Cinematographer Anu Moothedath: Sufiyum Sujatayum was shot in three different locations
The film's cinematographer on the experience of his second Malayalam feature, working under a limited budget, and the importance of colours
Anu Moothedath was recently stuck in Malaysia when the lockdown happened, a tricky situation to be in when your second Malayalam film as cinematographer, Sufiyum Sujatayum, was soon to be announced as a direct OTT release - the first mainstream Malayalam film to do so.
The Mumbai-based Malayali cinematographer had gone there for an ad shoot which couldn't be completed due to the pandemic. "I was worried initially because we were in a foreign country. But Malaysia handled the situation very well, I must say. They have very fewer cases now," says Anu, who had to come directly to Kochi to begin the post-production work quickly after his 14-day quarantine. "I couldn't get a Mumbai flight then, which I now think was a good thing because it would've made things a lot more complicated. Since we had to speed up the work, I got started early on, by having the footage sent online so that I could set the basic look of the overall film first. Everything that followed was done based on that input."
This quick-thinking comes from his ad film background, he believes. It's a thought process echoed by many filmmakers who started in ads. "There is a disciplined approach followed in ad films. So I try to follow the same in my feature-length films too. I have a proper discussion with the director in the early stages to have a clear idea of the film's overall look," he says.
Anu made a strong impression with his debut Malayalam feature, Athiran, starring Fahadh Faasil and Sai Pallavi. The film's highlight was its atmospheric and immersive visuals. Both Athiran and Sufiyum Sujatayum are notable for their use of standout colours, be it in the costumes or the production design.
In Sufiyum Sujatayum, Anu made some colour choices to reflect the characters' state of mind. He opted for more vibrant colours for Sujata's flashbacks and relatively muted colours for the present. "If you have noticed, we did away with blue coloured-costumes throughout the film, except for that blue saree Aditi wears in the climax. Sujata was happy in the past, not in the present," he explains. "I wanted the past settings to give off a magical vibe -- a contrast to the stark reality of the present. I always believe that the three departments -- costumes, set design and light -- should gel perfectly well to achieve the right feeling."
One of the film's standout scenes has an overhead shot of a dancing Aditi which then slowly pans to the evening sun. "It's a shot, like several others, that took a lot of effort," he says. "Sufi's prayer begins towards the end of that dance of Sujata, so we had to match its timing to that of the sunset. These are important shots -- they tell a story."
Anu reveals that the film has a combination of both real and artificial sets. He confirms our assumption that the story takes place somewhere in the Kerala-Mysore border. "The film was shot in three different locations. Aboob's house was a real house in Karnataka, Sujata's was in Kozhikode, and the river scenes in Attapadi (Palakkad district). As we couldn't find the most appropriate places anywhere else, these three locations were combined to appear as one location."
Since Athiran had a bigger budget, I ask whether he felt creatively restrained by the relatively smaller budget of Sufiyum Sujatayum. "Not at all. We don't necessarily need big budgets all the time to exercise our creativity, you see. It's about how we go about doing something. A small story like this, which takes place in just minimal locations, doesn't require a big budget. I only had to use a balloon light for the night sequences, and I didn't feel any other limitations, especially when it came to the costumes."
Elaborating further on that and creating Aditi's distinctly ethereal look, Anu says he was very particular about the colours of her costumes. "The costume department also played a big part. Sameera Saneesh is a brilliant costume designer. She delivers exactly what you had visualised. The various colours on Aditi's outfit not only had to complement each other but also shouldn't be of the same colour as Dev's. One also has to contrast that with the colours of the walls."
I bring up the amusing fact that the female protagonists in both Athiran and Sufiyum Sujatayum communicate through gestures. "That thought occurred to me while reading the script of the latter. I was like, 'Wait - she can't talk either?' I hope my next film's lead female character has some dialogues." (laughs)