The lessons I learnt from Kamal: Interview with cinematographer Siddarth
If you see photos of Siddarth minus his camera, you may wonder if he's the hero of some film. Cinematographer Siddarth is a handsome man. In 'Kungumapoovum Konjum Puraavum,' he has shown Muttam in all its beauty.
We have seen Muttam village in Bharatiraja's 'Kadalora Kavithaigal' and 'Alaigal Oivadhillai' but Siddarth's cinematography of Muttam bears no resemblance to those films. He was the cameraman for Kamal's 'Mumbai Express,' 'Nala Damayanti,' Dhanush's 'Yaardai Nee Mohini.' We met him for a chat.
How did you enter films?
My grandfather is Vepathur Kittu. A story and dialogue writer in Gemini Productions, he earned a big name in cinema field. He has written story and dialogues for great films like 'Chandralekha,' 'Motor Sundaram Pillai' and 'Vaazhkai Padagu.' The many stories he wrote in Ananda Vikatan brought him fame and recognition. His erial 'Needhi Thoongaadhu' was very popular.
My father Ramsay is a cameraman. He made many shows for Doordarshan and has wielded the camera for many serials and documentaries. During the early days of video, he went to Thanjavur and made the film 'Dhaagam.' He has won many awards. My mother Nalini has worked in Mumbai Doordarshan. Since my family was in the media, I was interested in it from the time I was studying in 9th.
Noticing this, my father bought me a still camera. He would buy me one roll a month. The condition was, I should not waste any photo. With great eagerness, I would cycle and seek out natural scenery, sunrise pics and some eye catching incidents, photograph them and show my dad. All 36 frames would be amazing.
I trained myself further by studying at the Film Institute for 3 years. I can never forget the encouragement given by my friends, seniors and professors. After training, I joined director/cinematographer Govind Nihlani in Mumbai as an assistant. He has given many hit films and won the national award 6 times. He has worked as cameraman for Shyam Benegal. With him, I worked in 'Mother of 1084' and 'Tak Chak.'
I worked with Anil Mehta in 'Agnivarsha' as well as in ad films and documentaries. Here, I worked with Saravanan sir when shooting 'Pommal K Sambandam.' For one week I did class work. Mouli sir liked it. After 6 months, he called me when Raj Kamal Films made 'Nala Damayanti.'
What was your experience working with Kamal in 'Mumbai Express'?
After seeing my work in 'Nala Damayanti,' Kamal sir was impressed and invited me to work in 'Mumbai Express.' It was directed by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao. I will never forget this opportunity and the experiences I had when working with him I learnt a lot from him. I cannot forget his love and devotion to the cinema medium. My working in 2 films for his company is an unforgettable experience. His talk amazed me. I would ask him in awe, "So this is how you made the short Appu…So that's how you got this shot…" and so on. The lessons I learnt from him are a gift.
Born and brought up in the city, you have managed to maintain the rural flavor in 'Kungumapoovum Konjum Puraavum'?
I was born and brought up in Chennai. I have been to villages a few times on tour. But I did not know much about rural life, just some superficial glances, that's all. When director Rajmohan told me the story, I could get the feel of that seaside village. He made me feel and see the market, their talk and way of life.
We went to Muttam village and stayed there for 15 days, observing the people. We noticed many small things that we later discussed about how to integrate into the film. We made the first half and second half different from each other. It makes us happy when people say the film has come out well.
What is your next film?
I will work on an Aascar Films production. It will be directed by Socrates. The cast is being finalized and shooting should start in August.
What's the difference between Tamil and Hindi films?
Nothing much. Tamil rasikas easily welcome even newcomers into their hearts. They are open. In Hindi and Telugu, they don't expect practicality. In Malayalam, they accept reality and entertainment.
In 'Yaaradi Nee Mohini,' you have made Nayantara really beautiful. How was the experience?
That was the decision by director Mithran Jawahar. It was the remake of Telugu film 'Aadavari maatalukku arthame verile' directed by Selvaraghavan. Trisha was the heroine in that. In Tamil, we signed on Nayantara. We had already decided upon her looks, mannerisms, make-up and costumes. The first half was an urban setting and the second half was rural setting. Our hard work was paid off with the great welcome by the rasikas. The praise by the director that I shot exactly what he wanted as a director's cinematographer, is a precious compliment to me.
Who is your favorite cinematographer?
The talent of Vittorio Storaro and Christopher Doyle awes me. When watching global cinema, their films have impressed me the most. Here, the work of Santosh Sivan has influenced me.