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When a maestro cranks the camera

Acclaimed cinematographer P.C. Sreeram wants to work only on scripts that excite him, writes K. JESHI



LIVELY FRAMES: After 25 films, Sreeram still considers every film a journey PHOTO: S. SIVA SARAVANAN.

Even today, Chandralekha... from Maniratnam's Thiruda Thiruda is one of the much talked about songs in Tamil cinema. A potent combination of extraordinary camera angles, awesome choreography and fresh vocals, it is arguably among the best picturised songs of the A. R. Rahman, Mani Ratnam and P.C. Sreeram combination.

It was a concept in which light had to dance in sync with the music and one of India's most celebrated cinematographers caught the action in breath-taking visuals.

Script matters

For P.C. Sreeram, a film's script must excite. Only when he sees passion in the eyes of a director does he accept a film. In Coimbatore to inaugurate the new training centre of Campus Images College of Film Animation and Digital Arts, the cinematographer-turned-director takes time off to talk to Metroplus. "I accepted Prakash Raj's Kanda Naal Mudhal (slated for release in August) because the script excited me. It's a different subject and the movie will speak for itself," he says. P.C. has also given the nod to his first project in Hindi Cheeni kum starring Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai. "The very title cheeni kum (less sugar), a colloquial usage, stirs an interest and you can be sure there's more in store."

Question him on why Bollywood only now, and he says: "I understand Hindi only now. My job is to bring life to emotions and to do justice I should understand the language," Sreeram explains.

P. C. Sreeram made his directorial debut in direction with Meera and his movie Kurudhi Punal made it to the Oscars as an Indian entry. He also has the credit of making India's first full-length high definition digital film, Vaanam Vasappadum.

Tech-savvy

"I believe in technology. It took me two years to complete the film because certain things like lenses were in the process of being manufactured. But I can proudly say that I used a technology being used in the U.S. and Europe."

He also learnt that digital technology is meant for a specific purpose, a cost effective way to film a composite shot — a running train, a car chase or a fight sequence. "Colour correction is far better than what can be done on film and it is possible to make subtle enhancements too. But, if you are directing a feature film using a HD camera, there has to be a motive, a purpose," he adds.

P.C. says the Tamil film industry is in the midst of a digital technology revolution. "Everyone is talking about it. The world is turning to the digital platform and there are clear indications that we are catching up," he adds.

What about the flip side? "Traditional film still has a higher range of contrast and a greater range of shooting speeds. Technically, film also has a higher resolution compared to digital cameras," he explains.

An ongoing journey

A veteran of more than two decades and 25 movies, Sreeram considers every film a journey. His stint as ad filmmaker also showcased his incredible talent as a cameraman.

Does the creative energy vary for ad films? "It's the same. In both cases, the energy translates into action at that moment. Everyone has feelings and we react. When you ask me a question, I react. I do the same when I capture emotions on camera, but I make sure there is truth in it."

He likes expressing himself through light. If Nayakan showed Velu Naicker's (the lead character played by Kamal Haasan) evolution from a bachelor to a husband to a father and, finally, a powerful man, through light, Alaipayuthey captured romance in all its hues. "You have to break convention to give birth to new ideas. The passion to innovate is inevitable."

About the Tamil audience, he says they want something different. "Their mind is tired after watching all the melodrama on television. In a way, it's a healthy trend because it is a challenging task for a creator to look for something out of the ordinary to offer in his film. All of us are in search of it," he adds.


His oeuvre

Agni Nakshathiram - Dark and light shades to differentiate the characteristics of lead actors Karthik and Prabhu.

Nayakan _ One of the Indian films included in the Time list of best films. P.C. used top lighting to enhance the ambience. He visited the house of Varadaraja Mudaliar, on whom the film was based, in Mumbai's Dharavi and observed minute details. The film fetched him a National Award and his work found a place in the textbooks at the Satyajit Ray Film Institute.

Mouna Raagam _ He used different energy levels for the first half (Revathy in college) and second half (marital discord).

Thevar Magan _ Rustic hues throughout

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