Performances were the best takeaway from ‘Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam’, says cinematographer Sreeraj Raveendran

Directed by Senna Hegde, the hilarious family drama has been winning accolades for the performances and making

It is raining accolades for Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam, the family drama from Senna Hegde and team. The OTT-release has won fans for the story, humour, direction and performances. Basking in the success is Sreeraj Raveendran, the cinematographer and co-scriptwriter of the movie.

The hilarious, well-crafted film, set in Kanhangad of Kasaragod, revolves around a middle-class family where a girl elopes just before her engagement. The terrain was not familiar for Sreeraj, who hails from Irinjalakkuda in Thrissur. “That was not an issue because the theme and the emotions were universal,” says Sreeraj. The film has won the Kerala film awards for the second best film and best story.

Still from ‘Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam’ directed by Senna Hegde | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The camera work has come in for a lot of praise. Sreeraj has explained it all on social media — the style, look, hunt for the location, camera and lens, lighting and colour correction. “The project had its challenges. I had documented everything hoping to share it with all, provided the film did well. I also thought it might help low-budget projects,” says Sreeraj.

An alumnus of director-cinematographer Rajiv Menon’s Mindscreen Film Institute in Chennai, Sreeraj says that he was perhaps influenced by those sessions where Rajiv and other stalwarts in the field explained their craft. “I follow social media pages of many cinematographers where they talk about their work and also listen to some podcasts. That is why I felt I should also talk about my work on the film.”

His fascination for cinematography started with Amal Neerad’s Mammootty-starrer Big B (2007). “The film was a different experience for the viewers. Until then I did not even know of cinematographer.” Sreeraj did some research on the courses and after graduation in animation, joined Mindscreen.

He started out working in short films before cinematographer Vishnu Sharma took him on board in Tovino Thomas’ Godha as the second camera operator. The producers of Godha gave him his first independent project, Lilli, directed by Prasobh Vijayan.

Bonding with Senna

It was through the same producer that he came in touch with Senna who was looking for a cinematographer for his Kannada movie, Katheyondu Shuruvagide (2018). “We were destined to work together. When my first short film, Subham, was released Senna had messaged me on my page saying he loved the night shots and wanted to work with me in his Kannada project. Even though we did not discuss it after that, the project eventually came to me. Now he is like a brother to me and I hope this collaboration is intact for many years to come.”

Sreeraj Raveendran on the location of ‘Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam’ | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

He became co-scriptwriter of Thinkalazhcha Nischayam on Senna’s insistence. “When he sent me the first draft of the script I made some suggestions. He took my inputs as the work on the script progressed. Eventually he said instead of making another person write it, I should do it.”

Organic scenes and dialogue delivery, that too in the local dialect, have given freshness to the narrative. “A cinematographer is the first one to capture a performance and that is a privilege. I am lucky to have seen some great performances from close quarters. It is the best takeaway for me from the movie.”

The film was shot in sync sound and the actors were given a free rein. “They were not given a script. Before each scene, we would give them an overview and a rough structure of the dialogue.”

Camera as a character

Senna’s brief for Sreeraj was that the camera should give a third person’s point of view. “We did not have those track/crane/drone shots that make scenes cinematic. I went for handheld shots and, in some cases, steady-cam or tripod.”

That was easier said than done because the location, the protagonist Vijayan’s house, had small rooms. “The house had a character and beautiful premises. The interiors turned out to be a nightmare. Senna shot down my suggestion to shoot those scenes in another house. So I used anamorphic lens, that too old Hawk anamorphic lenses since Senna wanted the overall mood of the movie to remind us of the classic Malayalam family dramas of the ‘90s but with a modern approach.”

A colour palette was maintained throughout the movie. “It is difficult in a low/medium budget film, especially when you are shooting outdoors. Here, however, all the action was happening in and around a house. So we made a colour chart. Art director Ullas Hydur and costume designer Manu Madhavan ensured that we stuck to that palette.”

Still from ‘Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam’ directed by Senna Hegde | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

For lighting, they used smart bulbs in which you can change the colour, temperature, brightness using an app on the smartphone. “Senna works very fast and I had just 15 to 20 minutes to set up my lighting after a scene. We went with smart bulbs that were hung inside white china balls in the rooms used for the shoot. All I had to do was instruct the team to change the temperature and brightness of the light depending on the mood of the scene.”

Sreeraj makes special note of actor Rajesh Madhavan, the creative director of the project. “He managed the actors, created a script for background action and choreographed those sequences.” The shoot was finished in 23 days.

He is working with Senna in two upcoming projects. “He does not interfere in technical aspects. His focus is on performances. He is at ease on the sets, at the same time he has a control over everything.”

Sreeraj mentions that he has been influenced by the works of Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. “I love handheld shots and the inspiration has been his work in Amores Perros.” Among his forthcoming projects is a Telugu movie, Stand Up Rahul.

Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam is streaming on SonyLIV.

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