Camera ace Ravivarman tells malathi rangarajan what it was like working with filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Ram Leela, set to hit the screens on November 15

More serious and philosophical than before, Ravivarman, one of the country’s camera aces, doesn’t allow recognition from filmmakers the world over to affect him. New York Times mentioned his work in Barfi!. In Camera, a quarterly magazine from Los Angeles, interviewed him. Amitabh Bachchan called him up to praise him. So did director Shankar. The list is endless. But Ravivarman has already moved on and that’s probably why he’s able to talk of the much-awaited Ram Leela, his next cinematography sojourn, with equanimity. Ram Leela, releasing on November 15, is Ravivarman’s 27th film.

As we sit in his aesthetically done up fourth floor apartment in K.K. Nagar, sipping green tea, he opens up on the Ram Leela experience and the blind alleys and beckoning highways he has traversed so far. “But the destination is still far away,” he shrugs.

First meeting with Bhansali

Ravi said something similar to Sanjay Leela Bhansali at their first meeting for Ram Leela. The filmmaker asked, “What’s your best work so far?” “It’s yet to come,” was the reply. “And I meant it,” says Ravi. “The renowned filmmaker, who has made films such as Black and Devdas and worked with great camerapersons like my guru, Ravi K. Chandran, is in a really big league. The visual brilliance of those films is incredible. For me, working for Bhansali is a dream come true. I’m a cinematographer who seeks to explore new areas through my lens and my lighting. When the norm is to cut the glare in a shot, I use it to advantage. You’ll notice it in Ram Leela too. P.C. Sriram made incredible use of glare in Mani Ratnam’s Agni Nakshatram, and I try it out differently in my films. The camera work in films such as Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange has impacted me a lot. ‘You are on the right track, Ravi. Keep it up,’ complimented Mani Ratnam after watching Barfi! But I ensure that no film of mine looks like my previous work. So in Ram Leela, you will not find the colours or lighting you saw in Barfi!

Ravivarman calls himself a constant learner. “I learn from Nature, light, darkness, black and white. Nature is a huge painting, always waiting to inspire you.” He shows me stills from Ram Leela and I’m awestruck! The magnificence of the palace in Udaipur and the bright colours of Rajasthan seem enhanced by Ravivarman’s imaginative lighting techniques. “The first day of shoot had Supriya Pathak taking centre stage. I decide on the tones, the flare and glare that each scene will have, beforehand. I prefer natural lighting wherever possible. When I shot the first scene with sunlight streaming in through a window, the director seemed sceptical. ‘See the rushes and then take a call, Sir,’ I told him.”

Bhansali hadn’t watched Barfi! when he took Ravivarman on board for Ram Leela. It was art director Wasiq Khan, who then said, “Ravi paints with the camera, Sir.” And when the director saw the result he was floored.

“Honestly, this book of paintings by 100 world’s best artists was my take-off point for Ram Leela,” he says, pointing to the book on the table. As I leaf through it, I understand the import. “While showcasing eternal love on celluloid, a cinematographer cannot be logical. But I assure you, every scene of Ram Leela will be visually magical,” says Ravivarman.

Inspiration and the impact

“Lighting up Udaipur palace was a mammoth task, but the result was stupendous. You’ll understand the magnitude when you watch the film. The people around told us that it last looked so grand when Rajiv Gandhi visited it,” Ravi smiles.

Red, black, orange and gold seem to be the predominant colours of Ram Leela. “Yes, we’ve used bright colours. Perfectionist that he is, Bhansali himself went around the streets of Jaipur shopping for the costumes and accessories of the cast. Ram Leela is said to be a love saga a la Romeo and Juliet. “It’s an inspiration. The story of Romeo and Juliet is ever topical. And Ram Leela is a romantic thriller. The 200 days of shoot was a rewarding experience.”

“Deepika suits the role to perfection. She’s an excellent dancer. Both Ranveer Singh and she have slogged it out. Extensive rehearsals were done and Bhansali has etched every scene with finesse,” reveals Ravi. The first shot of the heroine was for the song sequence, ‘Lahu Munh Lag Gaya.’ “You’ve made me look very beautiful,” Deepika told Ravi. “To me all women are beautiful, whatever their age. How you showcase them is what matters. You will see Deepika in three stages of transition and I’ve used different tones to distinguish one from the other. Bhansali has given me an opportunity that provided tremendous scope and I hope I’ve utilised it well. I now await the verdict of viewers,” he concludes.