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Cinematographer Ravi K Chandran turns director with the Malayalam film ‘Bhramam’ starring Prithviraj

He speaks about the elements he added to the Malayalam remake of ‘Andhadhun’, and the process of making a remake

Cinematographer Ravi K Chandran has always wanted to direct films. However, his eye for good visuals and the influence of his older brother, the late cinematographer K Ramachandran Babu, changed the course of his career and got him working with some of the country’s biggest filmmakers.

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A few years ago, he got to direct Tamil film Yaan, but describes it as a ‘bitter experience’. A disappointed Ravi went back to cinematography. During that time, he watched Andhadhun and was impressed by it. While speaking with its director, Sriram Raghavan, he learnt that the film was initially planned with a South Indian actor who couldn’t commit dates for the projectHe had even found a location in Kochi. With a producer, Ravi made a bid to acquire its remake rights, which took some time coming, and started directing it. The result in Bhramam, releasing on Amazon Prime Video this week. He intends to continue directing. “There are many stories that I want to tell. There are new platforms to show these films to people,” he says. Excerpts from a chat:

This (the pandemic) is quite an eventful way to make your first film…

(Laughs) Movies are always eventful. However experienced you are, things could go wrong. It is impossible to predict the filmmaking process.

How did you get Prithviraj on board the project?

When we met for another project, Andhadhun came up in the conversation; Prithvi mentioned that he wanted the rights of the film. We decided to go ahead and got the script written by Sarath Balan. Then, the pandemic happened and Prithvi was abroad shooting Aadujeevitham. We almost forgot about the film (laughs). When things opened in late 2020, we started filming. It was an ideal film to make during a pandemic as it involved no crowds and just a few people on set.

Have you stuck to the original or did you tweak the script?

We had to make changes; Prithvi’s build and body language is different from Ayushmann. Tabu played an older character in the original, while Mamta in this version is much younger.

The original had a bland palette, so we wanted to introduce some colour into it. I have also been watching a lot of Malayalam films and I find that many restrict themselves to murder mysteries and dark themes. I wanted Bhramam to have a lot of colour, like Pedro Almodovar films.

The cinematography of Andhadhun was by KU Mohanan, while you have handled the camera in the Malayalam version. Did you feel restricted because of the visuals in the original?

When Aamir remade Ghajini, he used the villain and heroine (Asin) from the original. We said, with sync sound, Asin might not be able to deliver the Hindi dialogues, he said we’ll dub. He made the film because he liked certain things about the film. Why change things too much? It is like buying a television because you liked it a lot and then adding extra speakers to it. If you liked it in the first place, leave it as it is.

That said, certain locations lend themselves to the visual. Every location is different, the houses and structures are different. You use the shot to tell the story, not copy as it is because it is there in the original. Use what is needed for the character to tell the story.

Was it difficult wearing two hats simultaneously; that of director and cinematographer?

The first couple of days were difficult. In fact, I called another DoP to shoot it. But Prithvi told me that I had not done a Malayalam film in the last 20 years and that he had always wanted to work with me as cinematographer. I told him doing both would mean that the film would take longer to complete, and he agreed and gave more dates.

Cinematographer Ravi K Chandran Turns Director With The Malayalam Film ‘Bhramam’ Starring Prithviraj

We were able to shoot quickly. The Kerala crew was fantastic; initially, I thought it would be difficult for me as I was used to the Mumbai style of work. The guys were so good that we were done before time.

You have worked with some of the best directors of our times. Did some of that influence you?

You learn something from every film. You notice many things. For instance, Sanjay Leela Bhansali is very particular about the junior artists placed behind an actor, and choreographs a scene before shooting. Mani Ratnam’s approach is completely different; he says that if you have a great team, half the job is done and that you just have to worry about how you as director tell the story.

As cinematographer I have always wanted to tell the story, my work is based on that. I have always wanted to tell it from the director’s point of view. I am not a ‘fashionable cinematographer’. I am trained like that. Look at my films, none of them looks similar. I shot Yuva and Black together, Kannathil Muthamittaal and Dil Chahta Hai together.

Every film is completely different because I wanted to tell the story with the director. For one of my next films, I am doing something different. It’ll be a change for everybody. Otherwise it will be boring, it will feel like just another regular job. You need to excite yourself, put yourself in a spot otherwise you will not venture into anything new.

That is what this film is to me. Earlier I would go on set as a cameraman, set the lights and do my job even as the poor director was struggling make this thing (the film). Now, during Bhramam, I had 200 people looking at me as if asking “What is your move?” And I am thinking, “What do I tell the actors?”

Your take on Malayalam cinema, which seems to be at a great place now…

Malayalam films have become the Iranian films of India. Whatever we do, people elsewhere are excited. It looks like people in Mumbai have watched every Malayalam film available on OTT platforms!

What are your other projects in the pipeline?

There are a couple; let’s see how it pans out. There are some great Malayalam cinematographers at the moment; it is scary to step into their shoes.

Why do you say so?

They are doing extraordinary work. People like Girish Gangadharan, Shyju Khalid and Sanu John Varughese….

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