Entering the Madras Talkies office for a chat with cinematographer Ravi Varman about Kaatru Veliyidai, Mani Ratnam who we first spotted, exclaims, “Ravi is the hero of the film!” And from the initial rushes, he sure seems to be.
For Varman, who began his Kollywood career with the Mani Ratnam production, 5 Star, in 2002, life has come full circle after cranking the camera for several movies in all Indian languages.
Ask him about Mani heaping laurels on him, and he replies, “That’s Mani sir’s greatness.” “I did three days’ clash work in Kannatthil Muthamittal, but being a second unit cameraman, I did not get the opportunity to speak to Mani sir. Later, when 5 Star came my way, I accepted it only with one agenda — meeting Mani Ratnam and interacting with him!” begins Ravi.
He adds, “One day, he (Mani Ratnam) saw some of the rushes of 5 Star and told me that I had good aesthetic sense. I knew he was complimenting me, but I did not know the meaning of ‘aesthetic’! That was perhaps because I was in the dark zone all along (he lost his parents at a young age and struggled for a living) and was just bringing out what I saw and liked — more light, and vibrant colours in my frames. Later, I realised what aesthetics meant — it was a very surreal moment for me.” (laughs)
Ravi says that he can never take a ‘no’ from anyone, and hence he tried meeting Mani several times. But, it all went in vain. “When I finally got the chance to see him — though I prepared myself well the previous night — all I did was hand over a piece of paper that read: ‘I want to work under your direction. If I get a chance, the meaning to my birth is fulfilled.’ And today, with Kaattru Veliyidai, it has come true!” (sighs).
On KV he says, “It is a wild love story made on an epic scale — and a celebration of love, and is an inspiration. We worked for 52 days on the film and our interactions were only, ‘Yes, sir’ or ‘No, sir’ for the most part! We prepare well before going for the shoot. He would give me a lot of references and his vision is very clear.”
Ravi cannot stop raving about Mani’s high energy levels and the speed with which he does things. “He cannot sit in one place! Like a 16-year-old boy, he oversees every aspect of his film on the sets. His energy levels are amazing, even when we were shooting in difficult and hard terrains — and sometimes in the freezing cold of places like Kulu, Manali, Ladak, Ooty, remote areas in Kashmir, etc.”
Karthi’s new look of a clean-shaven handsome guy was decided by Mani sir, Ravi reveals. About his heroine, he quickly responds, “Aditi is a very beautiful actress and a good performer. For that matter, all the actors and the technicians in Mani’s films perform extremely well. Why do his films stand out? He is so focussed. A film is like meditation to him. Once the film shoot starts, he ensures that his crew inculcates the ultimate vision in their minds, and brings out the best output. ”
AR Rahman’s bonding with Mani is a known fact. Commenting on the fact that ARR is particular that his songs be captured well visually, Ravi says, “Honestly, I have not met Rahman sir so far. There are six songs and they have all been shot in a poetic manner. It’s all Mani sir’s visualisation and I only reflect what he envisages.”
Elaborating on his long absence from Kollywood films, he says, “It doesn’t matter whether I do Hindi or Tamil. Wherever my work is explored, I am there. That’s why I was busy with B’town movies.”
He goes on to dissolve the opinion that these days, it is difficult to differentiate between CG and real visuals. “I won’t agree to that,” he says, continuing, “CG will only enhance a visual, but cannot create it.”
When asked about his unsuccessful directorial debut Moscowin Kavery, he responds, “I like failures. After all, we all learn through trial and error. I will bounce back one day.”
The Vettaiyadu Vilayaadu cameraman signs off saying that 2017 will be the best year for him with five releases — Jagga Jasoos with his favourite actor Ranbir Kapoor, Kaattru Veliyidai, a Rajkumar Hirani project, a Hollywood outing Heartbeats and a Marathi film to boot!