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Long after the theatre lights are turned on, one of the key aspects that stay with a viewer is the visual appeal of the movie, vaguely passed off as how “good-looking” the movie was. When further dug cinematically, this aspect divides into factors like the lighting in frame, the color scheme used, the type of camera and its angle, and the subject in focus – managed and headed by the cinematographer of a movie. In retrospect, I realize there have been ample movies in cinema worldwide that emerged impactful just for the work of the brilliant cinematographers – one of whom is Ravi Varman.
Having decas of movies across different film industries to his credit as a cinematographer, Ravi Varman is widely celebrated for creating poetic frames on screen – the frames that reminisce one of the classic paintings of the glorious Rennaissance age of Europe. His frames are distinct – for they evoke a separate mood of their own, generally happiness. A huge admirer of Varman’s work, below I list down my 5 favorite moments/frames shot by him in a chronological order of movie’s release:
Barfi! is the first movie I watched that credits the master Ravi Varman as the cinematographer. Capturing the serene locales of Darjeeling and the vibrant streets of Kolkata in totally contrasting cool and warm color schemes respectively, Ravi Varman’s work makes me fall further for the visual appeal of the movie. The different feels of happiness vs sadness, love vs separation, and satisfaction vs regret – Varman depicts them very well by striking a balance of light and dark frames.
When Barfi introduces Jhilmil to Shruti and they walk across Kolkata, this frame particularly catches my attention everytime for seamlessly summing up the present mood of the movie. A satisfied and smiling Barfi, a retrospecting Shruti narrating her thoughts, and an ever-cute Jhilmil sit together in the classic Kolkata tram and are being themselves in this perfect shot by Varman, as Arjit Singh sings a soul-soothing melody with the Tabla beats. This appealing frame reflects a lot about love and regrets, much to the credits to the trio living their parts on screen.
If it’s about looking at and admiring the usage of colors on screen, what is better than watching a Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie! Ram-Leela has the director back home to the vibrance, celebration, and shine of opulent havelis and forever lit diyas after years. What’s different this time is the presence of Ravi Varman as the cinematographer on board, who wonderfully maximizes the lasting cinematic impact created by the signature SLB sequences full of poetry, especially the above one in a song.
Ravi Varman in this focused and saturated shot has captured Ram, Leela, and colors – which stay on an unbelievably perfect position in the air akin to the love blossoming between the two protagonists. Achieving this aesthetic visual is nothing short of brilliance, almost like a painting in disguise. Pausing the song sequence at this exact frame, the beauty created on-screen during the first meeting of Ram and Leela amidst Holi is all I marvel at and hail Varman for. I ain’t exaggerating, but it is simultaneously amusing and bewildering how the color thrown randomly in the air does nothing to the faces of the two leads – it all stays naturally in the background. Voila.
Falling in love with the unknown ‘Don’ she has just met in the picturesque island of Corsica, Tara fixes her eyes at Ved in this silent sequence while he stares into vanity. A minimal piano tune plays in the background. The two people present may not be speaking, but the frame by Ravi Varman does speak volumes. The imagery of these two protagonists sitting on distant peaks matches the present identity disconnect between them. They are physically together, but dwell in different worlds emotionally.
So, even as Tara tends to get attracted to the mysterious Ved, she doesn’t get back any look, as Imtiaz Ali’s introvert hero apparently continues to imagine multiple stories in his scattered thoughts. Ravi Varman in this wide-angle shot has gloriously captured the breathtaking beauty of Corsica like a travelogue photographer, still easily managing to get the human subjects catch our attention in no time. The natural beauty of a sunset, Corsican mountains, and the two appealing characters sparkling in this one alluring frame – how to get your eyes off this one!
Not that Kaatru Veliyidai is an otherwise bad movie, but Ravi Varman’s cinematography is one of the biggest reasons I whole-heartedly love this Mani Ratnam romance, for besides Aditi Rao Hydari’s graceful presence and charm. Masterfully capturing the many moods of the two protagonists Leela and VC as they romance across nature’s three elements of air, water, land – Ravi Varman leaves no stone unturned in painting sheer beauty on celluloid – one sequence after the other.
Though the top shots of the forever scenic Kashmir and Leh are the obvious ones to admire, yet it is this much closely shot sequence that seizes my heart. Feat. the two leads, Ravi Varman makes it look like a visual illustration of if silences could speak. Captured in warm colors in contrast to the constant cold palette portraying the outdoors, Leela and VC here discuss their relationship which has helplessly captivated them despite being on different pages. Their differences are cinematically highlighted as they lie down in opposite directions. To further escalate the feel, a much nominal yet effective ARR score plays in the background. Seamlessly, a magical cinematic moment gets created for everyone to witness.
Jagga Jasoos has been shot by Ravi Varman on a much warm and vibrant color palette – well-displaying the spirit of this musical adventure Jagga and Shruti set on. With the idea of the two protagonists stuck in different kinds of situations as they explore different places one after the other, the narrative provides ample opportunities to the team to create different worlds high on a distinct charm of their own, mostly a natural and unadulterated one. Varman has done an amazing work capturing those different worlds with his heavily lightened and vividly colorful frames.
As the eccentric ‘Ullu Ka Pattha’ plays in the background amidst one of the many joyful sequences of the movie, Ravi Varman in the above frame has shot the deserted village in light while the protagonists’ goofy dance is projected in natural shadow of sunlight on the rural walls. The mood is lazy and carefree, yet the style of its depiction seems much worked upon and all praiseworthy. The colors and the subjects in this frame emanate warmth – with others sitting unbothered by what Jagga and Shruti do – which was rare in the movie – and Varman captures this little moment of happiness perfectly.
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