As Vazhakku Enn: 18/9 gears up for a May 4 release, its cinematographer Vijay Milton shares interesting titbits about the film

A young mother brings her son to school, buys him short-eats from the vendor at the gate, waves to the boy and walks out. The father seated on a two-wheeler, a little farther away, watches the happenings without the mother's knowledge … By the time those around realise that a film shoot is on, the cast and crew move out! “We've filmed several such guerrilla shots, as they are called, for Vazhakku Enn: 18/9. Our entry and exits were unannounced and without fanfare. So none could guess a dream factory was on the job. The camera was hidden in places such as a push cart, and the crew had headphones to communicate with each other,” laughs Vijay Milton, the cinematographer of Vazhakku Enn…, which releases on May 4.

“Balaji Sakthivel is a very honest director. You understand what I mean?” continues Milton. I don't. “See, he prefers actors to be as natural as possible before the camera, and instructs me to capture them in their myriad moods. So I place two or three cameras around to film all the nuances. And he doesn't insist that his dialogue be used verbatim. Instead actors are allowed to improvise. ‘Everything about our film should be an honest representation,' is his stand,” Milton explains. “And he'll not thrust a scene into the film for the sake of formula. An irrelevant song sequence or an unwarranted comic act never finds its way into a Sakthivel film.” Milton should know. The camera ace has travelled with Sakthivel even earlier for Samurai and Kaadhal.

But why wasn't he part of Sakthivel's Kalloori, which followed Kaadhal? “Because I had just then begun my first directorial venture, Azhagaai Irukkiraai Bayamaai Irukkiradhu. But now Vazhakku Enn… has brought us together again,” he says. “A director is like a match box, and the other technicians, like matchsticks. Unless the box is capable of striking the match, the stick can do little on its own.” So Sakthivel is a perfect matchbox? “Ha Ha! He is,” he guffaws.

Is Milton a poet too? His simile makes me think so; and probably it also has to do with his name. “I am,” he says. Milton's collection of poems in Tamil, ‘Kolusugal Paesakkoodum,' is quite popular among young romantics. “Yeah, the sale of my book increases during the Valentine season,” he chuckles.

Milton had filmed Kaadhal entirely in natural lighting, and it won him plaudits from none other than Balu Mahendra! “‘Vijay Milton is my heir in cinematography,' he had said in an interview. The words mean a lot to me,” he says.

Vazhakku Enn … has taken an unbelievably long time to be completed – nearly four years. “Finding suitable faces was a major reason,” Milton attempts to justify. “The actual shoot took only 53 days.”

“We filmed it without lights then, what do you have up your sleeve now,” Milton asked Balaji, before they began work on Vazhakku Enn … “‘Let's take filming to the next level. We'll shoot without a camera,' he said. I was foxed,” Milton smiles. A mention in The Hindu about the Canon 5D still camera made the two curious. Milton tested it extensively using a lens-mount and professional movie lenses to upgrade it and found the output incredible,” he says.

Each director is different, and hence for the cameraperson, work-spot experiences are bound to be different too. “Sure, adaptability is imperative. One director may believe in larger-than-life images, the other could prefer subtlety. But more than anything else, a cinematographer shouldn't allow himself to get carried away. His shots should go with the story, not away from it.” Meaning? “For example, if a lens man is shooting a sober scene and sees a tree in full bloom near the spot, he may wish to include it, though it doesn't go with the mood of the scene. He should curb such instincts,” he says.

Vazhakku Enn … is Milton's 22 film. Arulnidhi's Udhayan was his last release. As it didn't create a ripple at the box office, Milton's work went unnoticed. Vana Yuddham and Eppadi Manasukkul Vandhaai are two other projects for which Milton has cranked the camera. “They should be out in a month or two,” he says. Meanwhile, he's hopeful that Vazhakku Enn: 18/9 will repeat the magic of the Sakthivel-Milton combo, Kaadhal.