'Kamal Haasan opened my mind to the possibility of dynamic frames'
...says Sanu Varghese, the cinematographer of the recently released Badhaai Ho, and has also worked with Kamal Haasan in Vishwaroopam and Thoongavanam
The day before the release of Badhaai Ho, Sanu Varghese, the film’s cinematographer, told friends, “I have no doubt that the film will be a hit. Just not sure how big it will be.” And he has been proved right; the film has earned Rs 115 crore at the box-office so far and is now among the top grossers of 2018.
Badhaai Ho is the story of a middle-aged mother (Neena Gupta), who gets pregnant, leading to embarrassment in the family, especially for her 25-year-old son played by Ayushmann Khurrana. The cinematography is largely unobtrusive. But the Malayalam cinematographer says there is also active storytelling by the camera. “There is one scene where the family is back together, after their mother gives birth, and the children are cracking a joke with their grandmother,” he says. “The camera stays on the children and then it slowly moves away and focuses on the father and the mother who are in the kitchen. I am leading the audience along. This is deliberate storytelling.”
Asked why he thinks Badhaai Ho did so well, Sanu says, “It is like a Malayalam script. The best example would be Mohanlal trying to set up a biscuit factory in Mithunam (1993). It is a film where you make everybody laugh in the first half and then cry in the second half.”
Sanu got his first break in Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon (2003), which was produced by Ram Gopal Varma, and starred Rajpal Yadav and Antara Mali. “It received praise from critics but did not do so well at the box office,” he says. Some of the other films he has worked in include Karthik Calling Karthik, David, Wazir, and the Malayalam films, Elektra and Take Off.
He also worked on Kamal Haasan's Marmayogi, which was shelved in pre-production. But in 2011, he shot for Kamal’s Vishwaroopam. The shoot took one-and-a-half years to complete, but it was a turning point for Sanu. “When you work with a legend like Kamal sir, you learn something new every day,” he says, adding, “He comes from a choreography background, so he looks at scenes through that angle. Till then I used to shoot static frames; Kamal sir is the one who opened my mind to the possibility of everything moving. How the total energy of a scene can be changed, with the camera as well as the actors moving. This was something new for me.”