There was an era when Bollywood movies could not compete with Hollywood in terms of their visual treat. But when a cinematographer, hailing from Kerala began conquering the film cinematography genre, Bollywood began gaining optical illusionistic strength strong enough grab international attention.
Farhan Akhtar’s ‘Don’, moving away from the stereotypical colour tone in ‘Talaash’ and the latest controversial movie, ‘Raees’, all ran through the fingers of the talented Indian film cinematographer, KU Mohanan. KU Mohanan opens his heart to SouthLive, briefing his elated experience of handling Bollywood and working with Shah Rukh Khan for three of his movies.
Third movie with Shah Rukh Khan is about to hit the theatres, ahead of Raees release some people have pointed out that the trailer of the movie resembles ‘Don’. Is the background of the character that forces the people to bring in a comparison between the two movies?
Farhan Akhtar’s ‘Don’ handled a more fictional character. The movie was tackled in a very stylised and cinematic manner because the character was majorly fictional. The lead role of ‘Raees’ is also a goon. But the movie presents him in a more realistic way, a person living in the existing Indian society. The movie is depicted in a cinematic realism genre. Apart from the other movie, this is more of a realistic flick.
You just mentioned that the visual treatment of both the movies are on different zones, can you get more into the details of the technicality?
Both the movies give an entirely different visual treatment which cannot be compared. ‘Don’ is a much stylised movie. The movie was threaded on an imaginary plot which was reflected in the making of the movie as well. Expect for the songs in ‘Raees’, the maker was adamant on creating the movie on a realistic genre, incorporating daily life scenes. The only similarity that exists between the two movies is that both the movies have the lead protagonist who is a ‘goon’. In Raees, he is a liquor goon king, while in ‘Don’ he is more of a fantasy both in character and context. But when it comes to ‘Raees’, the probability of ‘make believe’ is higher.
Raees was shot in Gujarat and it was said that the shooting for Shah Rukh Khan in Gujarat was challenging. Did you have to face any threat during the movie making?
This made a headline few days ago because I
was misinterpreted. Shah Rukh Khan is a very popular Indian actor, thereby,
carrying a movie shooting forward with him is always challenging. The venue for
the movie considered were the roads of Ahmedabad’s remote places and
if Shah Rukh Khan was being shot there, there would have been an uncontrollable
crowd and it would have been impossible to continue the shooting, calming the hyper crowd. Earlier in an interview I had mentioned that there
would be a technical hitch while making a movie with a Superstar like SRK. But
my words were twisted for political reasons. I had asked the concerned people
to withdraw my comment once it crossed my attention. If I need to make a
political statement, I would be straightforward in putting my opinion. Each
time when I had to talk about politics, I have done it; I don’t have to express
political opinion through any other medium.
New generation movies are period dramas, and if the backdrop belongs to the 80s era, the makers try to bring in the visual feel of a foreign classic. Does ‘Raees’ also follow the same steps of taking the audience to such an optical illusion?
We haven’t done it and have consciously tried to avoid such a take on the movie. To bring in such a period effect to a movie, good efforts would be taken in researching the reference of an era. How would a period be incorporated in an archaic movie would be the ‘reference’ when analysing even for the costumes. But when movies are done on a homely genre they would have the behaviour of a spoof. The movie are more of an imitation rather than being original. ‘Raees’ is a good commercial movie. But I would like to call it a commercial movie blended in art. The movie has the vigour of a Salim-Javed’s old Amitabh Bachchan flicks. The protagonist of ‘Raees’ is the leader of an alcohol mafia, who is being scrutinised by the police waiting to trap him. The 70s and 80s Amitabh Bachchan’s movie’s soul can be felt while seeing ‘Raees’. But it has not copied the narrative style of that period. Neither the directive method, cinematography, nor the styling side of the movie has any similarity or imitation to the flicks of the earlier era.
Concentrating on documentary making for 10 years you decided to be part of a movie. Bollywood hit makers staying miles away from realism, how could you adjust to the difference in the cinematography style of both?
Hindi movies have lost most of its colour. There are only a few makers who are ready to deviate from the already existing style, to experiment with their making skills. Surprisingly, experimental movies have competed with the stereotypical movies and have reaped well in the box offices. For example, Vidya Balan’s ‘Kahaani’, which was a comparatively low budget movie, when compared to other Bollywood flicks, where she is the only star, was a super hit. ‘Kahaani’ never followed the traditional Bollywood pattern. Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s ‘Pink’, Shoojit Sircar’s ‘Piku’ are all low budget movies that attracted the audience by its narrative style. While discussing the script of Raees, director Rahul Dholakia and myself decided on making an experimental movie deviating from the usual package of commercial movies, which was supported by Shah Rukh Khan himself though the movie has all elements of a commercial flick. The movie has punch dialogues, dance songs, but lacks glorifying colours like that of a commercial movie.
I make sure and take efforts to have my signature in all the movies I attend to. I never copy the same visual style which was already taken up in a movie. Since ‘Don’ I have been closely watching the visual style that I undertake.
Your debut into cinematography was with one of the greatest Indian directors, Mani Kaul, when did you begin to concentrate on commercial films? Though you are active in advertising medium, why are you so selective about feature films?
I was born and brought up in Payyannur, Kannur and grew up around film society. Cinema was always an art form for me during my college days, when I was obsessed with philosophy, art and movies. I was influenced by Adoor Gopalakrishnan who always loved to experiment with different movie styles. Watching his movies, I got inspired by experimental movie making and decided to join Pune Film institute. The institute days helped me to know the film masters personally, take classical films on a serious note and it also helped me to mould my movie dreams.
Film is still a pure artform in my mind. Since we cannot sustain by such films, I decided to try my luck with commercial films. I am not interested to follow a formula like others while making a movie. I select movies which challenge my movie making skills. I am doing ‘Raees’ after a three years break.
How have you enjoyed watching a performance behind the camera, as a cinematographer or an audience? Can you recollect one such experience?
Will take an instance from ‘Raees’ itself. SRK performed brilliantly in ‘Raees’. I saw a brand new King Khan during the shoot of ‘Raees’. People will be convinced that Shah Rukh Khan is a brilliant actor with his performance in it. Shoojit Sircar’s Johnny Mastana, starring Amitabh Bachchan which never got released. I regret that the movie never hit the theatres.
Many famous cinematographers have later tried their luck in movie direction. Do you have any plans of directing a movie in the future?
Of course, I started dreaming about my own project. But I never got the time gap to think about my own movie. But will do it soon.