Photographer and actor Sunder Ramu walks the fine line between darkness and light. Sudhish Kamath zooms in on his work

It took him 18 long years to go from behind the camera to facing it. And the man behind many perfect pictures today finds himself in one — thanks to Selvaraghavan's “Mayakkam Enna”.

Currently, he's shooting for Aishwarya Dhanush's “3”, a film where lensman-turned-actor Sunder Ramu plays Dhanush's friend again. And with the song from the film ‘Why This Kolaveri' turning out to be the single biggest sensation of the year, the makers want to shoot it well.

“I am in that song. We had initially planned to shoot simple but now want to go big with it,” says Sunder, over lunch at Amethyst once we get talking about this phase of his life.

He owes his acting stint to Dhanush, with whom he made three short films. “I started working on short films with him. One of them was what Selvaraghavan took over and turned into ‘Mayakkam Enna'. Aishwarya has developed another short into ‘3', in which I play a pivotal role,” he explains.

Sunder didn't actually expect to be given such a big role by Selvaraghavan. “Then he said, you have to sing, you have to dance and I actually enjoyed it. I even ended up dubbing the film myself. I've started getting good offers now.”

But very few know that this is what Sunder wanted to do all his life. He had, in fact, dropped out of the National School of Drama halfway because he couldn't cope with Hindi. He first came to Chennai to join the Visual Communication course at Loyola College and happened to shoot a portfolio for model Sunita Punjabi who reached the semi-finals of the Femina Miss India.

“So even when I was in college, my photographs of her were in Femina. After that, every model wanted me to shoot her portfolio. That's how I got into fashion photography,” Sunder Ramu begins his story.

The busier he got with photography, the more he moved away from acting. Yet he made it a point to get on to the stage at every opportunity that came his way, irrespective of the money. “There was hardly any money in theatre. The most I ever got paid for theatre was Rs.10,000 for eight shows.”

Over the last 18 years, Sunder has acted in about 600 shows with 12 different groups. “I did the annual Pantomime shows for Little Theatre ten years in a row.” It's only over the last two years that he cut away from theatre and immersed himself with photo shoots with the volume of work that came his way.

Though he enjoys acting, he hopes to be able to make feature films one day. “There are four scripts I want to turn into feature films. My life backwards... I didn't want to assist and learn because I had my photo shoots. So I thought I could learn through acting. I am going to give myself a year, do as many films as I can, to learn different styles and once I get used to it, I will take a call to see if I have it in me to make films. I want to play me in one of my scripts. It's the only film I want to play the lead.”

In between his acting assignments, Sunder continues to do his photo shoots and has a few plans to strengthen his set-up. “In January, I am starting ‘Ivy,' a fine art photography gallery in Venus Colony. I prefer fine art photography to commercial work. With my acting career, I can cut down on commercial work. I can always shoot what I want in my free time and have a place to sell it.”

Sunder has also invested in his future project, Image Valley, a 10 acre-art village for performing arts in a village called Ponmar, near Medavakkam. “I also do a lot of work in New York… photography workshops and I plan to start a post-production house for fine art photography there,” he adds.

“I have had a strong background thanks to my Visual Communication days in Loyola. Suriya was my batchmate, Vijay was my classmate, Balu Mahendra's son Shanky was in my course, Thiagarajan Kumararaja is my junior, Vishnuvardhan, Pushkar and Gayathri are all products of Visual Communication. So the network is there. People who are 10 million times better than me haven't got the chance I got. A lot of my contacts have come by shooting celebrities,” Sunder reveals quite candidly.

Who would've thought that a Bangalore boy who went to The Valley School (run by the Krishnamurti Foundation India) and learnt theatre there but fell in love with football, gave that up and went to the National School of Drama before giving that up too, to join the Visual Communication course in Loyola would ultimately get back to what he always meant to do?

Did we tell you that Sunder also leads a football team called Falcon United that has won over six tournaments?

But that's another story waiting to be told. Maybe when Sunder goes behind the camera to direct himself in the motion picture of his life. Coming soon.

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