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K K Senthil Kumar is among those who have raised the bar in cinematography to another level. With impressive work in Telugu films such as Ashok, Sye, Yamadonga, Arundhati and Magadheera, Senthil took on the unusual Eega, his fifth film with director S S Rajamouli.
In spite of his busy schedule, Senthil Kumar took out a few minutes to talk about the way Eega was shot, the challenges involved, and working with Rajamouli again.
How did you get to do Eega?
Immediately after Magadheera, Rajamouli said we would do an experimental film--a digital movie on a small scale. We started the testing of digital cameras, but the idea was then put to rest. I got busy with another film. Rajamouli started the film with a foreign director of photography but they parted ways on account of creative differences.
Then he called me and told me about the film which was now a big one, not low budget like before.
By then I had finished my project and I agreed to do Eega. It was an exciting idea to jump on to. It was kind of Rajamouli to call me.
This is your fifth film with Rajamouli. Did you have differences of opinion and arguments?
It's not about arguments. We have grown with each other, trying to push our limits and do something new.
Differences are there as we are two human beings. We respect each other's ideas and take decisions in the interest of the film.
Eega was something new, which nobody had done. We had to unlearn what we had learnt and think out of the box for it.
How did you conceptualise your frames? Did you keep in mind the areas where special effects were being done?
Extensive research was done in terms of the fly (the protagonist in the film). It may sound weird but a photo session of the housefly was done.
We made a fly slightly unconscious and clicked pictures of it at extremely close range. The pre-visualisation was done by the computer graphics guys before the shoot.
For me, the story comes first. Every story has to be driven forward. Emotions have to come out.
I had to develop my own thing as there were hardly any references to work with. At the most there was a cartoon film on ants.
We had to develop our own style of filming. In the process, I learnt new things. It was a journey filled with pleasure.
What kind of cameras and lenses did you use?
The principal camera used was Arri. For a few shots we used Canon 5D.
Lots of special lenses were used. The principal photography was done with Master Prime Lens.
The film involved macro photography (extreme close-ups). For this we used a lens called Probe which required high intensity of light. You usually use this in small areas, but we had a wide room and needed to light up the whole room. So the atmosphere would be hot.
My eyes are tuned to seeing things at a certain level. When shooting something like this, it will look bright but on film it will look dark. So, one had to tweak it. There was unlearning in that.
For certain places where it was impossible to use the regular film camera we used the Go Pro camera, the smallest camera. Extreme slow motion camera like Phantom (which shoots at 2000 frames per second) was used in the climax majorly. Different cranes like Scorpio and Strada were used. We devised ingenious ways of doing the shots.
So what should we look out for in terms of cinematography?
I like the way the climax was done. We were doing it in low light conditions. There is power failure in the mansion, the struggle between the villain and the fly is on, and slowly the light comes.
The transition happens from dark to bright. It's a nice play of light and shade.
Since the film itself is experimental, we did not get into experiments in photography. We wanted the glossy look, which we maintained.
I must also mention that the DI (Digital Intermediate) of the film was done at Annapoorna Studios. Colourist Siva has worked hard. My team has also worked hard and helped me in this film.
You shot Nani, Sudeep and Samantha for the first time...
Working with Sudeep was quite an experience. I never knew he was such a brilliant actor. He used to listen to instructions and then deliver adding his own elements. He would elevate every scene and take it to another level.
Rajamouli pushed all the three actors, and Sudeep, Nani and Samantha came up with good performances. In the film the performances have been more than 100 per cent. Sudeep is just too good as an actor.
Were there any differences in filming in Telugu and Tamil?
After shooting in Telugu, we shot in Tamil. It was difficult enough to pull off one, and then we were told to do it again and again. For a second you wonder why. But I enjoyed doing it.
How challenging was it shooting Eega?
It was one of the most difficult films I have shot.
When I shot Yamadonga, Rajamouli pushed me. Then came Arundhati and later Magadheera. I thought, 'What more?' and Eega took me to the next level completely.
I am fortunate to get movies like this. There is a definite growth in me. I'm open and ready for new challenges.
Eega was challenging in many ways. Although it was pre-visualised on art paper/computer, getting to do it in a real sense was difficult.
This must be one of Rajamouli's most ambitious projects. How would you term this experience?
He has been ambitious in all his films and he pushes himself and his team to a different level. He wants to do something more. He makes people think big and is constantly pushing the level of the team.
The film is without stars. What do you think of that?
It is not about the stars. Rajamouli picked whoever was fit for the role. Sudeep, Nani and Samantha were chosen because of this.
How do you feel about the outcome of the film?
When you dig a mine, you don't know what lies underneath. You discover as you dig.
We were doing and discovering new things and facing new challenges.
We couldn't estimate that it would take so much time. Finally we had to release the film. If we had more time we could have done better in terms of the whole film.
We are happy. We could have taken it further. The idea is so great that it can go to a greater level. We did our best but there is always scope for improvement.
Are you shooting for any other Telugu projects?
I have been busy with the post-production of Eega. I have a few offers and I have to finalise one.