Cinematographer Eldo Isaac: Painting a village with light
The cameraman on creating a picturesque 90s village in Vaarthakal Ithuvare
His name may not be familiar to many, but Eldo Isaac is slowly emerging as one of the finest cinematographers in contemporary Malayalam cinema. An alumnus of Rajeev Menon’s Mindscreen Film Institute, Eldo was a batchmate of Tamil filmmaker M Manikandan (Kaakka Muttai, Aandavan Kattalai), who also trained in cinematography at the same academy.
Eldo started out as an assistant to veteran cinematographer Manoj Pillai, working with him on such films as Paleri Manikyam, Shikkar, Khaddama, and Violin until the time came for him to begin his independent stint with director Rejishh Midhila’s debut film Lal Bahadur Shastri. He has also shot Rejishh’s second film Varikkuzhiyile Kolapathakam and his upcoming Innu Muthal. In between, he worked on an independent feature — Ishti (2016), starring Nedumudi Venu — which still remains unreleased due to an ongoing legal issue.
And now with his newly released work Vaarthakal Ithuvare, starring Siju Wilson, Vinay Forrt and Saiju Kurup, Eldo once again got an opportunity to showcase his remarkable ability to weave his magic with light. The film, set in the 90s, required him to recreate a picturesque village, something one doesn’t get to see very often these days. The film has a multitude of beautiful shots captured during the golden hour — that time just after sunrise or just before sunset.
Eldo’s brilliant transformation of bright afternoons into pitch-black nights is also worth noting. He reveals that one particular “night” sequence was actually shot at 2 pm in the afternoon. “I don’t normally go for ‘day for night’ shots but due to some external pressures, we were left with no other option,” he says. Another beautifully lit “power cut” portion required Eldo to create the effect of candle lights without making it seem artificial.
Asked about the challenges of evoking a 90s ambiance, Eldo says the team found it difficult to find the right location in the early stages. “We looked everywhere in Kerala. We went to Kannur, Thalassery, and Kasaragod but eventually settled on Kollengode in Palakkad. We found it to be the most ideal location for the film. The detailing was quite a challenge given the presence of mobile towers and whatnot. There were also weather issues. Though we started filming last June, the rains and resultant floods played spoilsport. We had to take a long break and shoot in two separate schedules. I’m very particular when it comes to maintaining continuity and it was quite difficult to do that in this film.”
Despite the numerous delays and script changes, Eldo calls Vaarthakal Ithuvare a work close to his heart. Its visual style, Eldo tells us, carries an influence of veteran cinematographer S Kumar’s work as director Manoj Nair is an erstwhile assistant of Kumar. “Manoj told me his vision and then gave me all the freedom to come up with the images best suited for the story. Since I also paint, I always try to recreate the same experience through my camera,” says Eldo, who counts Ravi Varman, Madhu Ambat, Nirav Shah, and Roger Deakins among his favourite cinematographers.