Arvind Krishna: I stepped into cinema to be an actor
Cinematographer Arvind Krishna discusses his impressive work in the recently released Selvaraghavam film, Nenjam Marappathillai
It's not every day that you meet someone as versatile as Arvind Krishna. The man acted in quite a few films, most notably Kamal’s Kuruthipunal. He created and produced the courtroom soap-opera, Dharmayutham; he even turned director with the web-series, Thiravam (2019). Despite all these forays, he is most famous for his work as a cinematographer, which was most recently seen and appreciated in Selvaraghavan’s long-delayed film, Nenjam Marappathillai. “The project got confirmed only at the last minute, in fact, and we barely had any time to prepare,” says Arvind, with a smile.
Soon as he heard the story of Nenjam Marappathillai, he was convinced he had to do something different. “Selva had created a whole new world with this film, and we discussed a lot about how to make this film look different from our previous collaborations. We narrowed down on the three-colour theory and fixed a few colours. We continued to play with the ideas well after shooting began,” says Arvind. “We went with a lot of contrast and visual harshness because we wanted a sharp image. That's why you feel like the eyes of the actors are clearer than they usually are. The idea was to bring focus to the eyes of the god and the devil. I used a direct light without diffusing it, to arrive at this effect.”
Selvaraghavan, in a recent interview of ours, called the film a ‘wacky trip’, and so, I ask Arvind Krishna if his choice of extreme close-ups and some unusual angles was to add to the wackiness. “Yes! The lensing was a key factor for this story. We used a lot of close-ups for Ramsay (SJ Suryah's character) to capture his feelings,” says Arvind, who adds that he was also keen that such visual choices not distract from the story. “It's a thin line and crossing it would make the whole process useless, especially for a film like this that's new and experimental. All these ideas would get wasted if they all combined to make the film difficult to comprehend. Every choice, be it about lenses or colours, be it about how to depict good and evil, was carefully thought out and executed.” The film was also noted for its absence of jumpscares, despite being of the horror genre. “This was not a part of Selva's writing and screenplay, and creating a haunting feeling without resorting to such ideas was a challenge. We also had to work within the constraints of shooting inside a house and handling very few characters. The house is Ramsay’s world and everything outside is unreal to him. To show this differentiation was tough.”
Ramsay is devil incarnate in the film, and is a rich man not above inappropriate glances towards his maid, Marian (Regina Cassandra). I ask about the choice of the film to show the visuals of his gaze. “Yes, we all know that the character is looking at the maid, but cinematically, certain things are meant to be said in a certain way. The idea was not to seem perverted or anything. We wanted to set up the sin that this man was going to commit, and we needed a shot to communicate the lust of this character,” says Arvind, who cites the example of the gang-rape scene near the intermission to show that the team had shot that portion in a different way. “I showed only the shadows of the four evil men in that portion because we felt that was sufficient there. These are creative choices made after deliberation.” Did the modest budget ever come in the way of shooting the film as he intended? “Necessity is the mother of invention. Even Kaadhal Kondein didn't have a big budget but we took it up as a challenge. We shot Nenjam Marappathillai with barely five-six lights.”
The cinematographer has been a recurring collaborator of Selva and Yuvan for almost two decades now and attributes their longevity to the mutual friendship. “It's both easy and tough when you work with friends. When discussing creative choices, we have healthy arguments and go ahead with whoever seems most convincing. The three of us are good friends, so I guess this sync is evident in our films.” During the mid-2000s, the trio tried to float a platform to nurture upcoming talent. “We wanted to encourage younger talent with a desire to make meaningful cinema on a tight budget. The reason this initiative didn't work is a long story, but thankfully, what we envisioned then has started happening around us today,” says Arvind, whose next film is the much-anticipated Selvaraghavan-Dhanush collaboration, Naane Varuven. “I have never seen anyone as dedicated and sincere as Dhanush. His application on the sets has only grown over the years. Naane Varuven is in the pre-production stages now. Once Selva completes his acting commitments (Saani Kaayidham), we will commence work on this project.”
When the topic returns to his first appearance as an actor in Kuruthipunal when he looked almost unrecognisably different, Arvind jokes, “Avalo vayasu difference-a?” After a pause, he goes on: “Everything was an accident and coincidence. I came into the industry to become an actor, but cinematography remained a passion.” The desire to experiment has been a constant in his life too. “The TV soap I created was totally different from the usual ‘maamiyaar’ stories you got. We wanted to change the television landscape; the soap did well but we needed more seasons. My directorial effort was always a one-off attempt though.” When you try out different roles, many dimensions open in an artist’s mind, he says. “That's why many cinematographers also direct and produce films. For me, these have all been dreams at one point.”