'Other language films have taken over our screens'
... says Mercury cinematographer Tirru, who feels that the production doesn't get as much attention in our cinema as it should
It has been a couple of weeks since Mercury's release, and its cinematographer Tirru can finally heave a sigh of relief. The project apparently turned out to be more challenging than expected. "When Karthik Subbaraj narrated the story, he didn't tell me that it would be a silent film," says Tirru, who wondered aloud how people who can't hear and speak communicated. "That's when he said there would be no dialogues. Thus, silence is a natural consequence of the film, not forced," says the cinematographer.
The genre too was unique. "We have a way of treating thrillers, but we couldn't apply those techniques here. I realised I'd have to show everything. I had to make people understand how they get stuck in the factory and how despite the place having windows, they cannot climb out. Even in the scene where the couple watches a distant village from the hilltop, I had to use lighting to actually show how far that place is," he says. "Also considering that most of the film happens at night, the lighting was a challenge too. But somehow, we seem to have managed well."
The film has some unique shots, including the camera going through the mercury symbol, and another where the frame turns upside down. "If there were dialogues, the guys would have stood next to the statue and I'd have put the camera in an axis in the foreground. One the characters would then have spoken about the mercury disaster all those years back and how it caused them to be its victims now. But to show it all silently, the camera pans up towards the statue and goes through it to symbolise what they've gone through because of the mercury poisoning," says Tirru. He thinks that in a regular film, such a long shot would have been edited out. "As for the other shot, the night before the accident happens, the couple have met at the same location and expressed their love. The very next day, their life becomes upside down, so to denote that, the camera gets inverted."
With most of the film shot indoors, they also had to come up with different tactics to save the audience from visual fatigue. "That's why the camera isn't ever kept steady throughout the film. It floats everywhere -- sometimes from the point of view of the character and sometimes as a third person," says Tirru who adds that the long single shot too wasn't pre-planned. "To shoot that scene, we had to keep moving the cameras, so Karthik, Anbariv (stunt directors) and I decided to have it as a single shot. The situation too warranted it as cutting it into different shots wouldn't convey the intensity of the scene. The idea was to make the audience understand the characters' stand and make them feel claustrophobic."
Be it Kanchivaram, Vanamagan or even 24 for which he won the National Award, Tirru's choice of films might look like he's always on the lookout for off-beat projects but the cinematographer doesn't accept it. "Maybe my nature, mind, and approach to a script create their own aura, I suppose. It could also be because of my liking towards challenging films. Regular films do come with their own set of challenges and I love doing them too," says Tirru, whose Telugu film, Bharat Ane Nenu, also got released on the same day as Mercury (in Tamil Nadu). "That's a completely different film. It's not the fights and songs alone that makes a film commercial. Bharat Ane Nenu has a lot of preachy dialogues but still ended up being a huge hit. It's the presentation that plays a role in making a film 'commercial'. With the right ambience, lighting, camera angles and inputs from other departments, we can make commercial films seem so much more."
After Krrish 3 back in 2013, Tirru is also making a comeback to Bollywood with the Aishwarya Rai-starrer Fanne Khan. "There were a few films I couldn't sign up as I was busy. Bollywood prefers feel-good films and only after the entry of directors such as Anurag Kashyap, we're seeing darker films. Hindi cinema also spends a lot on production," says Tirru, who feels that the same doesn't happen often in Tamil cinema. "That's why other language films have taken over our screens. Rangasthalam, Bharat Ane Nenu and Avengers have made great collections in Tamil Nadu. We have to focus more on making quality films with good technicians," adds Tirru, who's also the cinematographer of the big budget film Sangamithra that hasn't gone on the floors yet. "It is a fabulous project and it's unfortunate that it hasn't taken off yet. I'm hoping it'll happen next year," he says.