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Frame by frame

Two noted cinematographers feel that visual impact is very important for a film to be successful

Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

Behind the lenses M.V. Raghu and Sabu James

Be it the audiences of the sixties or the Gen-X cinema buffs, the jaws still drop in awe, whenever, they watch the chariot race scene in the movie Ben-Hur or for that matter the parting of the Red Sea in Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film The Ten Com mandments. That’s the impact of cinematography.

The screen chemistry and the visual psychology, depends a lot on the cinematographer or the man behind the lenses. Two present generation cinematographers, M.V. Raghu and Sabu James, were here recently to take part in a workshop hosted by 24-Frames and in an informal chat with The Hindu Metro Plus, the lens-men talked of their profession, challenges and opportunities.

Breaking the ice between the two, at the interview, Sabu in typical Malayalee said, “Cinematography is a challenging job. One has to keep in mind the audience psychology, aesthetic sense, director’s demands, financial constraints and most importantly the portrayal of reality. The chariot race in the movie Ben-Hur is still considered to be the iconic shot by many modern-day cinematographers. The sequence was shot in a period when computer generated images and effects were not in vogue. Even by the current standards, it is considered to be one of the most spectacular action sequences ever filmed. The ten-minute sequence was shot over a period of three months, using 15,000 extras and on a film set that spanned over 18 acres. All credit to Robert L. Surtees the cinematographer of the film. Visual impact is very important for a film to be successful. Audience like to see rather than hear.”

Abruptly punctuating Sabu’s flow, Raghu asserted, “In the present context, especially in the Indian film industry, such a sequence can be considered to be next to impossible. Today, the director’s mantra is ‘compromise’. The producers do not give the liberty to think artistically nor do they encourage experiments. Computer generated effects are eating into the creativity of the cinematographers.”

On the advent of technology and computer generated stuff, Sabu said, “Technology and artistic sense should sail together. One should make use of technology to enhance imaging but not depend on it. Misconceptions are being created by a few cinematographers who have entered the industry with half knowledge.”

Adding to Sabu’s statement, Raghu noted, “Today, both visual intelligence and aesthetic sense are lacking among most of the cinematographers. The style of cinematography evolves from the storyline. Hence, producing a cinema is a team effort and that is missing.”

On the cinematographers of the east and the west, Sabu pointed out that they are on par as far as intelligence or artistic sense is concerned. “But Hollywood is far ahead technically and they do not mind experimenting with ‘out of the box thinking’. They also do not mind spending a huge sum, as the audience strength is huge. A Hollywood film is released globally whereas, the market for a Tamil or Telugu film is limited to the state and the hence the question of financial constraints do arise.”

A graduate in physics and post-graduate in English, Sabu James passed out from FTII, Pune with specialisation in cinematography. He served at FTII as faculty before joining the industry.

Narrating his entry into the industry he said, “In 1993, during the interview for admission in Film Institute, my teacher Prof. B C Naria asked me, ‘what will you do if no one offers you a film?’ I answered, ‘I will make my own film.’ Ten years later I felt that I should do it and ’Ente Kochu Kauthukam’ (my little curiousness), a Malayalam movie for children, was produced by me in association with KSFDC. That film won many prestigious awards and was nominated for many international film festivals.”

Sabu has worked as cinematographer in Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam films. He also won the award for the best documentary from the film critics association of Kerala in 1999, for ’no smoking please’.

M.V. Raghu on the other hand is seasoned player in the industry and has to his credit a number of award wining hits like ‘Swati mutyam’, ‘Sirivennela’, ‘Anweshana’, ‘Sitaara’ and ‘April 1st vidudhala’. He was also the cinematographer for the award-wining documentary serial ‘Surabhi’. Raghu also directed the film ‘Kallu’ for which he was bestowed with the Filmfare Award in 1987.

SUMIT BHATTACHARJEE

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