EXCLUSIVE: Shooting comedy films is a big challenge, says Malayalam cinematographer Manesh Madhavan

The award-winning DoP has turned heads with his brilliant work in Maju's latest directorial—'Perumani', a social satire.

ByArjun Ramachandran

Published May 20, 2024 | 1:35 PMUpdatedMay 20, 2024 | 2:11 PM

Cinematographer Manesh Madhavan is making headlines for his work in Perumani

The Malayalam movie Perumani is a social satire that speaks against superstitions. It has been drawing praise for director Maju’s unique filmmaking style.

Perumani is shot by cinematographer Manesh Madhavan, who won the Kerala State Film Award for his brilliant work in Aedan (2018) and Ela Veezha Poonchira (2022).

Set in a fictional village called Perumani, the movie is not a usual commercial potboiler but it leaves the audience with a message that is not spoon-fed.

In a freewheeling chat with South First, cinematographer Manesh Madhavan reveals a lot about his latest outing.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. How was it working for Perumani, a satirical drama?

Manesh Madhavan hails from Kochi

Manesh Madhavan hails from Kochi. (Supplied)

A. Camera is important for any kind of film—comedy, satire or any other genre.

Perumani has a thin storyline, subtle performances, and a good dose of comedy/satire. I ensured not to disturb them while shooting the film.

It’s difficult to shoot comedy films when compared to other genres.

Siddique Lal and Priyadarshan’s films have a good re-watch value and are some of the best works in Malayalam. Cinematographers like Venu ISC and S Kumar played a pivotal role in elevating these movies.

I drew inspiration from Siddique Lal and Priyadarshan’s works while filming Perumani.

Q. The film was shot in Ottapalam in the Palakkad district. How did the team finalise the location?

A. We visited many places in Palakkad, Malappuram, and Thrissur. But we wanted a new location where no Malayalam film has ever been shot.

We discussed at length about setting up the village.

The main house in Perumani—the wedding house—is a set. But we did not modify the other houses. I used a set of colour palettes to make the movie refreshing.

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Q. Tell us about the discussions with director Maju.

Manesh Madhavan on the sets of Perumani

Manesh Madhavan on the sets of ‘Perumani’. (Supplied)

A. Perumani is a social satire and boasts several characters. We decided to give importance to every character as it is the story of a village.

Director Maju’s contribution was of utmost importance here. He had a clear vision of how to present the film because of which I could pull off my task easily.

The movie takes inspiration from Hollywood classics like Amélie (2001) and other works of Wes Anderson, an American filmmaker. These films have awe-inspiring technicalities like lensing, cutting patterns, and camera movements. However, we ensured not to copy them.

The camera angles, shot divisions, choice of camera, and wide-angle shots were all inspired by these movies.

In Perumani, we tried to establish crisp and sharp shorts and used fast cuts similar to those in the Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

We adopted the fairytale format to narrate the story.

Director Maju was keen to get precise moments. He was ambitious in the filmmaking process.

Q. Any comments on references to Amen (2013), as being said by a section of audiences?

A. Amen has a different story. We did not draw any inspiration from the film for Perumani.

People are probably drawing comparisons because of the usage of wide-angle lenses in the two films.

Perumani is more of a script-driven/story-driven film with a unique storytelling format.

We only drew references from Wes Anderson’s works.

Q. How were the multiple night shots taken?

A. Some shots in the movie (the aerial shots) were designed using graphics.

We shot them during the magic hour (evening time), exposed them, did the grading, and turned them into night shots.

Also, the lights were designed with the help of graphics.

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Q. Tell us about the challenges and difficulties you faced during the shoot.

Cinematographer Manesh Madhavan is keen to do films of different genres

The cinematographer is keen to do films of different genres. (Supplied)

A. The most difficult part was shooting the wedding. As there were many people, it was shot on different days by splitting the scenes.

Every frame had a group of people moving around. So, we used sync sound. We reshot the scenes when an artiste went wrong.

The artistes did a good job. Vinay Forrt gave his best. He learnt to drive a JCB and tipper lorry for the film.

I must say, Perumani was an ambitious project for the whole team.

Q. What about the flat screen adapted for the movie?

A. Director Maju was keen to work in a 2:1 ratio, which is good for OTTs. He didn’t want to shoot the film in a cinemascope format.

The aspect ratio plays a key role in filmmaking.

For instance, in international films, directors adopt a different format for each venture. They make films according to the aspect ratio that’s needed for the script.

But Indian filmmakers mostly adopt cinemascope since the flicks are released in theatres first.

Q. Tell us about your upcoming projects.

A. I’m part of Biju Menon and Suraj Venjaramoodu-starrer Nadanna Sambhavam.

There are a few other projects which are yet to be finalised. I like to do films of different genres.

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