If there is something unanimous about Vivegam?s verdict, it?s the visual brilliance that the film offers. Cinematographer Vetri is the man responsible for all this. He opens up at length in this chat with Kaushik LM,
Of all the films you've done so far, you really surprised us with the quality of your work in Vivegam. Congrats for that.
"The films that I'd done before Vivegam didn't get me much praise. There would be just a passing mention for my work in media reviews. Vivegam's scale was in a totally different league; cinematography is very important for such films. For the first time in 15 odd films, I'm getting this much mention in reviews. All thanks to Siva and Ajith sir as they gave me the space to deliver with my lighting pattern and framing style. It's very tough for a technician to individually stand out in a grand commercial film featuring a big star and a noted director. My friends from Hyderabad wondered how we could deliver this level of quality in Vivegam. I'm happy that I delivered."
What did Thala Ajith say about your work?
"Ajith sir used to appreciate me during the making of all our 3 films so far. Right from the beginning of Vivegam, and also during the dubbing and after seeing the film, he praised me. He felt that my work is a main factor in the film's quality output. He also talked about reviews raving about my work in detail." What were the most challenging sequences to shoot?
"I would say 'ThalaiViduthalai' and the bike chase. The extreme cold was a factor while filming both these sequences. While in the song, the cold was obviously felt onscreen, in the bike chase it wasn't evident onscreen. Since I had to follow all the action during the bike chase, operating my camera, the cold made it extra hard. Stunt master Kaloian advised us against filming this chase sequence at such a high speed, due to the cold weather and the slippery roads. We shot it during the pre-Christmas period.
Also, for the staircase fight scene with the Albanian gang (which we shot in sets erected at Hyderabad), I had to also move on ropes for 2 to 3 days, to film the action with a hand-held camera. Ganesh master choreographed it brilliantly." As a cinematographer, how do you plan when a film, like Vivegam, has a lot of space for VFX?
"It was clear that Vivegam would have a lot of scope for VFX during the story discussion stage itself. We had to be aware of what's going to be created later by the VFX team. Storyboarding and image references also helped the process. We worked on the lighting patterns according to the final output, post-VFX. The elements in the Interpol set were created with VFX, and we consciously used a bluish light on the actors' faces to keep it authentic. For the 'Nunchaku' fight, we shot beside an actual train but also used mats for very risky shots. We worked on the lighting of actors keeping in mind how light will come through the windows of an actual speeding train. All such intricate things were planned."
The production design, VFX and stunts have also won a lot of acclaim...
"I and art director Milan go back a long way. His trademark is that his sets won't look obvious to the public eye. Only industry experts will know that it's all been created. We decided to keep the lighting scheme natural and practical. He designed the sets accordingly.
Stunt choreographer Ganesh worked on the Albanian staircase fight and Ajith sir's comeback fight (with the sniper). Foreign fighters were sourced, and he co-ordinated very well with all of them and delivered. Coming to Kaloian master, the high level of equipment that he used is not seen here in Tamil generally. His planning was very clear, and he shot references on the phone with his team and showed us the sample videos. He prepared Ajith sir and VivekOberoi well in advance.
The VFX was completely done by native TN technicians. When we were scaling up to the next level, we wanted to take our regular VFX team that had worked in Veeram and Vedalam, along with us too. We shot and gave them the CG heavy scenes beforehand. Scheduling was done appropriately. They worked multiple shifts, with hardly any sleep over the last 2 months. Vivegam is proof enough that international style films can be executed and delivered with our own CG technicians."
What do you have to say about the mixed reviews that Vivegam has received?
"The film didn't get the expected feedback in the initial 4-5 days; good words are coming out now slightly delayed. Many people are giving out second reviews now, after noting all the layers and intricacies in the film. I feel that many initial reviews projected more of the negatives than the positives. But I also have to thank people who genuinely appreciated our hard work and making style. Also, a lot from among the public (many women) have sent out their review videos; this is something that I haven't seen before. They've expressed that the film isn't as bad as the early reviews said.
Beyond all the praise that I've personally received, I feel really sad that Siva has been personally targeted and cornered in Vivegam's reviews. Only people who don't understand the basics of cinema will say that the other team members have delivered but Siva hasn't. I'll give 100% credit for all the applause that I've received only to Siva. He had all the departments and ideas under his control and executed it with us. Ajith sir trusted him; that's why he went out of his way and worked so hard."
Handling negativity on social media...
"Before Vivegam, I was never this active on social media (laughs). Regarding negativity, as Ajith sir says in the film 'Yennam Pol Vaazhkai'. I wonder why people are so concerned about cinema! They may not even have the guts to question their own ward councillor on more important livelihood issues. Cinema is a soft target, and there is always a section of people to comment and support negative things. Let them stand up for some of the more important issues facing us; then they have every right to question cinema too. Ultimately, they shouldn't be taken too seriously."
Your take on the controversial Vivegam video by Mr. 'Blue Shirt' Maran?
"I was really surprised that so many people in my village were talking about his video. That's the level of reach of the internet and mobile phones. Negativity always spreads faster! Even they felt that he was personally targeting Ajith sir without actually reviewing the film.
Reviews can be very constructive and actually help technicians learn and get better. This time, I feel it didn't happen with Vivegam's reviews and that the film was unfairly targeted and didn't receive due credit. We always had a very strong belief that Vivegam would work, with its slick international making style. We are happy now that a lot of people are seeing the film; the producers are also content."
Will 'Thala 58' be with the same Siva - Vetri and team?
"I'm not aware of the details yet. But if 'Thala 58' happens with the same team again, I'll be really happy. It'll be like an opportunity for our team to overcome all the negativity surrounding Vivegam and deliver a flawless film. I really wish it happens! We are all capable of working even harder. Ajith sir likes our team a lot because we don't have any ego and just focus on the work at hand. We don't waste our time with petty talks and needless gossip."
Any genre that you wish to explore in the coming years?And direction aspirations?
"I would love to work on a historical film about Tamil kings and warriors. There have been very few films based on Tamil history, which is replete with good content. And, a director's job is really tough and has to be done with a lot of thought and intelligence. I'm content being a cinematographer now and wish to associate with all the wonderful directors around."
Best wishes Vetri sir. Keep raising the bar!