Shooting a film with an imaginary fly is easier said than done. Cinematographer Senthil Kumar discusses the making of ‘Eega’

Senthil Kumar, like most of the team that worked on Eega, hasn’t spent enough time with his family in the last few months. On Friday, he took his family to watch the buzz unfold in a single screen theatre in Kukatpally to see how the audience reacts to the project and came away humbled by the response. Besides technical wizardry, he is glad that people have made an emotional connect with the fly. “It was one of the toughest films I’ve shot,” he says.

S.S. Rajamouli had almost shelved Eega, before revisiting it and giving it wings to soar high. “Eega was originally conceptualised as a small experimental film, immediately after Magadheera. In the meantime, Rajamouli got busy with Maryada Ramanna. Later, when we began shooting, we felt the story had universal appeal and had potential to be much bigger. We didn’t want to waste the idea and developed it into its present form,” says Senthil.

This re-working meant that each department had to take a fresh look at the film. “We needn’t have to limit ourselves since there was the luxury of a bigger budget,” he says. From the visualisation to pre-production stages, different departments worked in tandem. This is Senthil’s fifth film with Rajamouli and the camaraderie helped. “He is a task master who will settle for nothing but the best. I feel honoured to have worked on such good projects with him. We understand and respect each other’s strengths and limitations,” says Senthil.

The main difference between Magadheera and Arundathi as against Eega, points out Senthil, “In those films, actors were in the foreground and the CG effects in the background. Here it was the reverse. It’s easy to visualise a shot where the fly moves from one point to another. It’s challenging to shoot. It was as though we started digging a mine not knowing what to expect. If a fly is on a table, however much you focus a lens, the lens is a mammoth object compared to the fly. So you require special lenses that can get as close to the fly as possible.”

Senthil and his team researched on cameras and lenses. Arri, Canon 5D and Go-Pro cameras were used with probe lenses and macro lenses capable of extreme close-up shots. “Go-Pro is the smallest possible camera that offers close to professional resolution. A probe lens is tubular and needed to be handled carefully. A small jerk in my hand would result in a huge camera shake. Precision of shooting was put to test,” he says. Phantom cameras were used to capture extreme slow motion sequences. “Cinema is shot at 24 frames/second. The common slow motion scenes are shot at 48 frames/second. For Eega, we shot certain sequences at more than 2000 frames/second,” he says.

Eega was a learning curve that involved both pain and pleasure. There were trying conditions. In photography terms, wide apertures of 2.8 or 4 are ideal for low light conditions. The lenses used by Senthil’s team had minimum aperture of 8 or more, which called for more lighting especially for slow motion scenes. “We had to light up an entire room with high intensity lights, which emitted a lot of heat,” he says.

Dummy houseflies were used in some scenes. But mostly, Senthil, like Sudeep, had to deal with vacant space since the eega was inserted later using computer graphics. Senthil is all praise for Sudeep. “He is one of the finest actors today. If Sudeep moved in a certain angle reacting to an imaginary eega, I had to follow his movements with my camera. It was crazy at first,” he says. There was no room for relaxation after a shot was over, because the team had to re-shoot for the Tamil version.

A Bug’s Life and Bee Movie were reference points, but Eega was a new experiment for Indian cinema. “We did the best possible. If we had the budget of a Hollywood film, we could have done better,” he says.

Senthil is happy that the teamwork has paid off. “It’s gratifying to see the huge support for a film without stars. It proves that a film is more important than a star,” he says.

The pre-climax scene, he says, was particularly challenging. Apart from the two imaginary birds that were chasing an imaginary eega, the sequence had to be shot in low light. “The graphics team was on the sets working alongside after each shot,” says Senthil. He credits the Digital Intermediate team at Annapurna Studios as well. “We researched on house flies. We captured flies, froze them and photographed them using macro lenses so that the graphics team can design an appealing eega,” he laughs.

What’s next? “There are a few offers; let’s see which one works out next,” he signs off.

Keywords: TollywoodEega