AISFM workshop with the Mastercraftsman

Nandi award-winning cinematographer M.V. Raghu conducted a cinematography workshop for AISFM students.On the sidelines of his busy schedule, Suchetana Bauri caught up with him to do a short interview.MV-Raghu

There is nothing more inspiring than learning from someone who is at the top of his  game and that’s exactly the type of person who was at Annapurna International School of Film and Media (AISFM) this week. Nandi award-winning cinematographer M.V. Raghu conducted a cinematography workshop for AISFM students. He lent a  perspective to aspiring cinematographers, in a way only an ace cinematographer like him could.

The workshop commenced with the screening of one Raghu’s films, followed by a masterclass wherein he explained his technique and vision. At the workshop he explained the use of the camera, lenses, lighting, graphics and sound. On the sidelines of his busy schedule, Suchetana Bauri caught up with him to do a short interview.

Suchetana Bauri: How did you start as a cinematographer? Do you have any formal training?

M.V. Raghu: I am a science graduate from Vijayawada. But I wanted to be a photographer, so I did a Diploma in Photography from the Government College of Fine Arts and Architecture (now JNTU) in Hyderabad. Against the will of my family, who wanted me to take up a job instead, I went ahead and did the two-year diploma course and secured 96 per cent in the first year. During my two years there I worked as a part-time photographer for various studios and also as a freelance photographer doing mostly function photography with a borrowed camera to fund my course.

SB: How did cinematography and films come about?

MVR: After I completed my Diploma, I went to Chennai, as in those days it used to be the center of filmmaking in the South for all the four regional films: Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. There I joined Vijaya Vauhini Studios for a meager salary of Rs32 and I used to work three shifts for which I used to be paid an overtime of 16 paisa per hour. But those were the golden days of Vijaya Vauhini Studios, there I met and got to work with some of the finest cinematographers and Directors of Photography (DOPs) in the industry.

SB: So, who all did you get to work with while at Vijaya Vauhini Studios?

MVR: I had the opportunity of working with the late V.S.R. Swamy. I worked with him on 15 to 20 films. He was the first one to introduce Cinemascope to the Telugu film industry. Later on, I also had the opportunity of working with K. Viswanath and S. Gopal Reddy. I joined S. Gopal Reddy as a first assistant.

SB: Which cameras did you work with?

MVR: I worked with all film formats: Kodak +6, Kodak XX, RO 22 and 27, and of course the Cinemascopes.

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SB: Which filmmakers/cinematographers have inspired you on your journey?

MVR: All along I have been inspired by the work of Walt Disney. I was such a huge fan of Disney that during my college years I used the pen-name Disney, I used to be known as ‘Disney-ji’. I am also a big fan of Stanley Kubrick’s cinematography techniques. His 2001 Space Odyssey left a deep impression on me. The production design of 2001 heavily influenced the look of space travel in sci-fi films and television for decades. Kubrick’s style for filming model spacecraft led to the computerized camera-control methods, which were later pioneered in Star Wars.

SB: Did no Indian filmmaker inspire you?

MVR: Many Indian directors and cinematographers have been a great source of inspiration for me; I have already mentioned Vamsy, K Viswanath, S Gopal Reddy and V.S.R. Swamy. Other than these greats, the works of Bimal Roy inspired me a lot. After him, Govind Nihalani heavily influenced me. I was awestruck when I watched his Ardh Satya. In fact, you will find a lot his style in my film Kallu – the first film that I directed. The film also has a narrative, which is strongly based on socio-political matters that were steeped in realism and I presented all of it in a highly layered yet tasteful manner.

SB: You have worked on more than 75 films, what is your favorite?

MVR: That’s a difficult question, but I will have to say that Sitara is my favorite. I like it the most because it was a top job, definite photography, perfect lighting, awesome location – Rajmundry — and beautiful set direction. I used the handheld camera technique to run down a city block, bumping over fallen bodies, following a female character, after which the camera was swung roughly around to go the other way. Amitabh Bachchan called me up personally to compliment me on the work. He invited me to discuss, at length, the style I used for shooting Sitaara. In fact he wanted me to do a project with him, however that did not work out.

Other than Sitaara, I also enjoyed working on K. Viswanath’s Swathi Muthyam (the Kamal Hassan-starrer). It is the only Telugu film till date that has been India’s official nomination to the Oscars. I also enjoyed working for Sirivennela (Moon Moon Sen-starrer), for it I received the Nandi award and also the LV Prasad Technician of the Year Award.

SB: What do you feel about the current digital revolution?

MVR: There has been a digital revolution, but for the most part it has been misused… filmmaking is skilled craft, cinema has its own grammar and language. One should learn those before trying to make a film, but these days everyone with a digital camera starts making films, everyone with a digi-cam can’t be a filmmaker. What we see today is not a passion but a craze – these youngsters are lacking in passion and are just crazy about the glamour of the films.

SB: Are the performances of the actors and the director important to the work of a cinematographer?

MVR: Yes, absolutely, the actors are very important. After all, without fine performances editing and cinematography are mere ornaments. The script is the most important aspect of filmmaking, and a good script requires a skilled presentation and performance, we – cinematographers — are truthful translators of the director’s vision.

SB: What’s the difference being a cinematographer and a director, how are the two roles different?

MVR: Till I directed my own film, I thought the camera was the most important thing in filmmaking, however, now I realize that cinematography is just a part of the entire filmmaking process and a director needs to be aware of all aspects of filmmaking – editing, cinematography, and sound.

SB: How do you keep yourself updated with the latest trends in the industry?

MVR: I surf the Net for about two hours a day. Other than that I read books regularly, attend and conduct workshops. I apply what I have read and learned in my work. Besides I watch films and attend film festivals to learn about new trends.

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