'Technicians have more freedom in Malayalam cinema'
...says cinematographer Santosh Thundiyil, who has extensive experience in Bollywood, and is now returning to Malayalam cinema with Mohanlal's Neerali
Having worked with the likes of Karan Johar, Rakesh Roshan, Vipul Shah and Neeraj Pandey, Santosh Thundiyil is one of the most prolific and respected cinematographers in the Indian film industry. Though he made his Malayalam debut 20 years ago with Sibi Malayil's Pranayavarnangal, he has shot only three Malayalam films so far. The upcoming Mohanlal film, Neerali, is his fourth, and marks his return to Malayalam cinema after 10 years.
The emergence of digital has made things easier for filmmakers today, but at the same time, there is this nagging sense that it has made some of them lazy. Have you felt this?
There are both pros and cons to digital emergence. In the olden days, things were done in a more careful and disciplined manner. But today, the attitude has become very casual. Back then, we shoot something, send it to Chennai and the dailies can take weeks to arrive. So there was a seriousness and mystery to that. Sometimes we had to call up the lab to check if everything was alright, and we had to proceed accordingly. Things were more controlled. Now things have become a bit lazy.
Don't you think that, with the advent of digital, viewers today have become more observant of the flaws?
One of the main reasons for that is, today, there are Youtube videos that explain how certain things are done. The audience then watches a film with all these things in mind. This was not the case back then.
Neerali seems to have both practical and digital effects. Are you someone who prefers practical effects more?
It all depends on the time and budgetary constraints. These days, people don't have the time to do everything in practical. If it's a small budget film, it would be better to do everything in a computer.
Though the quality of visual effects has improved to a large degree here, we haven't caught up with Hollywood yet. Do you think we will in the near future?
I believe we'll get there after some years. And again, proper planning with regard to time and budget is the most important thing. In terms of that, we haven't achieved the Hollywood level of discipline yet. If you need to get a high quality product, you need to spend more time on it.
Do you feel that cinematographers and other technicians are not much respected in Bollywood?
Yes, I do feel that. As Bollywood is a more star-oriented industry, you have to make everything look super-glossy. The glamour quotient is given more priority. Whereas in regional cinema, you get more freedom to calibrate the mood of a scene without anyone interfering. Cinematographers and other crew members have more freedom here than anywhere else.