Kaala cinematographer Murali on working with Rajinikanth, Nana Patekar: A treat to witness them performing on set

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From assisting lensman Rajeev Ravi in Anurag Kashyap’s Dev.D to working in two consecutive films starring Rajinikanth very early in his career, cinematographer Murali has come a long way. After making his Tamil debut in director Pa. Ranjith’s critically and commercially-acclaimed gangster drama Madras, Murali had signed Kabali as his sophomore project, and Kaala marks his third film.

“I had felt that Kabali would have mixed reviews. The news of Rajini sir collaborating with a new-age director had created a great hype. And there are ardent fans with expectations. Some anticipated a Rajini movie which will stand out from all his previous films. Catering to these demands and also being conscious about making a realistic storyline is not a cakewalk. To me, apart from the commercial response, the story Kabali has discussed, and the emotional travel the character Kabali has undergone is its success,” Murali told Firstpost in an exclusive conversation, looking back at the response Kabalifetched post-release.

Murali said he was happy to receive the call for Kaala since it meant that everyone liked his work in Kabali. “In my opinion, I’m the first critic for my work. But until I hear the feedback from others, it is hard to figure out the impact my work has made. It was that moment when I was called to work on Kaala that I realised that my efforts had paid-off.”

Talking about the premise of Kaala, Murali said, “Kaala will be an action-drama which addresses the politics surrounding the land mafia. What makes owning a piece of land a pipe dream for a majority of people? Why are there slums like Dharavi? Not just Dharavi, Rio (where 2016 Olympics happened) has the biggest slums in the world. What’s there to gain or lose because of this urbanisation and globalisation? The people behind a city’s growth are mostly from slums. The film will address some interesting issues around land politics.”

Rajinikanth lauded Murali at the audio launch of Kaala saying that he has never seen him take rest on sets. Murali feels it’s a huge recognition that the actor had noticed all that. “I was overwhelmed to hear that from him. It was an honour that he noticed me on the sets and said those words. The film schools I trained in made clear to me that the execution part of filmmaking lies in a cinematographer’s hands and the enthusiasm he possesses is what kept the entire set on their toes,” said Murali.

A still from Kaala/Image from Twitter.

Asked if the color black will be a predominant motif in the film, Murali explained: “The theories and ideologies surrounding colours are not same everywhere. In the West, it is different from our country. There’s an ideology behind a politician wearing white. We have shown a glimpse of the colours in the trailer. Nana Patekar would be seen in white and talks about cleanliness. In Kaala, we developed a colour scheme for the different characters, their environment and the way the people live.”

Now that Murali has worked with Rajinikanth in two consecutive projects in three years, he has observed a lot about Thalaivar’s unique off-screen persona, which some rarely notice.

“More than the Rajini who I see through the lens, the Rajini I see off-screen inspire me a lot with his passion, motivation, and energy. After working in just four films, I could sense some boredom in me about the film industry; I have questions about the uncertainty in the industry. But after acting in more than 160 films, his spirit has not dropped a bit. Kaala is more like his production; he can work on a leisurely plan whenever he wants, but he will not do it. Rather than taking his job as a responsibility, he does it with utmost love. He is consumed with the desire for cinema. After reaching a respectable stature in life, it’s a normal human tendency to enjoy the fruits of your labour. But I have never seen Rajini sir enjoy that cushion. That’s why he’s the superstar,” gushed Murali.

Murali said Nana Patekar, who plays the antagonist role in the film, has nailed the character with his terrific performance. “It was a feast to witness Rajini sir and Nana Patekar performing on the sets. We could see them keenly observing each other’s acting skills to come up with a better performance. They both have a strong screen presence. Even at the audio launch, Rajini sir mentioned Harinath (the character played by Nana Patekar) as one of his three favourite villains after Mark Antony in Baasha and Neelambari in Padaiyappa.”

On a concluding note, Murali said he has an excellent working relationship with Ranjith since both of them believe in same ideologies. “During my first conversation with Ranjith, I felt that we shared similar ideologies. After travelling with him, I could sense the presence of an emotional connection between us. I found myself inline with his uncorrupted political views, how it can bring a change in today’s society and how cinema as a medium can be used for that. Kaala has enough moments for Rajini sir’s fans along with Ranjith’s signature social views.”

Jointly produced by Dhanush’s home banner Wunderbar Films and Lyca Productions, Kaala also stars Huma Qureshi, Pankaj Tripathi, Anjali Patil, and Samuthirakani in important roles.

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