chat There are thousands of ideas waiting to be filmed, says engineer-turned-cinematographer Mahesh Muthuswami
Cinematographer Mahesh Muthuswami starts off the conversation humming “Un laptop ellam virus nerenjidumdi, Un atm card rendum tholanjidumdi …, ” the prayer song from the film Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakum ara that has gone viral. “Vijay Sethupathi who plays a dumped lover, Sumaar Moonji Kumar, is hilarious,” he says.
Muthuswami declares Vijay Sethupathi the man of the moment. “He is on a roll with back-to-back hits. His subtle performances are a delight to watch. Idharkuthane set in Chennai is a character-driven comedy and Vijay’s effortless acting is the highlight,” he says. The recently released Idharkuthana … directed by Gokul has a host of actors including Pasupathi, Subramaniapuram Swathi, Attakathi Nandita, and Mankatha Ashwin. Pasupathi has done comedy for the first time. The story is about middle-class families living in government quarters.
Muthuswami has worked on 11 films in 10 years, and he says the journey has been enriching. After his cinematography course in FTII, Muthuswami says he was fortunate to work with ace cinematographer P.C. Sreeram in his film Vaanam Vasappadum that was shot digitally. Later, he worked on director R. Buvana’s Rightaa Thappaa , a film on eve-teasing. “The film won actor Seetha a state award for her performance,” he recalls.
His cinematography came to be noticed in critically acclaimed films such as director Mysskin’s Chithiram Pesuthadi , Nandhalala and Anjathey, and also in Pandiraj’s Vamsam , Santha Kumar’s Mouna Guru and M. Muthaiah’s Kutti Puli. Sharing his work experiences, he says, “Director Mysskin is like a child on the sets, always receptive to new ideas. He has a clear idea about the visual language. For the first shot in his film Anjathey , he told me the camera should first face the sky, then move on to the hero exercising. All the little visual details are in the script. Santha Kumar is also specific and gets wonderful performances out of his actors. Muthaiah reinforces values and culture. All his characters are rooted and real.”
Muthuswami is known for highlighting the natural look in the heroines. “I show the characters as they are. Be it Snigdha in Nandhalala or actor Sandhya, who played the mother role in Kutti Puli . Actor Samantha, who has worked with big names, was very happy with her look in Zabardast . Swati and Nandita in Idharkku …look subtle but there’s a lot of freshness to their characters,” he says.
Except Zabardast in Telugu with Siddharth and Samantha which was an effervescent romance, Muthuswami’s films have been character-driven and now he has worked on a comedy. Smiling he says, it’s time to explore new genres. “I choose projects where I vibe well with the director. It is important to understand the visual palette, the characters and situations as the director sees his film through my eyes. Some directors focus more on story and performances, and leave the visual details to me. It’s a give and take. But, ultimately it’s a director’s medium and he calls the shots.”
Cinematography has also afforded him an opportunity to observe life. He recalls filming Vamsam in Karaikudi, where they spent over three months. “There is acute water scarcity there. So, whenever it rains people don’t waste even a drop. Every house and street has rainwater harvesting structures. Kutti Puli shot in Rajapalayam near Madurai was a different experience. The director Muthaiah’s father still runs a tea shop there. Construction workers from the village start their day after tea at the shop at dawn. For them, their self-respect matters and not money. For Nandhalala , we captured unexplored roads and beautiful landscapes near Erode and Gobichettipalayam.” Muthuswami’s next film is director Krishna’s Naalu Policekaarangalum Nalla Iruntha Oorum with actor Arulnidhi in the lead.
This engineer-turned-cinematographer is all praise for technology and says young filmmakers should take an idea and make films, edit them on PCs and upload them on YouTube to get an immediate feedback. But he warns, “Stay away from the information clutter. Go outdoors, walk in the rain, breathe in fresh air and explore Nature, there are thousands of ideas waiting to be filmed.”
Working with P.C. Sreeram gave him a great start, says Muthuswami. “The first thing he asks a cinematographer after he films a shot is ‘Did you see God?’ That is how he approaches his job.”