‘The good thing about digital format is anyone can use it’
...says Theevandi cinematographer Gautham Sankar, who is getting ready to work on Tovino Thomas’ Kalki
With just three films, Gautham Sankar has proved himself to be a remarkable talent behind the camera. One of the standout aspects from the recent Tovino Thomas film Theevandi was its distinct visual style which, according to Gautham, was “an attempt to evoke the vintage look of some of the 80s classics.”
A nephew of director Shyamaprasad, Gautham got his start working as an assistant of cinematographer Sanu Varghese (Vishwaroopam, Badhai Ho). He also served as an assistant director on Shyamaprasad’s Elektra. It was through cinematographer Pappu (Njan Steve Lopez, Eeda) that his debut film Theeram happened. “Pappu sir was actually supposed to shoot the film but as he was busy with Rajeev Ravi’s Kammattipadam, I took up the job,” says the Thrissur native.
Excerpts from an interview:
Do you feel that technicians are getting the respect they deserve today?
What I like most about today is that, unlike in the olden days, there is no hierarchy. You don’t see any discrimination. Everyone is on an equal level. And on all the films I’ve worked so far, everyone belonged to the same age group. We did everything together. Also, I think audiences today are more conscious of the editing and cinematography. There is a percentage of viewers who pay attention to the names of the technicians.
The digital format affords cinematographers a lot of freedom — sometimes they end up shooting a lot of footage which may not be necessary. What’s your working method like?
I think most of the current crop of filmmakers shoot only what’s necessary. I would occasionally suggest doing additional takes. Some cinematographers are tempted to take a lot of extra footage because they like to have many alternatives. It’s not a bad thing because some difficult portions require additional takes. However, this can be frustrating for some directors; you don’t want to waste their time.
Do you get upset when a favourite shot is left on the cutting room floor?
Yes, it has happened to me a couple of times and that’s the main reason why I chose not to sit at the editing table (laughs). But when I occasionally do sit, I don’t bring it up in front of the editor. For example, in Theevandi, entire sequences had to be taken off because it hampered the flow of the narrative. And in Ladoo, we had to remove around 30 minutes of footage. You have to learn to not get attached to your shots because, at the end of the day, it’s about what works for the film and what doesn’t. The last thing you want to do is put your camera gimmicks above the quality of the film and the director’s vision.
What’s your take on the film vs digital debate?
Digital is user-friendly. You can do a lot of things on digital that you can’t do on film. And these days it’s possible to replicate the look of film on digital. The Arri Alexa camera, for example, is able to achieve that. It all depends on a filmmaker’s perspective. Some feel digital cameras produce sharper images. The good thing about digital format is that anyone can use it. Plus, you don’t need too much lighting.
Does this mean you don’t use extra lighting?
I only use extra lights if it’s necessary. We needed to do that on Theevandi and Ladoo. For example, in some portions of Theevandi, we had to install streetlights with the help of the art department.
Who are your favourite cinematographers?
From India, I love Sanu Varghese’s work a lot, in addition to Anil Mehta’s (Highway) and Jomon T John’s. From outside, Roger Deakins (Skyfall) and Emmanuel Lubezki (Tree of Life).
Your next is Kalki with Tovino Thomas. What can you tell us about it?
We are aiming for a February start. The location hunt will begin next month. The overall visual style can only be decided once the locations are all sorted out. It’s going to be a stylish project with some cool fight sequences being planned. Though it’s a mass entertainer, we’re not going in the direction of a Dabangg or a Rohit Shetty film either. It’s going to be more of a character-centric action film. Tovino is currently preparing for the role.