Over the past five months, Senthil and his team have been focused on breathing life into Baahubali, which releases on July 10. “Always running on the back of my mind is this urge to change things. I always want to go back and re-shoot portions. An artist is never satisfied, right?”
When I call KK Senthil Kumar, this classic from Veer Zaara plays on endlessly.
Main Yahaan Hoon Yahaan Hoon…
It takes a while to reach the man. He’s quite busy with the post-production work for Baahubali. And by the time he gets back to me, I’m in love with the song.
So is he. “I haven’t changed it for the longest time,” he says.
Destiny. Senthil often uses the word. To describe his accidental entry into the world of cinematography; his first film; and then, the six-movie strong partnership with SS Rajamouli. “If things had gone according to plan, I’d have been in the Civil Services now. I’d taken a two-year break after my graduation to prepare for the exams. I used to write every other job exam that came my way – be it a bank position or something else. Looking back, I know I wouldn’t have been happy all that. This life feels right. No regrets, really.”
His film school experience ‘opened his eyes’ to world cinema. “Before I went to Pune, I was only aware of our own greats – like Mani Ratnam sir and Shankar sir. But at college, I was introduced to Kurasowa, Tarkovsky and the like. It was an all new experience.”
Career-wise, it took a lot of hard work before he began to get projects. “I come from a non-filmy background. There was just no way that these guys would roll out the red carpet for me just because I studied in the Pune institute. It took a long and hard time before I even began to dream of solo projects.”
Destiny also (eventually) led him to his first film, Aithe. His work on the project received much acclaim, and bafflingly, also earned him the ‘arthouse cinematographer’ tag. “It’s fascinating, really. How can people judge a person’s talents based on one particular film? Granted, Aithe was not your usual Telugu commercial fare. It was an indie sort of film that gained popular acclaim. So, everybody that worked on it was also tarred with the same brush. There was a long period during which I had no offers. A lot of praise, but no offers.”
SS Rajamouli’s Sye changed all that, and there has been no looking back ever since for Senthil. “For Sye, we experimented with various camera angles to accurately capture Rugby; for Yamadonga, we had the largest set ever. With every other film that I work on, I can feel myself reaching a higher standard. At the end of the day, that’s all we want, no? Striving for excellence?”
Of course, over the years, a lot of sacrifices and compromises have been made, and through it all, Senthil has stood firm on his ideals. “I’m all about work and keeping it professional. When we were shooting the waterfall scene, my father passed away. I had to go quickly for the funeral and come back to shoot. There was just no time to grieve. It wasn’t normal, or something that I’d have ideally liked to do. But it had to be done. A lot of things are at stake here.”
He also feels that he has missed out on the most important moments in his kids’ life. “That’s one of the disadvantages I suppose. Total commitment to a project equals zero personal life. When I was a carefree bachelor, it was okay. But now, I’ve got countless responsibilities. So I end up missing the deadline on a whole lot of them.”
The advent of VFX has changed the game in more ways than one, and Senthil feels that the work his generation of technicians do right now is far more advanced (not to mention complex) than ten years ago. “Back then, all you had to do was shoot something and go home. Things are not that simple now. There’s a lot that DoPs must do to make sure the end result is as they expect. A lot of effort goes into it.”
He also firmly believes that Baahubali will be a trendsetter of sorts. “It doesn’t mean that people will start making more expensive movies. That’s not it. I think that with this film’s success, people will go back to making films for the sake of it, and not for the money. More often than not, we see a great number of films being made with the sole intent of making profits. They don’t add anything to the industry.”
Senthil doesn’t always find time for himself. When he does though, he likes to do it right. “Cricket has always been a passion of mine. Sports in general, I was really good at. There are a lot of things that I’d do if I had the time. I’ve got several ideas, in fact. But problem is – I’m booked solid for the near future.”
Life in the film industry is not without its faults. “It’s a high pressure environment. There’s always this feeling that you have to better yourself, the other technicians, and your previous efforts. That’s not the ideal state to be in, no?”
Thankfully, Senthil’s wife – a Yoga practitioner – has his stress levels well under control. “I’m in a really enviable position I think. Not everybody can boast of having a Yoga expert at home to take care of them now, can they?”
The KK Senthil Kumar interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.
Pics: KK Senthil Kumar’s Facebook page