Ace cinematographer Preetha Jayaraman bares open her life behind the lens, her upcoming Mani Ratnam production, her other path breaking works and more in a candid interview with RITZ Magazine.
Her much awaited film Vaanam Kottatum, a Mani Ratnam production, is due to release on February 7, 2020, but that doesn’t make Preetha Jayaraman, sit back and relax or bask in her glory. Her cinematography experience shooting feature films, television commercials, music videos, short films and documentaries is commendable, to say the least. Some of Preetha’s recent body of work includes ‘Adi Lakshmi Purana’ for director Priya.V produced by Rockline Venkatesh and a Hindi film named “Tadka” for director Prakash Raj which is the remake of acclaimed Malayalam film “Salt and Pepper” starring Nana Patekar, Shriya Saran, Taapsee Pannu and Ali Fazal in the lead. The film is slated for release in 2020.
Her impressive filmography includes Kannada films ‘Nanu Mathu Varalakshmi’ (December 2016) and ‘Boxer’ (November 2015) both directed by Preetham Gubbi. In 2014 she shot the trilingual film on food and love “Oggarane /Un Samayal Araiyil/ Ulavucharu Biriyani” directed by Prakash Raj. The movie was awarded Best Director by the South Indian Cinematographers association for the Kannada version. In Tamil, she has to her credit ‘Kannamoochi Enada’, a feature film for director Priya.V, ‘Abhiyum Naanum’ and ‘Gouravam’ for director Radha Mohan. Abhiyum Naanum was awarded Best Film by the Tamil Nadu state for 2008.
She has shot the Hindi/English feature film ‘The Fakir of Venice’ for Anand Surapur starring Farhan Akhtar and Annu Kapoor, music by AR Rahman. She has shot multiple television commercials for leading brands including ICICI Bank, Britannia, Brooke Bond, Titan, Apple, TVS, Tata Gold Plus, Ujjala and music videos for acclaimed singer Kailash Kher (“Teri Deewani”) among others.
Preetha is a gold medalist from FTI, Chennai and assisted National award-winning Cinematographer PC Sreeram. She completed her Masters in Film and Television from Bond University in Australia and was awarded an internship with Warner Brothers during her course. Her repertoire also includes a number of short films including ‘Verukku Neer” with award-winning actor-director Revathy Menon, and ‘Asli Azaadi’ a documentary on women freedom fighters with director Sagari Chhabra. She recently won the Galatta Wonder Woman award for Inspiring Pathbreaker in Cinematography and the Karnataka Woman Achiever’s Award for Excellence in Film. The pretty and poignant cinematographer shares her creative journey in an exclusive tête-à-tête.
When and how did you decide to become a cinematographer?
From a very young age I have been interested in the Arts. I used to scribble poems, take photographs and have always been leaning towards images and words. A bit of a dreamer, I have always seen the world differently. I passed out of school and decided to take up Cinematography as my main subject of specialisation. It’s been a process of learning and discovery. I’m still becoming a cinematographer in a way, still a student and plan to be one for the rest of my life. It’s what excites me, challenges me and defines me. I think I am basically a storyteller…with lenses, lighting, with my camera.
Did you take formal training?
I joined the Film Institute in Chennai after my 12th Standard. I passed out with a gold medal from the Institute. I worked on the field as an assistant for five years. I went to Australia and completed a Master’s degree in Film, after my assisting stint and came back and started scouting for work to start working independently. I have had the best of both, formal training and practical training.
What were the challenges initially and how did you overcome them?
It’s a tough industry to break into. There is a lot of struggle to get your first break. I had to wait in the wings till I got my first chance to shoot something independently. You pass around your reel, try to do some second unit work and hope the collaborators you meet and interact with, pick you for their next. There is no way to really overcome the challenges, you have to be patient, keep the faith and continue to learn, imbibe and study cinema while you are waiting. It takes all of us years to get out first break and then to still continue to work in the industry. Because it is highly competitive, you are only as good as your last film. You have to just keep swimming.
How has the journey been?
My journey has been enriching. Every film I work on is a highpoint because I love being on set, interpreting a director’s vision. I love the challenges each film brings.
I recently got to work with Mani Ratnam on his home production Vaanam Kottatum. It was very inspiring.
Please share some interesting anecdotes about your projects so far?
Fakir of Venice for Anand Surapur with Farhan Akhtar and Annu Kapoor is one such. I had just become independent and got to shoot Kailash Kher’s music video Teri Deewani with Anand and got called by him to shoot the Venice leg of his film Fakir of Venice. It was very exciting working with an Italian crew. They were very intrigued to have a petite woman as the Director of photography being the boss.
A beautiful film I loved working on was Abhiyum Naanum, exploring the relationship between a father and daughter. Universal in theme and very close to my heart. With the very talented Prakash Raj as the father. Prakash and I have been working together ever since, we make a great team.
Please share some details of your work with Mani Ratnam?
Mani Sir is a fount of creativity and energy. He was in the midst of planning his epic production of Ponniyin Selvan and he still made time as a Producer to brain storm with me on Vaanam Kottatum’s look and locations. He is the kind of person who pushes you to test your boundaries. His strength is in being able to bring the best out of every person he works with, that was a great lesson for me.
How do you keep yourself fit and motivated to go on in a field that is dominated by men?
I work out. Staying fit physically and mentally is key to this job. I practise yoga, dance fitness, weight train and walk a lot every chance I get. I think you have to be fit whether you are male or female in this job. It’s the only way to keep going during the long hours of shoot. I think exercise is good for the brain, keeps the ideas flowing.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on the post production of Vaanam Kottatum, which releases on February 7. I have two Tamil films in the pipeline and am shooting a Kannada film Badava Rascal, which I’m excited about. It’s a small film with some very talented people on board. I’m having a lot of fun shooting it.
What are your other passions and hobbies?
I love to write. I have written many articles for leading dailies. I’m working on a script which will be made into a web series this year. It will be a first for me.
All my leisure time is for my daughter Mira. Her hobbies are mine currently.
What are your future plans?
Keep working. Keep doing what I love. Sky is the limit!