Sandalwood, which seemed to have confined itself in a cocoon, following age-old methods of filmmaking and depending almost entirely on its heroes, heroines and their demands, has come of age. With sophisticated processes of filmmaking and onus on visual effects, the role of the cinematographer has suddenly gained significance.
Earlier, when director Puttana Kanagal narrated unforgettable stories with emphasis on cinematography, he was much ahead of time, because then most filmmakers and even the audience preferred huge and spectacular indoor set-ups. But today, the audience is mature and they have started understanding the magic that a cinematographer's lens can bring to the screen.
According to director Vijay Prasad, the relation of a cinematographer and a director is like that of a husband and wife. "It is the cinematographer who gets associated with the director before the film, in the making and even during post-production stages. The chemistry between the director and cinematographer should be strong, to get the film into good shape," he said.
For cameraperson, Sathya Hegde, cinematography depends on the presentation, budget and style. He said, "Till some time ago, Kannada cinema usually concentrated on the hero and their demands, and then came the subject. Though technically we were doing well, the audience ignored the visual part and mainly looked at the hero and the heroine. It all started with a musical hit, Mungaru Male, when cinegoers were curious to know how the song was captured. We did have good old films made by Puttana Kanagal which were excellent motion-picture photography but then in between we had lot of remakes and other issues and the trend was lost."
Today Sathya is excited because the market is quite open. "Producers are coming forward and liberally spending on bringing down the latest technology like the new cranes, equipments, remote machines, which was not the case few years ago," he added.
For a few directors, it can be a game changer like how Mungaru Male changed Yograj Bhat's career. The film was also appreciated for S Krishna cinematography. "Mungaru Male was just one part. In terms of technicality, today, I can rate Kannada films on par with other industries. Earlier we had a huge gap. We couldn't afford the latest technology like the other industries did. Only thing that now needs to be done is upgradation in single screen theatres," said Krishna.
According to Krishna, the current set of cinematographers are experts in the field. "Most of them come with good educational background and from good film institutes. You can't get into the battlefield with swords when your opposite team is holding armed rifles. Gladly, it is not the same case anymore. We are confident enough to compete with other language films. Especially, post films like Mungaru Male and Duniya, the producers have gained confidence that they can get back their money with a neat and good presentation. Filmmakers have understood the importance of cinematography," he said.
Sathya, who is still receiving praise for his visual treat in Mynaa, feels that he still has a lot to learn. "I was inspired by Santosh Sivan and PC Sreeram. If not for them, South Indian cinema would never have got national attention," said Sathya, who also admitted that Mungaru Male became the trendsetter.
"From then on, there was a lot of competition in terms of visuals and I am happy to note that it has been continuing,” he said.
Explaining the importance of cinematography, Vijay states that it is one of the main pillars in the movie, which has no language. "We have films where there are dialogues and then you have a film like Pushpaka Vimana, a silent movie or the latest English film, The Artist, which was made in black and white. In these cases, it is the marvel of cinematography which gives life to films. I consider cinematography like the heartbeat. If the beat stops then everything else will collapse," said Vijay who has observed the transformation in Kannada industry.
"There was a time when people were thrilled when they saw the film being done in indoor sets. Later, we came out of it and started getting outdoors. Today, films are shot in remote areas, in villages, towns, cities and even abroad. More or less, it has become a challenge for the cinematographer to get to a location," he explained.
According to Sathya, it is not just the technical aspect, but the team work also which matters. He says, "It is not only the budget, but what matters is the entire crew. Only money doesn't bring in a good film. As far as cinematography goes, the entire crew should push themselves to capture the best," he said.