In conversation with Baahubali's cast and crew

Senthil Kumar opens up on shooting ‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’

For five years, Senthil Kumar has been living and breathing the dream of Baahubali, giving a visual landscape to SS Rajamouli’s magnum opus. The duo’s association began with Sye (2004) and Chatrapati, Yamadonga, Magadheera and Eega followed. The mutual trust and respect, Senthil avers, motivates him to raise the bar. “We don’t have long discussions for the basics. Exchange of ideas are oriented towards going a step higher; the dynamics is different,” says Senthil, talking to us amid the Digital Intermediate work for Baahubali: The Conclusion.

Senthil has been involved at every stage of post production. “We are liaising with several studios for visual effects. My focus is on making the final output look seamless, in terms of cinematography and visual effects,” he says.

Good cinematography, Senthil believes, shouldn’t cry for attention, “We need to stand out where required and at other times, stay in the background and use our craft to help the director narrate a story. Each story comes with a unique imagery.”

Senthil worked with five assistants and roped in former assistants turned cinematographers for larger sequences that involved multiple camera set-ups. War sequences were pre-visualised with the help of John Griffith, who has worked for films like Planet of The Apes and X-Men franchise.

“We shot extensively for the first part. This time, smarter with experience, we pre-visualised war sequences and shot with fighters, editing the footage to see what we require. Then we’d shoot with the actors. It helped us save time, money and energy,” he explains.

Senthil Kumar opens up on shooting ‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’

Many a time, members from different departments did more than what they were required to do. Senthil cites an example of a stunt director helping with rigging the cameras to shoot war scenes. “We needed the cameras to move in many directions and they help with the rigging.”

Arri Alexa XT cameras with Master Prime lenses were used, and 100kv SoftSun lights were brought in to shoot in low light conditions. “We used the best possible equipment; we had flycams and HoverCams as well. The producers never shied away from getting us the best equipment,” he says.

Senthil and other team members chalked out their plan in coordination with Rajamouli, down to the last detail. But there was room for flexibility, with allowance for exceptional ideas that came from anyone in the unit. “The team was so talented that there was no dearth of ideas,” states Senthil.

This wealth of ideas helped him stay motivated amid tiring schedules.

Two concept artists were aboard and Senthil’s team was also constantly on the look out for reference material from world cinema and the arts. “Rembrandt’s portraits are among my favourite. These references are a tool to trigger thought processes. You can’t force fit something irrelevant to the story,” says Senthil.

The ‘Eega’ experience

After shooting Eega, challenging himself to capture the revenge saga of an imaginary fly that was added later through visual effects, Senthil had stated that it was his toughest work. Now, after Baahubali: The Conclusion, he says with a laugh, “I’d still say Eega was the most challenging film for me. Baahubali has scale, but it didn’t intimidate me. The first scary experience for me was while shooting Yamadonga when I entered the huge set and wondered how I’d do it. With Magadheera and Baahubali, I got used to the large scale.”

Baahubali gave him fewer hours at home. Senthil made the effort to get back home after shooting even if it was for a few hours. “My older son was three and the younger was two when we began the film. I didn’t want then to feel neglected. My wife Ruhee was a huge help in making sure that my kids didn’t miss me,” he says.

In between, he kept track of the work of his contemporaries and lauds Setu (Satyajit Pandey) for Dangal. Setu and Senthil were batch mates in film school. But if there’s one cinematographer who inspires Senthil to push his boundaries, it’s Emmanuel Lubezki of The Revenant. “Each time I think I know something about cinematography, this man’s work tells me I have so much to learn. His work is free flowing,” says Senthil.

On IMAX: Baahubali: The Conclusion will also be screened in Imax format. “We shot the film in 16:9 format. The wider frame ensures better viewing experience,” says Senthil. In Hyderabad, Imax screen at Prasads which is under renovation, is expected to be ready for the film.

Virtual reality: The Sword of Baahubali, a virtual reality short, opened up new vistas for Senthil. “I didn’t know how the imagery works in VR. To shoot with a camera with one lens is different from using a camera with 24 lenses,” he says. The team shot the main characters and help came in from visual effects. AMD’s Radeon Technologies Group worked with the team. The immersive experience of VR might bring in innovative storytelling methods and is making inroads into fields like real estate and automobiles but Senthil feels it may not be a threat to mainstream cinema. “VR is an individual experience as opposed to a collective movie watching experience,” he points out.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2021 1:41:32 PM |

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