I decided that no matter what, I was going to do the film.

Photograph of Alagappan: Sreeram Selvaraj


Image: A scene from Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam

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'Whenever I get a chance, I used to have at least one shot of the hero as a cowboy'

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Why were you so attracted to a cowboy film?

Even when I was a student of the Adyar Film Institute, we used to dress and walk like cowboys, for fun. After that also, whenever I get a chance, I used to have at least one shot of the hero as a cowboy!

So, when Chimbudevan told me about a full length cowboy film, I was excited. The only thing I was worried about was whether I would get a chance to show good visuals as he was making it as a comedy. The only director who combines comedy with excellent visuals, I think is Priyadarshan.

Did you talk to Chimbudevan about your reservations?

I did. But he said he wanted a very visually appealing film. Then I asked him who the art director was because I feel the cinematographer and art director have to work together to make the film look good. I suggested the name of Muthuraj, who was the art director of Guru and Pazhassi Raja. We had worked together in Ore Kadal.


Image: A scene from Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam

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'I cannot shoot a film without including the visuals of Kerala'

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As the story takes place in the 1800s and it's a cowboy film, how did you decide on the visuals and the tone of the film?

We needed dry visuals as a cowboy film needed that. So, we selected colours that give the whole film a dry look. It is mostly brownish. For the Irumbu kottai (Iron fort), we chose the colour rust. As the abode of Red Indians, we created a hill in Andhra which has real attractive colours. 

Where did you choose to shoot the film?

I started with my favourite location -- Palakkad. I cannot shoot a film without including the visuals of Kerala. For the dry parched land, Malambuzha was ideal as it was then without water.

How different was shooting an imaginary world from a contemporary one?

In the case of contemporary themes, we enhance the ambience, which is easy. You select a good location, good costumes and good colour and enhance it and you get good visuals. Visuals get a soul only when we do grading and colour correction. In the case of period films, you have to work five or six times harder.


Image: A scene from Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam

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'We have to make such films rich and colourful, and for that we have to exaggerate a bit'

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Was this the toughest film you have worked so far?

Yes, one of the toughest. That was mainly because nature was against us all the time. I needed bright sunlight to create the cowboy ambience. Only with sunlight, you can play with the colours. Wherever we went, it was cloudy, so whatever I had visualised I my mind, I could not get on the camera. Even in Andhra, it was cloudy.

Another tough job was shooting horses. You cannot expect them to stay in one place as they are not trained that well like in Hollywood films. There, the horses are trained to act like any other actor. We don't have that luxury here. Here, when you are ready, the horse will refuse to move. And when it's ready, clouds will appear.

Still, I am happy because one cinematographer whom I hold in high esteem, Balu Mahendra said that after seeing Irumbu Kottai..., he would select me as one of the five best cinematographers in India.

You shoot commercial films like Chocolate and off beat films like Ore Kadal, Agnisaakshi, etc. As a cinematographer do you have to change your style and mindset for both the kinds of films?

It is like poverty and richness. I can live with money or without. When you work for an offbeat film, you know that there is very limited budget at your disposal and limited technical requirement. Within those limitations, you try to get the appreciation from everyone. We do get more appreciation from offbeat films because they are more creative and closer to life.

Commercial films are made only to entertain people. People come to watch those films only to enjoy. There, we have to make such films rich and colourful, and for that we have to exaggerate a bit. In India, only Priyadarshan makes commercial humorous films that are visually a treat.


Image: A scene from Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam

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'Mohanlal is one of the greatest actors in Indian cinema'

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Where do you place Irumbu kottai?

It is a purely commercial fun film with high technical quality.

Which actor has impressed you?

Mohanlal is one of the greatest actors in Indian cinema. Because of his discipline, all cinematographers feel comfortable behind the camera. Another actor who impressed me was Meera Jasmine with her performance in Ore Kadal, Achuvinte Amma and Rasathantram. I shot the first films of Meera Jasmine, Padmapriya, Nayantara, Prithviraj, etc.

What next?

I am doing Paattinte Paalazhi a Malayalam film with Rajeev Anchal that has Meera Jasmine, Revathy and Manoj K Jayan in it.


Image: A scene from Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam

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