BR Vijayalakshmi, Asia's first female cinematographer on returning to direction, seeing more women crank the camera
BR Vijayalakshmi says she is proud that over 100 active members constitute the recently formed Indian Women Cinematographers Collective.
BR Vijayalakshmi, daughter of the legendary actor, producer and director BR Panthulu, enjoys the credit of being Asia’s first woman cinematographer. As she returns to direction after 22 years with upcoming Tamil-Malayalam bilingual Abhiyum Anuvum – which stars Tovino Thomas and Pia Bajpai in the lead – she opens up on her comeback in an exclusive chat with Firstpost, while explaining that her film, slated for release later this month, is not a clichéd romantic drama.
As she settles down for a chat, she clarifies right off the bat that her film is not a cancer survivor’s tale. After promos featuring Pia’s bald look were released, reports emerged that this is the love story of a cancer patient. “Pia goes bald for a reason and we’ve justified her look. This is not a cancer survivor’s tale. It’s an intense love story with a very strong family angle. It’s inspired by a Latin American true incident. Even though the incident may have happened in Latin America, the treatment makes the subject universal. The issue we’ve tried to address will raise a lot of important questions in our society after the release of the film,” said Vijayalakshmi, who has 22 films to her credit as a cinematographer.
She’s all praise for her lead actors Tovino and Pia, who make quite a charming pair on screen. “Both of them are fabulous in the film. They’ve complemented each other with strong performances. Since I wanted to make the film in Malayalam as well, Tovino was the obvious choice. I really liked his work in Guppy and his acting prowess is what impressed me about him. He’s a star in Malayalam industry and I take the credit for launching him in Tamil. I came across Pia in the short film Virgins. Her character is bubbly but does get quite intense in the second half. She’s given tough competition to Tovino.”
Talking more about the film, she said that it’s a story about a couple in a long distance relationship who get to know each other and get married, only to be shaken up by an issue. “We’ve not tried to take sides and justify the issue. We’ve addressed the issue sincerely and we believe it’ll strike a chord with the audience.”
Her last directorial was the 1996 Tamil film Paattu Padava which featured singer SP Balasubrahmanyam in the lead and even made it to International Film Festival of India (IFFI) that year. It was her last film as a cinematographer too. “My son was born in 2001 and I wanted to devote my time to him. I wanted to groom him.” In the same year, she was offered the opportunity to crank the camera for Dhanush’s maiden film Thulluvatho Ilamai. “I couldn’t take up the offer as I had to take of my son. People often ask me why I gave up a successful career but I have no regrets.”
After her son’s birth, when she was away from cinema, she eventually ventured into the world of television. Her marriage to the sound recordist and computer graphics editor Sunil Kumar got her to work on Tamil shows and serials. She even produced a children’s serial called Vasantham Colony. Her other serials include Maya Machindra and Velan.
Thrilled about her return to direction, Vijayalakshmi is happy with the recent rise in number of women filmmakers in southern cinema. “This is a very healthy phase for women in Indian cinema. We recently formed the Indian Women Cinematographers Collective and it features more than 100 active cinematographers. It’s amazing that women are leaving their mark in every craft of cinema and not just in direction,” she said, adding she dreams of making big-budget historic films such as Veerapandya Kattabomman, Kappalottiya Thamizhan and Karnan, which her father had directed. “It’s not like I don’t want to make such films. But you need big budget and scale to make such larger-than-life stories. When I get such an opportunity, I’d be glad to take it up.”
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