The man with a moving camera


From a still photographer to a collector of antique cameras, NAV Prasad Rao has come a long way

In the Polish drama Camera Buff, directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski, a man becomes obsessed with his camera after documenting his wife’s pregnancy. Much like the film’s protagonist, Chennai’s very own camera buff NAV Prasad Rao started photography as a hobby, which later developed into a passion. In his career as a photographer, Rao has worked with some prominent names including MG Ramachandran in Thaali Bhagyam (1966) and J Jayalalithaa in the English film Epistle (1961).

“I think she was in school when the film was made. Her mother used to accompany her for the shooting,” says Prasad Rao, who quit cinema in 2004. He may have stopped clicking pictures, but Rao still earns his bread and butter through cameras. For, he now has an exquisite collection of vintage cameras that he showcases at film-related exhibitions.

His love affair with antique cameras started in 2006 when he was at an auction, “There was a cinema expo, where they had auctioned vintage cameras. I bought a camera for ₹4,000. That’s how I started collecting these cameras.” He also credits a few people for donating their old cameras. Pointing at his Arriflex model, he says, “This was made in the 1960s and donated by an acquaintance of actor AVM Rajan. I’ve been offered a lakh for that camera, but these are not for sale.”

Rao has been displaying his collection at various places including Rajahmundry, Karaikudi and Tirunelveli. “The organisers take care of my accommodation and transportation. Sometimes, the money is good. For instance, I was paid ₹30,000 for the Karaikudi expo,” he says, adding, “In those days, photography was considered an art form. But today, it’s about the technique.”

Hailing from a village in Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh, Prasad Rao was trying to make inroads into Tamil films at a time when Madras (then) was considered the hub of South cinema, where films in other languages were processed and edited. He first reached Madras in the early ’50s, as an assistant to the Pandalur brothers. “They were big names, and kind enough to take me in their camp,” says Prasad Rao. Unfortunately, his dream was short-lived and he had to pack his bags.

Then, while pursuing his degree in Civil Engineering in Andhra Pradesh, Rao started apprenticeship to a Telugu producer, who ushered him into the world of colour films. Rao heaved a sigh of relief when a Nellore-based photographer was looking for a young photographer to join his team. “Someone had recommended my name since I was experienced in colour correction and I used to take good photographs,” says the 80-year-old.

With a camera slung on his shoulders, Rao left for Madras once again, hoping to realise his dream. Despite being a gifted photographer, it was Rao’s pricey possession — a Rolleiflex camera — that landed him a job at a popular Telugu magazine. He reminisces a funny incident that got him his first breakthrough. Rao was waiting at the lobby of Jayanthi Studios when a sound engineer approached him, asking about the camera. After confirming twice that it belonged to him, he was asked to come to the famous Vijaya Studios, which was in Pondy Bazaar back then.

“Rolleiflex was a luxury. Every time, I took my camera out, people would say, ‘Look! He has a Rolleiflex’,” he adds.

His biggest challenge till date was when a senior Bollywood producer asked him to do the slide-printing for Oonche Log (1965).“He was surprised when I said I could deliver the prints in a week’s time,” he says rather proudly.

Prasad Rao is gearing up for a cinema expo in Madurai. He can be contacted at 8190024729.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2019 9:18:53 PM |

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