You may not have heard his name but you must have surely seen some of his films. A prolific cinematographer and director, Sujith Vaassudev is known for working on hits like Drishyam (and its Tamil remake Papanasam), Memories, Ezra, and Punyalan Agarbattis.
He made his debut as cinematographer 8 years ago with Chekavar. He won the Kerala State Film Award for best cinematography for Memories and Ayaal. In 2016, he made his directorial debut with James and Alice. Vaassudev is back with another directorial venture titled Autorsha, in which Anusree Nair plays an autorickshaw driver.
What's interesting about the film, apart from its novel concept, is that Vaassudev has designed a special camera rig which he calls "Autorsha 360". He talks at the length about this innovative idea and the film in general.
Excerpts from an interview:
Is Anusree's character based on someone you came across?
Anusree's character is not based on a real life character exactly. Let's just say that what you see in the film resembles real life. This is something that actually happened to a real life person but she was not an auto driver.
We just took that incident and transplanted it in the life of this character who happens to be an autorickshaw driver. And to make the story more cinematic and accessible to the audience, we brought more characters in.
For the common man’s eyes an auto driver is a daily sight.
So far no Malayalam film has featured a female auto driver as a central character. We have seen them show up in other films but not to this extent, and not throughout the entire film.
Does the film discuss some socially relevant issues?
The script was written with the intention of discussing some socially relevant issues. We encounter several characters in the film -- people in other autos, in tea stalls and police stations; we explore the differences between the people in the town area and the village area; and we discuss the depth of romance -- how different is the new generation romance from the old generation romance. Through the lens of Anusree's character, we peek into the lives of other characters.
Tell us about the locations.
We shot the film mostly in and around Kannur. I thought this subject would be more apt given Kannur’s political history. Though Autorsha is not exactly a political film, politics is definitely present in the background. When you are telling a timely story, politics naturally finds a way into the conversation.
Any big names in the supporting cast?
Apart from Anusree, the rest of the cast is mostly made up of newbies. We conducted an audition in Kannur and Kasargode areas. I initially thought of casting my friends but since this is a story told in Kannur, we needed people who could speak that language well. When we did the audition, we found that 75% of the actors were immensely talented, but we were able to cast only 35 % of them.
This "Autorsha 360" sounds like an exciting idea. What compelled you to come up with it?
80% of this film takes place inside an auto-rickshaw. And given that its such a small vehicle, we had to figure out a way to capture the communication between those sitting in the front and those sitting in the back. The usual approach is to use two cameras to capture their reactions. In this case, however, we managed to get past our technical limitations. Usually, a camera rig is attached to a vehicle to move around it. As we felt that this approach was amateurish and repetitive, we thought of it. We could’ve actually gone with that approach but we didn’t.
A similar technology was used by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki in Children of Men. But what they did was a more expensive method. As we didn't have that kind of budget, we wanted to try out a less expensive method. But at the same time we didn’t want to do it in a flat manner. So I did some research on this for a while. How can we effectively capture the expressions of characters sitting inside a tiny vehicle? We can't do that through a wide shot. Also, how do we move the camera close to them?
We had some conditions: It shouldn’t be a static shot; it should feel original; and it shouldn’t be a fabricated shot. So I discussed this with a friend of mine who was capable of doing more than what you ask of him. So we were watching the making of Children of Men and finally after a bunch of discussions, we finally figured out a way to do it. And we named our rig "Autorsha 360". The camera we used is a Red Helium. We bought an auto-rickhsaw and modified it -- we took off the top and attached a rig on top. It took us 4-5 months to figure out everything. But when we finally made it, filming took close to 20 days. The entire film took around 2 months.