Cinematographer Madhu Neelakandan on winning this year’s Kerala state film award for his realistic frames in Annayum Rasoolum.

Arguably, one of the highlights of Annayum Rasoolum was Fahadh Faasil’s acting and Madhu Neelakandan’s cinematography. It was of the highest class and helped Rajeev Ravi, himself one of India’s leading cinematographers, make a promising debut as a director. For his efforts, Madhu walked away with the State award for the best cinematographer.

“It felt great winning the State award. It is the first ever recognition for me as a cinematographer, though I have been working in the industry for more than a decade,” says Madhu, who was in Kozhikode for the shooting of Ranjith’s Kadal Kadannu Oru Mathukkutty.

He admits that Rajeev being a cinematographer made his job behind the camera, during the shoot of Annayum Rasoolum, much easier. “Besides, I have known Rajeev for long… much before we both entered cinema. Annayum Rasoolum was a film that has been in his mind and heart since, at least, 2002. We had discussed so much about the film over so many years,” recalls Madhu.

The cinematographer says that it was a deliberate choice to make Annayum Rasoolum look as realistic as possible. “We wanted to show Rasool (Fahadh Faasil) and Anna (Andrea Jeremaiah) as real people, so we didn’t use any fancy shots. The idea was to make it look like the camera was hidden amid their lives. Of course, Fahadh and Andrea’s performances helped tremendously to make the whole film realistic. I have to add that the rest of the cast such as Shine Tom Chacko, Soubin Shahir and Joy Mathew too played their parts well,” he says.

Ranjith had also donned a role in the movie. “But he didn’t tell me then that he was planning to rope me in for his new film! I was pleasantly surprised when he asked me if I could shoot Kadal Kadannu Oru Mathukkutty. I am enjoying the experience of working with him,” says Madhu.

It was Johny Antony’s Masters that brought Madhu back to Malayalam cinema. “I am grateful to Johny for that. It was a bit of a disappointment when the film failed at the box office, but if you want to remain in cinema you have to learn to live with failure. And I learnt that long ago,” he says, with a smile.

Madhu had made his debut as an independent cinematographer with Saphalam (2003), directed by Ashok R. Nath, and followed it up with Ivar and Vajram before moving to Mumbai, where he did films such as Kushti and Chal Chala Chal, both directed by T.K. Rajeevkumar. “I also did a nice little film starring Zayed Khan and Anupam Kher – Sharafat Gayi Tel Lene, but unfortunately it ran into some production hassles and has not been released yet,” he says.

Last year, Madhu also turned a producer, along with Rajeev, Resul Pookutty, B. Ajithkumar and Suni Babu. The maiden venture of their production house, Collective Phase One, was the hard-hitting I.D., which earned accolades at film festivals in Rotterdam, Torino, Marrakesh, France, Abu Dhabi, Frankfurt, Goa, Thiruvananthpuram and Mumbai.

Madhu’s road to Pune started from his days with Sumangaly Film Society, Kothamangalam. “Through the society I was able to watch some of the greatest classics of World Cinema. All those films made me passionate about the movies. I decided to join FTII on the advice of Antony Kottakkal, one of the oldest members of the society. At Pune, one of the most memorable lessons I learnt was from Raoul Coutard, who is the cinematographer of classics such as Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Raoul told us that making a film was like scoring a goal in football. Every pass is important,” recalls Madhu.

He says his education in cinema continued even after leaving Pune. “I was fortunate that I could work under K.U. Mohanan, whom I rate as one of the best cinematographers in the world. We have worked together on films like Farhan Akhtar’s Don,” says Madhu.

So does he want to be a director one day? “Yes, but not immediately,” he quips.