Cinematographer R. Rathnavelu is selective about his work. So much so that he’s done just about 20 films in 18 years against the huge number of offers he gets. “I listen to the script. If I like it, I get on board, otherwise I take a flight back home,” says the Chennai-based cinematographer.
But when director Sukumar narrated the script of 1: Nenokkadine in Goa, Rathnavelu was “all excited”. Today, the film has been credited for “taking Tollywood a step closer to Hollywood” and Rathnavelu doesn’t shy away from compliments and says, “No wonder I have a high success rate of 95 per cent!”
This is not an empty boast. He has got the Filmfare Award for Best Cinematographer — South twice, for Nandha and for Rajinikanth’s Enthiran.
With 1, Rathnavelu completed a decade of his association with Tollywood, beginning with Allu Arjun and Sukumar’s debut film Arya. After that he did Jagadam, also with Sukumar.
“My cinematography gave a fresh air to Telugu cinema and became a trend. Tollywood welcomes you with a red carpet if you deliver great results,” he says. Sukumar’s trust in Rathnavelu’s craft can be best described with this anecdote: “When the producer of Arya (Dil Raju) asked Sukumar how much money he needed for the film, he said ‘I first need Rathnavelu on board’,” he recollects, adding, “Somebody has to raise the bar in T’town, which Sukumar has done with 1.”
According to Rathnavelu, though Enthiran was the toughest film technically, 1 was more challenging aesthetically.
“While I had to create the mood for each scene, I had to simultaneously address the psychological mood swings of Mahesh Babu’s character. Also, since he was hallucinating, I had to replicate the scenes and still show minute differences.”
For example, when the BMW of the imaginary villain passes by, there is no water splash but when the hero’s bike crosses the stretch, there’s a splash.
He adds that the fight scene in the London car basement was a free lesson for his British technical crew. “The sequence takes place during a power cut and I had to create a high-octane mood. The only source of light were the bike’s headlight and a few emergency lights. It is very difficult for any cinematographer to film in a two-acre size car park, with a superstar like Mahesh, without lights. The British crew was stunned by my lighting concept.”
Undeterred by BO
Rathnavelu is not affected by the box-office figures; he prefers audience’s response. He says, “Two days back, a sweeper in the airport toilet told me ‘extraordinary camera’. Then a techie’s daughter said that I had managed to make Mahesh look like a demi-god!”