Shooting Rajinikanth: ‘Jailer’ cinematographer Vijay Kartik Kannan on the technique behind the fanfare

Watch | Shooting Rajinikanth: ‘Jailer’ cinematographer Vijay Kartik Kannan on the technique behind the fanfare

The cinematographer talks about reuniting with Nelson for Rajinikanth’s ‘Jailer’, showcasing each of the stars of the film in unique ways, and why they wanted each frame to resemble photographs

Updated - August 24, 2023 01:14 pm IST

Published - August 23, 2023 02:40 pm IST

Rajinikanth with Vijay Kartik Kannan and a still from ‘Jailer’

Rajinikanth with Vijay Kartik Kannan and a still from ‘Jailer’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Right from his display picture with Rajinikanth on all his social media profiles to his interviews on YouTube, it’s quite apparent that cinematographer Vijay Kartik Kannan is ecstatic at the reception of his work in Nelson’s Jailer. The film marks his second collaboration with Nelson and his team of technicians after Doctor. As we sit down for an interview, he explains how he eagerly awaited the film’s release before signing his next project.

Excerpts from a conversation:

What were your inputs in the pre-production stage for a film of this magnitude?

Nelson and I have a good rapport; so it starts with the scripting first where we discuss what we like and what we don’t. From there, we head to fixing the colour palette and the lighting scheme, followed by staging. I also spoke to my friend, cinematographer Vetri sir (who shot Rajini’s Annaatthe). Nelson was keen on showing the outskirts of Chennai where the primary characters’ house is supposedly based and we wanted to choose rarely-seen locations for other scenes.

As Nelson, Kiran sir (art director) and I are also good friends, we get to openly discuss ideas without the fear of being judged. This collaborative process is something that commences with pre-production and continues till the film’s release.

Since the first half mostly unfolds within their house, I wanted to recreate the houses we have seen from the 90s that, during a power outage, would have a tint of gold from the streetlight’s sodium vapour bulb illuminating the interiors.

Vijay Kartik Kannan at the sets of ‘Jailer’

Vijay Kartik Kannan at the sets of ‘Jailer’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Nelson’s films, aesthetically, are known for their use of wide lenses, ample headspace and symmetrical shots. What were his contributions to the look and feel of ‘Jailer’?

We decided beforehand to shoot symmetrically and focus on centre framing. Both of us prefer wide lenses and even some of the close-ups were shot with it. Ramya Krishnan even joked about how she has done so many films and none of them involved such tight close-ups.

We also meticulously made sure to not have many eye-level shots; they are all either above or below the eye level. We believe wide close-ups, like the interval sequence featuring Rajini sir, create the impact required by showing the surroundings, while having our attention focused on him. I feel there is a disconnect while using a tele lens for close-ups as wide lens give the impression of us watching it in first person and the shallow depth adds to the cinematic effect. But despite using a wide lens, there are only a handful of wide shots. Though we shot them, Nelson and Nirmal (editor) took the call of opting predominantly for close-ups.

Be it Rajinikanth or the cameos featuring Mohanlal and Shivarajkumar, right from costumes to lighting, they are all shown in a unique manner...

Yes, that was intentionally planned. For Lal sir, we opted for a retro look. He’s supposed to be an underworld don who settled in Mumbai 20-30 years ago, while Shivarajkumar sir is a don from the interiors of Karnataka with a backstory. So, with such stories, the choice of colours, the style of dressing, their office interiors and the use of lights... they all change. For Shivarajkumar sir, we stuck to natural lighting. For Mohanlal sir, we took inspiration from South Mumbai’s Victorian-style buildings from the 50s. In those places, the wall fittings are where the lights are mounted. So these factors bring in a difference.

Vijay Kartik Kannan on the sets of ‘Jailer’

Vijay Kartik Kannan on the sets of ‘Jailer’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

ALSO READ: This Japanese couple travelled from Japan to Chennai to watch Rajinikanth’s ‘Jailer’

We heard that you were keen on shooting the film majorly with a one-camera setup. Wouldn’t multiple cameras give more options for the editor to choose from?

We had two cameras on set, but we would roll only on one camera and the other would be on standby for the next shot, probably in the next room, so as to save time. One camera would be on a gimbal while the other was on the dolly. Both Nelson and I don’t prefer two cameras rolling simultaneously; every shot has only one sweet spot and we wanted the frames to mimic photographs. Action sequences may need more cameras as we cannot recreate some of them again, but the one camera set-up fits dramatic scenes well.

Tell us about the idea behind opting for pastel-shaded costumes?

Rajini sir looks super stylish in costumes with darker shades. To tone that down, we opted for khaki trousers which also complimented his jailer profession. We stuck to pastel shades for the shirts because we’ve seldom seen him in light colours. In one scene alone, where he gets bad news delivered to him, we gave him a checked shirt to make him more relatable. Contrastingly, to go with the adventurous theme of the latter part of the film, we went with darker colours in the second half.

Rajinikanth in a still from ‘Jailer’

Rajinikanth in a still from ‘Jailer’ | Photo Credit: @suntv/YouTube

While a big-budget film means getting access to whatever you require, does that also come with restrictions like keeping a tab on retakes and sticking to deadlines?

We didn’t have any such issues in this film with Rajini sir or any of the other stars. They all are director’s actors who would go for as many retakes as necessary. We shot Rajini sir’s portions first, and for the first ten days, I was quite nervous about filming the Superstar. But after that, he made us feel comfortable enough to have the liberty to ask him whatever we wanted. Lal sir and Shivarajkumar sir were extremely professional which came in very handy when we needed retakes.

Watch | Shivarajkumar on Rajinikanth’s ‘Jailer’ and his rise as a ‘mass’ hero

You mentioned earlier that you’re a Rajini fan. How does it feel to tick off a massive box on your checklist?

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience! I don’t know if I can call this luck or a blessing, but I’m happy it has come out well. Be it on social media or members of his fan clubs who call me to say that Rajini sir looks great on screen, it really feels good and I make it a point to share that I’m also a Thalaivar fan!

Jailer is currently running in theatres

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