Edited excerpts from a conversation between cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan and Vishal Menon.

How do you look at the aesthetics of the mass film, which you changed with Thuppakki? You brought it in a lot of consistency, introduced guerilla filmmaking…

I always thought that Thalapathy was commercial cinema. Roja, also, was a commercial film. So was Iruvar. For me, any film that has a song and a fight is a commercial film, because it subscribes to that formula. But all these films had different styles. Similarly, Thuppakki had a different style, a very funny style because the director {AR Murugadoss} wanted to shoot in Bombay city, but he did not want to shoot on Sundays because shops are closed; he wanted to shoot with bustling crowds, which could happen only after 10.30 or 11, which is when the best light is not there, and he wanted to shoot with Vijay sir in the middle of the street. So, we decided to have hidden cameras. He [Vijay] would stand there, we would film him, my camera would be in a car that was parked so that no one else parked there. Once we shot with that camera, another camera would come in from somewhere else. Soon, we would all disappear, without anyone knowing that we had shot anything. At places like Nariman Point, we would go in the morning and start shooting. Someone would call up and inform the cops. People from the BMC [Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation] would confiscate the camera. But we had another camera inside that we would take out. Vijay was most cooperative; he loved this. The film was well-written and once it was fleshed out, it was interesting to shoot it, and see it grow. 

Darbar is the exact opposite; everything was prearranged. We didn’t have too much variation: a police station, a railway station, fix or six buildings, and vehicles on the road… Almost entirely interior. So, we didn’t have that kind of a scope. But Thuppakki offered the whole Bombay as a playground.

Rajini Sir Has The Energy That Makes Everything He Does Look Very Young: Santosh Sivan On Darbar And More

Also, it must have been tougher to shoot with Rajnikanth, the crowd management…

Not only crowd management. I’ve shot with Rajni sir before, but he was much younger then. Now, you have to take care of him in terms of lighting. costume, makeup, a bit of VFX. And we had to make his skin look young. More than just pumping light onto the face, you need to get the skin to look young; that is the secret of making someone look good. But the advantage of having a Rajini sir is that he has the energy that comes in and makes everything he does look very young; he has a swag and a style. So, it’s fun to shoot.

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