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Santosh Sivan Illuminates Cinematic Art at MIFF 2024

Mumbai: The 18th Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) hosted an enthralling ‘In-Conversation’ session with master cinematographer Santosh Sivan, titled ‘Visual Symbolism from Images to Narrative Meaning,’ at the NFDC complex today. Renowned for his contributions to Malayalam, Tamil, and Hindi cinema, as well as international projects, Sivan shared his profound insights on the art of cinematography. The session was moderated by esteemed film critic Namrata Joshi.

Santosh Sivan emphasized the crucial balance between darkness and light in creating a sense of mystery within a scene. “Everything with mystery should have a blend of darkness and light. Whenever I do some lighting, I ensure that this blend is there. If you are playing a piano, you should play with all the keys,” he remarked. This philosophy underpins his distinctive visual style, captivating audiences worldwide.

Reflecting on his diverse experiences, Sivan noted that different film genres require unique treatments, and he enjoys working across a spectrum of styles, from art house to commercial films. Commenting on his Hollywood ventures, he observed the industry’s strict adherence to schedules, adding, “I have learned something from all the projects I have worked in.”

During the candid session, Sivan shared anecdotes from his collaborations with iconic Indian directors. He highlighted his long-standing partnership with Mani Ratnam, noting their collaboration on six films. Sivan recounted convincing Ratnam to make Preity Zinta’s character a Malayali girl in ‘Dil Se,’ and the memorable shooting of the song ‘Chhaiya Chhaiya,’ where Shah Rukh Khan performed without a harness on a moving train. The entire shoot was completed in just two and a half days, amidst a picturesque train journey route.

Sivan praised the unique working styles of various directors: Priyadarshan’s precision in editing, Raj Kumar Santoshi’s comprehensive control on set, and Shaji N. Karun’s visual orientation. Currently, he is collaborating with Raj Kumar Santoshi on ‘Lahore 1947,’ featuring Sunny Deol and Preity Zinta.

Describing cinematography as a zen-like experience compared to the stressful nature of directing, Sivan acknowledged the influence of cinematographers such as Enrique Chediak, Ashok Mehta, Subroto Mitra, K.K. Mahajan, Vincent Master, and Vittorio Storaro. “Various people are admirable for different reasons,” he stated.

Sivan emphasized that a script is an organic entity, constantly evolving. He also expressed his enthusiasm for working with young and upcoming filmmakers, who bring fresh perspectives to projects.

A recipient of numerous accolades, including the Pierre Angénieux Excellens in Cinematography, twelve National Film Awards, four Kerala State Film Awards, and three Tamil Nadu State Film Awards, Santosh Sivan continues to inspire and influence the world of cinema with his exceptional vision.

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