The young crop in Mollywood is constantly surprising us with new ideas, themes, techniques, and an altogether new style of filmmaking. Cinematographer Jomon T. John is no exception. Although he's just a couple of films old, the 29-year-old from Cherthala, Alappuzha, has already captured eyeballs for his exquisite artistry behind the camera. If the recently released Beautiful is a visual elegy that's full of gorgeous frames; each frame as poetic and as poignant as the story itself, Jomon's debut film, Chappa Kurishu, is an edgy, raw, and an almost sinister, experimental adventure.
“You really think my work is good enough?” Jomon asks tentatively, when we contact him over the phone for an interview. It's almost as if the success of both the films has not really sunk in yet… “Honestly, I didn't think that my work would get noticed. My entry into Mollywood was blessedly smooth and unexpectedly quick. Chappa... started off as a small film with a budget of just Rs. 25 lakh – a project that Samir C. Thahir (its director), whom I had assisted when he was a cameraman on Big B and Daddy Cool, had asked me to be part of. Within a few weeks we had stars – Vineeth Sreenivasan and Fahadh Faasil – and a producer (Listin Stephen), and before I knew it, the film had morphed into my first commercial venture,” says Jomon, who was initiated into photography as a child by his father, John T.J., himself a professional photographer. Following a degree in economics from St. Michael's College, Cherthala, he decided to pursue his passion for films and graduated from the Government Film and Television Institute, Bangalore, with a degree in cinematography.
When Jomon started his career as an associate cinematographer with the likes of Madhu Neelkandan, Anil Mehta, and K.U. Mohanan, on ads such as that of Kerala Tourism, Hero Honda CBZ, and Dish TV, little did he realise that with Chappa... he would become the first cinematographer in Mollywood to shoot a feature film entirely in digital format – using a Canon 7D still camera!
“Chappa's very subject demanded a realistic feel and hence in the initial discussions itself, Samir, who is a cinematographer himself, and I decided that digital format would be the best option because of its innate crudeness,” says Jomon. Now saying that they were shooting in digital format is all fine and dandy. But when it actually came to it, Jomon says that both he and Samir were rather apprehensive about how it would project on screen. “We decided to do a few test shoots, processed it in Chennai, and screened what we had at Savitha theatre in Kochi. Only then were we confident that this would work,” says Jomon, who already had some experience shooting with digital format, albeit on a much smaller scale, for a corporate ad for Vythiri Resorts, Wayanad (his first independent project as a cinematographer). He'd also shot a music album titled Alone, using a Canon 5D camera.
“Shooting a film with a still camera is no easy task. It is very difficult to focus. Besides the resolution is less than half the resolution of a proper movie camera. On the other hand, production costs are significantly less on digital format and actors get much more of an opportunity to showcase their skills when they have multiple cameras trained on them,” says Jomon.
And not every film can be shot in digital format. “In fact, we were supposed to shoot Beautiful in digital format and VKP (director V.K. Prakash) had even booked the required equipment for the same. Two weeks before the shoot, I read the script and immediately realised that it called for slow-paced, eloquent frames rather than realistic ones. Digital would have killed the innate poeticism of the movie. Thankfully, both VKP and the producer were sporting enough to bring in an Alexa camera,” says Jomon. A guy who has got reels and reels to conquer in cinema!
Jomon has just completed shooting the ‘sequel' for the Indulekha Hair Oil ad, for which he had used real-time and sync sound. For the moment, the youngster has decided to concentrate equally on the ad world and the reel world, though he actually likes working on ads more. “It's because the ad world is financially more flexible than tinsel town and you get the equipment that you want.” Up next for him is an international ad for Chivita Juice, a Nigerian brand, which he is presently shooting in Bangalore, “featuring 40 models” (so said with no small amount of glee!) On the Mollywood front he's on board for Vineeth Sreenivasan's upcoming directorial venture. Talks are also on for a Lal Jose film. Jomon aspires to be like veteran cinematographer K.U. Mohanan (of Don, We are Family fame), with whom he has worked for the new ad for Kerala Tourism.