Dulquer Salmaan's Kurup is a film based on the real life story of fugitive Sukumara Kurup. The film was welcomed by the audience and went on to collect over 50 crores. Cinematographer Nimish Ravi and production designer Banglan speak about recreating the 80's, what it took to bring Kurup to screen and how to negotiate creative decisions in a team, in this interview with Vishal Menon.
Vishal: What would have been your mindset if Kurup was a direct-to-OTT release?
Nimish: We made this film for the theatres but yes, there was an uncertainty. I had even begun grading this specifically for an OTT release. When Dulquer (Salmaan) told us that we will be going for a theatrical release, I was relieved. If it had only been released on an OTT platform, we would have been heartbroken. Even Banglan would have been disappointed. We worked on this film with utmost concentration to detail. Even a week before the release, we were still fine tuning the CG. That is the level of detailing we went through for creating this period with authenticity.
Vishal: If you look closely, the scene in the Bombay Aunty's house has everything in her kitchen arranged on the rack. The Dalda bottle which is placed behind the Horlicks bottle also resembles 1980's. That is the amount of detail you brought to the film. If it was an OTT release and people only watched it on their phones, these details go unnoticed. What do you think, Banglan?
Banglan: The film was shot and designed for the theatre. Unfortunately, because of COVID, theatrical release was seeming like a bleak option. It did worry us but thankfully, the film got the release in theatres. Of course it will also be released on an OTT platform later.
Vishal: Keeping aside the aspect of budgeting, if you are told that the film is an exclusive OTT release, is the thought process different in creating these frames?
Nimish: I worked on an anthology film with Netflix previously. I find close ups are better there when it comes to smaller screens as that leaves an immersive impression on the audience. In Kurup, we did not take this route at all. There were minimal close-ups. Other than scenes that were intimate, we have wide shots throughout the film. Definitely the thought process changes depending on the platform of release. Even the post production workflow is different when it is an OTT release.
Banglan: I think that an OTT film needs more detailing than theatres. People are more relaxed when they're watching the film. They pause the film, can take screenshots and point out mistakes.
Vishal: The film had visual cues that one would miss if they weren't watching keenly. For instance, when Sobhita's character goes into the subway, there are posters, an unusual looking subway with green walls. With such a setting, was there a temptation to always show wide frames and not go close-up?
Nimish: Those decisions are made only if the script demands it and what the director's vision is. In this film, right from the stages of script discussion we knew that the film was travelling through lots of geographies and didn't stay in one place. The decision to keep wide shots is because we needed to establish the shift in the geography. Close-ups would mean that not much is changing because the people in it are not. The biggest challenge in this process was for Baglan. He needed to design each of these spaces. We would be finishing up one shot and he is already set-up for the next. He creates a good mood for us to keep those wide shots. It worked out pretty well.
Vishal: When you are designing the film, do you take a 360-degree approach? For example, I read that while shooting Dil Chahta Hai, the room was created in a way where if you open a draw, you would actually find socks in it even if it was not going to be shot.
Nimish: We were working with budget constraints and didn't have the opportunity to accommodate that. We only created what will be in our frames perfectly and didn't need to go beyond that.
Banglan: In this film, we were very clear as to what kind of props were needed and how the frame would be set. We didn't look to the right or left of the frame but just created what was necessary.
Vishal: When we say a movie is beautiful, 90 percent of the credit will go to the cinematographer. We hear phrases like "the scene was beautifully shot." Only in advertising do people talk about the relationship between the cinematographer and the production designer. In this film, where do you both sync? Will Nimish's Kurup be different from Banglan's? How do you create a common vision?
Nimish: There are differences sometimes. When Banglan is okay with a shot, I might not be. At the end of it, the film is a collaborative effort. Praveen Verma's costumes were just as important. Nobody has an ownership of the film, separately but we all held it together. Both Banglan and I have a whole lot of references for everything. Director, Srinath (Rajendran)'s, biggest task was to collect all these ideas and create an equilibrium. He needed to pull people from different opinions into one single structure. It was a whole lot of fun and we are open to each other's ideas.
Vishal: When you compare references, were there any variations? We are used to setting up the 60's and 70's and also pre-Independence. What were the challenges of setting up the 80's?
Banglan: During the pre-production itself, I was introduced to Nimish for the first time. Srinath and I have known each other for a while. We started shooting and after a few scenes, everything started coming together.
Nimish: We would come to an understanding by considering our opinions during the recce. We planned everything in detail. Every shot was 200-300 kms away and before we reached the place for a shoot, Banglan would have created his magic. In the beginning, we took some time to understand each other's process but we got the hang of it pretty soon.
Vishal: In this film, there were establishing shots which were seen just for a second or so. For example, when we saw Madras Christian College's board, all we needed was to see the board but the frame had vintage cars in the back too. Does that not make things more expensive?
Banglan: For every film, we are given a production design budget. If we are able to plan ahead and see what brings more believability to the scene, we have done our job. Sometimes we needed to show the grandeur and sometimes we chose not to. That can be managed only when we budget our needs and can plan accordingly.
Nimish: Plus, we had a really supportive production team. They understood the needs of the film and gave us that freedom.
Vishal: The film is doing extremely well in theaters and continues to run housefull in many places. You are being recognised for our craft. How does it feel and how are you taking in all the appreciation?
Nimish: The response has truly been massive. I've been getting so many messages about the film. We knew people would watch the film and it had a hype of its own. At the end of the day, we tried to make a good film that people will enjoy. Even the director was not concerned about the buzz but about how true we stay to our story. I feel like the success we have now is only and only because of that.
Banglan: It was very easy working here because the director was positive and he ensured all of us felt that too. We felt motivated to spend time on the set and the story. Srinath Rajendran who did that for this team.