'I tried to capture the colours of Kerala'

Last Updated: Thu, Jun 21, 2012 05:27 hrs

Superstar Mammootty says he relived his childhood with this film. Shashi Tharoor calls it one of the best Indian movies ever made.

Anjali Menon's Manjadikuru, which released earlier this year, has been receiving rave reviews for recreating a slice of 1980s Kerala as seen through the eyes of a child.

Among the less celebrated heroes of the film is the camera that successfully brings alive a traditional Kerala tharavad, the mandatory power-cuts, and the vibrant colours of a humid Indian summer - the green of the raw mangoes and the insanely red earth.

The man behind the camera, however, made his first visit to the state only during the shoot of the film.

Switzerland-born, Los Angeles-based Pietro Zuercher, who sketches the perspective of an NRI looking back at a childhood holiday, is no stranger to Indian cinema though. 

He had earlier worked with Praval Raman in Gayab and Vishnu Savarana in Tani. Zuercher considers himself an artiste of the world and has shot features, commercials, shorts, documentaries, music videos, on all formats available in all corners of the world across the US, Europe and India.

In an interview with Sify.com, the much-awarded Zuercher shares his take on cinematography, his Kerala experience and his love affair with the camera. Excerpts:

Manjadikuru is a film that's more about visuals than about dialogue.... What did you have in mind during the shoot? How difficult was it to shoot from a child's point of view?
Manjadikuru is a memory piece, a child's memory. And when you remember your childhood as an adult, you always have strong images in mind. The ones that stick with you forever usually are more dramatic or more colourful than what they actually were. That's what I tried to incorporate into the story.

In my discussions with Anjali before heading to Kerala, she told me about the colours that you have in the summer. She wanted to capture that, and when I got here, I understood what she was talking about.

How do you feel, now that the film has finally reached the audience?
Very happy that we finally got it out there to an audience! I think it's a good film and that it needed to be seen.

You've shot films across languages and cultures. What inspired you to turn nomadic and tell stories from around the world?
I moved to the US in 1997  to attend the film program at the Maine Film and TV Workshop in Rockport, Maine. And in 2000, I was accepted at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles where I earned my Masters in Cinematography.

So from the beginning, I learned my work on foreign shores, and so this is just a continuation of my path.

I feel that as storytellers we have to know as much as we can about the world and different cultures, and this is how I do it.

Apart from Anjali, you've worked with two other Indian filmmakers - Praval Raman (Gayab) and Vishnu Savarana (Tani). In your view, what is the big difference between Indian cinema and films from other parts of the world?
Every project is different - not only in India, but everywhere in the world. We are all trying to tell interesting stories and move people. So it's always the same, and yet so different.

When did you realise you wanted to get behind the camera? What do you like best about your job?
I have loved still photography since the age of 12. But I really understood cinematography only in film school.

On my first day, I took a Super 16mm Arri SR2 in my hands and it was love at first sight!

The best thing about my job is the collaboration with all the crew around me.

Name three of your all-time favourite cinematographers?
Dante Spinotti, Gordon Willis and (Vittorio) Storaro.

What advice would you give an aspiring cinematographer?
Love your job. It's a great job, but if you're not in love with it, don't do it because it's also a very hard one.

Filmmaking is collaboration. All of us are in the same team, trying to tell the best story we can. The photography is very important, but the story is more important.

Manjadikuru releases in Chennai, Bangalore and Coimbatore on Friday, June 22. For more stories, wallpapers, videos and stills from the movie, check out our special section on the movie

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