Cinematographer Richard M. Nathan basks in the warm glow of critical acclaim for Vanakkam Chennai

He made his debut with the grim Angaadi Theru, set in the streets of Chennai. He then moved on to the slum-centric Banaa Kaathadi, but with flashes of colour as the kite festival in Gujarat came alive. Ko was mostly realistic, with the song sequences providing the much-needed visual relief. Then followed Samar and the yet-to-be-released Madha Gaja Raja.

Cinematographer Richard M. Nathan is now resting on his laurels post Vanakkam Chennai. Almost every other review mentions his contribution to the glossy film’s look. “We wanted the film to look bright and glamorous,” says Richard. “This was diametrically opposite Angaadi Theru. I’ve always wanted to shoot a film like a commercial; Vanakkam… provided that opportunity.”

Richard says credit must go to art director Selva Kumar (of Madrasapattinam fame) for creating bright, colourful sets. “He’s the reason my cinematography is being spoken about,” says Richard. Making special mention of the poetic ‘kitchen fight’ in the movie, Richard says Anirudh Ravichander’s music enhanced their efforts. “I watched the scene before re-recording; it was good. But his music took it to another plane.”

Richard says they zeroed in on a particular method of lighting and stuck to it through the film. “If you notice, there’s always a warm light on Priya Anand’s hair; there’s always a backlight. When we shot outdoors, we went in for tungsten lights, to lend the frames a mellow yellow hue. It is not a natural colour, but looks great on screen.”

The scenes set in Theni were as bewitching. Floating clouds, dew-drenched farms… But then, Richard is known for his beautiful filler shots. Remember the cloud formation and fluttering kingfisher in the dark Angaadi Theru?

“I’m delighted when people point out particular scenes and say they like the way they have been shot. It’s like winning a lottery,” he says.

Among his special memories are shooting Angaadi… holed up in a van on the busy Ranganathan Street in Chennai, and capturing the frenzy of Pattaya’s Walking Street for a chase sequence in Samar.

Richard is now working on the Santhanam-starrer Vallavanukku Pullum Ayudham, a remake of S.S. Rajamouli’s Telugu hit Maryada Ramanna. He’s going to team up with actor Vishal next. “I work on one film at a time. I like continuity. Also, I concentrate better. Which is why, even when the films don’t do well commercially, my work is appreciated.”

When he is not making features, Richard shoots documentaries, advertisements and corporate films. A recent one for Bala Vidya Mandir featured miniature battery-operated cars and sets. This was to create awareness about pollution. “I love the freedom that commercials give. You can play with concept and there is no need to maintain consistency in style. The constraints are minimal,” he says.

“For me, images matter most. Sometimes, I indulge in still photography. Everything will help me grow as a cinematographer. Basically, we all register images. It’s just that the purpose varies,” he says.

Working with Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi, who debuted as director with Vanakkam… , he says, “She is very open to creative suggestions. There’s total freedom on the sets. She brought in an emotion-rich, female perspective to the film. I’ll gladly do her next film too.”

Many cinematographers, including his mentor K.V. Anand, have made the transition to direction. When is he planning to take the plunge? “I would say, ‘Never’. Direction is the most difficult job in the world. I am happy in my world of images.”