Cinematographer Om Prakash talks to Udhav Naig about his experiences filming the Ajith-starrer Arrambam

When cinematographer Om Prakash was approached by Vishnuvardhan for Arrambam, whose last film with Ajith Kumar (Billa) was talked about for its visual aesthetics, he immediately knew it was going to be a huge responsibility. “Every time I looked through the view finder, Vishnu’s films would keep appearing as if to remind me of my task,” he laughs. To ease the pressure, Om claims that he approached this film in the same way as he has his other films. “I always try to push the artistic boundaries that commercial cinema tries to restrict. I don’t make any compromise,” he says. This has always been his motto whether he is doing a big-budget Arrambam, which features a ‘mass’ actor, or non-mainstream films such as Vaagai Sooda Vaa and Naanayam.

Views and hues

Inspired by the works of Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Little Buddha) and artist Van Gogh, Om admits that he likes to experiment with colours. He believes that his job as a cinematographer is to translate the vision of the director on to screen. “The selection of a film’s colour tone is important,” he says, going on to explain why he chose to give a red-tinted look for Vaagai Sooda Vaa. “The film was about how a guy goes to a poor village and educates the people there. I felt the colour red, traditionally associated with socialism and communism, would be apt for the film.”

What has been his artistic contribution to Arrambam, which promises to be a slam-bam action film? “Since Arrambam aims to raise consciousness about a social ill, I expressed my wish to give the visuals a green tint because the colour ‘green’ is commonly associated with prosperity and knowledge. I was able to implement my ideas because Vishnu (director) understood what I was trying to do,” he says and adds, “In some of the scenes featuring Ajith, we want the audience to see both him and his reflection. The idea behind this will be clear once the film releases. We have used hand-held cameras to shoot these scenes from close quarters not because it would look fancy, but the script demanded such an approach.”

Reflecting moods

The film industry is such that artistic indulgence, however basic it may be, will not be encouraged. Talking specifically about cinematography, Om feels that there is always an insistence on keeping it flat and brightly lit. “Some expect everything to be lit in the same way irrespective of the mood of the scene or the point of the film,” he says and recollects how Mallika Sherawat (they both worked in Fauj Mein Mauj) wasn’t happy with the way she looked in a shot where she grieves her husband’s death. “I had to explain why the grim lighting was necessary,” he says.

New ideas can be tried only when filmmakers and actors are willing to collaborate. After all, a film needs to communicate its ideas in the best way possible. Fortunately, Om found willing collaborators in Arrambam. “Right from Ajith Kumar, Arya and Nayanthara to Lee Whitaker, the action choreographer from Hollywood, they were professional.”

What was the most difficult roadblock when shooting a stunt sequence? “Time and safety are both a problem. In the West, they take all precautions as well as their time. Here…not so much,” he says. Recollecting the much-hyped ‘speed boat’ stunt performed by Ajith himself where he had to do a 180 degree turn at such a high speed, he says, “Shooting while seated on a boat that travel at that speed was risky.”

So where was he seated?

“I was filming the whole scene seated in the speed boat in front of Ajith, firmly tied to the nose of the boat. While Ajith is, no doubt, an experienced driver, it was still difficult and scary because there was every chance that the boat could capsize,” he says, adding, “The actors understood what Vishnu and I were trying to do and cooperated with us. "

How did he manage to calm his nerves and shoot it? “Since I was looking through the lens, I convinced myself that it was only a movie,” he jokes.