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Capturing cinematographer Ravi Varman’s journey through a photo series

The photo series documents Ravi Varman’s rags-to-riches tale

The photo series documents Ravi Varman’s rags-to-riches tale   | Photo Credit: L Ramachandran

Photographer L Ramachandran’s latest series documents Ravi Varman’s rags-to-riches journey in the form of portraiture

“Just you and your Zenith 6. That’s all we require,” declared Chennai-based photographer L Ramachandran.

Those golden words were what convinced sought-after cinematographer Ravi Varman to undertake this assignment. Varman was working on the Kamal Haasan-starrer Indian 2 at that time. He later backed out of the project, but the seed Ramachandran sowed stayed with him for long. The concept was simple: to narrate Ravi Varman’s rags-to-riches story, in the form of portraiture.

A memorable journey

Those unfamiliar with the cinematographer’s life story might not be aware of how he took to the camera. As a young boy, Varman arrived from Thanjavur to Madras in 1987 with a shirt and a lungi, and an out-of-focus photograph of his mother, who had just passed away. He found work as a waiter at the Amaravathi Hotel — his first salary was ₹150. “I remember going to Moore Market to buy a colourful T-shirt and lungi,” recalls Ravi Varman. On the way, he stopped at a camera shop where he ended up spending his entire salary to buy a Zenith 6. Therein began his tryst with the camera — something that would take him from Kollywood (Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, Anniyan and Dasavathaaram) to Bollywood (Barfi, Tamasha and Sanju).

The photo series documents Ravi Varman’s rags-to-riches tale

The photo series documents Ravi Varman’s rags-to-riches tale   | Photo Credit: L Ramachandran

Cut to February 2020, he fished out his prized possession for the photo series that Ramachandran had elaborately planned. “It’s probably the most valuable thing that I have,” says Varman, as we skim through the black-and-white clicks that feature the cinematographer and his best friend: the camera.

Photographer L Ramachandran

Photographer L Ramachandran   | Photo Credit: SHAKES ROVER

Cinematic lighting

Ramachandran’s love for Varman’s work started from the early stages of the latter’s career. “I loved how he played with colours and his frame sense. I was used to seeing such colours in Hollywood films, but movies like Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela and Barfi had that effect on me.”

Varman’s diary
  • Worked as cinematographer in multiple big-budget Tamil films like Dasavathaaram, Anniyan and Kaatru Veliyidai.
  • A sought-after cameraman in Bollywood, he is known for his work in Barfi, Sanju and Jagga Jasoos.

But when the two sat down for this shoot, they decided to go with a black and white tone, with props that would bring to life what Varman would have experienced back then. After about 50 clicks, Ramachandran got what he wanted; a series of photographs that had the cinematographer posing like a magician, with a hat, and the Zenith 6 in hand. “We wanted to recreate the setting like how it would have been when he came to Madras.” So, the props they used were suitcases, with ‘cinematic lighting’ filling in the frames. “Usually, such shots have strobe lighting. I avoided that. To shoot a cinematographer in cinematic lighting was a memorable moment.”

  • Ramachandran’s own journey is a chequered one; a self-taught photographer whose creative contours have reportedly made him the only Indian representative photographer of the Playboy magazine. All his recent photo series’ are accompanied by a documentary — of the making of the pictures and a sneak peek into the subject’s personality.
  • At the moment, he has a three-minute cut that would be made public soon, to show audiences the challenges behind setting up a photo shoot of this scale. He has done multiple shoots, both nationally and internationally, but Ramachandran is still reticent before every session. “Every photo session scares me. That’s probably because I don’t compromise on my lighting pattern.”

There was one particular shot in the series that was completely unplanned — Ravi Varman flexing his muscles. “It happened when he was changing shirts, and someone commented how it was so unique that a cinematographer had such a well-toned body,” recalls Ramachandran, “And then I thought, why not take a picture? After all, his journey did start with a camera without a shirt, right?”

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 7:23:23 PM |

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