Vijay Kartik Kannan: The man who captured the myth

The cinematographer talks about Jailer, the dilemmas that go behind visually capturing a Rajinikanth film, and some of his favourite shots from the film
Vijay Kartik Kannan: The man who captured the myth

It has been 2 weeks since the release of Rajinikanth's Jailer, and the film is creating box-office records with every passing day. The film has not only reiterated his superstar status to a new generation, but it has also increased the halo around the myth, and it was clear that the man who shot those terrific frames should have been a Superstar fan himself. "Oh, what powerful eyes!" asks a super excited Vijay as he talks about being a fan first and a cinematographer next in the recent Nelson directorial that has taken the nation by storm.

If Anirudh's music is heralded as one of the pillars of the film's success, Vijay's cinematography is seen as one other. "Nelson's writing was so detailed and well-thought that we didn't have to take much pressure to ensure that the momentum was always up," says the cinematographer, who previously worked with Nelson in Doctor (2021). Interestingly, Nelson chose to have a detailed introduction sequence for the dreaded villain, Varman (Vinayagan), while choosing to introduce Rajinikanth's Muthuvel Pandian with a whole lot of subtlety. "Although I was worried about this contrast, Nelson wanted to play it out as the calm before the mass moments storm hits the audience."

Rajinikanth and mass moments are synonymous with each other, and Jailer has a truckload of it. "Every shot of Rajini sir starts with his spectacles because it was his identity throughout the film. I suggested the silhouette shot of him tying his shoelaces. It was Nelson's idea to add the deodorant shot into the mix. It was Nelson's way of saying Muthu gets battle-ready before orchestrating a sambavam."

It wouldn't have been easy to reinvent the style statements of an iconic star like Rajinikanth. Yet, Nelson and Vijay ensured we saw the Superstar in a new light in Jailer. A scene that probably took most of our breaths away was Rajinikanth swiftly swinging a sword to lop off a henchman's head, which incidentally is also Vijay's favourite scene from the film. As soon as his head rolls off his body, the head of the thug behind fills up the missing space. "There's another detail that got missed. The hitman who gets his head severed by Rajini would have taken a puff from his cigarette just before the chop. So as his head falls down, we can see the smoke coming out of his mouth from his now-severed head," says Vijay, adding that Nelson's spontaneity gave way to yet another vivid scene.  "He instantaneously came up with the idea of changing the lights from white to red when Rajini sir speaks to Sunil Reddy. Although we had external lights, we chose to go with the available white lights in the hotel to make it look natural. It was quite a challenge because the hotel lights would turn off only 2 seconds after we switched it off. We rehearsed it multiple times to ensure we didn't waste time after we started filming."

Despite having such a keen eye for detail, Vijay narrates an incident where a lighting mistake led to a metaphorical shot in the film. "Nelson randomly stood before the boxed crown, and because of a lighting mistake, I realised Nelson’s reflection on the glass seemed like he had the crown on his head. We used this to show how Varman never really wears the crown he always coveted."

There are so many banger sequences in Jailer that it is impossible to discuss every single scene. But we had to explore the machinations of that brilliant interval sequence, which Vijay says was engineered to perfection. "Every single element in Muthuvel's house was designed to lead up to that interval scene. For example, we wanted the area to be scarcely populated to ensure snipers have clear shots, and there are no people running around after hearing the shots," says Vijay, who lets us in on their decision to not resort to the cliched rain effect and choose lightning and thunder instead. "It was more grim this way, and we could use darkness to our favour. When the last henchman turns off the lights, I visualised the street lights falling inside the house, illuminating the characters just enough to show their expressions. Here, the audience experiences a sense of darkness while also being able to see what is actually happening in there."

As a fan-cinematographer, Vijay was meticulous about doing only the best and more for his 'Thalaivar' at every given instance. "I researched a lot for the flashback scene, which the audience did not anticipate at all. While showing his mannerisms, I also wanted a shot of him adjusting his hair, like he has done in many of his older films," states Vijay who waxes eloquently about the septuagenarian superstar's physical and mental prowess. "He has such a strong memory. He has such strong reflexes. He is not like any other 72-year-old I've seen. Probably why he is Superstar Rajinikanth."

Having worked continuously even through the pandemic, and adding important films like Jailer, Doctor, and Ravanasura to his filmography, Vijay Kartik Kannan is currently planning to take a well-deserved break. Until then, we can be rest assured that Vijay will be busily reliving his dream of working with his Thalaivar come true, one well-designed frame at a time. 

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