Rajeev Ravi, the cinematographer of Chandni Bar, Classmates and other films, is a top talent
By Shevlin Sebastian
“I was shooting the last scene of Chandi Bar,” says cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, 34. “It was a shot where the son of a bar dancer [played by Tabu] kills a man. As he walks away, he can see Tabu approaching. As the camera moves in for a close-up of the actress, the audience can see Tabu is crying.”
During the rehearsal, Rajeev, perched on a crane, went close to Tabu. “Suddenly, she told me, ‘Rajeev, there is a lot of distortion going on.’ What she meant was that her features were being exaggerated and she did not look glamourous.”
“In which scene?” I asked.
“‘90 per cent of the film,’ she said.”
“I was shattered when she said that,” says Rajeev. “Here I was, shooting with heartfelt sincerity, and the star of the film said I had distorted her face. It was a painful experience.”
Later, when Chandni Bar became a hit and Tabu won the National Award for Best Actress, all was forgotten. Apart from the accolades for acting, the cinematography came in for much praise, and Rajeev felt vindicated.
“Artistes should remember that it is not the face or the good looks which make for good cinema,” he says. “If the portrayal of the character is good, an artiste will look good, irrespective of the physical looks. Think of Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah or Rajnikant.”
Rajeev is sitting with folded legs on a sofa at his parents’ home on Pozhoth Lane and is on a six-week break. He continues to talk about Chandni Bar, his first film, which established his reputation. “When I went inside a dancing bar in Mumbai for the first time, I had a mixed feeling,” he says. “I could see these girls dancing, some of them were flirting with me, there were plenty of colourful lights, and yet, at the same time, it was scary.”
When he delved into their lives, he discovered that they stayed in depressing conditions in slums, harassed by husbands or boyfriends, and a few had illegitimate children.
“For Chandni Bar, I used the colour green a lot,” he says. “Green is the colour of fertility. It is also the colour of poison, especially in mythology.” So, he used green filters and put green shades on the windows. “In some scenes, the green gives off a soothing look, while in others, it evokes fear,” he says. (For those who have not seen the film, there are several scenes featured on You Tube).
Apart from Chandni Bar, Rajeev has worked in Anurag Kashyap’s No Smoking and Gulal, Jana in Tamil and 10 films in Malayalam. Asked about the state of the Malayalam industry, he says, “For the people who run it – be it the distributors, the exhibitors and producers, it is just a business.” He says stars like Mammooty and Mohanlal are controlling the show. “They don’t want to take creative risks any more,” he says. “They are just trying to stay on top. And at the top, the aim is just money-making; only a hit counts, nothing else.”
But Rajeev is motivated by the desire to make classy films. Born and brought up in Kochi, he did his B. Sc. from Maharaja’s College. A passion for cinema was kindled in college and he admired the films of K.G. George, Ritwik Ghatak and Jean-Luc Godard. In 1994, he gained admission to the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. “It was one of the best experiences in my life,” he says. “The FTII has one of the best facilities in Asia.”
The stint in FTII has enabled him to make a mark, and he dazzled in director Lal Jose’s superhit, Classmates. “Rajeev is up to date with the latest technology,” says Jose. “He is a sweet person. You need somebody you can get along with, because, in the end, a cameraman is a director’s better half.”
As a director’s better half, does a cinematographer get complete freedom or does the director impose his vision? “It depends on the director,” says Rajeev. “There are some directors who are clear about the images they want.” He says that when he worked on a film by Girish Kasaravalli, the Kannada director would give clear instructions on where the camera should be placed, and the type of lens that should be used. “Then you are just a technician,” he says. “However, in 75 per cent of the films that I have worked in, I have been able to implement my vision.”
His vision must be good, because he has a growing legion of admirers. Says Chak De India director, Shimit Amin, who worked with Rajeev on an incomplete film, Let’s Catch Veerapan: “He is one of the brightest talents in Indian cinematography. Rajeev has a great eye, is sensitive to the story, and knows what is required of him.”
Assistant director Aubin Sebastian says: “Rajeev has a calm temperament. We worked together on The Bypass, which won an award at the London Film Festival in 2003. I learnt a lot from him.”
So what next? In February, 2008, Rajeev is going to start work on a Vishal Bharadwaj production, starring Pankaj Kapoor and Irfan Khan. So, for this low-key Malayali, who has already done a commendable body of work, the cinematic journey continues…
(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express)