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Life behind the lens

Ace cinematographer Madhu Ambat doesn't think digital technology is a must for good photography

Well-known cinematographer Madhu Ambat says he has been looking at life much too cinematically. Every act of a person could be a shot in a film. So much so that one eventually finds it difficult to make a distinction between the world of cinema and the real world. "This may be a personal-philosophical conflict. I am not entirely Kafkaesque, but something of those times is still there... That does not mean I do not locate my film in a physical, literal and geographical space."

Madhu's existentialist concernsare not his own. They have been voiced by individuals in different time and space locations, again and again. But why now? Madhu has a semblance of an answer. "I think now is the time to ask questions about what real is, what the meaning of life is... "

Madhu lives this conflict as a human being and as a cinematographer. Taken to the extreme, he can't be. But a state of non-action is no answer too. Madhu gets on, like many others, knowing fully well that his is a constantly evolving field. Cinematography, he says, suffers from gimmickry now though its visual value is high. "There is so much emphasis on an individual shot, that the part has now become more important than the whole. And so for a good cinematographer, his claim to fame are his shots and not himself."A classicist like Madhu Ambat can have problems with digital technology, but doesn't it bring pace? "Why worry about pace," asks Ambat. Digital is the in-thing because it is less expensive and good for special effects. "And Steven Spielberg is one among the few filmmakers propagating the technology." He sees no obvious need to go digital if one is talking quality.

According to Madhu, digital has not really arrived in filmmaking the way people think it has. "Whoever said Hollywood films are digital makes? Ninety per cent of them are made with the good old film roll. Technology should advance creative possibilities. I am not sure digital is doing that. There is no use of the filter in the digital. And I think no American likes to use digital."

Madhu does not seem perturbed by the perceived technological change. He is also not perturbed by a movement between film worlds and imagination. He has moved many a time from a big-budget film to a low-budget one, rather deliberately and imagination of course has to fit into these constraints.

G.V. Iyer and Manoj Night Shyamalan and the likes of Mohanan, Lenin Rajendran, Mani Ratnam, Bharathan and Girish Kasaravalli... Madhu loves working with them all. He has just completed a documentary on HIV/AIDS for the NFDC and is on to a project on public sanitation. Is there more to versatility? Are all these movements the reason why the first film he has directed, 1:1.6 — An Ode to Lost Love, in English, explores film within a film and life from within a frame?


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