Nikhil S. Praveen's journey has been an incredible one. The former wedding videographer-turned-cinematographer is still trying to process his remarkable success. A few days back, Nikhil was honoured with a National Award for his work in Jayaraj's new film, Bhayanakam. The film, which also won two more National awards (Best Direction and Best Adapted Screenplay, both for Jayaraj), is Nikhil's first full-length feature film.
First of all, congratulations on the award. How does it feel to win a National Award for your first film itself?
I didn't expect the award at all. It's an incredible feeling.
How did you get into films? And how did you meet Jayaraj?
Well, I used to do some short films and documentaries here and there. I did the camera work for one of the short films that is part of the anthology film, Crossroad. This short, Kodeshyan, was directed by Pradeep Nair, and it was after that I met Jayaraj. He was impressed by my work in it.
I heard that you were a wedding videographer before you got into films. Were you interested in filmmaking from a young age?
Yes, I became a wedding videographer after I finished my high school. I mostly specialised in candid shots. I was very much into photography and filmmaking from an early age and then after school, decided to shoot some short films and documentaries.
Bhayanakam being a period film set during World War-II, did you shoot the film on digital? If yes, what's your take on the format?
Well, I feel that digital is much easier to handle as opposed to film, especially when you're doing reshoots. That would be quite a challenge when shooting on film. Plus, you find it much easier to move around with digital. It saves you a lot of headache.
In Hollywood, we have seen some of the period films shot on digital look impressive while some others, not so much. In some cases, the digital look becomes so evident. Don't you think that for such films, it's more appropriate to use film, given its texture?
As much as I love working in the digital format, I can't deny that film is incomparable. There is a reason why some of the big directors in Hollywood shoot on film. Film is special, and you can't fully replicate its look on digital. But sometimes when you're dealing with time and budget constraints, it's better to use digital. It all depends on what the director wants. With Bhayanakam, Jayaraj was clear from the very beginning about which format he wanted to use.
Can you talk about the preparation you did before you began shooting? Did you look at any films, photographs or literature from that era?
We did a lot of research on Kuttanad (where it was shot) -- the history of the place, the geography, the people, how the war affected them etc. The film is set in the 1930s, and given that it's based on Thakazhi Sivashankara Pillai's novel Kayar, I had to read it to familiarise myself with Kuttanad's history.
There are some directors that don't do storyboards and figure everything out later. Do you find it easier to work on a film that has a finished storyboard, or do you read the script and plan the lighting and shots later?
With Bhayanakam, I didn't require a storyboard. Everything was in the script. I could see all the details in my head. So a storyboard wasn't really needed. I didn't have any difficulty photographing those details later.
About the use of colour in this film -- is it true that two different colour palettes were used?
Yes. The main character, played by Renji Panicker, is a postman. The first half of the film carries a positive vibe; he is a bearer of positive news -- everything is pleasant. But when World War-II happens, he has to deliver the news of the soldiers' deaths to their parents. The mood of the film changes drastically after that, and so we dialed down the saturation and used a sort of ashen colour to convey all this gloom around him.