‘Jagga Jasoos’ is my best work yet, says cinematographer Ravi Varman

Cinematographer Ravi Varman talks about shooting on celluloid for Jagga Jasoos, on why working with light feels like art and what it’s like to collaborate with Anurag Basu after Barfi!

Updated - June 30, 2017 01:00 pm IST

Published - June 30, 2017 12:57 pm IST

Much has been said about Jagga Jasoos ’ four-year gestation period. Was it difficult to maintain a unique look through these years?

The plan wasn’t for the film to take so long, but I’m glad I was able to shoot it entirely. It’s with great pain that we’ve tried to maintain visual consistency through these years. I watched some of the earlier portions and they haven’t aged. It feels like my best work yet.

How does one maintain that consistency?

A lot can change in a four-year period. The human skin keeps growing and it changes shades. You need to make sure skin tone matches with the film’s timeline. As a reference, I kept watching classics such as West Side Story , Days of Heaven , The Sheltering Sky and Wes Anderson’s films. I worked on Jagga Jasoos like I was working on a classic. If our classics look fresh after a decade, what’s four years?

What was Anurag Basu’s brief to you?

He said he didn’t want Jagga Jasoos to look anything like Barfi! He wanted us to do even better. Usually, film schedules only take into account the availability of the actors. I’m glad Anurag gave a cinematographer equal importance.

Does that come from the comfort level you’ll share?

When I worked on Barfi! , I couldn’t understand a word of Hindi. Though my Hindi has improved now, I still have trouble communicating. But with Anurag, cinema has been our language of communication. Even if I fail to explain something, he trusts me enough to let me show it to him on the go, as we shoot.

What did you think of Jagga Jasoos ’ script then?

It has a lot of scope for me. It’s a musical story with adventure. It has a fairytale quality to it and I’m sure kids will love it. But it’s also intelligent.


Renaissance paintings were evoked in your work in Ram-Leela . You’d approached Tamasha like a street photographer. How did you approach Jagga Jasoos ?

I wanted the film to be vivid, like a magic show. In a sense, I wanted to approach the film like a magician. Much of the colours used in magic are there for deception. Same for our film.

At a time when we’re swamped by images, how does one create visuals that are fresh?

Around 30% of Jagga Jasoos was shot on film. When we started our intention was to shoot completely on film. But we couldn’t do it because processing became extremely difficult. Film gives you a base to create something beautiful, especially when it comes to lighting one’s frames. There are several advantages to digital cinema, but somewhere, our focus has shifted to shooting using fewer lights. As a cinematographer, my closest friend is the light and how it can speak through me.

Are you saying lighting makes a difference?

Creatively, it’s a phase I’ve entered into in the last few years. I’m able to use light to create what my mind sees. What felt like science has begun to feel like art.

Does that mean you rely heavily on planning?

Not any more. I can’t stay with the same image for long and I start getting restless. I feel spontaneity is what brings shots alive. Perfectly-planned shots have a way of looking plastic. It’s not just about recording images, it’s cinematography.

Hasn’t newer technology made it easier though?

It has, but a lot of people are misusing it. For instance, our industry is very poor at using VFX, as we don’t understand the time and effort one needs to use it well. But Indian cinematographers are respected the world over. Western cinematographers have to deal with just two skin tones... black and white. But every Indian is of a different colour. They envy how well we capture them.

Your career has seen cinematography transition from film to digital. How has technology changed you in the process?

Ever since my first film (Malayalam film Jalamarmaran in 1999), I’ve learnt not to rely heavily on equipment. After having worked as an assistant for many years, shooting independently was a dream. But I remember feeling heartbroken when I was told that my first film would be shot on 16mm. It was called ‘16mm blow-up’, where one would shoot on 16mm and then blow it up to fit a 75-mm screen. As a beginner, it was a nightmare because every error is blown up too. Yet it’s this limitation that birthed the artiste in me... once you’ve proven yourself with nothing, it’s easy when you get everything.

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