His visuals speak louder than words. Meet cinematographer K. Balasubramaniem whose Neer Paravai is ready to hit the screens

The next time someone tells you that you aren’t qualified enough to enter a profession you are passionate about, remember K. Balasubramaniem, one of Kollywood’s most competent cinematographers.

This was the same man who was refused admission to an institute training film technicians for the simple reason that he had a commerce background instead of the stipulated science background. However, that didn’t deter him from becoming what he wanted to.

Today, Balu, as he is affectionately called by those close to him in film circles, has over 25 Tamil films, including Pithamagan, Azhagiya Tamizh Magan, Vaseegara, Thambi and 180, to his credit.

The visuals of his next movie Seenu Ramasamy’s Neer Paravai, which features Vishnu and Sunaina in the lead, have already come in for appreciation from various quarters — Balu Mahendra, one of the country’s best-known cinematographers, showered praises on Balasubramaniem at a recent event.

“I graduated in Commerce from a small place near Karaikudi. My parents have nothing to do with films. Even as a child, I was into drawing and painting. That eventually developed into a love for pictures and I got into photography while in college. In my spare time, I would shoot stills at weddings to earn money. Then, one day, Nayagan released and that changed my life.”

The film made Balu realise what he loved most and what he should pursue — cinematography. Thinking that he would have to enrol for a course in cinematography at an institute to join ace cinematographer P. C. Sreeram as an assistant, he approached an institute which rejected his application outright.

“PC sir did not ask for a certificate. One day, a journalist friend of mine was to interview him and she took me along to take pictures. While clicking pictures, he asked me about my work and that was when I told him that I had left home three years ago in the hope of joining him as an assistant. I also showed him the wedding pictures I had clicked,” says Balu.

“‘I have seven or eight assistants now. Come next year and I will take you in,’ he told me. However, I would go to his house everyday and he would keep telling me to come back in a year’s time. One day, I requested his mother to give me a picture of his. I got one shot by Murali Suresh. It was a classy picture in which the cameraman’s image can be seen reflected in PC’s glasses. I drew a portrait of PC using it — he still has it in his bedroom,” says Balasubramaniem proudly.

Whatever the reason, the one-year wait was cut to three months and Balu joined PC as the eighth assistant while he was working on Meera. Soon, he became his first assistant as the others moved out on learning the craft from the master cinematographer.

“After working with him on five projects, including Thevar Magan, May Madham, Kurudhi Punal and Pasavalai, PC told me it was time I handled projects on my own. Unsure of myself, I told him I had a lot to learn, but he knew I was ready and said, ‘Don’t come back’. I think he has spoken to Kamal Haasan about me, for, two days later I got a call from his office. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I had been chosen as the cameraman for Ladies Only, the Hindi remake of Magalir Mattum,’” says Balu.

Ever since, there has been no looking back for Balu whose first Tamil film was Vatakudi Iranian, featuring Murali in the lead and directed by Vincent Selva. Today, Balu has a series of films lined up. First on the list is the much-talked about Neer Paravai starring Vishnu and Sunaina in the lead. The film is ready to hit the screens. Then he has comedian Santhanam’s Kanna Laddu Thinna Aasaiaya, director Rajesh’s All In All Azhagu Raja featuring Karthi and then, a film to be made by an assistant of Rajesh with Sivakarthikeyan in the lead.

Ask him what he has to say about Neer Paravai, and the cinematographer beams, “I had worked with Udhayanidhi in Oru Kal Oru Kannadi. He wanted to know if I would be willing to work on a small project. When I listened to the script, I was so excited I said yes to it immediately. Moreover, director Seenu Ramasamy hails from the same region I do and we get along very well. When I got to know he was frantically searching for a lovely place to shoot the film, I suggested Manappadu, a village 15 km away from Tiruchendur. Having been there for an ad shoot a few years ago, I was smitten by its beauty. I was waiting for an opportunity to go back and shoot there. When Seenu Ramasamy saw the place, he said it was exactly what he had in mind.”

Manappadu is special for the simple reason that the sea there takes on different shades. “At one point, it would be red in colour because of the red soil there. At other times, it would be brown, green, blue and so on. It was fabulous,” says Balu, before adding that the entire film was shot in just 45 days.

“We hired a jimmy jib for just two days and shot all that we needed for the entire film,” says Balu who is satisfied with his work in the film and life in general — the satisfaction arising from the fact that he has done his bit, grooming good cinematographers. “I have six assistants now apart from three others who have turned cameramen,” says Balu proudly.