`There is no space for silences'
Photo: Mohd. Yousuf
ONE IS a legendary filmmaker with movies like Shankarabharanam and Sagara Sangamam to his credit , which have changed the lexicon of filmmaking. The other is a young cinematographer who has worked with the best of the best, includes a five-year stint in Hollywood in his bio-data and is all set to make his directorial debut. When K. Vishwanath and Santhosh got talking, it was all Mini Anthikad-Chhibber could do to keep up with rapid-fire exchange on all things filmi - from dialogue and screenplay to acting and a certain Mr. Kamal Hassan.
Santhosh: I was assistant cameraman for Subhasankalpam (1994). I have never a person so involved, so immersed in his craft. Vishwanath Sir performs every scene and knows exactly what he wants. I remember there was a scene where Sir wanted a teardrop to fall from Amani's eyes at a precise moment. I think she did about 22 takes before it was okayed!
The other thing that amazed me was the way Sir would just say `Kamal' and Kamal (Hassan) Sir would drop everything and stand in front of him with his hands folded like a second grader!"
Vishwanath: Very true, he would be ready and waiting in the lobby at 6.30 in the morning.
Santhosh: And I think it was Kamal Sir who persuaded you to make your acting debut in Subhasankalpam. He convinced you a trillion times to do it.
Vishwanath: Kamal was the co-producer. Whenever we discussed the movie and the casting, he kept putting off the casting of this one character. Finally we were about to start shooting and when I asked about the character, Kamal said `We decided right at the beginning that you were going to do the role.' `You must be joking' was my first reaction. Kamal said he definitely was not joking. He gave two reasons for casting me. The first was that one would need a renowned person to play the man who Kamal would bow to or we would need at least four to five scenes to establish the other actor's standing. Kamal said since I was well known, there would not be a problem establishing my character. The other reason, which Kamal gave was since I show everyone how to act, it would be nice for me to be on the other side of the camera!"
Santhosh: And for that scene where you had to eat fish, the art department had to fabricate something that looks like fish because it was a close up shot and you are vegetarian!
Working with you was like going to university - I learnt so much. santhosh
Vishwanath: I remember that!
Santhosh: Working with Sir is like going to university - I learnt so much! There are so many incidents that come to mind. Like the climax, which was left open-ended.
Vishwanath: I had decided on one ending but I wanted a consensus.
Santhosh: Then there was that mime song that Kamal Sir did where you created the effect of the fisherman going to the sea, the boat capsizing, the struggle...
Vishwanath: Yes, I remember we told an entire story through mime.
Santhosh: After Kuridpunal (Drohi) where I was the still photographer, I never got the chance to work with you. You got busy acting!
Vishwanath: (laughs) I enjoy acting with young directors. One should forget being a director and behave like a struggler. Otherwise the directors begin to feel diffident and suffer an inferiority complex.
Santhosh: Do you make any suggestions?
Vishwanath: Never, I have taken an oath not to interfere.
Santhosh: What happens if they ask you?
Actors today do not have the mobility. K. Vishwanath
Vishwanath: If they feel a scene is not coming well and they ask for help, then I am always ready to oblige.
Santhosh: Do you get irritated if there are a lot of retakes?
Vishwanath: I do not have any problems. The retakes might be because of me, my co-artistes, or maybe due to technical problems.
Santhosh: I have noticed you leave a lot of space for recording...
Vishwanath: There are different schools of filmmaking. There are times when dialogue flows smoothly and the cut-to-cut editing registers the dialogue and the reaction. Nowadays in the name of speed, the editing is so fast that there is no time to register reactions or expressions. There is no space for silences. If you want to establish rage, it is easier to have the artiste say `I am angry,' rather than show anger.
Santhosh: There are not so many good actors nowadays
Vishwanath: That is one of the problems. Actors today do not have the mobility. There were actors who use their physical attributes like clenching their teeth or the vein on the forehead to convey emotion. Think of the court scene in Kramer Vs Kramer. That is very tough acting graph. It is almost unimaginable. The artistes are almost yogic.
Santhosh: What was the inspiration for Salangailoli (Sagara Sangamam)?
Vishwanath: Kamal had worked as a dance assistant. I wanted to make a film with Kamal about a dancer who never performs on stage. I did not want to make it about a particular kind of dance - it was an amalgamation of many dance styles.
Santhosh: Lot of movies imitate the narrative style of the movie...
Vishwanath: Kamal called it the best screenplay. It is Kamal's best film. I have had so many people tell me that they have seen the movie more than 20 times and each time they get something fresh out of it. I do not know what the chemistry is. In fact, Nadiadwala who made Eashwar, which is a remake of Swati Mutyam, said Forrest Gump was inspired by Swati Mutyam! Kamal is a gift to cinema. He always does things that are out of the way. Some roles are accepted while some roles are not - they are perceived as perverted.
Santhosh: Are you making any more films with Kamal Sir?
Vishwanath: I tell him, he has grown too big for me! All my stories are about middle-class people in a middle-class milieu. A film like Swati Mutyam, for instance has high-voltage sentiments. I can only make this kind of film. That is my strength.
Santhosh: You direct only the stories you have written...
Vishwanath: Mostly, only two or three films that I have directed were written by someone else. But even there I just used the nucleus of the idea. The rest was all mine.
Santhosh: Do you watch any films on DVD?
Vishwanath: I do not have the patience to watch DVDs. I can proudly say that my films are 100 per cent original and not copied from anywhere!
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