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Committed to their art

Sethu Sreeram, cinematographer and Tarun, choreographer, narrate their experiences in the making of the forthcoming Tamil film "Samurai."

IN SYRIA to shoot a song sequence for the film "Samurai", cameraman Sethu Sreeram and choreographer Tarun took time off to talk about themselves, their hopes and aspirations...

Sethu Sreeram goes about his work without much ado. He is aware of the difficulties that arise at different locations and during certain scenes, but is always willing to implement what the director has in mind. He is almost always the epitome of patience no matter how much time a shot takes. Though he trained under Santosh Sivan (done nine films with him) he is a cameraman in his own right. He has done two independent films in Malayalam, of which one was a 16 mm film for the Malayala Manorama group of publications. "Samurai" is his third film. Other than a Hindi film "Shakthi", which is to be released shortly, a Telugu film is in the pipeline. Sethu has also made a short film "Blindfolded" for which he won the National Award (1999) and two international awards.

Asked in what way he could make a difference to this project he replied: "We have given a different tone for the entire flashback. In the film you will notice a distinct format. And this particular song sequence is like a dream. The director wants to give it a different look with unfamiliar surroundings. All the locations here are good. You don't get this kind of white sand in India. It's like sugar. If you are lucky you might get cultivated land for the greenery, plus desert and mountains all in one frame.

Besides a degree from the Guru Nanak College, Sethu studied cinematography at the Film Institute in Adyar, Chennai. After his Telugu venture, he wants to make a short film in Spanish, which deals with the subject of sleepwalking.

Why Spanish? "I just want to do something in a different language. Besides, Spanish is a language I like."

However, he is, at present, concentrating on achieving excellence as a cameraman. Working on "Samurai", he said, was a new experience. "Filming for 18-19 hours at a stretch, shooting at the Egmore Railway Station, a full night sequence, travelling from there to continue shooting in Chenglepet and then returning to shoot a song — each experience has been different,'' he reminisced.

"Shot in almost 90 locations, much time and energy has been expended in the telling of this film," he said.

About the success of the project, he shot back with a smile. "Wait till you see the film."

To shift focus to Master Tarun...

Ever been fascinated by the intricate steps that seem like so many jigsaw puzzles put together? Ever tried those dance movements that seem simple, but are really difficult to execute? If one happened to witness Tarun at work one would be all admiration. The ideas that flood his mind are translated into movements by his assistants Uma and Hari, who help the lead pair learn the steps. In film production, this is nothing new, except for the quality and the enduring images that have made Tarun, a much sought-after choreographer.

Tarun is the son of B. Heeralal, who choreographed for films such as "Vanjikottai Vaaliban" "Guide," "Ganga Jamuna" and "Tere Mere Sapne". But, surprisingly, Tarun did not always want to be a choreographer. His dream was to be a pilot. However, this was not to be because of parental objections and Tarun eventually found himself in the world of films. He started off being an assistant director along with Puttana from Karnataka. He went on to join cameraman Ravikant from whence he decided to learn the nuances of editing with Sanjeevi of Prasad studios. A stint with Bhanu Athaiya, costume designer, and training in classical dance under K.J. Sarasa, made him decide that it was choreography that he wanted to dabble in.

"In fact, that is what my father recommended — learn all aspects of filmmaking,'' he recalled. After teaming up initially with his father, he was ready to strike out on his own. But the going was far from easy. He tried doing some Hindi films but did not get many opportunities, forcing him to move to Kannada, Bengali and Oriya films.

"Nobody in the South gave me a break, though by 1985 I was on my own,'' he said in a matter-of-fact tone. In 1989, he headed back to Mumbai with just Rs. 500 in his pocket.

The break did come though with a film featuring Sanjay Dutt. It was followed by "Bol Radha Bol," and "Deewana" starring Shahrukh Khan. "Bol Radha Bol" showcased his talents and brought in its wake "Aina," "Dard" and many more Hindi films till Rajnikanth requested that he work with him in "Badshah."

Since then there has been no looking back. "Muthu," "Padayappa," "Arunachalam," followed and now he is doing "Baba". Interestingly, in 1998, Tarun was supposed to direct a film. "But it did not materialise because of a problem with the artistes. "I got depressed, but am now reviving the project, which should hopefully take off sometime in August-September," he said.

According to Tarun, grace is the most important aspect of dancing. "In "Tenali", I made Kamal Hassan concentrate on executing every movement with grace. I always try something different. In "Tenali", for instance, no movement has been repeated. Each song is different. Just as in "Badshah."

How long did he take to choreograph a song?

"Depends on teamwork. Some take three days to finish, others could take four or even six."

And how was "Samurai' shaping?

"Fantastic! The songs by Harris Jayaraj are good. I am lucky to be choreographing the best one — "Agaya Suriyan... ." It is mellifluous and the movements flow with the melody.''

Did he draw on international influences when he travelled abroad as, for instance, the shooting of the song sequence for "Samurai" in Syria?

"Just 10 per cent. Most of the movements I think of are rooted in our tradition. The song I did in "Mudalvan", "Uppu Karuvadu... " was nothing but folk. And there was nothing else but Arjun and Manisha with a stick for a prop. And did you notice the camera? It went forward and backward in a rhythmic way. People thought we had used the latest equipment. That made a difference to the song. The other good number I have done is "Thillana Thillana... " from "Muthu."

What about colour combinations and costumes? Do the producers have a say?

"In designing, yes. For the "Samurai" song, I spent almost two days in the "Aalayam" office deciding the look. Sreeram and the director had already conceived of something. I just added my inputs."

Tarun has set his sights on Hollywood as a test of his talent in choreography as well as direction. And knowing his dedication and perseverance, perhaps this is a dream that could well turn a reality.


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