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`We are creative gamblers'

I used stumbling blocks as stepping stones to succeed SELVA

Forget the frills. Like his films, director Selvaraghavan too is simple and straight-forward. He can't smile even for the sake of the camera. "How can I when I'm so anxious about my forthcoming film," implores the Mechanical Engineer-turned film maker with honesty. But post photo session, Selvaraghavan, who has given hits such as "Kaadhal Kondein" and "7G Rainbow Colony" gets over his initial reticence for a free-wheeling chat with friend and cinematographer Arvind Krishna, at Cappuccino, Park Sheraton. Naturally, the starting point is "Pudupettai." From Selvaraghavan's realistic handling of the `dark' subject to Arvind Krishna's creative use of the Super 35 lens, the conversation flows.

T. Krithika Reddy captures every bit of it on tape...

Arvind Krishna: Selva, after a long time, we've got to chat with each other. It's always work. Even our routine has changed. We've been going to bed at 6 a.m. for the past one month. For you particularly, the pain and pleasure of creating "Pudupettai" has been all consuming.

Selva: Yes, the subject of "Pudupettai", as you know, is kind of weird. My past films were simple love stories. This one is rather complicated. It's experimental and revolves around the lives of gangsters. The treatment is realistic, not like the gangster films we've seen. In reality, a hardcore gangster is thinner than Dhanush (smiles at last!) and he doesn't live ostentatiously. Gangsters are very insecure people. (Pause) There's no action, but it's an interesting dark film. Hope we complete it before the April deadline. For you too, it must have been a challenge as a cinematographer.

Arvind: Yes, being a realistic film, it was important for me to bring in an element of surrealism to the scenes. So I introduced a lot of colour to contrast with the dark mood. Too much starkness might work the other way with the audience. Tell me, Selva, will it not take a while for us to get over this gloomy gangster mood?

Selva: Yes, it's the toughest film I've made. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I'm so lost in the subject. Just don't know where I am. It's a gamble. Hope it pays off. There will be a Telugu release too. And I plan to take the film to festivals abroad. Okay, tell me about the Super 35 that you've used for this film. So many cinematographers consult you about it and I hear 16 films are already using it.

Arvind: (Smiles) Super 35 is not something I can call mine. It's been there. The film required a different composition. With Super 35, the whole perspective changes in terms of lenses and composition. The visuals are clearer and sharper. When I started, I didn't have anyone to consult. Now, cinematographers call me to clear their doubts about it. So for me too it was a gamble. As you said, guess we are gamblers. Creative gamblers. So what's your next film? Will I be part of it? (Laughs)

Selva: Sure. I will be doing a Telugu film with Venkatesh in the lead. In Tamil, I will return to romance. It will be about a carefree girl, someone with a gypsy spirit. Boney Kapoor has got the rights for the Hindi remake of "Kaadhal Kondein." I will be directing that too. I'm not really looking at doing more Hindi films now. It's nice for us to be small independent film makers. I suppose we'll be happy making short, one-hour films without much noise.

Arvind: Yes, that's satisfying.

Selva: There will be an audience for them. If you've noticed, in 2004, six out of ten hits were offbeat films. Okay, tell me about yourself. Was photography always your passion?

Arvind: Yes. My dad had a photo lab. It started there. I did Visual Communication at Loyola, after which I joined cinematographer P.C. Sriram. I worked with him for five years, before starting out on my own. Thanks to Yuvan Shankar Raja, who introduced me to you. What about you? A mechanical engineer-turned film maker. Any regrets?

Selva: Yes, sometimes. (They laugh) We pay dearly for being film makers. There's no peace, no sleep. Personal relationships get affected. Nobody wants to be with me because I get so absorbed in my work. When I see a couple happily going on a bike, I crave for that normal life. And to think that we go through all the pain just for that one day when our film hits the screen!

Arvind: But as soon as it does, the pain simply vanishes. And we're already discussing the next! (Laughter)

Selva: Yes, it's the audience response that keeps us going. Hope White Elephant, our production company (the two along with Yuvan Shankar Raja have launched it) will succeed. We have to encourage young, struggling film makers and screenplay writers.

Arvind: Okay, I've noticed you go into isolation quite often.

Selva: I have to. If I'm only directing, that's different. But for my films, I also write. This involves plenty of time. For "Pudupettai", I'm into the eighth draft. I don't believe in group discussions. What will happen when six people prepare sambar together? Tell me, Arvind, aren't you doing something to knit the cinematographer community together?

Arvind: Yes. Together, we can do something to develop the craft. I want to set up an academy where young talent can be honed. We are not here to fight for space, there's space for everyone in this industry.

Selva: Why do some cinematographers take up two or even three films at a time?

Arvind: I can't blame them. It's a question of survival. Most often, cinematographers are underrated. They don't get paid well. So when a film takes too long, they make use of the time gaps. But ultimately, it depends on the quality the director and the cinematographer expect. Tell me about your climb to the top.

Selva: I used stumbling blocks as stepping-stones to succeed. When I said I wanted to do films, nobody trusted me. My family was literally on the streets. So my father gave in. We made "Thulluvatho Illamai' with so much difficulty. We couldn't even afford a crane for the camera. We used to mount it on a van and shoot. When the film was made, we had to sell it. So even though there was my hand in every frame, I couldn't claim any credit for it. Even my next film "Kaadhal Kondein" was such a struggle. Today, I'm paid fine. But even if one film bombs, I'll be back to square one. Perhaps pick up those Engineering files. The thought alone is enough to deprive me of sleep.

Arvind: Yes, in film making we survive with every chance — which is like a first chance. So we have to give the present a good shot. And like the song in "Pudupettai" goes, we'll be lucky if we wake up to the next sunrise.


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