The reclusive Rajeev Ravi was not present at the start-studded Filmfare awards ceremony held in Mumbai on February 27. He was in Kochi. “I did not find it important enough to attend,” he says. It was an unusual decision. He was one among five who were in the running for the best cinematographer award. Rajeev won the award for the best cinematographer for his work on ‘Dev D’. Actors Purab Kohli and Udita Goswami presented the award to the film’s director Anurag Kashyap, who accepted it on Rajeev’s behalf. “The narrative, the characters, and the situations are new to Indian cinema. I was inspired by the vision of Anurag,” Rajeev says about ‘Dev D’. The film is a modern-day version of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Bengali novel ‘Devdas’. The unusual aspect of Rajeev’s work in ‘Dev D’ is that he used very little artificial light.
“More than half the film was filmed in natural light. The street shots and the ATM counters that were shown in the film were shot with whatever natural light that was available.” Rajeev has been on the periphery of Bollywood for the past several years. And it is a deliberate decision on his part. “I don’t do films where there are superstars. You are not allowed to implement your creative vision. The director, the stars and the producers all have their say. They don’t want to know your ideas.” So Rajeev has been selective.
Being comfortable with Anurag who allowed him creative freedom, Rajeev has worked in most of his films including his latest - ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots’ - which is in the post-production stage. The rest include ‘No Smoking’ and ‘Gulaal’.
Some of the other films Rajeev worked on include the critically-acclaimed ‘Chandni Bar’, ‘Jana’ in Tamil, and several films in Malayalam including ‘Rasikan’, ‘Shesham’, ‘Chakram’ and Lal Jose’s superhit, ‘Classmates’.
“Rajeev is up-to-date with the latest technology,” says Lal Jose. “He is a sweet person. You need somebody with whom you can get along because in the end, a cameraman is a director’s better half.” Asked to comment on the state of the Malayalam industry, Rajeev says, “One or two superstars are controlling the show. They don’t want to take creative risks any more. They are just trying to stay on top. At that level, the aim is just money-making. Only a hit counts. Nothing else.” For Rajeev, creative fulfillment is more important than money. He got interested in a film career when he watched the films of K G George, Ritwik Ghatak and Jean-Luc Godard, while doing his BSc from Maharaja’s College, Kochi. In 1994, he gained admission to the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) at Pune. “It was one of the best experiences of my life. The FTII has one of the most excellent facilities in Asia.” Rajeev has been imparting the knowledge he has gained to aspirants. Last week, he conducted a five-day course in cinematography at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata.
His tips for beginners: A cinematographer has to make real the vision of the director. To do this well, he should have a keen imagination. He should also be a good observer of life. Apart from that, he must be a good human being and have loads of self-belief.
Self-belief is what Rajeev has in plenty. It is this quality that has enabled him to be one of the few Malayalis to win the prestigious Filmfare Award. Well done, Rajeev!