Camera ace Ratnavelu talks about capturing emotions from a perfect angle

The door opens. The father enters. We see a semi silhouette of his autistic son, sitting silently in the dark room, with a vacant look in his eyes. The father opens the window and allows a shaft of sunlight to come in saying, “This is your new house Hari. This is where we will live.” The play of light and shade is mesmerising! The poignancy is enhanced by the lens man’s imaginative and aesthetic lighting sense. Several such scenes in the recently-released Haridas stand testimony to the expertise and experience of cinematographer Ratnavelu — Randy to film folks. “I’ve used light to suit the emotion and mood of every scene in Haridas. It may not even be noticed by the lay filmgoer but walking the extra mile to present a visually telling experience gives me immense satisfaction,” he says.

Randy is a camera person who alternates between big and small projects. That the man who created stunning visuals of gargantuan proportions in Endhiran (Robot) has travelled on an entirely different plane in his very next venture, viz., Haridas, could be intriguing to many. But Randy’s career graph has always been pegged to variety. If he shot dark films such as Bala’s Sethu and Nanda, he also lent more credibility with his tones and lighting to the father-son bonding in Gautham Menon’s Vaaranam Aayiram. “It is the lens man who gives visual form to a director’s creative insight. So I go beyond the role of a cinematographer, to offer inputs that could better the product. After all cinema is team work. But for that the story has to appeal to me.” That’s the reason for his doing Kuppi (Cyanide in Kannada). “And that’s why I worked with Kumaravelan for Haridas,” he avers. But Kumaravelan is a friend too. “I’ve learnt that being thoroughly professional is vital for a technician. Kumaravel’s story of the father and his autistic child appealed to me. I’m very choosy.” A reason for his repertoire being restricted to 18 films in 17 years! “Exactly,” he nods.

Randy is known to shoot at a rapid pace. “‘But for the speed at which you work Robot may have taken four years,’ Shankar told me. It comes with years of experience shooting commercials,” he says. “When I enter a room such as this [We are sitting in the drawing room of his home in Vadapalani] unlike the usual practice, I quickly decide the areas that have to be left dark. Like I’ve done in Haridas. The visual treatment in the entire film is emotion based. Filming is like cricket, where you decide your moves based on the line, length and speed of the ball. For a lens man it is the mood, significance and realistic approach of a scene.”

If the performance of Kishore, as he pleads with his son who’s standing in the lashing rain, staring at a wall in front of him, isn’t melodramatic, Randy’s contribution to the impact is sizable. Playing with long shots and close-ups he keeps you engrossed in the emotion-charged sequence. “And Kishore is a fantastic actor,” he says.

Sneha’s looks and true-to-life portrayal of a teacher in a Government school are value additions to Haridas. “Essaying the part was a cakewalk for an actor of her calibre. And as far as beauty goes, I don’t believe in marring it in the name of realism. In fact I was very happy when Sneha told me that I’ve made her look nice in a very realistic way.”

The ray of light behind Sneha as she advises Kishore on the importance of celebrating his son’s birthday, is an excellent example of Ratnavelu’s skill at imagery! “I wanted to emphasise that she makes Kishore see things from a positive angle. Hence I had the light there. And I always go in for natural light. Nothing like using the Sun’s rays suitably,” he smiles.

“That boy Prithvi is brilliant. He’s a student of American School, Coimbatore, and was always behind me to know everything about the camera. Kishore and Sneha established such a rapport with the boy that it reflects beautifully in his performance.”

Thankfully Randy’s work in Haridas is being noticed and appreciated. But after crafting every scene with utmost care, when a film falls flat at the BO, the cinematographer’s diligence goes unrecognised. “Very true, yet that won’t deter me from giving my best shot every time,” smiles the camera ace.