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Sanu John Varughese: The camera is an extension of my personality

The cinematographer-turned-director discusses his directorial debut ‘Aarkkariyam'

Cinematographer Sanu John Varghese, known for films such as Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon, Karthik Calling Karthik, Vishwaroopam, Wazir, Badhai Ho and Lootcase, has made his directorial début with the recently-released Malayalam film, Aarkkariyam.

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The film, which he directed and co-wrote, stars Biju Menon, Sharafudheen and Parvathy Thiruvothu.

Sanu speaks to MetroPlus about two topics close to his heart: Aarkkariyam and cinematography.

Edited excerpts:

What is Aarkkariyam about?

It is about three people following their religious convictions. The story follows a couple who live in Mumbai with their child. It is the second marriage for both of them. They return to their ancestral home, which is on a large property and isolated. Over time they realise, the more deeper you dig, the more disruption one finds.

As a cinematographer, how differently do you see the world around you?

Sanu John Varughese: The camera is an extension of my personality

Light is an element and provides the mood for every story that is told. So, as a cinematographer, you tend to look out for this more than the others because that is what you primarily work with.

You consciously become aware of the varied kinds of lights around you. It becomes part of your life, your body. Cinematography is something like that. The camera is an extension of your own personality.

Aarkkariyam too has the landscape and the interior parts of Kerala where I grew up. Hence, the film captures the light, colours and mood that I have seen in reality.

You have worked with Kamal Haasan and Farhan Akhtar. How is it to work with people with such varied ideologies?

Any of these creative fields provide leads to creative collaborations, even before you start making the film. It gets easier with people who share a similar taste and intellect. It an equation of taste and collaboration. A cinematographer adapts to these aspects of every team. That, for me, is one of the basic characteristics of a cinematographer. The challenge is to understand someone else's vision and it to life on screen.

Cinematography, for me, is about telling a story through visuals. Certain films demand a certain kind of a drama, while others demand realism.

So as cinematographer, I need to keep that as my primary concern rather than create an identity for myself as someone who creates great visuals. If the latter happens, it is not good as the primary goal of narrating a story. The trick is to be as less visible as possible behind the camera.

You have worked in Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam films. Any Kannada film in the offing?

I am open to it. As of now, nothing has come up. If a story gives me scope for strong visuals, then why not? I also feel a certain amount of understanding the language becomes crucial for everyone involved in the making.

How have digital platforms changed filmmaking?

You learn to tell stories in a different way. With OTT, you do not have a captive audience, as in, one who has paid money to watch something for three hours. You can take this audience to the edge of boredom because, once inside the theatre, he is not going to get up and walk off. But, not so with OTT.

You need to hold the person's attention, caught in the middle of his many activities. We have to get their attention despite that. So, it is a challenge.

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