Every director should be hands-on like Prithviraj: Sujith Vaassudev
The Kerala State Award-winner has shot eight films starring Prithviraj and also directed the actor in James & Alice; Lucifer marks their ninth collaboration
When Sujith Vaassudev was announced as the cinematographer of Prithviraj’s directorial debut, it didn’t come as a surprise. The Kerala State Award-winner has shot eight films starring Prithviraj, and also directed the actor in his maiden directorial, James & Alice. Lucifer marks their ninth collaboration.
Did Prithviraj have any reference points when it came to the visual style of Lucifer?
No. He was adamant about not looking at anything that has been done by someone else before. First of all, it’s not a film confined to a single genre, character or subject — a lot of things are going on in it. The Munnar portions (with Stephen and his rehabilitation centre) needed a cool tone whereas the political drama portions required a warm tone. And then there are the Mumbai portions which needed quite a different look. If we had used any references, it wouldn’t really have worked.
We had detailed discussions about everything, and since Prithviraj and I understand each other well, I knew exactly what he wanted. He is very hands-on, and I am of the opinion that every director should be like him. Of all the directors I’ve worked with, he is the only one who expressed an interest in checking something like, say, the range of the lenses.
There is a combination of different filmmaking styles in this film...
Absolutely. A lot of planning went into each shot. As you can see, it’s all the result of rigorous homework. Even while he was shooting for other films, Prithviraj would be on our sets, making preparations. And he didn’t need a storyboard because he knew every scene and shot by heart. Anyone who knows him will tell you that he has a remarkable ability to memorise every word and sentence from a script you showed him three years ago. For this film, we only shot what was necessary. There was no deviation from what was already on paper, be it the photography or editing choices.
Filmmaking is a collaborative effort. A film doesn’t belong just to the actor, director or cinematographer but also every single member of the crew. But the reality here is that when a film becomes a success, it’s usually the actor who gets all the credit; when it’s a failure, the director gets all the blame.
Did the actors’ performances dictate the camera movements or was it the other way around?
In some instances, we had to change the camera movements according to their performances, but in most cases, Prithviraj was precise about what shots he wanted and how the actors should behave in relation to that. Everything was well-defined. However, this is not applicable in the case of fight sequences. The choreography sometimes demanded some last-minute changes. The warehouse fight sequence was purely for the fans, and so we employed a lot of slow-motion whereas the jail fight needed a different approach.
Which was the most challenging sequence to shoot?
The use of the white colour posed a huge challenge. Digital cameras don’t respond to it well. In this film, there are white clothes, walls, curtains... the characters are politicians of different grades and we have to keep in mind that they all wear clothes of varying shades of white. Their costumes exude their power and dignity, and to translate that on to the screen was a big challenge. This is not the first time that we've encountered this problem, but it’s the first for me since shifting to digital. We can’t reveal how we resolved it though. (laughs)
Was Lucifer shot on both digital and film formats? Some portions have a film look.
We shot everything on digital. The film look was achieved as a result of the choice of cameras and lenses, combined with the colouring and digital intermediate work we did in post-production. The film look can be recreated on any digital camera. It all depends on how you tweak the contrast. We have experimented with certain things in this film, and when people point it out to us, we know it has worked.
How many cameras were used in total? Can you tell us a bit about the anamorphic widescreen employed here?
We used a single camera mostly, but for the fight sequences, we needed a multi-camera set-up. The anamorphic widescreen is used when we have to fit so many characters inside the frame. We felt there was no point in shooting something of this magnitude with a wide-angle 35 mm format. In the past, such sequences were shot on film but as it didn’t seem practical, we opted for digital.
What about the use of CGI?
We have used it in many portions but it’s invisible. I have to mention that those three blast sequences were not done in CGI. I can’t digest it when some people tell me the VFX in the blast sequences looked awesome. Today, many are under the notion that it’s impossible to do a blast without VFX.
The item number has drawn criticism from some corners, considering the progressive statements Prithviraj made recently...
I don’t get how that proves he is disrespectful towards women. There are women in this industry who survive because of these item songs. Has he disrespected or misbehaved with that woman in the film? There will be always someone fishing for flaws. We can only ignore them. I saw the film with my wife and daughter, and they didn’t have a problem with it.
Can we expect an extended cut or any other special features on Blu-ray?
As the number of deleted sequences are very less, the chance of an extended cut coming out is very slim. However, we might release a making-of video because we have plenty of material for that.