Kishor Kumar: I became a character while filming Natchathiram Nagargiradhu
Cinematographer Kishor Kumar pieces together the artistic choices that define the evocative visual palette of Natchathiram Nagargiradhu
Kishor Kumar refers to Pa Ranjith as ‘Ranjith anna’, much like Pratheep Kaliraja, the cinematographer who shot Writer and Setthumaan, both produced by Neelam Productions. Kishor, who debuted as a cinematographer with yet another Ranjith production, the Athiyan Athirai directorial Irandam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu, attributes a significant part of his film education to Ranjith and his frequent collaborator, Murali G, having entered the world of films with Madras (2014). The word Anna implies something bigger than the affinity he shares with the director; it alludes to the emergence of a new crop of craftsmen from Ranjith’s artistic ecosystem, with Kishor being the latest example.
Kishor’s sophomore film as a cinematographer, Natchathiram Nagargiradhu, balances fantasy with reality; it erases the cinematic flavour of scenes while retaining provocative imagery. It all boils down to the story, Kishor believes. “When we read a story, the characters and the locations paint a picture in our mind. The shot division is already in it, but it might be invisible. Shot division is a process that allows the cinematographer and the director to arrive on the same page,” Kishor says, seated at Neelam Productions’ office. The dominance of handheld and dolly movements, for instance, is one such creative choice that Ranjith and he had zeroed in on quite early in the preparation. “If you notice, the sequence set in Arjun’s house is composed majorly of dolly movements while handheld shots guide you through the world of the theatre. When it comes to capturing the lives of these artists, the camera movement had to be seamless and fluidic. We cautiously avoided static shots.”
The handheld operation of the camera, a lively location, and a frame filled with numerous characters allowed Kishor to be spontaneous. “Every character is connected in this world. If a shot is dedicated to Arjun, it captures Rene’s reaction too. We avoided intercutting between shots. The camera keeps following all the characters; if it starts with Rene, it goes to Arjun and then to Iniyan. This movement was not precisely choreographed either. The actors were doing their job, and in a sense, I was a character among them.”
Speaking about the dichotomy between the scenes set off-stage and the rehearsals on stage, Kishor says, “In the world of the play, we opted for a lot of static shots. There aren’t any jerky cuts. This is also a call Ranjith anna and I took when we began, and, of course, we improvised a lot on the spot.”
In a film filled with evocative imagery, a couple of shots stand out. When Rene and Iniyan ascend the stairs to have sex for the first time, we see the door brimming with light. When Arjun proceeds to seek forgiveness from Rene, we see her sitting in Buddha’s posture. In another scene involving Arjun, Rene and a Buddha painting over a door, we see her open the door, walk straight out of Buddha and extend a hand to Arjun, with light suggesting that Rene is now the guiding force in Arjun’s life. “They are all products of my conversations with Ranjith anna. Cinematographers tend to function logically. But with the lighting in the staircase shot or the Buddha scene, we tried to create a magical effect to suggest that they are walking up into the galaxy. In the scene where Rene leads Arjun through the door, I had initially lit the scene normally, but Ranjith anna asked me to increase the intensity of the light. Practically, it is not right, but he gave me the freedom to break reality. Ithu ellam mention pannum bothu bayangara santhoshama irukkum!” Kishor says, with a smile.
Recalling his evolution as a cinematographer and what has changed in the past couple of years, Kishor says, “While working on the first film, there was some fear. That is no longer there. Having worked with a filmmaker called Pa Ranjith, I realise I am doing good work. I never imagined that I would be working with him someday. Having done that, I am not afraid anymore. But of course, there is an increased responsibility now. I have seen many films in the past couple of years which have changed me a lot… I now have a daughter who is changing me as a person. Athu romba santhosham,” concludes Kishor, whose journey with Ranjith is set to progress with the filmmaker's next starring Vikram.