We can't cater to only one kind of audience: Faiz Siddik

Christopher, cinematographer, on transitioning to big-budget filmmaking, working with director Unnikrishnan B, and opting for a restrained visual approach in a superstar-driven movie
We can't cater to only one kind of audience: Faiz Siddik

It's always a cause for celebration when an immensely talented film technician who came from humble beginnings and started in modest-budget films gets assigned a big-budget film -- one starring Mammootty that too -- just a couple of years after his first release, Operation Java. Christopher, directed by Unnikrishnan B, sees Faiz expanding his horizons after working on six small-scale films, some of which are yet to release.

Edited excerpts...

The sudden transition to big-budget filmmaking must've been liberating.

Indeed. A complete shift in our thought processes happens. In my previous films, there were limitations with regard to the equipment we used. In Operation Java, for instance, we only used what was necessary. If we are required to, say, use a jib for ten days, it takes a lot of planning to use it judiciously. But when it comes to a big-budget film, we get to have the equipment with us throughout the shoot. If, for instance, in Operation Java, we would be thinking how helpful it would've been if we had a steady-cam, but since our resources were limited, we have to make do with simulating that effect using a handheld camera.

I've noticed that despite being a big-budget film, Christopher seemed to have not gone overboard with the flashiness, be it in the use of lights and whatnot.

Unni sir was particular about that from the beginning. Since Christopher goes through a dark, lonely phase at one point, we decided that even if we couldn't see Mammukka's face or if it's partially lit, it would be fine. Going with a contrasting style and maintaining it throughout was the idea. We rarely used harsh lights, and in the instances we did, we opted to use them only in the background instead of shining them on the actors' faces. A half-illuminated approach was also apt. We also decided not to use any shot that stands out.

Like that opening scene of Mammootty sitting in the shadows? That was a nice touch.

Yeah, that's an example. It was dark, and the harsh light was only in the background. Usually, it would be unnerving for an actor when the face is revealed that way, especially in an intro sequence. But Mammukka was very cooperative and got elated with the result. He initially expressed doubts about whether his face would get illuminated enough, and he wholeheartedly trusted our confidence. As you said before, there is the kind of mass entertainer with an overabundance of lights. There is also the other kind, where the lighting is more controlled, which may not be acceptable for all actors, but we managed that well here.

Personally, I felt the film looked the best in its quieter, less massy portions. Incorporating slo-mo and music in some areas felt unnecessary and jarring. Had the team considered a different approach first?

You see, filmmakers think from the audience's perspective, and sometimes we believe some scenes would benefit from a high-speed or slo-mo shot. And every filmmaker includes certain elements with the expectation that audiences would also like them. Of course, any film has its fans and detractors, so we can only think of finding a middle group and satisfying them. There are people for whom blockbusters like Vikram or Pathaan didn't work, so we cannot think about only pleasing one kind of audience, right? Different people, different thoughts. That's why we film people get confused a lot. Besides, the risk factor is very high. We make a movie believing viewers will accept it; no one makes it expecting the opposite reaction.  

Were you comfortable with offering suggestions while being part of a team dominated by people with decades of experience behind them?

Well, one tends to hesitate a bit, for sure, because you are confused about whether your judgement would be sound. It's unlike working with someone like Tharun Murthy on Operation Java. But after working on Christopher for a few days, I realised that approaching Unni sir or Uday sir wasn't a problem, and they would have no issues clarifying any doubts I had. That said, I used to hesitate, given my respect and admiration towards them. Cinema is a risky game, you know. I remember when I was shooting Operation Java, and when we got to that 'Akhileshettan' scene, I asked Tharun whether audiences would accept a comical situation after all the tense moments preceding it. But Tharun was very confident about it, and he turned out to be right when the audience clapped for that scene in the theatre. Contrasting visions always happen. We can't predict anything. Our job is to trust the product and the filmmaker.

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