Visuals of the vortex: In conversation with cinematographer Mukes V
Cinematographer Mukes V opens up about the stories behind his frames of the technically sound web-series, Suzhal
Mukes V, the cinematographer behind the acclaimed Suzhal, arrives at our studio for this video conversation, and like he would at a shooting spot, he observes the direction and intensity of the lights, the distance between the camera and the chair he is supposed to sit on, and the distance between the chair and the wall in the background to ensure optimal depth of focus. “Are you regretting your decision to invite me?” he asks me with a laugh. “Even Pushkar sir and Gaytri ma’am sometimes ask me to not be so particular while setting up frames. But I keep trying to be perfect.”
Mukes is a quintessential movie geek and developed a fascination for cinema during 'the engineering phase'. “Aranya Kaandam was my inspiration to get into filmmaking,” Mukes says, adding that he planned to study in a film school. “But I couldn’t get into one and I quickly realised that I had to learn a lot about the craft. After doing a photography course in Ooty, I went on to assist many still photographers in Mumbai, covering fashion and advertising.”
Parallelly, he kept seeking an opportunity to assist PS Vinod and when he finally landed in the senior cinematographer's team, it opened new doors. “I met many people through Vinod sir, including Pushkar sir and Gayatri ma’am. I learned everything from Vinod sir—set discipline, lighting, framing, and the eye to filter what should appear in a frame and what shouldn’t.” Even after becoming a cinematographer, Mukes continues to assist PS Vinodh on some projects, like on the Hindi remake of Vikram Vedha. “Like I said, you can learn something new from Vinod sir every time. Vikram Vedha’s Hindi version, for instance, offered me exposure to a multi-camera setup. Down South, we opt for multiple cameras only for action and song sequences. For the Vikram Vedha Hindi remake, however, we had to use a multi-camera setup for every scene. It turned out to be a great learning experience.”
Lensing Suzhal: The Vortex, on the other hand, was a completely different, even exhausting, experience. The team had to shoot eight episodes—each lasting for about 40 minutes—in 90 days across multiple locations, including Ooty, Kodaikanal and Munnar. “The working hours were long, at times going beyond 24 hours in those freezing temperatures. I wondered how the team behind a film like The Revenant must have pulled their project off,” Mukes says, laughing. “Our objective was to give the show a cinematic quality. Pushkar sir and Gayatri ma’am told me not to constrict myself under the web series tag and this freed me up to go for wide shots. This is also why we chose to shift the setting from Ambattur Industrial Estate to a hill station.”
The writing of Suzhal smartly interweaves its mystery-laden, psychological thriller-esque storyline with the Mayana Kollai carnival—lit with eye-popping colours—which yields a unique visual palette that balances the grand with the intimate. Meanwhile, the expansive landscape of the hill station is juxtaposed with characters that feel suffocated by their interpersonal dynamics. “The festivities lend a colourful side to the show while the human drama comes with an innate grey tone. It was important for us to underline the contrast. Finding a location for the Mayana Kollai sequences was a task. After finishing all the talkie portions, we finally shot it at an empty ground near AR Rahman sir’s studio in Chennai,” says Mukes, adding that coordinating with two filmmakers—Bramma and Anucharan, who directed four episodes each—was a unique experience. “Due to the availability of artists and locations, Suzhal wasn’t shot in chronological order. We would shoot a scene from the first episode, and half an hour later, we would be shooting a scene from the eighth episode. And then in the evening, we would shoot one of the initial episodes again. Oscillating from one point to another at such speed was difficult.”
Mukes is now glad that his effort has been rewarded with compliments from cinematographers he looks up to. “A lot of DoPs have appreciated me, including Nirav Shah sir—who advised me on shots involving fire—and Rathnavelu sir. PS Vinod sir called it the work of a mature professional, and that is my biggest compliment,” Mukes signs off, and proceeds to the camera to examine the video.