Having shot for 13 films produced this year, the city's busiest still photographer has every reason to `Say Cheese'. SUDHISH KAMATH finds out what makes G.Venket Ram click

Be it Rajnikant or Kamal Hassan, Mani Ratnam or Shankar, Vijay or Vikram, Suriya or Madhavan, Trisha or Asin, or should we say Coke (Fanta) or Pepsi (Mirinda), one man has shot them all and put himself on the top of the Most-Wanted list in Kodambakkam. "Shooting film publicity stills is not even 20 per cent of the work I do," says G.Venket Ram, the lensman who shot for Sivaji, Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu, Bheema, Jillendru Oru Kaadhal and Silandhi, among his 13 films this year. "But it's also what I get easily recognised for. Nobody knows about the 80 per cent of my advertising work because in advertising, no one knows who shot what."Venket's stint with Tamil cinema started when he shot with Sivaji Ganesan for the cover of The Week in 1996. He had also shot portfolios for Shobana and later Reema Sen and Asin, shot ads with Trisha. But it was not before Mani Ratnam's Kannathil Muthamittal happened that he gave film stills serious thought. Ever since, he's shot for over 50 films. "It all started with one. I think what happened is, in the Tamil film industry, no one did a proper photo shoot earlier. Four years ago, it was unheard of. Whatever continuity stills were shot, were used as publicity stills. With technology improving and hoardings coming up, there was a need for pictures of huge sizes and that's when they wanted advertising photographers to come in."He recently shot with A. R. Rahman for the promotion of Suriya's home production Jillendru Oru Kaadhal. "Usually albums carry a small mug-shot of the music director. They wanted to do something different with the publicity of this album. So we shot with Rahman and got some nice stills done."Venket recalls his recent experience shooting with Superstar Rajnikant for Sivaji. "He was cool. He was nervous actually. They wanted to give him a complete makeover. We wanted to give him a new look... his 1970s and 1980s look. We wanted to get that Moondru Mugam Alex Pandian kind of a thing back. He was down-to-earth, ready to learn and do anything we wanted him to."Shankar and Mani Ratnam are always clear of what their advertising is going to say. "First, we make a rough design of the layout. Only then do we go for the shoot."

Photo shoots

"The trend of photo-shoots set in because of the need for pooja invites before the launch of the film. That's how it started. But now, it's become more of a homework, an exercise to try out styling, looks, colours and the feel... An exercise where the director, cinematographer, art director and the actors sit down and work on the look and the colour and the feel they will use for the movie," explains Venket. "Sometimes, the assignments are director-driven and sometimes star-driven. For Sivaji, Shankar got in touch because we had done Boys before. For Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu, Gautham came back after Kaakha Kaakha and now we've done for Silandhi. Similarly, after Kannathil Muthamittal, we shot for Aayitha Ezhuthu." Says Venket, "Rajnikant is someone who leaves the whole thing to you. You have to tell him what you want and he does exactly that. But Kamal Hassan knows what he wants and he does his stuff. Only when you want something specific, you need to request him but he knows what to do most of the time. Vijay is a lot like Rajni. Vikram is like Kamal. But the director always has a role to play in planning the shot." Actresses too are taking a lot of interest in photo-shoots off late because with the rapid use of posters and hoardings for publicity, their faces are pasted all over the town. "They take a lot of care to make sure they look good, especially because when the image is blown to a height of 30-40 feet, even the smallest defect in make-up will be seen."With the increasing use of hoardings and improved printing technology, a lot more posters and pictures will be used in magazines to promote films. And an investment of two days for the photo-shoot and a lakh of rupees doesn't seem too much for a film made at a budget of crores. Why don't many films opt for a professional photo session then? "I think it's just a mental block," believes Venket. "The attitude is: after all it's just photographs, why spend? But once they see the result, they understand why they need to spend."