In conversation with Cinematographer Sajeesh Rajendran
Editorial Team -
Sajeesh Rajendran is a cinematographer who has been associated with many forms of storytelling including his TVCs, corporate films, music videos before venturing into feature films and digital space. He’s a big-time literature aficionado and has even confessed his interest to be a writer. With an academic stint, learning cinematography at the Adayar Film Institute, the technician has sharpened his skill with the wide variety of assignments he’s taken up.
His latest work is Run, a web film that's streaming on the OTT platform Aha, where he had associated with filmmaker Lakshmikanth Chenna. In this interview with LetsOTT.com, Sajeesh looks back at his formative years that nurtured his love for cinematography.
Tell us how your advertising stint, working on corporate films and music videos shaped your foundation as a cinematographer…
The advantage of working in an advertisement industry is the fact that you get to work with a lot of different people and the challenges vary from project to project – be it the cameras, the teams, the backdrops, to name a few. It gives you a lot of confidence in terms of handling equipment, man management, storytelling and HR skills among many.
Did the visual imagery in the books you read play a role in shaping your interest in photography/cinematography?
Certainly. I was hooked to books right from my school days, but cinema was always there on my mind. An article on Pather Panchali and Satyajit Ray’s legacy spurred my interest to be part of the industry. Anyone who’s brought up in Kerala would tell you that books are an integral part of their lives. Being exposed to the powerful imagery in the works of writers like M T Vasudevan Nair certainly influences the way I visualise things.
The literature, the characters and emotions keep haunting you from time to time.
Was the transition towards the longer format difficult?
One reason I was always sceptical about taking up the longer format after advertising was about maintaining my focus on a single project for a long time. I am someone who values my freedom a lot. It took me time to realise the beauty of working for feature films/web shows. You get enough time to completely move into a new world and forget everything else. You become one with the project over the many months you shoot. Spending time on the set for the entire day, going back to your room and thinking about the characters, the performances, the challenges and planning for the next day – it’s very interesting on an aesthetical level because there’s a flow to it. It subconsciously becomes easy for you, because you’re very much in control of what needs to be done. Advertising changes every day and you need to adapt to that as well, the challenge is different there.
Run is a thriller that’s always on the move. It’s a genre that needs to warrant attention from the spectator at any cost. What’s the challenge for a cinematographer with the genre?
Whenever a cinematographer comes from an advertising background, they tend to have fluid movements and focus on key lighting among other aspects. Thrillers, however, need to be racy, the colours are intense, the images are different and I took time to adapt to it. We finished the project in 24 days at a hectic pace. The initial days were difficult, but I got used to it after that. It was a challenge I was prepared to take up since my institute days.
Was Lakshmikanth very specific with his choices as a director? Tell us about the rapport you share…
Lakshmi(kanth) is a filmmaker who’s very clear on what he wants and has the entire film in his mind. It helps that he comes from an editing background. On the set, he’s very specific on what he wants. He still gives you freedom in terms of shots and the execution of a particular scene. When a director is that clear, half of your problem is over. He gave me a lot of freedom in choosing the colour palette, locations, costumes right in the pre-production stage. Our rapport has advanced to a situation where I exactly know what he needs from a sequence. We are working on another feature film together too (Commitment).
Any particular school of cinematography that you are deeply influenced by?
The first cinematographer I came to know was Balu Mahendra. Moondram Pirai was being telecast on television and my dad, a film aficionado, was telling me how exceptional he was. I was born in this place called Gudaluru in Ooty. Ooty is very close to me as a place. The film didn’t try to glorify Ooty – they neither showed anything extra nor anything less about Ooty. And I was wondering why my father had great words to share about him? Only when I became serious about cinematography and was learning about the technicalities of the craft, did I understand that it was the most difficult part – shooting a place as it is, without any extravagance. That’s the kind of cinematography that excites me. I love him for his body of work. I am inspired by the works of P C Sreeram, Santosh Sivan and their individual style as well, but the key is to understand how they engage themselves in the storytelling aspect.