Shamdat Sainudeen, the go-to cinematographer for debutant directors

In a career spanning 18 years, the cinematographer has films like ‘Prasthanam’, ‘Uppena’, ‘Devadas’ and ‘Sridevi Soda Centre’ to his credit.

ByY Sunita

Published Jan 03, 2023 | 4:00 PMUpdatedJan 03, 2023 | 4:00 PM

Shamdat Sainudeen cinematographer

Cinematographer Shamdat Sainudeen’s repertoire is mixed: Some content-oriented stories and some commercial films.

He has been in Telugu cinema for a long time. His career spanning 18 years has helped him craft some memorable images, be it The Tiger (Malayalam), Prasthanam, Sahasam, Uppena, Devadas or the latest Sridevi Soda Centre and Ranga Ranga Vaibhavanga.

Shamdat Sainudeen is currently in the process of winding up Virupaksha, a thriller touted to be a comeback film for Sai Dharam Tej, who was on a sabbatical after an accident.

The cinematographer is known in industry circles for optimising resources and giving quality output.

Full of candour and enthusiasm, he is easy to talk to but is guarded when it comes to spilling details of his ongoing movie. Excerpts from the conversation with Shamdat:

Q. You’ve been with new directors right now, ever since Uppena‘s success. Do you miss working with accomplished directors?

shamdat cinematographer

Cinematographer Shamdat Sainudeen. (Supplied)

A. Be it debutants or seniors, the job is the same. Every person wants to narrate their stories on screen. In this process, what we need is friendship and this rapport helps in communication.

Similarly, clarity leads to the making of a good film. Those who work with me respect me, believe in me and understand what I try to convey. If someone doesn’t understand me, I try not to collaborate with them the next time.

Q. When will you direct a film?

A. I have a certain, distinct story-telling style. My experience with life comes from what I have seen in movies and what happened to me.

The new directors have different perspectives on their stories. I want to experience that too.

Mostly, I like being a cinematographer and getting into different stories. I want to tell stories that I will definitely direct whenever I have time.

Q. What’s the difference between the Telugu and Malayalam audience?

A. In Kerala, people prefer OTT platforms. If someone assures that it’s a good film, only then will they visit the halls to watch. Else, they’ll wait till it streams on one of the OTT platforms.

However, I have a connection with the twin Telugu states. People love cinema here and they watch it in theatres. It has become a part of their lifestyle. They want good stories and look mostly for variety.

In Telugu states, people watch it every week on the first day to see their star or the stories. If a film is good, they will repeat their viewing experience in the theatres.

It is a festival; people visit theatres with friends and family to enjoy. There is sound design and visual quality, the bigger picture that the audience respects.

As a technician, whatever I make, I make for the big screen. I enjoy when people have fun and pleasure when they see it there irrespective of the content.

Q. What’s your funda behind working for the same banner (SVCC) three times and mega family actors as many times?

A. When you make friends, you get offers. The production company is so comfortable to work with and provides whatever I ask for. They give me freedom and there is no stress whatsoever. This is not planned.

I was born and raised in Palakkad and I have made my career here. I met Vaishnav Tej here and our friendship continued.

The production company, which is professional, told me to listen to their stories and do it only if I liked it.

When I did Sahasam, the producer said they save money when they do the film and make money when they sell it and credit me vastly for that.

All this is happening in the flow, be it due to bonding with people or absolute professionalism. The people here know how to treat technicians, they are respected here.

Q. Tell us about your association with Sukumar…

A. Uppenna happened due to Sukumar. He told me to listen to the story and take a call. He wanted to ask me how the film will shape up.

Same with Virupaksha. Sukumar wrote the screenplay. He selects the right technicians for the stories.

When Virupaksha began, he told me to take care of the story, which means he believes in me. I’m sure this will be a blockbuster.

Newcomer Karthik Varma Dandu has immense potential. He is open to ideas and is a happy person at the end of the day. He is a chilled-out director and I told him that we should bring out an international quality in it. Only if you push that boundary, you’ll stand tall and long in the industry.

Virupaksha is a mystique thriller and has a lot of visual adventure. Sound plays an important role in this beautiful story. The right director can take it to places and that’s what is happening here.

When we began, the movie budget was different. I told my producers that they need to invest more to bring out a certain quality, which they did.

Q. Sai Dharam Tej’s career is not exactly happening. Does it make sense to spend on a hero whose market value is not great?

A. If a story demands a kind of budget, we have to spend. If we have a superman story, we have to spend on it and not economise because the director is new or the actor has no market currently.

I see emotions in visuals, be it in lighting or lensing. Moreover, you need good art directors, costume designers, production designers and make-up artists. Then comes sound designers, the ones who do colouring, etc.

Right now, we are finishing the shoot. Those who watched the rushes say there is a certain wow factor in it. We are confident that the audience will lap it up.

Shamdat virupaksha

Cinematographer Shamdat Sainudeen on the sets of a film. (Supplied)

Q. Sai Dharam Tej is working on this film after his accident. How did he perform? What is Virupaksha and how did it come out?

A. This is like a second birth for Sai Dharam Tej. He has done magic. He wants to do good films.

He understands that our movies should keep up with international standards. Now and then, he enquires if I am happy and if everything is right.

Virupaksha is the third eye, the truth. Let the audience talk about it, it is too early for me to reveal any details. The shoot wasn’t challenging at all; it was like experiencing the story. I feel that I achieved 70 percent of what I perceived.

Q. How do you break stereotypes?

A. Indian films are all cliched. If you see my work, I haven’t done much magic on screen. Few films might have the spark.

Every cameraman has done at least five films that stand out, the rest are management. It is all about the team. This will be known to me as the most enjoyable film.

All the time I might not be right, so I look at what the director says. It is not always what you think is right. They might have a different vision in their mind, I should understand it and go with them. Virupaksha will rock!