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From a lens man's angle ...

Manikandan, the cinematographer for Shankar's "Anniyan," talks to MALATHI RANGARAJAN about his experiences with the camera ...

Manikandan and Farah Khan on the sets of "Main Hoon Na" ...

MANIKANDAN THE cinematographer of Shah Rukh Khan's mega hit, "Main Hoon Na," is on a winning spree. At the moment he is busy wielding the camera for Shankar's Tamil magnum opus "Anniyan," starring Vikram. As he slogs his way to success, Mani takes an hour off for some casual exchanges, at his apartment in Ashok Nagar, Chennai. The conversation revolves around the Mumbai film scene and Chennai's show world. For starters you ask Manikandan about Shah Rukh Khan and what follows is eulogy unplugged!

On the sets with Shah Rukh Khan ...

"A tremendous experience! Even while shooting for `Main Hoon Na' I knew it would be a hit," begins Mani. "You cannot find an actor as perfect as Shah Rukh in maintaining the continuity of the shots. He knows how the backdrop looked in the earlier scene — costume, angles, expressions ... the works. And he doesn't confine himself to acting. He would discuss the lens, the lighting and the techniques."

Shah Rukh Khan's style of working ...

"Even when a serious scene is to be shot, he would be very casual till the last moment. You would see him talking, joking and laughing. But once the camera begins to roll, he would get serious. He is so well prepared that he doesn't need many takes either. Mind you, most of the days the man has various meetings till about 3 in the morning. Shah Rukh is a workaholic who is fun to work with ... very professional and no airs at all ... an admirable combo!"

"Main Hoon ... " director Farah Khan

"She made it very clear that she respects talents from the Southeven when she booked me for the camera, Sabu Cyril for the sets and Vikram Dharma for the stunts. Of course, Dharma could not stay on to complete the film ... Camaraderie made work enjoyable. The Hindi film industry has normal, down-to earth people. You don't see the distance between artistes and technicians that you noticed in the South earlier. And Farah knows the worth of our workmen here." However it isn't as though the `Madrasi' bias is totally missing, feels Manikandan.

Sushmita Sen, the heroine ...

"She's a wonderful person," avers Mani. "And very co-operative. When she thanked me for making her look so beautiful in `Main ... ', I smiled and said `that's my job.' `I know my flaws and the angles that don't suit me Mani. But you seem to know them better. Why not I add a clause in my future contracts that you should always be the person to shoot me,' she quipped. In all her scenes I had used backlight and fans ... " Thus you had the sexy teacher of "Main Hoon Na" breezing in and out through the scenes and making many a heart flutter.

Shooting for "Kuch Na Kaho" ...

Mani's foray into Hindi cinema began with "Kuch Na Kaho." "I enjoyed working with Rohan and Ramesh Sippy and Abhishek Bachchan," he says.

Working with Mani Ratnam ...

Manikandan shot the mammoth song sequence "Yakkai Thiri ... " for "Ayudha Ezhuthu," and also some of the Ajay Devgan scenes for "Yuva." Describing the experience of working with Mani Ratnam as "ultimate" the cameraman says, "Mani would be on the sets at 5 in the morning, and would work through the day. We would have a 30-minute break for breakfast and lunch and that's it. None would leave the sets and neither would he. The shooting was down South in Pollachi and Theni. Ajay Devgan would tell us that he had never seen sunrise till he began shooting for "Yuva." But that's how Mani Ratnam worked."

And now it's "Anniyan" ...

"I shot the climax song of `Boys,' so I knew Shankar even before "Anniyan." He's very simple and friendly and discusses the scenes with the other technicians. I've worked with Vikram before. He was the hero of a television serial called "Vishwanath" and I was the cameraman. He's still the same, simple man I knew then ... I'm very happy that he has won the national award."

The erratic work schedules ...

For months on end you don't get to see the family. The work is too strenuous and because every project is time-driven, it's a constant race against time. I wasn't here when my second daughter was born last year. (Mani has two daughters). Moreover even when others get a break for lunch, tea or breakfast, the lens men alone have to be on the sets to get things set for the next shot. All the same, this is one profession which is a hobby too, where you do what you like most and also earn money in the bargain. That's the compensation ... " he laughs. And probably that's the reason why even when he gets a break Manikandan spends it shooting ad films. The Sansui, Siyaram ("We shot it in Czechoslovakia. When the foreign technical crew that helps you doesn't know English, shooting in those locations can be exasperating ... ") Arokya and Airtel — the one with Shah Rukh — are some of Mani's impressive ad projects.

He is very candid about his projects that didn't do very well. "Mr. Romeo" for example. "It was a wash out ... I feel very bad when a film I work in flops. But hits and misses are part of this game."

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