Anyone who shot with films will never dislike it: Bramayugam DOP Shehnad Jalal

The cinematographer discusses shooting Bramayugam in black-and-white, what he learned from his film institute, and his experience working with director Rahul Sadasivan
Bramayugam DOP Shehnad Jalal in action
Bramayugam DOP Shehnad Jalal in action

Shehnad Jalal, the cinematographer of the Malayalam horror film Bramayugam, has the brain of a seasoned technician and the excitement of a film student. This rare amalgamation of personalities perhaps fueled him to craft the stunning black-and-white visuals of the Mammootty-starrer that takes place almost entirely in a mansion.

Shehnad shares that the idea of shooting a feature film in monochrome was interesting and exciting by itself. "We have stopped shooting in black-and-white in Malayalam cinema. Right now, it is all about digital. People like me learned the basics of photography with black-and-white film. Even our lighting exercises at the institute were taught with the same cameras. So I was naturally drawn towards the idea of shooting a monochrome film and knew how to deliver the right visuals."

Being a product of Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in Kolkata, Shehnad had a clear vision for the film from the get-go. "Rahul Sadasivan pitched Bramayugam to us as a black-and-white film right at the beginning. Making the film involved an extensive amount of planning in the pre-production stage. Rahul initially had a visual pattern in mind before we went to the location and evaluated the possibility of certain shots. Then he would draw everything down on a storyboard."

The cinematographer shares that growing up watching horror classics made in the language was an innate inspiration for Brammayugam. “I come from the land of films like Bhargavi Nilayam, which set a high benchmark with its visuals. So we didn't have to search for references elsewhere."

Bramayugam transports the audience to a time and place where the night goes on a little longer than the daytime, and the characters seem to be stuck in an endless time loop. The entrapment of the main characters in the mansion is simply a manifestation of the story of class and caste that it wishes to tell. And Shehnad's cinematography effectively puts the audience in the shoes of the principal characters. So it is understandable when there is a great deal of discussion around the film's visuals. However, Shehnad feels it is the plot and the performances that made the film click with the larger audience.

“Such discussions about technical crafts are generally among hard-core cinephiles who consume cinema daily. But the masses are still focused on the story and the emotional connection they have with the characters.”

The film plays out like the manuscripts of an old book with palm leaves containing a gothic piece of folklore. Out of the several iconic shots, the one featuring Mammootty's shadow talking to a human sitting beneath has captured the attention of many. "The low-angle shot portrays Mammootty's Kodumon Potty as a powerful character. It was Rahul's idea," adds Shehnad, who will be completing his fifteenth year as a cinematographer in Malayalam cinema soon.

Shehnad is proud of the fraternity he represents and goes on to speak passionately about filmmaking and address questions concerning today’s technological advancements, especially digital cameras. "Old filmmakers had to struggle a lot, whereas we are privileged in that regard. Despite the limitations, I do not think any yesteryear filmmaker would have disliked shooting on film reels. They always pushed the envelope of filmmaking with the technology available at the time," says Shehnad.

Despite brimming with experience, Shehnad humbly states that the planning and clear vision of director Rahul did the heavy lifting, and he had to just follow the script. "With everything planned well in advance and Rahul at the helm, we just had to play our part correctly as part of the technical team. We are glad that our hard work has paid off, and the reception for the film so far has been amazing."

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