We Wanted to Create A Different Sense of Darkness In Ullozhukku: Cinematographer Shehnad Jalal

The DOP of the Urvashi-Parvathy starrer talks about capturing the poetic final sequence, staging scenes within a single room and more
We Wanted to Create A Different Sense of Darkness In Ullozhukku: Cinematographer Shehnad Jalal

Christo Tomy’s Ullozhukku is stung by grief. The Malayalam drama is mostly about the two characters – Urvashi’s Leelamma and her daughter-in-law Anju (played by Parvathy Thiruvothu) coming to terms with a death, and consequently secrets in the family. Cinematographer Shehnad Jalal, who previously lensed Christo’s documentary Curry & Cyanide and the horror films Bhoothakaalam and Bramayugam, is the DOP behind this project.

It’s a mere coincidence that most of his recent films unfold in a single house, Shehnad says. There is a difference in how these places are captured in Rahul Sadasivan’s horror twins and Christo’s family drama. “If you ask me, the story and setting were mostly about the house only in Bhoothakaalam. Rahul is someone explores such spaces. In both of his films, there will be many shots of empty spaces without any characters. That’s how he treats his films. It’s interesting for me to light up the places and explore the shots when filming such sequences. In Ullozhukku, we wanted the viewers to always stay with the characters but also feel trapped in that situation.”

A still from Bramayugam
A still from Bramayugam

Shooting in narrow, congested spaces is quite difficult, Shehnad admits. “There’s a lot of hard work involved. My team had to work standing in knee-deep water for most of the day. Yet it helps convey what the characters are feeling.” The idea was to have a slight blueish tone in the frames. But the team couldn’t get a certain level of darkness because the sun was mostly shining bright. “We had to light up the interiors to balance it with the outdoors. Albeit filming the sequences in the monsoon months of June and July, it didn’t rain that much. We had to use artificial rain. The house and its surroundings were a huge area and the art team would create the floods, and also change the water levels as the story progresses. The water even enters the house towards the end.” A few outdoor sequences like the cemetery scene were captured during the actual floods, he adds.

Parvathy in Ullozhukku
Parvathy in Ullozhukku

In the film, the family waits for the floods to end to cremate the body of Leelamma’s son Thomas Kutty. Surrounded by the cloudburst and several relatives, Leelamma and Anju often find privacy within the four walls of Anju’s room. This creative choice leaves both the characters and viewers overwhelmed with a sense of suffocation. The team shot several sequences for over 25 days in just that one room, Shehnad reveals. “Most scenes happen inside Anju’s room. It’s a very limited space to shoot. So after you play around and do a few shots on the first day, you actually feel like you’ve exhausted the different angles. But it’s not like that. Every scene offers something different. So, when you keep looking for a new lesson to learn from it, you won’t get bored of it. When you’re excited and keep yourself fresh every day, the audience too wouldn’t find it boring. A shooting day is a whole different war game,” he says, adding that the rough rehearsals helped the team decide the various angles and positions.

Anju's room
Anju's room

Like how the rainwater slowly seeps into the house over the film’s runtime, the way the conversation scenes of the women are shot too gradually changes. “Take the mirror sequence when Anju tells Leelamma that she’ll leave after the funeral, for instance. Anju doesn’t want to face her. Throughout the scene, she’s not looking at Leelamma directly. So, when she reveals that she wants to leave, she’s just looking at herself in the mirror.” In most other sequences, their conversations are often captured with over-the-shoulder shots.

But as the truth bombs explode, the characters bond over their misery, a sudden tide in life, and dawning realisations. Echoing this change, even before the heartwarming final sequence, the frames begin to accommodate both of them, simultaneously capturing their actions and reactions. “Towards the end, when they’re sitting together on the bed and talking, we didn’t want to cut through with any suggestive shots because a certain kind of bond had started developing between them.” In a film where the mood is always dark and dull, night shot were a rarity. Shehnad says, “Christo had written the script with a lot of events unfolding during the daytime. During the day, you’re seeing the rain and floods. So, there is another level of darkness in the frames, even though they don’t come from the light.”

The moving final sequence of Anju and Leelamma in a boat, far away from everything that surrounded them until then, is an image that one can’t easily forget. The cinematographer too agrees and says filming that sequence was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for him. “When we were about to shoot the scene, the lighting was very bad. The sunlight was hitting directly at the camera and its rays were glaring all over the waterbody.” Yet when it was time to start rolling, nature decided to join the crew. “All of a sudden, the climate changed. It started getting darker and clouds began to form. As the boat reaches the centre, you can see that it’s raining from afar. It’s rare because it started raining in between the scene and slowly, the downpour covered the entire frame.” Whatever Christo had penned in his script happened as it is. “And as soon as we wrapped up, the clouds too disappeared. It was all just magical.”

Related Stories

No stories found.
www.filmcompanion.in