Debut cinematographer Venkat C. Dilip feels honing his skills in the US helped him take a new look at cinema

Venkat C. Dilip submitted his thesis as part of his course in cinematography only to be told by the professor that his work was overshadowing the film instead of seamlessly blending with it. Venkat made the necessary changes and re-submitted his thesis. He remembered this lesson when he stepped out of film school to work as a camera assistant for Hollywood projects like Savannah and Crackerjack and short films such as Passing Through Traveling Down and The Visions of Dylan Bradley. “I observed that the work of many cinematographers tends to dominate a project and didn’t want to do that,” he says.

Now, Venkat’s cinematography in Oohalu Gusagusalade is being lauded for befitting the narrative and not trying to rise above what’s being demanded by the script. This is his first Telugu film and Venkat feels he has come full circle. “I was born in Guntur and did mechanical engineering from Chennai, before moving to the US,” he says.

Like many youngsters aspiring to learn the basics of filmmaking, Venkat too decided to train to be a director. But rather than taking up courses for script writing and direction, he was drawn to cinematography. “The course also taught me editing, which is essential to be a filmmaker,” he says.

During the three-year masters programme at Savannah College of Arts and Design, he got to intern on the sets of Robert Redford’s The Conspirator. “I was the only Asian on the sets. From Guntur to training with Robert Redford’s unit, it was a big shift. My father had egged me on to go to the US. I am so glad he did; my learning and work experience there changed my thought process. I learnt to look at a film differently,” he says. Venkat’s parents are film buffs and academicians now working in Swaziland.

A common friend, Bala Rajasekhar, sent Venkat’s work to Srinivas Avasarala and he got to work on Oohalu Gusagusalade. “Looking back, I feel grateful for the faith Srinivas Avasarala and producer Sai Korrapati had in a debutant like me,” he says. Shooting a film with limited budget had its challenges. “Coming from a film school, I love challenges. The prospect of having to work around limitations triggers creativity,” he adds.

The portions between Rashi Khanna and Naga Shourya in Vizag have drawn attention. “The Vizag locales were refreshing. I wanted this portion of the film to look beautiful, yet not artificial,” he says. Appreciation had been coming in from his ilk as well. “Senthil Kumar appreciated the beach song for its colours and texture and P.G Vinda liked the night photography. That was a bit tricky; we had limited lights and had to make the scenes appear natural,” says Venkat.

Oohalu has opened new doors in the Telugu film industry but Venkat is looking forward to return to the US. “I want to work on both international projects and Telugu films. It will be tough, but I hope I will be able to work in both countries,” he signs off.