Ace cinematographer Ravi K Chandran needs no introduction. A mere mention of films such as Dil Chahta Hai, Yuva, Ghajini and My Name Is Khan tells a lot about Chandran’s work as a cinematographer that has spanned over more than two decades and earned him several laurels.

Chandran’s latest project is Ok Jaanu which marks his first collaboration with director Shaad Ali. The film which stars Aditya Roy Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor in key roles also sees Ali return to the genre of romance, fifteen years after he made his directorial debut with Saathiya.

Incidentally, Ok Jaanu is a remake of Mani Ratnam’s Ok Kanmani, much in the vein of Saathiya which was a remake of Ratnam’s Alaipayuthey.

Ravi K Chandran spoke to us about the making of the film, the challenge of representing Mumbai on screen, why shooting songs is an arduous task and more.

Could you talk about the visual approach adopted for the film and how did you go about achieving it?

I had seen Ok Kanmani when it had released. Having worked with Mani Ratnam earlier on Kannathil Mutthamittal and Yuva/Ayutha Ezhuthu, I knew how he would experiment and approach a scene. I am also a fan of cinematographer P.C.Sreeram (who shot Ok Kanmani) who has done some path-breaking work with Mani Ratnam. Ok Kanmani was a very young and vibrant film which doesn’t look like it’s been made by two of the senior most and talented technicians of the Indian film industry.

I am very skeptical about doing remakes and the only remakes I have worked upon till date are Virasat, Ghajini and now Ok Jaanu. Incidentally Thevar Magan (the original version of Virasat) was also shot by P.C. Sreeram. After several years, doing another remake was an interesting proposition especially of a film which I had liked immensely. When I met Shaad, he spoke about how Woody Allen has represented New York in Manhattan and Paris in films like Midnight In Paris or Vicky Cristina Barcelona. And he wanted to represent Mumbai in a similar way in Ok Jaanu.

The idea was to shoot in a manner that will represent the uniqueness of the city. Of late, we have shied away from using grad filters, backlights and other elements that were used very well in the earlier films. We have now moved away and are trying to be gritty, realistic and more in the art house zone. But one needs to understand that being realistic does not mean the film has to look murky and underexposed as if someone is shooting it with a hidden camera. Look at how they shot The Revenant so brilliantly without using lights!

But as Ok Jaanu was a romantic film, I was clear that it doesn’t need this kind of an approach. We wanted it to have a clearer and sharper imagery, contrast, colours etc. Shaad loved this approach and was keen that the film ooze the romance it intends to convey. In a romantic film, the actors have to look good, their emotions and expressions have to be highlighted in a way that will make audiences fall in love with them.

We would start shooting early in the morning around 4.30 –  5 am when the daylight was right. And we would continue shooting till 9.30 – 10 am after which we would shoot in the night. This helped us to capture Bombay in the best of the light and wrap the shoot in a span of 36 days.

We did not go with any pre-decided lighting pattern as we felt this film needed a more spontaneous treatment

Did the original film become a key reference for the treatment?

While shooting Ghajini, director A.R. Murugadoss and I wanted to change a lot of things from the original. But Aamir (Khan) insisted on not doing that and was keen to shoot in a way that was similar to the original. That’s why he also insisted on retaining actors such as Asin and Pradeep Rawat from the Tamil original. He had also advised that while remaking a film, the idea is not to lose the emotions and essence of the original. So while doing remakes, it is ideally advisable to not be extra adventurous, follow the original film closely and make corrections only if they are needed.

Similarly, while shooting Ok Jaanu, we did not want to miss out on the emotions and nuances of Ok Kanmani. Since many people have not seen the Tamil film, we wanted to take Ok Jaanu to those audiences with all its intricacies and nuances intact. So we retained the flavour, emotions and other nicer aspects of the original and didn’t deviate much from it.

Whenever remakes have tampered with the essence of the original they have badly misfired, which has happened with several Hindi remakes of South films.

What was the process you followed in order to ensure that Ok Jaanu stands out from the previous love stories you have worked upon?

Unlike many of the previous films I have worked upon, Ok Jaanu was set in one city which became a restriction. Also, I have never worked in a film that was a quintessential love story. If you look at my previous films such as Saawariya, a lot was going on in the proceedings besides the love story.

But Ok Jaanu was purely a romantic film with a lot of songs. The film also has many indoor scenes that take place especially within the house in which Aditya Roy Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor are staying. So be it the bedroom, hostels or the coffee shops, we wanted to make the interiors look exotic. A lot of detailing which went into the art and costume design of the film is also reflected in the cinematography.

Shraddha Kapoor, Ravi K Chandran and Aditya Roy Kapur check a take on the monitor

Since it is a new age love story, how would you describe the colour palettes that you have used for the film?

We spoke to the Art Director Sharmishta Roy and Costume Designer Eka Lakhani, who came up with a colour scheme and we selected certain colours that would be used in the course of the film. We used brown, maroon and chocolate brown colours predominantly. A lot of chocolate brown, grad filters were used in the wide shots and to depict several things including the Mumbai skyline.

One needs to understand that being realistic does not mean the film has to look murky and underexposed as if someone is shooting it with a hidden camera

The film has several songs. And each seem to have a visually distinct identity including the title song and the Humma Humma remix. Are the songs treated differently from the narrative or flow as part of the story? Tell us about the making of Humma Humma.

Songs are a bothersome area. Every film has around 5 to 6 songs and shooting them is a challenge. Because it is impossible to shoot songs exotically all the time. Most of the songs in our films are shot like a stage show with actors looking at the camera and making audiences feel like they are watching the song as an outsider. While shooting songs, actors must be shot from a much closer range which helps it to look different.

Talking about the songs in Ok Jaanu, there are some tricks we followed in order to beat the routine. This includes the title song that is shot with the actors on a bike. We watched several songs that are shot on bike, since almost every Hindi film has it including Yeh dosti from Sholay. We shot the song in high speed and with a handheld cramped effect, which merged beautifully in the final output and gave it a very unique energy.

Humma Humma came in as we didn’t have a song for that particular situation in the film and someone suggested to use the Humma Humma remix as a last resort. Like the original one, this version is also shot in a bedroom. We initially thought of shooting it on a set, but ended up shooting on an actual location. We used a lot of colours for this song as we were of the opinion that it would serve as a nice motif. The windows of the bedroom had blue and red tinted glasses which further added to the look of the song. The choreographer (Vaibhavi Merchant) suggested shooting the song around the bed and swing. Talking about comparisons with original song, they are inevitable and will always happen when one remixes a classic like Humma Humma.

Having previously shot for films set in Mumbai, how did you ensure that its representation would be different from your earlier films and Ok Kanmani?

The skyline of Mumbai especially South Mumbai always looks exciting and for filming we were clear that we should not go beyond Worli Seaface. During the making of the film, Shaad and I stayed in a hotel in Marine Drive for a month. In order to ensure that the city’s representation stood out compared to my previous films, we would walk around and explore places that were not shown in our films. And that indeed help me to represent Mumbai differently compared to my earlier films.

Ravi K Chandran

Ravi K Chandran during the making of Ok Jaanu

This was the first time you have worked with Shaad Ali. Could you talk about your association and experience of working with him?

I have known Shaad for a long time and he was insistent that we work together. He had approached me to work on Saathiya and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. But things didn’t work out owing to dates and other issues. Shaad is a very cinematographer-friendly director. He will fight to get the lighting and other technical details right which a cameraman is supposed to. So it was a delight to work with him. A lot of people have appreciated the film’s cinematography and it is all thanks to Shaad besides Sharmishta and Eka.

Whenever remakes have tampered with the essence of the original they have badly misfired, which has happened with several Hindi remakes of South films

Which camera and lenses have you used for the film and what prompted your decision to use it? Could you talk about your camera setup?

We mostly used Red Weapon and Ultra Prime lenses. I wanted the lenses to be small yet wide and close to the actors.

We used the Red camera in different latitudes. We tested it a lot including on the actors faces and they were very happy with the results. I shot the entire film on a Gimbal mode as I wanted to liberate the camera from the stands and the Jimmy Jib. So we were standing all the time while shooting the film and would go closer while shooting a close up. This gave the film an incredible rhythm and energy. The actors also got a lot of freedom since the camera did not restrict their movements.

Please take us through the lighting design adopted for this film – what kind of lights did you largely work with?

We did not go with any pre-decided lighting pattern as we felt this film needed a more spontaneous treatment. So we went with the feel and mood of the film and did the lighting accordingly. While shooting the actors, we used a strong backlight to separate them from the background. We used golden backlights, dino lights. I have used a lot of tungsten lights, golden schemers and bouncing lights to fill the actors faces. It gave a different feel to the skin and face of the actors.