Ravi K Chandran
Interviewer : Venkatesh | Camera : Maran | Text : Prathap | Coordination : Venkatesh
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Accomplished cinematographer Ravi K Chandran who has worked with legendary directors and artists in many film industries shares his experiences in the industry with behindwoods.com.

Dil Chahta Hai is a cult film

Dil Chahta Hai and experience working for a new director like Farhan Akhtar

There were two important movies at that time Devdas and Dil Chahta Hai. When I was offered both, I had an intuition that Dil Chahta Hai would work and I accepted the offer even though others questioned my decision. It was a young and modern film. I was drawn by the film and felt Farhan’s ideas new and refreshing. Now when I look back, Dil Chahta Hai has become a cult film. Even today when people come up to me with offers, they want their visuals to look like Dil Chahta Hai. And I tell them I was the one who did Dil Chahta Hai. That is the kind of influence of the movie. Rock On also is in some ways influenced by Dil Chahta Hai, you can say.

About the Bombay – Goa song

The title song of Dil Chahta Hai is a road trip from Bombay-Goa. We sourced ideas from people about travelling like that and rejected all those ideas to avoid clichés. We did not want a car commercial so we shot the song in a hand held camera to give it a candid feel. And it worked out well. Many tried the same manner of filming after that song came out.

The technical advancements you learnt in Bollywood

Until I started working in the movie I did not know who are Gaffer and Grip. There are lots of techniques not available in our movies but Bollywood has them. I learnt a lot of technical aspects from them. These were non-existent here and that knowledge made a difference in my working style. Since all the visuals were conceived by the creators, I knew what I have to do in the movie. It was very systematic work in Bollywood which helped in meeting the shoot schedule targets.

Rajeev Menon

I was an assistant with Rajeev Menon and he is my mentor, and he is also a good friend. He treats all his assistants as his friends and provides freedom. He is also someone who shares knowledge with all his colleagues. Even now if I have any doubts I will contact Rajeev Menon. Although he doesn’t do that many movies now he is still in touch with the industry and he is updated about everything. He also loves to teach. He is like an encyclopedia who is willing to share knowledge. I am going to work in an ad film with him and I’m excited to meet him. He has all the great qualities of a teacher and that I think is fantastic. All his assistants Rajasekhar, Ratnavel and many others come from his school of lighting.

When I have doubts I will

contact Rajeev Menon

Minsara Kanavu

Minsara Kanavu was initially started by cameraman Venu. He had other assignments to finish and I was roped in to finish the movie. Almost all the songs were shot by me except Vennilave song. So both our names were shared in the title cards. That movie was modern for its times in terms of style, costumes and color. Stars were fresh, young and vibrant. Everything worked for the movie. Kajol was during her Kuch Kuch Hota Hai period, Rahman’s music, Thotta Tharani’s set – everything was perfect in the movie. That movie is thought about even now after many years of its release for its visual splendor.

Kandukonden Kandukonden

Also Kandukonden Kandukonden that had all good looking stars. All the frames had one of the actors namely Mamooty, Ajith, Aishwarya Rai, Tabu or Srividya. Everybody was good looking. Good story and good music. Shankar Mahadevan won a national award for the movie and the movie was also shot in a very short span of time. Songs were shot in just one or two days but they were trendsetters. In fact, only after watching that movie Sanjay Leela Bansali approached me for Devdas.


Initially the plan was to shoot a movie called Bajirao Mastani. That script was being discussed but Bansali called up one day to express his idea of directing Black. He also mentioned that the movie has no songs and asked if I would like to be a part of it. I told him yes. We met and discussed about the story. I showed him a Mani Ratnam movie visual from Geetanjali, shot by P C Sriram. I suggested him that we could do something in that style – mist and smoke with shaft of light. He loved it and immediately worked in consultation with the art director to create huge windows. It’s very difficult to light up everything when the shoots are happening indoors. Bansali gave us enough freedom to explore things and experiment and the movie turned out to be visually striking.

Resool Pookkutty and Sabasayachi worked with me in the movie. All of them are incredible to work with. Amitabh Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee and Ayesha – everyone was fantastic in that film.

Ayesha asked Amitabh if he was


Tell us about Ayesha Kapoor of Black

Ayesha grew up in Auroville, Pondicherry. She has never seen films before she started acting in Black. Amitabh has the habit of rehearsing with his costars before the commencement of shoots and he wanted to do so with Ayesha. The girl was like, ‘Are you nervous? Is it your first movie?” Obviously she has no clue who she was acting with and Amitabh replied that he is not a newcomer. He narrated it to us and the next day he gifted Ayesha a coffee table book that had an extensive collection of photographs of his work with his autograph. After seeing it, she exclaimed, ‘Aren’t you bored to do the same work time and again in movies?” It was an interesting piece of conversation that brings out the innocence of Ayesha and the humility of Amitabh.

About Amitabh’s apology letter to you

Black released, ran successfully and we received many awards. Particularly in Filmfare awards I had two nominations – for Paheli and Black. At that time Mr. Bachan was in the hospital and the Filmfare awards was his first film event after he recovered. He won both the critics award and the popular film award. He was overwhelmed and mentioned the entire crew of Black. Out of oversight, he did not mention my name. After a month of this incident, I received a call from his office. He sent me a box of chocolates, bouquet and an apology letter of sorts explaining that he forgot to mention my name on stage. He also sent me the paper clippings of his interview with Mid-day where he has mentioned my work. He did not have to send an apology letter; just a phone call would have been enough. But he made it a point to go to this extent to make me feel important.

I did not know how to react to this and called up Abhishek to tell him the incident. Abhishek assured me that he would talk to his father and I can thank him the next time I meet Mr. Bachan. And then I had an opportunity to meet him on the sets of Cheeni Kum and told him how I felt after receiving his gesture. Earlier, I had received a handwritten appreciation letter from him for my award for Virasat. These two letters are precious to me and I have framed them.

Tell us about Saawariya

Saawariya is a fantasy film. It was shot entirely in sets. It is particularly difficult to shoot a movie totally indoors and it requires a lot of money. I was really happy to do that. Although the movie was not a success or received any awards, to date that work of mine attracts many folks in my profession. Only a cameraman knows how difficult it is to achieve the look of Saawariya. It is one of the most difficult and unrecognized films. A movie’s running at the box office is not a yardstick to measure how good the movie is. For instance, Raavanan and Iruvar did not do well in the box office but these movies have the finest of photography. To date I consider Saawariya to be one of my best films. Sets were all the biggest ones ever done for movies in India, especially indoors. We used latest lighting systems like space light, probably for the first time in India. We worked hard for about three months to test the systems and readied for shoots.

Saawariya is my best film

Bansali’s lyrical movie making will be visible in the movie. The meticulousness went into each shot will be visible in the movie. That is a huge quality of a movie. Bansali has music and pace for each scene in his mind and he is very particular about it. Since he is an editor himself, he has immense knowledge about how the scene should look. It’s incredible to work with him.

Mani Ratnam has very good

knowledge of photography

A director who gives prominence to photography

Mani Ratnam has very good knowledge of photography. He is the best among the lot. Next director who gives importance to photography is Sanjay Leela Bansali. Everybody else will be particular about the story but Bansali and Mani Ratnam are very particular about the visual qualities of their movies. In India, films that look visually rich are Bansali’s and Mani Ratnam’s films and I am lucky to have worked in 2 Bansali films and 3 Mani Ratnam films. It’s a rare honor to work with them. Black and Yuva were shot back to back. I think it’s an unbelievable combination to have worked with both the directors, one after the other.

About Mani Ratnam

I know Mani Ratnam for a long time, since the time I was an assistant. I know him from his Pagal Nilavu days. He also did a Malayalam movie called Unaru. My brother Ramachandra Babu was the cameraman for both these films and I was his assistant. That is when we were introduced to each other. Mani used to have a bike in those days. Although we are friends, after he became a big director we couldn’t meet like good old days since I was also busy with my projects.

I know Mani Ratnam from Pagal

Nilavu days

It was like replacing Tendulkar

He once called me from Australia when I was in the sets of Dil Chahta Hai. He wanted me to work for his Kannathil Muthamittal, which was earlier called Kudai. Although it was not a big budget movie, it was one of Mani Ratnam’s best movies. Visually also the movie is different from his other products. The biggest challenge while working for this movie was that I had to make the movie stand out from Mani’s other projects since he had earlier worked with legendaries such as P C Sriram, Santhosh Sivan and Rajeev Menon. It was like replacing Tendulkar for a match. But I approached the movie as I would approach any other movie. I wanted my cinematography to be different from these legendaries and I tried my style. When I was working for the movie, I thought I wasn’t matching up to their level of work. But after watching the first copy of the film, Mani congratulated me saying that my work looks good in the movie. After that I worked for Ayuda Ezhuthu and Yuva with him..


Shankar is a meticulous planner. He is a composed person who plans his work brilliantly. He never compromises on the quality of his movies. The amount of detailing he does for each of the frame is immense. It’s almost like working on an ad film. He is very patient and it’s surprising to note that a person with his kind of responsibility can be so collected. He is a saint. I hope to reach his level of composure someday. Although some of his ideas might sound a bit childish when they are narrated, they fetch applause in the theatres. He knows his audience quite well. He is one of the most respected commercial directors in India. He is like the James Cameroon of India. Same way, you can call Mani Ratnam the Martin Scorsese of India. Even though Mani is a little above 50, his movies will still be young with novel visuals and different editing style.

Shankar is the James Cameroon

of India and Mani Ratnam the

Martin Scorsese

Murugadoss is one of the finest

script writers in the country

Ezham Arivu

This is my second film with Murugadoss. He is one of the finest script writers we have in the country. He has an arresting sense of scripting. He thinks a lot before writing anything and there wouldn’t be a single change after he finishes writing. All his scripts are taut in his movies. Ezham Arivu is one of the best scripts he has written. It’s very unique and something never done before. This movie is of a genre, never attempted in Indian movies. It’s a rare film that will fit into all genres; science fiction, period, contemporary. It’s an unusual story and I’m really looking forward to watch it on big screen.


Suriya is the most humble, down to earth actor. He has no ego and is very confident about himself, without being intimidating to others. When Suriya comes to sets, you will feel good. His speaks a lot and I have never seen such eyes in any actors. I have heard so many actresses go gaga about Suriya in Bollywood. They say he’s the most handsome guy Indian cinema has seen. Such is his influence. I need not elaborate upon his acting capabilities; be it in Vaaranam Aayiram or in Gajini or in a commercial movie like Singam. He can slip into any role easily and puts in his sincere efforts to any of his projects. In Ezham Arivu I wanted his bare body shot for a song. He worked for about 15 days to get six-packs and I could shoot the song the way I wanted it. Such is his dedication.

Shruti Hassan

I know her since she was a child. She was a kid during our Marudanayagam days. I did not expect her to grow up so fast and work with me. She is a charming and multi-talented person. She is inclined to music and is educated as well. She tries hard to come out of her father’s shadow although she respects him immensely. She is a hard worker and great dancer. I did not know about her dancing skills until I shot a song for Ezham Arivu. I was impressed. Her role in the movie is of greater importance. It’s going to be a milestone in her career. What Gajini did to Asin, this movie will do that to her.

What Gajini did to Asin, 7am

Arivu will do the same to Shruthi

Working for Ezham Arivu

Although there are period scenes in the movie, we did not take it in yellow tint as is customary. I do not know why it is a practice. Not that in those days everything was yellow. It’s actually unreasonable and you don’t have to do that. For instance Brave Heart, the entire movie has natural color and not yellow. So in Ezham Arivu there won’t be any difference in lighting in period scenes or regular scenes.

Peter Hein

Peter Hein’s stunts are unbelievable in movies like Endhiran and Anniyan. He is a dedicated professional and does all the risky scenes himself. He does even the trial scenes and not let his assistant do it. He is completely into his profession and his energy is very infectious. He is a gifted person.

I play Ezham Arivu songs on my

iPhone all the time

Songs of Ezham Arivu

This is my first work experience with Harris Jeyaraj although I know him for a long time. He has even scored a Chinese song for the movie and outdid his work for Gajini. I have the songs on my iPhone and play it all the time.

Favorite cinematographer in India

Subrato Mitra, Ashok Mehta, K K Mahajan, A K Bir and Binod Pradhan in North Indian cinema. In south India, A Vincent, P S Loganath who used to work in Balachander’s movies, Nivas, Balumahendra, P C Sriram who created a revolution, Santhosh Sivan, Jeeva, K V Anand, Rajasekhar, Ravivarman and Manikandan. In the current generation, I like Velmurugan, Balasubramanian, Kadir, Madhie and Manoj Paramahamsa. I have all time respect for Rajeev Menon; he is also my guru so not included in the list, and of course my brother.

There are a lot of youngsters whose work I like a lot. I hope they continue their consistent work. For instance, I liked Myna’s camerawork. A new wave is sweeping the Tamil cinema and with it many new talents are coming. I hope they continue their good work. It’s like playing a cricket match. You have to be consistent to get selected in subsequent matches. Working for movies is a bit like that. Your fitness, your consistent work matters a lot. You have to practice and work a lot. Cinematography is an evolving art, which grows on a daily basis. Read a lot about new technologies to last in the industry.

About DI

Refusing to adopt DI is like refusing to use mobile phone. This is a tool and a new stage of evolution. If you do not want to embrace it, you will be left behind. When was the last time you bought films and took photos? At least 10 years? We have moved to digital age. So why not movies in digital?

Favorite actors

Amir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Suriya and Ajith who is also a good friend ever since our Kandukonden days. He is one of the handsome actors in Tamil.

Shah Rukh Khan

What’s special about Shah Rukh is the fact that he remembers everybody’s name in the unit. He interacts with everybody on the sets personally. For instance, my wife’s birthday and SRK’s birthday falls on the same date. He remembers that every year and sends me messages on that day, wishing her a happy birthday. He has never even met my wife but he remembers it. I found that quality in him very charming.

SRK’s few qualities are very


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