Petta cinematographer S Thirunavukarasu says 'the story is secondary in a Rajinikanth film'
Ace cameraman S Thirunavukarasu in an exclusive interview opens up on working with Rajinikanth, landing Petta and more
One of the most popular cinematographers in South India, S Thirunavukarasu, better known as Tirru, has now fulfilled his dream to work with superstar Rajinikanth. The National Award-winning cinematographer who has worked with all the major South Indian stars and in a few Bollywood films. Tirru lenses the Karthik Subbaraj-directed Petta, which releases on 10 January. The ace cameraman in an exclusive interview opens up on working with Rajinikanth, landing Petta and more. Excerpts from the chat:
You finally get to work with Rajinikanth in Petta. How does it feel?
It is a dream come true for me to work with the one and only Rajinikanth. In fact, 10 years back, I missed an opportunity to work with Rajini sir when I was initially chosen as the cameraman of Enthiran (Robo) by Shankar . We did a test photo shoot but unfortunately I could not take up the project.
How did Petta come your way?
I had completed Karthik Subbaraj’s Mercury and it was an out of the box experience doing the silent film. The camera virtually spoke the dialogues in the film and I struck a good rapport with Karthik who is much younger than me. One day, he came to me and said that he is going to work with the superstar and I told him straight away without even listening to the script that I will be the cameraman.
What are your thoughts on Karthik Subbaraj?
Karthik Subbaraj is one of the most promising young directors we have. He understands the other side of cinema and is willing to experiment. He is good planner and knows that the camera is an important tool to translate the story to the screen.
What was your approach towards working with Rajinikanth?
You see his shadow you can make out that it is him. He has this unique style and panache which oozes charisma. He breaks all the rules of filmmaking. When my son was two years old, we were forced to take him to the movies with us as there was no babysitter at home. At the theatre, either I or my wife would spend more time in the lobby as he would not allow us to watch the film patiently. One day, we took him to watch Rajinikanth’s Chandramukhi (2005) and believe it or not, he sat through the movie without disturbing us. People of all ages like to just watch him on screen. I think he is a superman and forgive me for saying it, but the story is secondary in a Rajinikanth film.
What was the brief you followed on the characterisation of Rajinikanth in Petta?
It was a throwback to the comeback hero, the charismatic idol, manly and stylish that his fans loved. My job was to bring out the best in him and make him dashing and youthful.
How did you pull that off?
I give full credit to Karthik. As a Thalaivar fanboy, he was able to bring out the best in Rajini sir. The college scenes (Rajini plays a college warden) have been given a rare colour combination by mixing orange with yellow and rich blue to create a halo around Rajini sir’s larger than life image. And in the flashback scenes, the struggles faced by the character before the final transformation will provide the goosebump moments.
How was it working with Rajinikanth?
He is a complete professional and delight to work with. I was told that Rajini would be more comfortable working during daytime but there were so many night effect scenes in the film and he worked without any complaints till 5 am. And we shot these night scenes at the peak of the winter season in Darjeeling, Dehradun and Mussoorie , where the temperature dips below 0 degrees. Rajini sir complied as I wanted to show my charismatic hero in my way than in the sunlight. He read the script at least 10 times a day and he would have a question for me, on why I shot it in that way. He would just look at my eyes and know whether I was satisfied and would go for another shot if required. He is an amazing actor and he completed the 125 days schedule in 98 days.
How have Rajini's scenes with Nawazuddin Siddique and Vijay Sethupathi turned out?
Nawazuddin is too good. He comes out with the perfect expression required for the scene without acting. The kid in Vijay Sethupathi is still alive. He is not ashamed to ask questions on the sets and will redo the same scene till you are satisfied.
The romantic scenes featuring Rajini with Simran and Trisha seen in the trailer have grabbed considerable attention...
It was fun to work with Simran and Trisha for Petta. Rajini sir’s romantic scenes with Simran are in the present and their on screen chemistry is fantastic. Simran is very expressive and gorgeous. Trisha comes in the flashback portion and I know her well as I was the cameraman on her first film. She is a passive sort of a person and it was in sync with her character in the film.
You are known for being experimental with all your films. What’s new in Petta?
I have used 24 kilowatt lights or balloon lights which are very high intensity lights, not used for regular shoots usually. It was used for the night-effect shots.
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