‘Autorsha is about relevant issues’

...says acclaimed cinematographer-director Sujith Vaassudev on his second directorial venture and his special camera rig which he calls 'Autorsha 360'
‘Autorsha is about relevant issues’

You may not have heard his name but you must have surely seen some of his films. A prolific cinematographer and director, Sujith Vaassudev has worked on hits like Drishyam (and its Tamil remake Papanasam), Memories, Ezra, and Punyalan Agarbattis. He made his debut as cinematographer eight years ago with Chekavar. He won the Kerala State Film Award for best cinematography for Memories and Ayaal. In 2016, he made his directorial debut with James and Alice. Vaassudev is back with another directorial venture titled Autorsha, which features Anusree Nair as an autorickshaw driver. What's interesting about the film, apart from its novel concept, is that Vaassudev has designed a special camera rig which he calls 'Autorsha 360'.

Excerpts from a conversation with the filmmaker:

Is Anusree's character based on someone you came across in real life?

Anusree's character is not based on a real-life character exactly. This is something that actually happened to a real-life person who was not an autorickshaw driver. We just took that incident and transplanted it into the life of this character who happens to be an auto driver. And to make the story more cinematic and accessible to the audience, we brought more characters into it. For the common man’s eyes an auto driver is a daily sight. So far no Malayalam film has featured a female auto driver as a central character. We have seen them show up in other films, but not to this extent, and not throughout the film.

Does the film discuss some socially relevant issues?

The script was written with the intention of discussing some socially relevant issues. We encounter several characters in the film -- people in other autos, in tea stalls and police stations; we explore the differences between the people in the town area and the village area; and we discuss the depth of romance -- differences between the new generation romance and the old generation romance. Through the lens of Anusree's character, we peek into the lives of other characters. 

What about the locations?

We shot the film mostly in and around Kannur. I thought this subject would be more apt given Kannur’s rich political history. Though Autorsha is not exactly a political film, politics is definitely present in the background. When you are telling a timely story, politics naturally finds a way into the conversation.

Any big names in the supporting cast? 

Apart from Anusree, the rest of the cast is mostly made up of newbies. We conducted an audition in Kannur and Kasargode areas. I initially thought of casting my friends, but since this is a story told in Kannur, we needed people who could speak that language very well. When we did the audition, we found that 75 per cent of the actors were immensely talented, but only 35 per cent of them were eligible for casting. 

This 'Autorsha 360' sounds like an exciting idea. What compelled you to come up with it? 

80 per cent of this film takes place inside an autorickshaw. And given that its such a small vehicle, we had to figure out a way to capture the communication between those seated in the front and those seated in the back. The usual approach is to use two cameras to capture their reactions. In this case, however, we managed to get past our technical limitations. Usually, a camera rig is attached to a vehicle to move around it. As we felt that this approach was amateurish and repetitive, we thought of abandoning it. We could’ve actually gone with that approach but we didn’t. 

Wasn't a similar technology used by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki in Children of Men

Yes, but theirs was a more expensive method. As we didn't have that kind of budget, we wanted to try out a less expensive method. But at the same time, we didn’t want to do it in a flat manner. So I did some research on this for a while. How can we effectively capture the expressions of characters sitting inside a tiny vehicle? We can't do that through a wide shot. Also, how do we move the camera close to them? 

Our conditions were: It shouldn’t be a static shot; it should feel original; and it shouldn’t be a fabricated shot. So, I discussed this with a friend of mine who was capable of doing more than what you ask of him. We watched the making of Children of Men and, after a lot of discussions, we finally figured out a way to do our version of it. We named our rig 'Autorsha 360'. The camera we used is a Red Helium. We bought an auto-rickhsaw and modified it -- we took off the top and attached a rig above it. It took us four to five months to design the whole thing. But when we finally made it, the entire filming took only around two months. 

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