The beauty in equality: In conversation with Dinesh Krishnan 

Cinematographer Dinesh Krishnan opens up about working on Nenjuku Needhi, which has come out to positive reviews
The beauty in equality: In conversation with Dinesh Krishnan 

Dinesh Krishnan is no stranger to remakes, having previously shot Thaanaa Serndha Koottam, a colourful adaptation of a rather grounded Special 26, Kaathalum Kadanthu Pogum, a localised remake of Korean romantic comedy, My Dear Desperado, and Maara, which transcended the fairytale-like treatment of its original, Charlie, yielding some of the most picturesque visuals of Tamil cinema in recent times. However, his latest work, Nenjuku Needhi, a remake of the acclaimed 2019 Hindi film, Article 15, posed a new challenge. The essence of Article 15 had to be preserved but frame-by-frame recreation would snatch away the opportunity to inject Dinesh’s style into the story. “It was vital to retain the soul of the film. We treated it like a new film and a new story.”

The cinematographer, who is being appreciated for his work in the film, talks to Cinema Express about his experience of shooting the Arunraja Kamaraj directorial:

What ground rules did Arunraja and you decide to observe about the visual treatment of the film?

To begin with, I loved Article 15 and how it is shot. So, while adapting it in Tamil Nadu, we decided that it would be an authentic remake. You see, Article 15 was predominantly shot in barren terrain. The film also made use of mist. We, however, lack such environs. Moreover, it was decided that the story would be set in Pollachi, which meant lush and scenic locations. From day one, it was a task to achieve the effect we intended in such a picturesque landscape. Take, for instance, the shot of the bus moving on the road early in the film. On the first take, something felt amiss. We then pulled the camera back and placed a few thorns in the frame to get the right effect. This film is a product of such minute improvements. 

The cinematography makes great use of the setting in sequences set inside the police station and the dilapidated school where Vijay Raghavan (Udhayanidhi Stalin) meets Kumaran (Aari) for the first time.

If the cinematography of the film is appealing, it is due to the cumulative effort of many departments such as production design and costume design. Vinoth and Ilaiyaraja, who helmed the art department, are great friends of mine, having worked with me from the first film. They have done a brilliant job. They would get the details of a neglected police station and other locations accurate and give me enough space to play with the lighting. It’s a compact production, but we wanted to capture it effectively.

The visuals of the ‘Sevakkaattu Seemaiellaam’ song sequence, entirely shot at night, are bewitching, leveraging fire as a light source…

It’s a song everyone in our team loves. Dhibu Ninan Thomas is one of my favourite musicians and he would compose and give a piece of background score or song during the pre-production phase. Arunraja would even play the song during location scouting; the song, in a way, set the mood for the film. I had a long-time desire to shoot a music video featuring koothu-kalaigal

We tried to reflect the rage of these people and adapted fire and flares as the light source. Most of it was shot using fire, and we opted for extra lights only when we wanted to capture facial detail. After a few shots, we even used fire pipes, which created details like the movement of shadows on the artist’s face. In the film, the song sequence is intercut with montages of the protagonist leading a search operation. We hope to release the whole music video soon. 

The first ten minutes of the film, including the Engey Neethi song, are unsettling, and feel as real as a documentary.

While we didn’t aim for the documentary feel, it looks so real because of the efforts of the actors and art team. We have to thank the actors for stepping into what looks like real drainage, although it was created by the art team to be a safe setting. I think the sincerity of the artists should be appreciated.

What’s your favourite scene from the film?

The scene where all the police officers discuss their caste and hierarchy has to be my favourite one. And the shot where the protagonist decides to solve the case of the missing girl while standing below a tree is also one of my personal favourites. Also, the introduction of Aari’s character, again shot entirely using fire at night, is highly impactful.

There are several shots of the sun, an element affiliated with Udhayanidhi’s political career.

It was not intentional. Generally, all cinematographers have an inclination toward the sun. We try to capture nice lighting, using the glare of a slanted light or sun ball. It comes naturally to cinematographers. It just happens. For example, if you have to shoot a scene early in the morning, the sun will be evident in the frame. 

In fact, we were very specific about not forcing such a shot. The popular shot of Udhayanidhi sir walking in front of the sun ball—which is also one of my favourite shots in the film—was included to allude to the passage of time as the police search for the girl an entire day. It suited him, yes, but those shots were not deliberately incorporated to communicate any other meaning.

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