"All kinds of films will work"

Updated: Aug 31 2008, 08:51am hrs
When you think of Santosh Sivan, you think colour. As cinematographer of Mani Ratnams finest works, Roja and Dil Se, Sivan showed off his visual sensibilities to the world. His work is both dramatic and aesthetic, a little bit of sin, and a little of Zen, as Sivan himself likes to put it. As director, he has given us a varied platter, from Halo to Terrorist to Asoka. Sivan is currently busy with Tahaan, shot in the Kashmir Valley, and period film Before the Rains (BTR), shot in Munnar, Kerala. In an email interview, Sivan tells Sudipta Datta about shooting in the Kashmir Valley, how Kerala shaped his cinematic vision and the fantasy film he is working on. Excerpts:

The Kashmir Valley has flared up again. What did you notice about the people around you while shooting Tahaan

Of course, there was ample security, but filming in Dalser village was quite peaceful. Being winter, the village folks would turn up in large numbers to watch the shoot, and we had many of them working and acting in the film. We also filmed a race with the mules and a donkey, and it was fun to see all of them cheering the donkey which was really trying to match the mules. It was a lot of fun, we had Anupam Kher who would engage the locals with jokes in Kashmiri, and leave them in splits.

Two of your films set for release have been shot in the north (Kashmir) and south (Munnar) of the country, one your own turf, the other alien. Share the challenges you faced in both.

Well, one, Kerala is tranquil and quiet especially, Munnar, where we shot BTR, is beautiful with its tea plantations. There has been care not to upset its eco system since independence. Kashmir, on the other hand, is truly majestic in all seasons, and it was lovely capturing the first snowfall, where the brown is sprinkled with the whiteness.

How difficult was it to shoot BTR, considering the fact that its a period film

BTR was easy to film, since the locations still had houses, and a setting that used to exist years ago. So it was almost as if the same spaces were revisited for filming.

Your films are usually a riot of colour. Is it because you grew up in Kerala that you are so drawn to colour

The visual influences of Kerala since childhood did influence my palette. Perhaps thats the reason why magazines like The American Society of Cinematographers are drawn to films like the Terrorist and BTR, and feature it prominently in their issues which have a global readership, and also discuss in detail the artistic and technical aspects of cinematography.

How was it working with an international crew in BTR

I think international crews are fun, especially when its a mix and match. Since I had worked in English films as a director of photography, I am aware of their working methods. Even in Tahaan, filming in Kashmir, we had Paul Schwartz, our sound man, doing elaborate recordings with the local Sufi singers almost converting the Valley into a huge sound studio.

Do you think the audience now demands quality cinema

All kinds of films will work, especially the ones with mass appeal. Thanks to the multiplexes opening up avenues for all kinds of cinema to be seen.

Who are your favourite cinematographers

I have learnt a lot from the work of the cinematographers of yesteryears, like the late Subroto Mitra who did photography for Satyajit Ray. Their observations and the integrity in their work inspires you and also gives you a platform to build from.

Is there any film you have done in the past you wish youd do differently now

All of them. Normally after everydays work, your mind is always searching for options you may have missed.