Balasubramaniem's prowess with the lens in the recently released OKOK is drawing attention. Malathi Rangarajan writes

I've seen Balasubramaniem on a few occasions. The cinematographer seemed a sedate, taciturn technician. So when he opened up on his various assignments in a light-hearted manner, of course, with the accent on the just-released Oru Kal Oru Kannaadi, I was surprised. “You felt so probably because I've mostly cranked the camera for serious films, but my nature is diametrically opposite,” he smiles. He could have a point, because think Balasubramaniem and Pithamagan or the fairly recent 180, for which he was the lens man, comes to mind. He may have to his credit 22 films, including his Telugu projects such as the Mahesh Babu-Trisha starrer, Sainikudu, but nearly all of them have been sober subjects. “Very true, OKOK is the odd one out,” he laughs.

How OKOK came to him …

“I'd watched Rajesh's two earlier films — Siva Manasula Sakthi and Boss Engira Baskaran — and enjoyed them to the hilt. I found the style and humour very different and I was keen to work with him. So when he approached me saying that he had a script for a period film ready, and wanted me on board, I grabbed it.” Period film? “Yeah, that's what he told me. Ha, Ha! Only later did I realise that he had been kidding as usual. His sense of humour is unbelievable. In fact, most of his spontaneous takes find their way into his script. So you know what I mean. Working with Rajesh is more a relaxation.”

On the sets…

The work spot was as hilarious as the film itself. Do you remember the scene where Hansika and her mother are in deep conversation in the drawing room, completely ignoring the presence of two strangers — Udayanidhi and Santhanam? Seeing Santhanam's antics Uday couldn't control his laughter. So every time he had to react and say his lines he would be in splits. It was kind of contagious, because all of us around went on a cackling spree. Even now if you watch the film you'll notice Uday smiling a little. He couldn't keep a straight face till the end. There are many such scenes that tickled us silly.

Lighting and locations…

Rajesh had wanted OKOK to be bright and colourful in accordance with the cheerful nature of the film. Those who've watched it will agree that Balu has acquitted himself creditably because the lighting enhances the mood of levity in the film. “We used natural lighting for many indoor shots, but the output has been worthy. The scene at the dining table at Saranya's home, for instance. The light from the adjacent window was the only source we used.”

Balu's lighting for the song sequences is a bewitching aspect of OKOK. “We shot a number in Jordan. A new ambience would work well, we felt. But we weren't prepared for the weather conditions in the desert there. We experienced scorching heat and extreme chill simultaneously. The high velocity of the wind looked as if it would lift the camera away. So you can imagine how tough it would have been to hold the reflector. And because Hansika is so fair, we had to use it for Uday's face to balance the colour tone.” The stationary train adds to the exotic look of the sequence. “Yeah, when I found it standing in the desert I told Rajesh we should use it.”

The ‘Akila Akila' number was shot at the exterior of a hotel in Abu Dhabi. “Getting to shoot there was a very costly proposition. Yet I felt it would give a classy touch to the sequence. It has, hasn't it,” asks Balu.

Each duet has been shot at a different location. “The ‘Butterfly' song was filmed on an exquisite set put up at AVM. Initially, only a small part of the song was planned there. But Rajesh liked it so much that an entire BG was completed there.”

The expression front …

“Saranya wins hands down,” he laughs. I was just telling her husband, actor-director Ponvannan, today. That one scene where she returns home late to see her anxious husband and son waiting is enough to show her potential. Looking through the lens at the gamut of emotions that danced on her face, I was zapped.”

When efforts go unnoticed …

“A technician could get disillusioned when his toil doesn't get enough recognition. But in this industry only a hit garners attention.”

The number of times he's watched OKOK

“Generally, I watch my film just once. But for OKOK I went to the cinemas in all the areas, including those on the outskirts.” Such as? “Kolathur. And the response is fulfilling. To understand the effort of the cameraperson, you have to watch the film at theatres with state-of-the-art screens. But even in remote areas, I found the result appreciable.”

The result of OKOK

“Even while shooting I knew OKOK would do well. But the kind of stupendous success it's witnessing at all centres is amazing. I'm thrilled that people plump for healthy fun.”

The queer spelling …

He spells his name with an ‘em.' Numerology? “Not at all, since my namesakes in the industry are too many, my wife suggested I use a different spelling. So I made it Balasubramaniem. His wife? “She's hosted TV shows on Sun. E.Mala.” Ah, so that explains the ‘em.'