'Found it almost impossible to see the artists': 'O2' cinematographer Thamizh

When I came across this script in 2019, it was a story that happened inside a car, with fewer characters. The idea was great, but not dramatic enough. It evolved gradually.”
Nayanthara, Cinematographer Thamizh on the sets of 'O2'
Nayanthara, Cinematographer Thamizh on the sets of 'O2'

O2 may not have been the toast of film audiences, but the survival thriller is still an intriguing attempt about a group of passengers getting buried underground after the bus they were traveling in gets affected by a landslide. The film, which got released on Disney+ Hotstar recently, was originally supposed to be set in a car, reveals its cinematographer Thamizh. “Director GS Viknesh is a long-term friend, and we have done short films. When I came across this script in 2019, it was a story that happened inside a car, with fewer characters. The idea was great, but not dramatic enough. It evolved gradually.”

Once Thamizh got the bound script from Viknesh, he began to work on the visual script of the film. “The script had already travelled to many known artists and producers, from Samantha to Manju Warrier, and I was told even Karan Johar had taken a look. The question was, how would we shoot this film? We put a lot of effort into the pre-production paperwork with an eye on the many layers of the script,” he adds.

The film spends time establishing the characters and their respective motivations before the eventual tragedy occurs. “The early portions are static, and we use the time to establish the rainy weather in Kerala. From then on, the lighting, drama, and color palette change. We maintained a green tint overall in the film, partly because we also wanted to convey a message about the environment.”

The big challenge concerning this script was shooting inside confined spaces. “I enjoy travelling by bus, and I’m well-connected with bus operators. We got in touch with bus-body builders to understand the make of vehicles that travel in hilly regions, as not all of them are designed to manage high altitudes.” During the pre-visualisation stage, even smaller details like bus roofing and aisle-seating height were worked on. “We even took into consideration the number of seats, bulbs, and foot lamps (that are often not found in buses), which would serve as sources of light,” he says.

Speaking further on the lighting, Thamizh talks about the film being shot in low lighting. “There was never any doubt that the event would happen at night, as that’s when the drama feels elevated, and furthermore, buses to Kerala are mostly plied at night. During the pitch-black moments, I found it almost impossible to see the artists. And so, we made sure that Nayanthara wore a yellow costume. Her son too wears something complementary.”

The film is also marked by all the tight close-up shots that aim to drum in the feeling of entrapment. “There are a few wide shots too, but we largely avoided them and opted for tighter shots,” he adds. The cinematographer, who has worked on films like Manmadha Leelai, talks about the main difference between shooting films for OTT platforms and movie theatres. “Manmadha Leelai was shot for OTT but got released on the big screen. Though we shot full-frame, cinemascope was used in theatres. For OTT films, we can shoot full frames because you can see the full image on the devices you watch. With O2, had we gone for full-frame shots, the VFX costs might have increased. Also, the claustrophobic nature of the shots would come down too.”

With environment conservation being an important theme in O2, the cinematographer talks about the usage of natural lighting in the film. Thamizh also speaks of the work he has done for Pa Ranjith’s segment in the upcoming anthology, Victim. “It is a 30-odd-minutes story set in a field, and we shot it with natural light and there was no generator on the spot either. Technically, outdoor shoots use light to maintain brightness in shots and continuity. But here, I did not use any lights, as the field was an open area and we have also incorporated the change in sunlight,” he reveals. “Ultimately, it’s about fulfilling the needs of a story.”

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The New Indian Express