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Interview with Ratnavelu
Date: March 22, 2007, Hyderabad

Ratnavelu got the attention of Telugu film industry with his terrific work for Arya film. His second Telugu film Jagadam too got good appreciation for cinematography. met with talented cinematographer for a brief interview. Here are the excerpts -

I am a graduate in physics. After that I completed by DFTech from Madras Film Institute in 1992. I don’t have any background in films. My parents allowed me to get into creative field as I am the last son. I joined as an assistant to Rajiv Menon for Mani Ratnam’s Bombay film. Later on I did many commercials for Rajiv Menon. I shot over 600 ad commercials for MNC brands like Pepsi, Coke, Sony etc. Later I started my career as cinematographer with Aravindan film. I worked as cinematographer for films like Sethu, Nanda, Bhagawati, Jayam (Tamil), Arya, Peralagan, Mayavi, Thirumalai, Cyanide (Kannada) etc. I got lot of appreciation for Cyanide film and it went to London film festival too.

How you got interested in cinematography?
I was always interested in photography since childhood. It was my friend - a Sound engineer at Prasad who ignited my passion for cinematography. They offer only 10 seats per batch in Madras Film Institute and I got selected on merit basis.

What is cinematography in your opinion?
A Cinematographer should know where lights should not be used. Cinematography is not about beautiful images. It should help director narrate the story. It should complement the narration of the film. Cinematography should be natural and should go along with the mood of the film instead of dominating it. In Arya we used vibrant colors and saturated background since it is a love story with lot of energy in it. A film like Jagadam has dark ambiance. Hence we used shades that give polluted look to the environment.

Do you think that a cinematographer can give better quality if he takes more time?
In Hollywood, films are made in around 70 working days. Once we read the script, we should have the scheme in mind regarding which lights to be used. When I go to sets, I do my homework and I know exactly how I am going shoot the film. If there is any last minute change it location, I change my schemes instantly. Hence I don’t believe that taking more time has anything to with better quality output. We should not use lighting equipment just because it is available. For Edo Priyaragam song in Arya, I used Thermocoal sheet as a reflector of sun light instead of using bright lights and it gave brilliant effect.

Tell us about advantage of Super35 camera as you worked on it for Jagadam film?
For a 70mm camera, we get limited set of lenses. For 35mm camera we get wide variety of lenses (anamorphic too) which gives us more options to experiment. Image quality is sharper and color reproduction is superior. We get only 4 focal lenses in 70mm camera. In Super35, we get many more. The integration of Digital Intermediate becomes more seamless for output of Super35. 90% of Hollywood films and 50% of Bollywood films are now using Super35 cameras.

You used different colors schemes in Jagadam. Can you explain the reason behind it?
I use color psychology. I used bluish color for brother’s death scene because it gives chill effect. Generally we have the habit of using back and white or monotone while opening the flashbacks. But I used warm tone for the Jathara scene which comes as opening scene in flashback. I used the ting of yellow and saffron for this scene because it represents turmeric and kunkuma. I used to neutral tone while narrating the present.

I observed strong influence of City of God film in cinematography of Jagadam. Is it deliberate?
I can’t deny that there is influence of that film over me for shooting Jagadam. There is narrow lanes in Brazil and we find the similar lanes in Indira Nagar (Hyderabad). I find it fascinating that Hyderabad has so many different terrains and localities. It is up to the cinematographers to exploit them.

Who is your favorite cinematographer?
Janusz Kaminski is my favorite cinematographer in Hollywood. He won two Oscars (Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List) and works for films that show total contrast in cinematography. Among the Indian cinematographers I like the work of Rajiv Menon and Ravi K Chandran.

What is your goal?
I want to be a director. I want to direct a film that appeals to all kinds of audiences.

What are your future projects?
I accept one project at a time. I worked for Jagadam for over an year and lost many high profile projects because of it. I will be doing Gowtam Menon’s next film with Surya as hero.

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