It was the early nineties. Tamil cinema hadn't yet heard of the term 'frisking with the lights'. Well, it still hadn't seen a voguish introductory scene for the female lead, leave alone, one for a hot supporting lead! But then, it was #ManiRatnam.
When the man started a 'lightweight' project, wanting to make it as a stunning visual spectacle, it was sure to leave many of us with high expectations on the optically perceptible stuff. The situation was simple. A female singer, who seemed to be caught in the perplexing web of conflict, was going through her concert. The event was happening in some sort of a regal fort, something that towers upon the senses like that of a surreal dream.
How would you visualize a genre-defying aural beauty that had all the potential to change the entire dynamics of the national music and film industry? Well, I am not sure what Mani Ratnam felt on hearing #KonjamNilavu the first time and what was running on his mind when he told PC Sreeram ISC about his screen requirements. Mani might have, in fact, been blohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uj_18hXo5G0ody insecure about doing justice to A.R. Rahman's piece of insane brilliance - something that involved extensive use of ecstatic experimental sounds, including foreign orchestral elements and techno instrumental music for the first time in familiar Indian-cinematic settings. I am also not sure why the National Art Gallery Museum was chosen for this bloody coup. But then it happened.
PC...probably took it upon himself to redefine night lighting and stage party illumination forever. The way the song was conceived is one thing; what I would unpretentiously prefer to call the caliber of the talented trio's imagination. But what unfolds on-screen is something else, that is mostly #Sreeram's pure genius. You could pass off an art gallery as an old fort housing a charismatic dusk-to-dawn live performance easily.. But getting it to stick to your brains 25 years later as a breathtakingly tripping sight, requires not just talent, but some true-blue magic.
The main entrance gets lighted first. Its a 'too-good-to-be-true-' moment, when a mystically erotic humming coincides with the ocular lure of magical wide shot - something like a visual jerk-off. Then subsequent chambers light up one by one in long shots, sending a tripping shiver down the audience's spines.
Yellow.. Bluish Grey.. White.. Red.. Colors keep changing as the sultry Anu Agarwal gyrates sensually to a generation, which mostly found it tough to make sense of the happenings. A bothering confusion between sensual grace and apparent 'suggestiveness' was widely prevalent. But when the man at the helm of affairs was someone like #Mani, you could expect some daredevilry of this sorts. And as the levels of piloerection rose, even as many recognized the Egmore museum, they were forced to hold on to that artistic suspension of disbelief. Smoke rose. A strange kind of mystic musical hypnosis was underway. Anu was skimping around in a dangerously short costume. The dancers were pulling off a underestimated rare feat. But nothing could make the viewer take his eyes off Sreeram's eye-grabbing frames, and when combined with the rule-bending smoky frames, the addictively-lit long shots and the least-expected backtracking brilliance, it was very clear, even at that time, that a revolution was happening.
Not that the man wasn't there in the spotlight before. But by #Chandralekha, PC was probably for the first time, threatening to take the public glare beyond actors and filmmakers to a hitherto invisible person who made all the pictorial grandeur possible. A genius became known. Rules were rewritten. Film-making came to be much more than engaging writing and crowd pleasing sensibilities.
A then-underrated prodigy had started unleashing his quirky knack. And the world had started to take note, after years of technical insensitivity.
This article was written to commemorate the 60th birthday of one of India's most legendary cinematographers, Mr.P.C.Sreeram. Thanks to his journey, our eyes saw some of the most beautiful pictures that the 90's had ever produced.
Written by Mani Prabhu, an ardent believer in the underestimated art of painting colourful images in people's mind by using words of black and white. An unabashed fan of the celluloid medium, he always attempts to bridge two of his dear passions - cinema and writing - into a visceral, magical experience.