P. C. Sreeram is known to be a recluse; one who prefers to let his work do the talking. He has created some brilliant frames for films in various languages in a career spanning 40 years. Those years saw Sreeram, or PC as he is fondly called, collaborating with the best directors in the business including stalwarts like Mani Ratnam, Kamal Hassan, R. Balki, Shankar etc., in their ambitious projects, breathing life into them through his frames. The acclaimed cinematographer was in Kochi in connection with his Malayalam project Praana, made in four languages. It must be mentioned here that he is returning to Mollywood after a gap of 33 years (His last film was Koodum Thedi in 1985). Settling down for a chat, he talks about his work and the technical changes around him over the decades.
Working across various industries has never posed a problem for PC.
“I take whichever projects interest me, irrespective of the language, be it Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada or Hindi. My sole criterion is the director’s passion towards the project. That has driven my journey all these years,” he states, adding, “I found that passion in V. K. Prakash for Praana that has a very strong content. The powerful script tempted me to undertake the film; the script has always determined my involvement in a film.” The film is an experimental one that solely stars Nithya Menen. She plays Tara, a writer. This solo project thrilled Sreeram because of the associated challenges. “It is about a writer who goes through the struggles of
writing. V.K. Prakash did not want any dark frames and since it is a one-artist film with surround live sounds, the associated sounds will give one the feeling of being there.”
Cinematography will remain a life-long love for PC. As a young boy, clicking photos in a camera gifted by his grandfather was his initiation into the world of colours and light. He very humbly says, “I was not a great still photographer, but still photography gave me solace. My anger as well as my frustration at all that was happening around me got harnessed,” he ruminates, going on to candidly dwell back in time. “The still camera brought me peace! I became more mellowed and some change happened inside me, which made me evolve to become a cinematographer.”
It has been 40 long years in an era when technological advances move at the speed of light. He is not one to be left behind. Sreeram has kept abreast with the latest developments in his field and he simply says, “You have to be in touch with the reality that each day brings and you cannot detach yourself from that process. Cinematography is the only tool I know to communicate to the world, so I keep myself updated with all the technical advancements. That being said, at the end of the day, it is not the technical jargon, but the visual quality of the film that uplifts it to another plane.”
Sreeram had introduced some techniques in cinematography, which, he states, were intended to break the rules of cinema and to bring in a new way of storytelling. He cites the example of Agni Natchathiram, in which he pushed the envelope aided ably by director Mani Ratnam’s approval to do so. The frames he has captured for his films range from the pop-culture to sad or mellow to demonstrative to the rich toned ones. “Cinematography should enhance the flow of the story,” he adds. Another quality of the legendary PC frames is the realistic elements, which are very important to him, but he adds, “Realism is critical, but Indian cinema has also got elements of fantasy. Here again, unless a director demands it, I do not introduce fantasy elements.”
Moving to the subject of the sync between the director and the
cinematographer, he emphasises it is very important. He has repeatedly worked with Mani Ratnam, Kamal Hassan and Balki. He adds one more name – V. K. Prakash. “All of them have that inner fire and that keeps them going and young at heart.” He admits that he likes to associate with those kinds of directors because then, half the work is done. Paa starring Amitabh Bachchan and directed by Balki was a challenge for him. “Abhishek played the father and Amitabh the son; we did not use any graphics, but changed the lenses to make those effects possible. It took immense groundwork to make that possible, and that was all through the perspective of the lens,” he reveals.
Changes are sweeping across all the industries and PC opines that the sudden growth spurts in different industries keep fluctuating. “Indian cinema is going through a phase in which the audience walks out if they do not get the viewing pleasure they expect. You need to give something new and that is a major change I see,” he opines.
PC’s niece Preetha Jayaraman is following in her uncle’s footsteps and is a cinematographer in Tamil. PC has also directed three films – Meera, Kuruthipunal and Vaanam Vasappadam. Currently, Sreeram has one each film in Tamil and Telugu, and another one with V.K. Prakash.