For noted cinematographer Madhu Ambat, his third National Award for Best Cinematography — Adaminte Makan Abu (Malayalam), due for release in Kerala this Friday and a week later in Chennai — is not just another achievement but also an experience of a different kind.
“Not many people know, that I have also missed a National Award at least eight times in my career. First time, I had missed it by just one vote. A National Award in cinematography can be given as many as four times. There are cinematographers who have also achieved this,” says Ambhat. His first National Award was in 1984 for Adi Sankaracharya, a Sanskrit film and the second one in 2006 for Srirangam, a Tamil film.
He has also been included in Guinness Book of World Records for having worked on the maximum number of languages as a cinematographer. “I’ve worked in nine languages. It’s an honour to be included in the World Records,” he smiles.
Noted for his work in one of Mani Ratnam’s classic Tamil films, Anjali (1990), the last Tamil film Madhu Ambat had cranked the camera for was Thoovanam (2007). Why the gap? “I wanted to work in different genres of films. It’s also one of the ways to use different technologies in cinematography,” he explains. Ambhat is currently working on Thirupangal, a Tamil thriller film, starring Nanda and Andrea.
“It was after a gap of nearly 12 years that I did a Malayalam film, Adaminte Makan Abu. Shot using D-21 camera, it’s the first digital film to win a National Award in cinematography. But now, I juggle between big budget and medium budget films because the challenges are different,” he adds. “For instance, in a project like Hisss (2010), I could use as many as 15 HMI PAR lights, each of which costs `3,000 per shift and a one-time cost would be not less `8 lakhs.”
But Ambat also adds that the job of a cinematographer is still as stressful, despite the technological advances in the field. “Before mixers and grinders were invented, batter for idli or dosa was still being made manually, using stone mortars. But today, the procedure may be faster, but the core methodology still remains the same. There is never a compromise on the artist’s front with regards to his work. That’s why creation is traumatic,” he elaborates.
But there’s more to him than the cinematographer that we know him for, his directorial and scripting side. After his directorial debut in 1:1.6 An Ode to Lost Love (2004), Ambat now has two film scripts ready, waiting to take shape. “I am looking for producers as of now. Black Moon is a script for which I had a conversation with Priyanka Chopra because I feel only she fits the role. The protagonist is an actress who believes that only material success can bring her happiness,” he explains.
The next one he calls, The Death of Madhu Ambat – A Requiem to Lost Love. “Madhu Ambat here does not refer to me, but an artist whose characters from his own script make his life difficult. Very often, what we see may not be real, but we think it is so just because it’s there. This film is about that,” he says.