Santosh Sivan talks of Telugu film 'debut' with Spyder, and working with AR Murugadoss, Mahesh Babu
Spyder marks Santosh Sivan's debut in the Telugu film industry and his second collaboration with filmmaker AR Murugadoss following their blockbuster Tamil outing, Thupakki, starring Vijay in the lead role.
"Murugadoss has a very interesting way of making his films. Spyder has a lot of style quotient attached to it. I hope it appeals to the masses," said Santosh Sivan, when we met up with him for a chat in the run-up to the film's release.
Santosh Sivan, who is usually reticent, showers lavish praise on Mahesh Babu for his performance in the film, which has been shot as a bi-lingual, in Tamil and Telugu. "I actually like Mahesh Babu's subtle, clean acting. You don't have to do much to make him look good on screen. We had a lot of intense schedules during the shooting, but Mahesh always supported the team. He did all his stunts himself. There were a lot of night shoots, and he was very patient and encouraging. While shooting a dual language film, actors are usually fluent with one language, but the other language is a problem. He was fluent in both languages and converted both the versions well. And he was the most patient one, helping the other supporting actors on set. It was quite an exciting journey!"
Santosh said Mahesh Babu is a very easy person to be with and that they had a lot of fun and interesting conversations on set: "He's always fun during the shoot, before the shoot, and after the shoot too! He has a fantastic radiance, which keeps people surrounding him happy."
During the Spyder audio launch event in Chennai, AR Murugadoss said it was an extremely challenging experience to work on a bi-lingual. Now, Santosh Sivan has echoed the same thoughts in his capacity as a cinematographer.
"What we have got in both Tamil and Telugu versions are almost perfect. As a cinematographer, it's quite a tough thing to do bi-linguals because you have fewer opportunities to explore. For example, if you are going to shoot in a very interesting lighting such as the magic sky, you can't pull off two versions in the given time. Sometimes, we miss those kinds of magical moments while shooting a bi-lingual. But, it's always a challenge to try and do it. The whole unit had that kind of an attitude to push the envelope," said Santosh.
In his career spanning three decades, Santosh Sivan has continuously worked on both art-house and mainstream projects with consummate ease. Asked about which kind of films he likes to work on, Santosh said, "Every film is an opportunity to explore a particular kind of look or lighting. I lastly did a realistic UK-based English language film Lies We Tell. Now, I've done Spyder. Next, I'm doing a small art-house film which I'll also direct in the English language, and I've Mani Ratnam's next project (starring Simbu, Jyotika, Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil, Aravind Swami and Aishwarya Rajesh). The grammar in each film changes and so does the lighting and other elements that we can incorporate in each genre. And by jumping from one genre to another, you also keep yourself fresh from doing monotonous work."
Santosh Sivan also has an enviable track record as a director with a bevy of award-winning experimental films shot on shoe-string budgets to his credit. "I like to make experimental films. And if I'm doing an experimental film, why should someone else fund it? So, I would like to produce my movies. And, when I shoot big projects, I will have sufficient funding to support small films that I like to make and find interesting."
Santosh has also confirmed that he'll be directing a big film in Malayalam next year with Mammootty.
Asked about the transformation of actors from behind the screen and in front of the camera, Santosh explained the different kinds of artists and their approaches delightfully.
"Each actor has a unique way of handling this. There are different types of artists. There are some actors who can only react; they'll not be prepared. They'll just be there and react. There are some who are very methodical in what they do. They will think twice even before opening a door. Some actors want everyone to know that they're acting, like Charlie Chaplin. They communicate to the children. So, everyone has their own specific audiences and the reasons why they like them. They surrender themselves to the people who make it, and the responsibility also lies with the maker," said Santosh, who will be heading to the UK for the premiere of Lies We Tell, which is premiering at the Raindance Film Festival on 21 September.
Sivan, who has captured pristine nature in all its glory in his frames, in films such as Mani Ratnam's Roja, Dil Se, and Raavanan to name a few, says digital avenues help people to understand the medium better.
"Digital has opened up a lot of avenues for people to learn about the visual language. Children these days learn how to take a picture before they get to know how to read and write. For example, not all journalists who know to read and write became poets. Digital helps people to understand the language better. If they perceive it in a very interesting and studied manner (sic) and passionately follow everything, I think one can become a cinematographer too. Cinematography is more about observations than the use of language. It's a constant learning. You need to have a sheer passion for nature to film its beauty. Otherwise, you would just be recording it," explained Santosh.
Santosh Sivan hopes the new Central Board of Film Certification chief Prasoon Joshi will be logical because "he's one of us". "Since I know Prasoon personally, I'm very sure that he will view things objectively. Anything that is considerate or reasonable, I hope he will judge it without going left or right. I'm sure he understands all the current issues, and that's why the government has appointed him."