Cinematographer Nirav Shah
Interviewer : Inian & Jyothsna Bhavanishankar | Camera : Rijeesh | Coordination : Venkatesh | Text : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar
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Cinematographer Nirav Shah is responsible for the stylized visuals of Billa and Sarvam. He transported us to 1947 Madras, in a way far beyond reality, in a dream like fashion in Madhrasapattinam and came out trumps with the spoof flick Tamizh Padam. Easily, the most sought after lens man of tinsel town, Nirav talks to Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar and Inian about his Diwali release Va-Quarter Cutting and myriad other interesting subjects.

How did you get into cinematography?

I have always been interested in cinema, not cinematography as such and that happened by chance. I had to choose between becoming a director and a cameraman. I tend to get bored very easily and I don’t think I would have worked very long as an assistant director. Hence I decided to be a cameraman.

How do you choose your films?

I choose movies depending on the person who is directing it and the script. I try to see if it is different from the regular stuff or if it is a commercial film, then I see how well the story can be narrated in an interesting manner. For me, director plays an important part in choosing my film. I have to be comfortable with the director because you spend almost 70-80 days of your life with a person and I would like it to be a happy experience.

Did you treat the cinematography of Tamizh Padam differently from conventional ones?

I look for cues in the script to decide on the cinematography; I look at the script to tell me how it wants to be shot. Then I am looking at what ideas the director has for his film. Eventually, the cinematography comes from all these factors.

Cinematography of Tamizh Padam was different in the sense that we wanted to match the lighting and the framing of this film with the older film (being spoofed). For instance, if you look at the scene from Boys, we found the same spot on the wall; we created the same kind of shadows to match with what was done in Boys. Similarly, we tried to match lighting and other features of Dalapathi, Mouna Ragam etc. as much as possible.

For other films, it was different. For Billa, we wanted to mount on a different scale; an aesthetic look for Sarvam and so on. Madharaspattinam had to be on a very grand scale. We wanted to create a period feel so that audience feels they are actually in a different era.

Challenges in Madhrasapattinam and the tone adapted

In Madhrasapattinam, we did not want it to look as though it was shot yesterday. We wanted to create 1947 Chennai to transport the audience to that era. Hence we gave a slightly older kind of look. It is the usual norm in such instances to go for the sepia look but we were not for it and hence we went for a slightly desaturated tone and muted colors. As it was a love story, a heavy tone for the film was not required as it would have misfired. We were also clear that the CG of the film should be world class as it was a period film and were keen that the audiences also feel that way. I think, to a larger extent, we have succeeded in it.

Your association with Pushkar-Gayatri- Oram Po and Va-QC

Va-QC is my second film with Pushkar-Gayatri after Oram Po which was one super fun ride. Working with Pushkar-Gayatri is like a holiday; it’s not like working at all. I like their dialogues and the way they write and their whole approach to a film. On top of all this, they are very good friends. Oram Po was a fun film to work with and so was Va-QC. It was like going to a party. The film has fun elements and it’s not like we were shooting something serious and are partying outside. The film itself was like party.

Working with Pushkar-Gayatri is

like a holiday

You will see different facets of

Madras in Va-QC

Your special touches in Va-QC?

I hope the comedy is coming through to the audience. The film was shot at nights as the entire film was set in one night and shot all over Madras. You will see different facets of Madras in Va-QC. We have slightly given it over the top look. There is one chase sequence which I really like which would surely be the highlight of the film.

Experience with Ajith in Billa

Working with Ajith was like a breeze. He has absolutely no hang ups and does not behave like a star. Ajith is one of the kindest human beings I have ever met.

Working with Ajith was like a


Plans for Billa 2?

Right now, I am not even thinking of it. It is on and we would be starting work next year. We have not decided on what kind of a look or anything like that. It is too early to talk.

You got state award for Billa. Do you think this would have pressure on you in Billa 2?

There is no pressure because of this. I was not expecting an award for Billa and it was a pleasant surprise. I don’t think the award is adding any pressure on my work. We are just going to do what is right for the film.

Working with Vijay in Pokkiri

Working with Vijay was a good experience and it was fun. I liked Prabhu Deva’s brand of humor and his way of making a film.

I was committed to Vishnu

Endhiran had come to you first, any specific reason for not selecting it?

I was committed to Vishnu and Sarvam. Endhiran and Sarvam were supposed to be made during the same time and as I wanted to honor my commitment, I could not take up Endhiran.

You have worked quite a lot with Arya. Any comment?

I have done around 5-6 films with Arya and I am tired of him. I don’t want to work with Arya anymore. But, personally, I feel he is the best looking actor in the industry right now and he is got an amazing physique. From Arindum Ariyamalum, we have been working together and now I think we will again be teaming up for Lingusamy’s film. It is going to be more of the same for both of us.

I don’t want to work with Arya


Who is the most beautiful actress today (through your lens)?

I think all of them look good not just through my lens but even otherwise. To name a few, Chithrangada Singh, Priya Mani, Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen.

I had a big problem shooting

Tamizh Padam

Most challenging project

Every project has been a challenge which has come out with its own set of problems. Problem solving has been fun though. A huge challenge is yet to come, something that cannot be solved or something I need to really work on. I had a big problem shooting Tamizh Padam because I had to keep the camera steady while I was laughing behind it. Besides that, everything can be shot, there is no big issue.

You have worked in Bollywood and Kollywood. Can you compare?

In the films that I have worked, the working styles have been very similar. In Bollywood, they give a little bit more importance to looks, costumes and make up. This trend is slowly filtering over here too. Otherwise I don’t see any big difference.

A director you want to work with

Mani Ratnam.

Favorite contemporary cinematographer

There are many. I like the work of Ravi Varman, Randy, P S Vinod, Balu, R D Rajashekhar, Kadir and so on.

Which movie had the best cinematography in recent times?

I like the look of Eeram and Pasanga.

How is the overall scene in Indian cinematography?

It is very good and it is getting there. In Kollywood, there are specialized people working for every aspect but here, the cameraman takes charge of everything. However, the specialization is slowly coming in here too. I think in terms of cinematography we have always been there. Subrato Mithra was an awesome cameraman who has got fans all over the world. V K Murthy is an out of the world cameraman.

What should an aspiring cinematographer do?

I think they should watch a lot of films and start shooting on their own.

Any good training institute in Chennai?

Of course there are good training institutes and one should go to the right one. It certainly makes a difference. And one should also get a field experience. After that you are on your own. But personally, I feel, one day of shooting can teach you more than two years of training. So if you get a chance to shoot something and make mistakes, go ahead. But make mistakes as early as possible and then keep eliminating them.

Make mistakes as early as


What about the film studio that you are building?

It is on hold and there is no movement right now.

On the still photography emerging today in the film world-Venkat Ram and Dream cast Karthik’s work

Oh, it is very good and industry is a very welcoming place. Venkat and Karthik’s work are very good and we should very definitely attract the best talent.

Any direction plans?

Right now, there are no plans to direct.

Is there a difference between the terms -cameraman, cinematographer and director of photography?

It is just the name; in Kollywood, they are called Director of Photography. Here it used to be cameraman and now it is cinematographer. Finally, the job that is being done is the same and the name does not matter.

How do you prefer to be called?

I don’t care really! I only care about my films running and I want people to like my films. I don’t care even if my name is not there in the title.

How do you feel when the film that you have worked so hard does not do well?

I get extremely disappointed and angry and go into bad mood for months. There is so much of work put together by so many people for so many months. And this is not a job that you report every day. The amount of passion and commitment that goes into a film is huge. And after investing much energy and being emotionally involved with the film, if it does not work, that upsets me enormously.

Special look in Va-QC?

We have gone for a very over the top look for Va-QC. We did not want it looking real. It was a big departure for me. We have gone for strong reds and greens through out the film. We have gone for mad people in the film. Everyone is mad and every person they come across is also crazy. And Va-QC also has a strong message- if you like and want something, go behind it and you will get it. Even if what you like is not available on a dry day, you can still try it and you will get it.

Tags : Nirav Shah, Pushkar-Gayatri, Ajith, Tamizh Padam, Vishnu, Arya
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