The film industry knows him as ‘Stills’ Ravi. Now, thanks to Facebook, many more have the opportunity to view his photographs online
Sridevi and Rajinikanth, in love, stroll along the seashore. The classic shot is from director Mahendran’s “Johnny”. There is a still of Ilaiyaraaja during a recording with S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. Then there are Saritha’s expressive eyes, from K. Balachander’s “Agnisaatchi”. They have all been clicked by ‘Stills’ Ravi. When he uploaded these on Facebook, the response was overwhelming. His friends list is a whopping 4,000 and growing.
Ravi says, “Though I have not won any award for my work, the acknowledgement on Facebook is encouraging.” He has put up photographs of artists taken in the 70s and 80s, as well as working stills of some landmark movies. People post comments on them regularly and ask him for tips.
People have even bought his photographs online. Shankar Aps from Coimbatore, who runs Duet Restaurant in Ram Nagar, Coimbatore, is one of them. “He got in touch with me through Facebook and got a number of photographs. Now, the stills of artists of the 80s grace his restaurant,” mentions Ravi.
Television artist Vijay Adhiraj approached him for his film, “Puthagam”, through the social media and he agreed.
People in film circles fondly call him ‘Venkodi Vaendhan’ — the king with the white umbrella. “Those were the days! I walked around the film sets with my Pentax and Nikon, and an umbrella to control the lighting,” recalls Ravi.
As a still photographer, his job required him to shoot off-beat photographs from the film for publicity posters, and slide shows. “I accompanied the crew through the filming and would look out for unusual shots for posters that would catch the attention of the public.” He has worked in more than 500 films over the last three decades with top stars and directors.
Ravi admires artists such as Saritha, Poornima, Radhika and Rohini. “They were co-operative and encouraging. Those were the times when still photographers were treated with respect. Even stalwarts such as MGR and Sivaji Ganesan waited patiently to get the approval of photographers. Now, everything is digitised leaving very little space for creative input,” he says.
Ravi is also one of the earliest photographers to make a smooth transition to the digital era. “I used Minolta D Image A1 for director K.R.’s film ‘Dancer’,” says Ravi, who always wanted to be a press photographer but ended up as a film photographer. He assisted the late Suba Sundaram of Ananda Vikatan in MGR’s films such as “Idhaya Veenai”, “Sirithu Vaazha Vendum” and “Pallaandu Vaazhga”. His break as a still photographer came with “Bairavi”, a landmark film in Rajinikanth’s career. “It was actor Sripriya, the film’s heroine, who recommended my name,” he recalls.
Ravi is inspired by Kamal Haasan, director Mahendran and his cameraman Ashok Kumar. “Kamal Haasan pursued photography as a hobby and came up with extraordinary shots. It helped me improve my work. Director Mahendran’s films inspired me to explore beyond the ordinary,” he says. Ravi tried something called ‘back light’ photography, where he shot artists with sunlight falling from behind, a departure from the trend of shooting with the sunlight directly on the faces.
A black-and-white working still of “Panneer Pushpangal” is striking. “Black-and-white photographs are expressive, have more depth and are very difficult to shoot,” he says.
“Working with directors such as Bhagyaraj, Balachander and Sridhar helped me bring some novelty to my work,” he says.
One memory stands out for him — a still of Saritha from “Agnisaatchi”. “The trend is to put the heroine in the middle of the paddy field. I put her in a corner and showed the expanse of greenery. Balachander called me at midnight and said: ‘It’s an extraordinary shot’. That was a special moment.”
Ravi now plans to exhibit his collection, following requests from his Facebook fans. “I want to get the autographs of the artistes before that. I have already got Kamal Haasan’s autograph; the others are on the way.”