The earthiness of Virata Parvam: In conversation with Dani Sanchez Lopez
Cinematographer Dani Sanchez Lopez discusses the many unique visual choices that bolstered Virata Parvam, which got released on Netflix recently
The IMDB biography of Spanish-origin cinematographer Dani Sanchez Lopez reads, ‘he speaks five languages, yet thinks that visual language is universal’. This thought got implemented while he was envisioning the look and feel of Venu Udugula’s Virata Parvam, a story rooted in Telangana during a turbulent political climate. Dani and Venu used frames of Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror as a reference. The work of legendary photographers like Janusz Kaminski and Emmanuel Lubezki also doubled up as a medium of communication. “We watched The Mirror and Stalker several times and started applying those techniques in our environment to see how they translated on to the frames,” Dani says, over a Zoom call. “One of the first things we discussed was to source the visuals from the ground, and obviously, the colour palette was going to be earthy, only using colours that can be found in real locations.”
When Dani and the team scouted for locations, the cinematographer made an interesting observation. “The landscape was not panoramic like we usually see in films like Lawrence of Arabia. It was uneven with trees and rocks, and we wanted to capture these higs and lows,” Dani says, adding that the story was one of the reasons why he opted to shoot the film in a wide 1.85:1 aspect ratio. “This story needed that width. A 4:3 image might have looked too compressed. It is a fitting dimension for one person. Our film, however, is a love story of two people and this aspect ratio suits it.”
Dani’s previous work, Mahanati, shot majorly in a studio environment, is a complete contrast to Virata Parvam, which was predominantly filmed in real locations to preserve the essence of the real story that inspired the film. “After Mahanati, everybody thought I was good with sets, but the truth is, I despise being on sets,” Dani says, laughing. “I love being restricted. I love a challenge. When you are at a real location, you are compelled to adapt and are tasked to match the reality with the vision in your mind. In a studio, you have the liberty to tweak elements and cheat the audience. In real locations, however, you have to fight," Dani shares. "From a lighting perspective, the time of the day is crucial. During the day, you have to dance with the sun in its path and direction. It demands that we change our frames and plan the blocking based on the availability of the light.”
In a similar vein, Dani describes the Bonalu sequence in the first half as one of the most challenging parts of filming, ascribed to the expansive location, a night setting and the action that ensues later in the scene. Elaborating on the challenges that emerged while filming in a real location, Dani says, “My team and I had to devise a technique to do this with the limitations of the budget and time, because it culminates as an action sequence. I actually managed to restrain a gigantic location within the frame. Of course, it was all extensively planned ahead because of the logistics involved; we had to go for cranes and moonlights for the sequence. We gave Peter Hein (action choreographer) permission to shoot the scene in every direction, which is rare because we usually stick to specific angles to avoid re-lighting an entire scene. In action, it’s often quite difficult and complicated because of the continuity in hair, injuries and costumes. Yet, we managed to do it.”
Although Dani has established himself as a cinematographer, he says there is no definite answer to how one can become a good cinematographer. “My students ask me that, and honestly, I don’t know. Cinema is not science. Yes, there are film schools and gigs in the film industry to observe how a movie is made, but the best thing you can do is to watch films. I am an avid movie watcher and I believe that every film has its own value and potential. Naturally, I like some films more than the others, but everything can be interesting if you see them through the proper lens.” Spoken like a cinematographer, indeed.