LENS ‘GURU’ OF INDIAN CINEMA: PC Sreeram is considered as one of the greatest Asian cinematographers

LENS ‘GURU’ OF INDIAN CINEMA: PC Sreeram is considered as one of the greatest Asian cinematographers

by June 12, 2018 0 comments

LENS ‘GUrU’ OF INDIAN CINEMA Cheeni Kum’, ‘13B’, ‘Paa’, ‘Shamitabh’, ‘Ki and Ka’, ‘I’, ‘Remo’, ‘O Kadhal Kanmani’, ‘Pad Man’ and many others are his achievements behind the camera are the strongest testimonials to his cinematographic brilliance than anything. He worked for more than 40 films across Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. In addition to his master lenswork P. C. Sreeram is also a director who has directed three films. Recently, his work on ‘Pad Man’ garnered a lot of praise and rightfully so. He became a hot star 30 years ago and still is even today for his works.

You’ve worked on so many great movies over time. What is it that which excites you about the film industry these days?

What excites me is a good script where I can find my imagery connections. After ‘Pad Man’ I worked on another movie called ‘Praana’ starring Nithya Menon, a single artist movie directed by VK Prakash and Resul Pookutty has tried live sync surround sound for the first time in India giving a new dimension in sound. The whole thing is a single artist film and when I was narrated the idea I jumped at the chance to shoot this movie as it was entirely new and a different concept with lot of interesting things.

When R.Balki narrated me the script of ‘Pad Man’ I wasn’t aware of the whole idea. When I was doing the film I didn’t know what it meant to me because as a gender I was away from that subject and my awareness about it was limited. I wanted to do this film as the whole concept of this movie was centred on the subject of promoting menstrual hygiene for women and was the first of its kind in the film history and it was again a completely new idea. The first 10 days of shoot was the most difficult for me as I felt that there is a story and then there is no story, it seems like a documentary film but not a documentary film. At the
end I could see that the taboo was broken when people went and watched the film. Now it is a proud film to talk about. These whole new ideas and concepts keep me holding onto the film industry and going into the unknown as I believe that when you walk into unknown terrain it gives you a hype.

What makes a good cinema? In terms of cinematographers, who do you like?

The film must interest me and if something more has been contributed to the film then it subconsciously hits me. I watch films only for its content and I don’t know why that I don’t see for the cinematography in the film. Sometimes I don’t even know who are the cinematographers out there. If they have done a good job then I say he or she has done a good job and that is the way I have been a film watcher. I watch movies regularly and I don’t separate cinematography from film. I am influenced by all the great works and that is what matters to me.

What is your approach to visualisation while shooting the film and how does it depend on scene to scene?

Let me talk about the recent film ‘Pad Man’ that was watched all over the country and worldwide. I always thought what is going to happen to this film and how do you place it because we had to expose a gender related issue which could be sensitive. Of course, the generation has changed and everybody had their own point of view including my wife. I had gathered a lot of information about this, I even spoke to my sister and asked how did these things take place when she had to go through the same phase. She said that it used to be exactly similar to what was shown in the movie.

Pad Man

A deserving and artistic example of this is one scene the same movie where me and Balki were discussing how do we go about a scene in which Akshay Kumar will be talking to Radhika Apte about the feminine issue. Initially, we were thinking more about the general look of the scene and how something might be staged in a location. I remember lot of discussions was going on with the assistants and they were all talking and suddenly every one of us agreed to set it in the corner of the room. That corner space had got light mood, art direction, the sunlight and also the script showed family’s economy in the scene. You have to know the space to place it and automatically light and all the other aspects will fall in place. If you have watched ‘Pad Man’ you will see that in the film, the corner was very clear. So at the end of the film when you find it good or your search ends there that means we have got an answer and you have done the homework properly. All things that were shown in this movie is true. I observe being there and react to the script and put in there.
Another movie is ‘Cheeni Kum’ which is all about a chef and restaurant. I literally went into the whole space. The thing is you have to be there and get it into your system, and put it back into the space in which you want to create. I am not a person who says only when you study you can do it. For me just being there is enough.

What has been your favourite camera to use? How are the camera movements motivated?

Camera is only an equipment. Equipment is important but I don’t have anything favourite as such. Camera movements depends on the parameters such as the mood, subject, light, location and all these are of a greater intensity. I go with the flow. I see what the director sees, capture it on camera and show the same on the screen. It again depends on the what has to be shot and the answer is just everywhere you have to search for it.

What makes you decide to work with certain directors? Do you have a special way that you like to work with a director?

It is very simple, I fall for the script when I like it because I know that I have somebody like minded. Script is the
only thing that makes me decide to work with certain directors. For the movie ‘Praana’ which is yet to be released, I didn’t know the director at all. Actress Nithya Menon had called and spoke to me, then I got a call from the writer of the film as well. But when I first heard the script from the director I instantly got connected to it and knew that it is
my kind of film. Only when the director thinks that the film can connect us both me and money come together.

I don’t have a checklist of rules. I just have one special way of working. I am particular about the first light which comes early in the morning. The light speaks at that time and when I observe it everyday it has got so many stories to tell. I have to pitch the story into that light and if I miss the light I miss the whole plot. I do not exist there. A film needs to be shot in 48 to 60 days with lots of planning involved. Preparation planning itself takes 3 to 4 months. You cannot go beyond certain cost factors without compromising on anything for which I shoot early mornings. My first shot has to be taken at 5:30am and it doesn’t matter whoever the actors are. As a policy when they don’t respect mine then they don’t belong there. Akshay kumar being a man of that calibre comes to the sets at 5:15am when he is told 5:30 am. And if I say 5am then he will be on sets at 4:45am(laughs). Thats the kind of discipline. And when I am shooting indoors I am not bothered about the time, I start the shoot as late as 2:30pm and go on till we wrap with the best shots. That is how I have been working all my life. If people respect light then I will be there.

What is that you see in a script?

Earlier for a script there used to be a lot of discussions, we had plenty of time and the economy was different. Now the cinema has completely changed to a new era. I see that the script should be exciting content-wise or if it is a commercial film then what is it in for me either economically or technically. When it comes to choosing scripts my mind is totally blank because suddenly from nowhere a script comes and there will be a spark in the script that connects me to it. It has to be new and exciting. It is not like I know the script already or if I was present when the script process was happening. To be honest it is never planned or in my mind hunting only for particular genres of film to work for. Suddenly someone says read the script and let me know, that is when thing opens up. It has to be spontaneous. That is how it has been for last 5 to 6 years when it came to choosing a script.

What type of film would you love to work that you haven’t worked on yet?

Kuruthipunal (river of Blood/ Tamil 1995: DOP PC Sreeram with actor Kamla Hasan on shoot

I really don’t like to process my mind to think about the future films that I want to do as there is so much to learn while I am living and working in the present. I love reading books because that makes me go into a particular space of whole new world and it helps move to the next level. I am reading this book called “Taj Mahal” and I suddenly realised I have been reading history. Right now I am happy with what I have been doing. At the end everything depends upon the right kind of script that I listen to and choose. I am waiting and that is always the best to do for things to come. That is how it has been happening and it will come(smiles). Sometimes when I get films I may not like it and have to let it go for which I am ready to do.

Earlier I was doing too many ad films, as I had to balance my life economically. I was doing the maximum number of ad films in India. Now I have stopped them for the past 4 years as I found it too monotonous. It is the same thing and nothing changes. That is when I decided to take a break and start over again. May be I will discover myself in a better way than I did and if I start taking things for granted then it is not right for me. I cannot blame it as there is good money in the ads.

Can you think of a shot, either in the last few years throughout your career, that has been particularly challenging and was very satisfying when you completed it?

Every shot by itself is challenging. It is difficult for me to remember anything in particular because once the movie is over I forget it. But yes there would have been a lot of moments. I really don’t want to think about it. They all go into the past. I think the concept of looking back is losing its relevance. It is very beautiful to think about it, though sometimes, it is tiresome.

O Kadhal Kanmani (Tamil/ 2015): Director Mani Ratnam with DOP PC Sreeram discussing a scene during a shoot in a hospital

Now is the drone era. Which film/films did you use drone and what is your approach towards it?

Most of the scenes were shot using drone for ‘Pad Man’ as we were shooting in a village called Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh. The village was very old and narrow. We could have thought of putting a track or jimmy and could have done a simple job if the location was somewhere else. It would have been difficult if we shot it that way. I don’t think it was possible to use any other equipment to shoot the top angle shots in the narrow ally other than drone. When people watch the film they will not be able to find out that most of the scenes were shot using drone except for one scene at the end of the movie which is a lengthy shot as it is an easy guess. Also I used extensive drone shot for the song “aaj se teri”. The drones came in handy and these drone shots gave another dimension to the whole film showing the beauty of that particular equipment. It all depends on how you use it and where you want to use it to tell a story.

How different was your experience working with directors like r. Balki and Mani ratnam?

I like to work with directors who bring the best in me. There are many directors that I have worked with and had a wonderful journey, among them Balki and Mani Ratnam are popular names. I like directors who make me feel excited about the work and to be honest they both fall on the same category. Balki’s script is of different calibre and focuses on human relationships. I see what he sees. We connect well with each other.

Mani focuses much on romance genre and makes the stories intense. While we were shooting two years back for ‘OK Kanmani’ depending on the script me and mani agreed to make the scenes more wild as he wanted to make it more romantic. We made the scenes look more intense and wild within the limits of the story to get another level of excitement for the script, to make the film more exciting and not to show off that I exist.

If you were given multiple individual film which are different in some ways but they have to be shot in the same location and at same time of the day. How would you consciously think of shooting these films giving them their own visual identity?

It can be same location and same time but at the end if the film stands out for you that means the application has been correct. It comes out of the script and the nature of the project and just the tone of the scene. That is why you have to follow the light pattern what is called in the film. The colour palette changes, the costume changes, the backdrop changes automatically the outdoor light will change accordingly and how to capture it and make it part of the happening is what one can give a unique visual identity.

Amitabh Bacchan

What have you been working on recently?

I finished shooting for ‘Praana’, a single artist movie starring Nithya Menon directed by VK Prasad and Oscar award winner Resul Pookutty has tried live sync surround for the first time in India. The movie will be released in August in Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu.

I also finished shooting for a Telugu movie ‘Naa Nuvve’ which is a romantic comedy film starring Nandamuri Kalyan Ram and Tamannaah in the lead roles and awaiting release in May.

I have taken a gap now because last year I did three films back to back. The next schedule of films will start in June. My next movies that I am going to do depends on the script that I choose. I and Balki are working on a script which we will be doing end of this year or next year. Again it is a long way to go and too early to talk.

Do you have any final words for the readers of OPINION EXPrESS magazine and your fans across the globe?

Let me keep it simple and say that only your work speaks go for it and do it the right way till it comes right.

(Content & Interviewed By Nithya Ramesh: She is Bureau Chief – fashion and entertainment in Opinion Express Magazine)

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