Whenever you watch a movie, especially an epic, you are often blown away by the beautiful sceneries and landscapes, sometimes by even the angle of something as mundane as a drop of water. The magic that is created on screen is the work generally of the cinematographer. In an attempt to spread the knowledge of his art, the cinematographer behind the magnum opus Bãhubali K K Senthil Kumar delivered a Masterclass on Cinematography. Preceding the Masterclass was a presentation of the works of Senthil, which took the audience on a visual tour of Magadheera, Eega and of course Bãhubali.
Speaking of the evolution of the role of the cinematographer, Senthil said that with the advance in technology the role has undergone a drastic change: “Initially the director and cinematographer were the two important people on the set. The cinematographer gave definition to the thought of a director. But now the VFX team also plays a very important role. And we cinematographers have to move with times and understand and improve the craft to in turn improve the method of storytelling.” Senthil added that to ensure that his work is given his best he gets involved in the process of filmmaking right from the scripting phase to the end of the post production.
Sharing some tips on his craft, the cinematographer explained, that a cinematographer’s choices can drastically affect the budget of a film. “My main job is to help the director in storytelling, be it in the angle of the camera, the sets, the background, the lighting – all of which have to be discussed well in advance as all these aspects make a big difference in the budget of the film,” said Senthil.
Striking scenes from Bahubali were well appreciated by all who watched the movie. There were scenes that although highly dependent on VFX also spoke of good cinematography. “There is a waterfall scene in the movie. The fall was supposed to be three times the height of the Angel falls, the tallest in the world. To achieve the effect we shot at three different locations and then put them all together. There was a challenge to make the body language of the character look real. And hence we shot that particular scene at a great height,” elaborated Senthil. He says that he was told by the director, S S Rajamouli that in the movie everything should be larger than life, “That is why at the end of the waterfall song the hero does something that is humanly not possible, that of jumping off a cliff and shooting an arrow at a tree,” he said.
Bahubali also made extensive use of concept art to design sets. “Artists were made to paint and then these paintings would be used to form the background and foreground of the scenes. The shots were shot with actors acting out in front of the blue or green screens,” says Senthil.
Working with S S Rajamouli on half a dozen movies before Bahubali, the cinematographer seems to have an understanding of the director’s thinking. In Eega (Makkhi in Hindi), the movie follows a fly that is just born and how he is fascinated with the largeness of the world. “Every shot was tedious for us and the actors as the film was shot on reel and not digital film. We had to use a camera that could capture close ups very well,” he said, adding that the actors did a brilliant job of acting too.
Coming back to Bahubali and the budget involved Senthil says they did try to cut down in the budget wherever they could. Shooting in very different conditions from the harsh heat of Hyderabad to the minus degrees in Bulgaria and the fog and mist in the atmosphere of Mahableshwar, the crew had to choose a camera that would suit all conditions. “Hence we settled for the Alexa XT. Only for the scenes that were taken from the drone we used a lighter camera,” said Senthil. He explained that even though the Alexa camera was expensive (it suited all kinds of weather) he would have to shell out a lot more if he used different cameras for different weather conditions and it would be a tedious affair to standardise all prints, thus, stressing on the fact that a cinematographer’s choice can indeed affect the budgets.
Two twenty crores was a huge budget, and that too for a regional film. “We had a plan to market it well across Indian and that is why we roped in Karan Johar. The movie has been having big releases world over now. In India we released it in about 4500 screens. We are about to release it across China in 5000 screens!” he said.