He says working in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi cinema throws up fresh challenges and keeps him on his toes
A coastal village on the shores of the Arabian sea is where Ahammadali Sulaiman (Fahadh Faasil) grows up to become Malik. As the camera pans the picturesque landscape, it takes in densely packed shanties, country boats and places of worship that shape the lives of people living there. The frames eloquently paint the character’s background in Mahesh Narayanan’s Malik.
For cinematographer-filmmaker Sanu John Varghese, it was this challenge of capturing the multi-layered narrative that makes Malik special for him.
“It is different from the stereotypical, male-centric Malayalam films that focus on the hero and his transformation over a period of time into a one-man army righting the wrongs done to him in the past. In some ways, Malik has the same thread but never once does Sulaiman turn into a muscle-flexing macho man. Moreover, the women have significant roles to play. Malik navigates through believable incidents and characters,” says Sanu.
Sanu and Mahesh began working together during the latter’s directorial debut, Take Off. “We have been friends for long, it is a symbiotic relationship. He sends me his scripts and I send him mine. We discuss cinema, stories, themes…That helps us understand and communicate what we have in mind for a scene or a character. When two people visualise on the same lines, it is easier to collaborate,” says Sanu.
Nevertheless, there were arguments about how certain scenes were to be filmed and what would keep viewers engaged till the end credits. Since Malik was mounted on a large canvas, it involved crowds and subplots. “It is tough to decide which was the most difficult shot…there were many that required planning in detail to get the effect we wanted. Framing and lighting also depend on the actor’s performance; what to include in a frame and what to leave out. Mahesh’s screenplay goes into details of each scene; he visualises as he writes or narrates. I try to write like that,” he explains.
Storyboarding scenes help while shooting, believes Sanu, an alumnus of the College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram. “My training as an artist helps me in composing frames and in colour grading. I do storyboarding if a sequence is complicated. Veteran directors like Bharathan and PN Menon had also used storyboards and sketches,” he adds.