Lokanathan, director of photography, ‘Spanish Masala', talks about shooting in Spain and also about his career spanning across commercials and feature films
“Fifteen days after we shot the bullfight scene in Spain, it was banned”. This is Lokanathan, Director of Photography, of the Lal Jose-directed ‘Spanish Masala', now showing in cinemas, speaking.
Shooting in Spain was an altogether different cup of tea for him, what with an eight-member Spanish crew assisting him, of whom, only one knew English. And all that Lokanathan has learnt to say in Spanish is ‘water'!
There were more shocks awaiting the crew. “The Spanish technicians don't work like us. Not in the mornings or late evenings. Saturdays and Sundays are ‘chutti' days. We had to adjust to all that. Using the latest Epic and Alexa cameras was a thrilling experience and the entire cinematography equipment was rented from Spain. The Tomatino festival in the movie is real, the crowds were so huge and the festive atmosphere is something no one can forget,” Lokanathan says excitedly.
If, after doing more than 500 top commercials and a dozen films, he feels that way, then it must have been a truly memorable affair.
Though Lokanathan is a Chennai guy, he has not done any Tamil movies so far. It has been Malayalam and a few Telugu films. Why? “I must thank V. K. Prakash for that,” Lokanathan says.
When Prakash, the adman turned to features, Lokanathan, who cranked the camera for many of Prakash's commercials, also got his opportunity. It was with ‘Moonnamathoral' (2006) that he made his entry into Mollywood. Earlier, he was the cinematographer for three Telugu films.
Uday Ananthan's ‘Pranayakaalam', Joshi's ‘Jenmam', Anwar Rasheed's ‘Annan Thambi', followed. “Major Ravi's ‘Kurukshetra' was a challenging assignment. I remember I was sitting on one end of the Bofors gun to shoot a close up. I actually held an AK47. The climate is also something we had to contend with.” ‘Bhagawan', the movie that was made in a record time with Mohanlal as the central character had Lokanathan behind the camera.
Shooting advertisements and feature films need different attitudes, the chasm between the two genres are indeed wide. Yet, Lokanathan shoots commercials in between movies, when he has the time. While movies take up chunky dates, more than two months usually, commercials are shot within a few days. “I have worked with more than 50 directors. And that is very refreshing, you get a whole lot of new experiences and ideating with them helps you reinvent yourself ever so often. The mantra is speed with precision in the ad field, how to get across the point as simply and as quickly as possible. Moreover, the results of your work come out earlier than movies and you know whether it will click. With feature films, you never know what's coming. Depending on several factors, like the mood of the audience or the flavour of the season, a movie can succeed or fail. It isn't so with commercials.”
The Nirapara ads, Dhathri, Malabar Gold, Josco, all were shot by Lokanathan. The biggies include Volkswagen, Pepsi, Mauritius Tourism and many directed by Manoj Pillai. He is working on his 13 film, the Anwar Rasheed movie which has Mammooty's son Dulqar Salman in the lead and also Nithya Menen. Mollywood is certainly different, he feels. The story and script have substance unlike in other industries.
But if prompting is done less frequently, during shoots, a lot of time and work can be saved, he suggests. For almost every dialogue sequence, prompting is resorted to, ‘so that double shots are needed every time.
Also if post-production work is done at least ten days in advance, many flaws would not creep in. Last minute corrections, now done very often in most films, can sometimes be counter productive, if there is no time to look at the whole film again. Some earlier shots may not jell with last-minute corrected footage.
His future, Lokanathan is sure, lies in working simultaneously with features and commercials, moving on to commercials as he greys.
He lives in Chennai with wife Narmada and two school-going kids.