Updated: April 15, 2010 18:21 IST

Street smart

subha j rao
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Richard Nathan
Richard Nathan

Cinematographer Richard M. Nathan talks to subha j rao on the fine art of making a street come alive in Angadi Theru

Richard M. Nathan first visited Ranganathan Street in T. Nagar as a gawky 18-year-old. And, swore never to return to the street! But, he did, and how! This time, the associate of cinematographer-director K.V. Anand was there to test-shoot some portions for Vasanthabalan's Angadi Theru.

He set out with a friend and a borrowed HD camera, and spent 24 hours on the street that never sleeps. What he came back with impressed Vasanthabalan so much that he got Richard to sign on the dotted line the next day, and ended up replicating about 20-25 scenes from the test shoot in his ode to Ranganathan Street, warts and all.

We've all heard about how hidden cameras were used to capture the hustle and bustle of Ranganathan Street. Ask Richard how difficult it was to shoot there, and he says: “Since we shot on actual locations featuring real people, it was vital to stay hidden to capture genuine emotions. During the first week, I carried the camera hidden in a red bag, on my head. Then, we took refuge in a covered vehicle parked in the middle of the street, and shot through a small hole. I even parked myself on a 40-ft scaffolding.”

For the village portions, they moved to places near Theni, redolent of red earth and rural vistas. It was there that some of the movie's most beautiful moments were filmed.

“Vasanthabalan asked me to shoot as many inserts as I wanted. I finished 20 cans! We could not really plan and shoot. I shot at random. Some of them, such as the one of a kingfisher fluttering mid-air, the bats taking off by the hundreds, and the formation of a beautiful white cloud, were thanks to Providence,” says Richard.

The cinematographer, who assisted Anand in Sivaji, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Khakee and Chellame, before he struck out on his own, says it helped that Angadi Theru did not feature stars. “If there had been stars, I would have been forced to shoot in a certain way. Thanks to the freshers, I got the freedom to focus on what the story demanded.”

And, shooting was not a dream. Richard carried a 25-kg hand-held camera for most of the 135-day shoot. And, after that hard work, it hurt when the film's release kept getting delayed. “Now, I know everything happened for a reason. I have three releases this year — Angadi Theru, Baanaa Kathadi and Ko.”

So, what did his mentor say about the film? “Anand sir loved it, and my work. Luck has played a huge part in my life. There are so many others who are more talented, who continue to remain assistants,” says a happy Richard, who dreams of setting up an academy for cinematography some day.

He's looking forward to his other two releases, because they gave him an opportunity to try something different. In Baanaa…, they shot during the kite festival in Ahmedabad, where as many as 10,000 colourful kites were frisking about in the blue sky.

So, following this path-breaking debut, what kind of work is he looking at? “Different projects, but I will take up one film at a time, so that I can focus better and prove myself,” says Richard, who spent his initial years in Manipur before becoming a Chennai payyan.

Favourite scene

Where the hero and heroine escape from the auto drivers. “We shot in a lane opposite the TTD temple in T. Nagar, and despite the pace the scene called for, editor Sreekar Prasad used a shot where the camera lingered on the pair from one end of the partly-lit street to the other.”

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