The incredible shots in Mynaa speak volumes for cinematographer M. Sukumaran's diligence

The scene in which the bus dangles precariously from the small parapet on the mountain and the petrified passengers threatening to tilt it and send it hurtling down is spine-chilling in Mynaa. “No gimmicks, it was a real bus and shooting it in that position was quite a risk,” says its cinematographer, M. Sukumaran. Many such difficult shots in the film exemplify his skill. It's incredible that the young man filmed nearly all of them with a single camera. “No crane, no jimmy jib,” smiles Sukumaran, “but our toil has been worth it.” (The jimmy jib was brought in only for the ‘Kaiyai Pidi' song.)

Since the release of Mynaa, it's been raining accolades on the technician. “I get at least 10 calls everyday appreciating my work in the film,” he says.

When Mynaa was in the making, little did Sukumaran imagine that it would catapult him to such heights of popularity. “Shooting on rough terrains wasn't tough because I'm used to rugged landsides,” he says. The diligence of the young man from Sokkanathapuram, in Madurai, who began as an assistant still photographer, caught the attention of director Prabhu Solomon while he worked for King that had Vikram as hero.

Soon Solomon sought Sukumaran and made him the individual still photographer of the Karan-starrer, Kokki. And well-wisher Vikram got him opportunities to work in Dhool and Ghilli. “All the while, my idea was to continue as a still clicker only,” he smiles. But when Kokki was nearing completion, Solomon told him that it was time he switched to cranking moving shots. “‘Get trained and be ready before I begin my next film,' he said. Till then I didn't even think I had it in me to become a cameraman. Basically, I'm not proactive. I needed somebody to help bring out the latent talent in me. Solomon was the catalyst,” Sukumaran gets sentimental.

Incidentally, cinematographer-director Jeevan is Sukumaran's elder brother. “That made my entry into the industry easy,” he says. Once Solomon sowed the seed of aspiration in him he decided to pursue cinematography. He joined Balasubramaniam, and went on to assist him in Maja, Kannum Kannum and Azhagiya Tamizh Magan. And true to his word when Laadam was planned, Solomon took him on board as the cameraman.

After watching the rushes of Laadam, Solomon called up Sukumaran to tell him that the chase he had filmed had a Hollywood feel to it. “It was 2 a.m. when he called. I was overwhelmed,” Sukumaran recalls.

“I've worked with the best of technicians — Gopinath, K.V. Anand, Ratnavelu — in the fields of still and movie cameras and I've benefited a lot from them,” he acknowledges.

After a couple of projects — Harikumar's Madurai Sambavam and S.A. Chandrasekhar's Veluththu Kattu — Sukumaran returned to his base in Solomon's camp for Mynaa, after which he has now completed Konjam Veyyil Konjam Mazhai for his friend, director Ekadasi.

“Remember the sequence in Mynaa where the folks in the jeep lose their way and walk right into an elephant? I was sitting alone atop one of the animals with the equipment and managed to shoot the sequence without any jerk. Director Bharatiraaja appreciated my camera work in the scene. He was surprised when I said that I hadn't used a steadicam as many assume,” Sukumaran says. While filming from a top angle on the hill side Sukumaran slipped and fell down to about five feet. “Solomon held on to my hand firmly and pulled me up,” he laughs. But why did they court danger? Couldn't they have gone in for the latest equipment? “It was a small budget film and we couldn't afford to spend much,” replies Sukumaran.

Now that Mynaa has been declared a hit, Sukumaran has forgotten the risky journey through the hills. “I'm elated,” he laughs.