“It’s about how well you translate the script onto the screen”

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A man of few words, he lets his work speak for himself. His work of making a movie look spectacular not just visually not aesthetically too. His visually stunning and brilliant work has been appreciated in all his movies, be it the recent blockbusters Oopiri, Manam, Rakta Charitra or his debut movie Rhythm.

P. S. Vinod, a cinematographer known for his work, he has worked across different film industries, from Bollywood projects, including MusafirPyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat, Tees Maar Khan, Bullet Raja to Tamil with Appu, Aaranya Kaandam, Kadhal 2 Kalyanam to the Telugu film industry with Paanjaa and many others.

He was at AISFM earlier this week to conduct a two-day workshop for the students; who were eager to learn more from the hands-on experience they thoroughly enjoyed. Speaking to us after the workshop, the famed cinematographer shared his thoughts on what cinematography means to him and what he feels about his recent movies that have been blockbuster hits.

What is it about cinematography that inspires or challenges you?
The thing with cinematography is primarily to do with your ability to visually translate a story onto the screen and there are two aspects to it; the technical part of it and purely the emotional part of it, aesthetically what it does to you. So each shot has a certain meaning, a certain emotion, it is meant to draw certain emotions and the challenge is in trying to make sure that what the narrative demands, you are able to fulfil that and make sure that the emotional quotient of the story is not lost. It’s not just about making pretty and beautiful images; it is also about how well you translate the script onto the screen, I think that’s where the challenge is.

Do you think cinematography styles have changed majorly?
There has definitely been a sea shift in the way cinematography has changed over the last decades from the film to the digital medium. There has been a sea change in cinematography itself from the time digital has come in; it used to be a lot more composed and lot more proper with every shot earlier. In general, most of the times, the discipline on the sets is generally not as good as it was in the film days. Because now you normally say let’s avoid a rehearsal, let’s try doing a take; so you lose your ability to plan, as you go on in the rehearsal you see the actor, where he is going, what is h going to be doing, so all that goes with digital and the number of takes, and the amount of coverage that you have is a lot more with digital; with film it is a little more precise. I think basically it is the same as how you would click an image earlier, when you are shooting a picture in the non-digital days with a digital SLR with 36 photos, every frame would be properly composed and you wouldn’t press the shutter button until you were very sure of what you saw in the screen. Now when you look at it, you click 100 pictures and then you go home and pick the one that you like. So, you are more trigger happy now than before which kind of does translate onto the screen, so it kind of puts more pressure on the shoot. Earlier there used to be a clear differentiation between the good takes and the bad takes, so if somebody doesn’t like a set of takes, the film was kept aside. Now, everything is out there, so somebody will say I like this but there could be something that is technically an issue, and it could be used for other reasons.

You’ve worked in different film industries, what’s the major difference?
There is a clear shift in the way the films are done in the South and the way films are done in Bombay. It primarily boils down to the fact that Bombay has more inputs from all the others teams like the costume or art, and it is independent, once you give them the briefing that this is what is needed, then they take off from there and we don’t need to get into it on an everyday basis, which is not necessarily good or better but it is just a different way of functioning. In the south, every single thing is routed through you. If somebody is picking up a costume, they ask if it is okay. If the art director is picking up a curtain, they bounce it off you to check if it is okay, if furniture is being brought, they run it through you to see if it is okay; which in a way is better if you have more control of every single element that is going to come to the screen, but at the same time it is more pressure because you will have to listen to 20 other things than just two or three things; so both have their pros and cons.

Studying in a film school, do you think students have an added advantage?
Yes, definitely! It is important to get some basic technical knowledge. Even if you are assisting it is nice to come from some kind of background to understand what you are doing, to know the technical aspects and then see how to apply it, when you assist somebody or do it on your own; it helps you. Today, all the more reason for students to do so because earlier you would assist somebody and then move up. But now, with more exposure and enough learning from a film school and with aided software, you can walk around with your camera and you can make a short film or a feature film if you want. So it is a lot easier for you to do something on your own instead of going the route of having to assist somebody. If you know the basics, you can start shooting on your own.

What does the film industry look for in students?
I think we are slowly getting into a slightly more systematic fashion of functioning which is also happening in the South, where you have more people who are technically qualified to get into each and every stream. Earlier you had people start from scratch. But now with a background from a film school, it becomes easier, so they can directly start from the fourth step. So it becomes easier for them and for us to start work.

You’ve worked with Nagarjuna in his recent movies, Manam, Sogade Chinni Nayana and Oopiri, any interesting anecdotes/experiences you would like to share?
I’ve been really lucky to have worked with Nagarjuna in three back-to-back films with totally diverse kind of characters. In Manam, where he was playing almost a child kind of character, then from there going onto Sogade Chini Nayana where he was a flamboyant mass hero kind of character and from there to a person on a wheelchair in Oopiri which is a complete contrast to his previous one; and to see him adapt to all of the characters was interesting.

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