He’s the most sought after as well as the busiest. Sathya Hegde, who started of in a modest way, is a big name today. When this cinematographer’s name appears on the title cards, there’s a huge applause in the cinema halls. Directors feel at ease when he’s behind the camera because he knows what they have in mind and delivers better than what they expected. His involvement is so intense that he may not even acknowledge your presence. There’s an air of confidence about him that’s both calming and re-assuring for the director. Puneet loves his work and even Ramya appears relaxed when Sathya peers into the eye-piece.
You come from a small town which probably had one theatre. How does an ordinary film fan get motivated to make cinematography his career?
My father wanted me to study computer science probably because my brother was an engineer. I was sent to Sandur where the medium of teaching changed suddenly from Kannada to English. I was uncomfortable. I struggled through first year PUC. After the second year my brother advised me to choose a diploma course because of my poor scores. The subjects were common during the first year, but I was given a minute to choose a course for specialization in the second. On an impulse I decided on cinematography. I completed three years but seriousness about cinema was ignited only when I started working. I did not possess nor could afford even an SLR so my exposure to photography was directly through cinematography. In fact, I started watching films seriously only after I finished my course.
You assisted many cinematographers after completing your course. Was it by choice?
I joined B.C. Gowrishanker the day after I completed my course. He used to work only on one film at a time. He advised me not to stay idle but assist anybody else when free. I worked with all the prominent cinematographers of the time like Das and Venu. It was fascinating because whatever I’d learnt was being put to practical use when I worked with Rajan. I observed how Venu or Sundernath Suvarna adapted to various situations. I consider myself lucky because I could imbibe the strong points from the cream of cinematographers and evolve a style of my own. I’ve even assisted Krishna of ‘Mungaru Male’ fame.
You’ve studied theory as well as worked with the best. Do you think both are necessary?
My diploma was my visiting card. There was a certain respect for that. With the advent of digital cinematography I think theory is essential. It’ll be difficult if you don’t know the basics, but again practical training is a must.
Your work was first noticed in ‘Duniya’. What did you do that you hadn’t done in your previous films?
(laughs) I had done three films. In my batch I was the last one to turn independent cameraman. My batch mates like Chandru had already completed five films. I was waiting for the right opportunity. The first three films I did flopped. I was disappointed and took a break for over a year. I wanted to work with Ashok Kashyap who was making a TV serial. The three films I worked in didn’t fetch me money but Ashok paid me well as well as guided me. He gave me freedom and taught me to work with available lights. I learnt a lot and wanted to adapt the same technique for films. I had been accused of using excessive lights. I wanted to prove myself and my detractors wrong. It so happened that I was offered ‘Duniya’ around that time. I tried what I had learnt and it worked.
Previously you had one camera, the Arriflex. Depending on the budget one had to choose between Fuji and Eastman Colour film, but now you have a variety of digital cameras to choose from.
You’re right, but this is interesting too. There’s more scope for creativity. Now we’re able to use the same cameras as the best in Hindi cinema do, so there’re no excuses for shoddy work. It depends on the cinematographer’s ability to use the tools available. There are no creative constraints now. It’s more challenging. We just have to be careful about choosing the right script.
Most cinematographers lament the end of raw stock. You too shot ‘Gaja Kesari’ with conventional film.
That was because film in the true sense was becoming extinct. It was my farewell gesture. I’m not sad because I think we have to move with the times. We have to adapt and explore how best we can use the latest technology. We have to be grateful we were able to use and experience both.
Your work in ‘Mynaa’ which was mostly outdoors was widely appreciated, but does it give you the same satisfaction as simulated lighting?
Picturesque locations like a water fall are mistaken for good photography and we fall for that too because of the applause. There’s more to it. There’s beauty in capturing a simple market scene with the right lighting. There’s no doubt simulated lighting is more satisfying. It should look like what the human eye sees.
Why do you often use a lens so wide that it distorts the landscape when you pan?
That’s a very good point. There are times when people appreciate what you don’t. I sometimes decide to give in to that. Believe me those are the shots that get maximum applause. Was agreeing to do ‘Gaja Kesari’ a tough choice since the director Krishna himself is a noted cinematographer?
While having tea one day with Krishna I casually said that if he turned director I would be the cinematographer. He was getting offers then. Just a couple of hours after that Yograj Bhat called to say a project was finalized and I should work with Krishna. I was already prepared so there was no second thought.
It must be satisfying to be honoured by the cinematographers association.
I was happy but feel I have a long way to go.
Most directors you’ve worked with feel your inputs where the script is concerned are very useful. Is there a director hiding inside, waiting for the right time?
I have not thought on those lines at all. I offer suggestions but there’s no rule they’ve to be accepted and used. There’re so many beautiful locations in Karnataka that I also suggest if a sequence warrants because I’ve explored the State. Since the advent of digital cameras the challenges are multi-fold. There’s so much to learn and achieve. I have a long way to go.