Photographer Sudarshan talks about his work for Maanaadu, Jai Bhim and other films

Sudarshan's credits include Maari 2, Irumbu Thirai, Saaho, the recently released Doctor and Jai Bhim, and the upcoming Maanaadu and Radhe Shyam

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ might be an overused adage, but photographer Sudarshan believes it so strongly that he has anointed himself, 'Storyteller’ Sudarshan. “When aspiring actors approach me to shoot their portfolios, I prefer telling a story through the pictures. I make the pictures look like screenshots from films,” says Sudarshan, whose credits include Maari 2, Irumbu Thirai, Saaho, the recently released Doctor and Jai Bhim, and the upcoming Maanaadu and Radhe Shyam

The rules in the Tamil film industry permit only members of the South Indian Movie Still Photographers Union to click pictures at the shooting spot, but clicking pictures for promotional material gives photographers a leeway to take pictures on the sets. One such instance happened on the sets of the recently released Jai Bhim. “They approached me to create intense posters that would reflect the seriousness of the film. The court had already been constructed and I felt the desk, where Suriya sir sits, would be a perfect pick!”

Working on Prabhas’ upcoming project Radhe Shyam, though, was a different experience altogether, he says. “Being a period film, it was shot in huge sets, and recreating them in a different studio for a photoshoot seemed like a huge task. To save the cost, we opted to click candid pictures while the actors shot for their scenes. I pitched ideas to the director—who gave me complete freedom—on the spot and locked the frames for pictures,” Sudarshan adds.

Sudarshan explains that knowing the story of the film is an “extremely important” part of the job. Speaking about Maanaadu, he says, “When Venkat Prabhu asked me to come down to Pondicherry—where the team was filming—to shoot the lead actor Silambarasan TR for the first look posters, I went in expecting it to be a political film. I had elements like flags and cutout standees in my mind, but was pleasantly surprised to learn that the film would be different.”

One of the first posters of Maanaadu features multiple versions of Silambarasan and it’s an idea the team came up with in the nick of time. The process was certainly “challenging,” he shares. “I wanted to come up with something simple, yet captivating. We made sure the angle remained unchanged, while Simbu stood in different positions. We had to maintain uniformity in the lighting to ensure the shadows looked natural, even if it had over 50 versions of Simbu in the frame,” he says. 

The award-winning photographer shares that the Tamil film industry is beginning to embrace abstract ideas, but there’s a long way to go. “The problem is that people settle for substandard quality. ‘This is enough for a poster,’ they often say. I like taking that extra step to make posters more real. Cinema, after all, is all about cheating the viewers,” he signs off.

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