Ravi Varman can best be described as the perfect cinematic eye of Mani Ratnam. He understands Mani’s thoughts and visualisation that he interprets them via his camera flawlessly! In the past, he has worked in many Tamil films including Autograph (2004), Anniyan (2005), Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu (2006) and Dasavathaaram (2008). The cinematographer is also quite famous in the North. He got nationwide recognition for Barfi! (2012), Goliyon Ki Raasleela-Ram-Leela (2013) among a few. When we met Ravi Varman at Madras Talkies, Mani Ratnam said, “Ravi is the hero of Kaatru Veliyidai.”
How special is Kaatru Veliyidai?
I’ve always wanted to work with Mani Ratnam. There were days when I longed to see him. One of the main reasons I did Five Star (2002) was because of him. He was one of the producers. After seeing the film, he said I had good aesthetic sense. Honestly, until that point I didn’t realise I had the potential. I’ve had many disappointments in life. I’ve been in the dark space. I lost my parents in my childhood. I had to endure a lot of pain to reach this stage. I got an opportunity to work with Mani Ratnam for three days in Kannathil Muthamittal (2002). It was a surreal experience. I am an optimist. I don’t believe in statements like ‘it’s not possible’, ‘I don’t know’, ‘it’s hard to achieve’, etc. I had many conversations with myself before the day I was going to meet him. He doesn’t like to talk too much. So I was thinking how I should put my point across. I thought I could write a letter. Finally, I did. I just wrote two lines! (smiles)
How’s Mani Ratnam on the sets?
You saw him appreciate me now. That shows his quality. He’s a thorough professional who loves cinema. He’s passionate about the craft of filmmaking. More than a technician, I respect him a lot as a person. He’s a man of few words. But he can go on and on about cinema. We shot for 52 days, and we discussed only cinema. I became a fan of Mani Ratnam all over again. I can message him at 2.30 am and talk about scenes. He’ll respond to it. He’s open to discussions anytime. On sets he is full of energy and enthusiasm. He’s the first person to come and the last one to leave. He watches films by new directors and appreciates them. He recommended that I watch Soodhu Kavvum (2013). He says when you watch a film, you must learn something from it. After I started working with him, my personality changed. There was a difference in my thought process too. Though I am working on other films, I think only about Kaatru Veliyidai and that’s what Mani Ratnam can do to you. His thoughts make an impact on you, which will not leave you. You’ll keep thinking about it wherever you go.
What can you tell us about the film?
Who can make more beautiful love stories than Mani Ratnam? He visualises every scene like a painter. Be it the making or story telling — everything was challenging. We shot in and around Kulu-Manali, Kashmir, Ooty, Ladakh etc. When you watch Kaatru Veliyidai, you’ll fall in love with it. You’ll relate to the characters and scenes. It’s a Mani Ratnam’s film. It will be a celebration. When Nayagan (1987) was released, everybody talked about it. It was the same with Agni Natchathiram (1988), Roja (1992), Alaipayuthe (2000) and O Kadhal Kanmani (2015). Only Mani Ratnam can break his own records. Before Karthi was finalised, he was sure how he wanted his hero to be. All credit goes to him. There are six songs in the film. They have come out very well. Only Mani Ratnam can shoot even action sequences in a poetic way!
We’ve heard that Mani Ratnam is a romantic at heart. How about you?
(Smiles) Love makes everything beautiful. It makes us feel young. I had a love marriage, too. Two things are important to me. My wife and Mani Ratnam.
You’ve worked across film industries. What’s your take away?
I don’t like when somebody calls me ‘DoP’. We (cinematographers) capture the vision of directors. We are artistes. It doesn’t matter what camera you use. All you need to do is capture the moment. What lens I use isn’t important... but how I capture is. I make sure I am happy when I capture the scenes; because that reflects in my work. As a cinematographer, I need to absorb what’s said, done or performed. I should translate the director’s vision on to the screen. Good cinematography helps and goes along with the script of the film.
What did AR Rahman say about your work?
I didn’t meet him yet. I doubt if he knows me. (Laughs)
How have you evolved as a technician over these years?
When I began people used to call me ‘Madrasi’. Now, it has changed. That’s because in the Tamil film industry we make quality films.
What’s your take on CG?
Computer graphics can enhance the visual beauty. But, you cannot create things with it. Digital cinematography has been around for more than a decade. But the list of cinematographers is still short, especially of those who are recognised.
Who are your favourite actors?
Ranbir Kapoor and Kamal Haasan
Is direction on cards?
Of course, yes. I’ll let you know when the time comes.
Karthik Subbaraj had narrated a story to me, but nothing has been finalised yet.