Cinematographer V Manikandan on Prem Ratan Dhan Payo and his equation with the two Khans
The latest on Diwali release Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is that it has grossed over Rs 200 crores at the box office. If trade pundits are to be believed, it has bettered Salman Khan’s previous blockbuster, Bajrangi Bhaijaan’s collections. Leading the list on the factors behind the success of this Sooraj Barjatya film is its cinematography. And the man behind the camera, V Manikandan, is delighted.
Manikandan, who is in town for a much-deserved break after the one-and-a-half-year-long project, cannot stop raving about Khan and Barjatya. “I have not been able to get the film out of my system since the day Soorajji narrated the script, while driving to one of the film’s shooting locations, Karjat. Maybe it is because I get very involved in the process of filmmaking. Cinematography comes only after,” he tells me.
Incidentally, Khan recommended him to Barjatya. Manikandan has worked with the actor in several ad films (like Suzuki Hayate). “Salman is a misunderstood man. He knows everything, yet will not intrude on your space. He is so patient,” he says. The award-winning cinematographer from Coimbatore is pleased when I point out that PRDP is one of Rajshri banner’s most visually-stunning films. “Lots of people told me they loved the colour palettes and the frames had a royal feel.”
But he admits the weather did play spoilsport. “We could not shoot in good light. We shot mostly in the rains. Salman seems to shoot in all seasons—last year’s winter was taken for Bajrangi Bhaijaan,” he laughs. Manikandan is also in awe of Barjatya’s ability to place songs. “This film, like all his films, are full of songs. In between, you’ll hear conversation. That is his way of storytelling. Did you notice the stunts? They are more like sentimental fights, the Sooraj Barjatya kind of action.”
Glamour and superstars Two decades and 18 films later—of which eight (like Ra.One, Raavan and Annniyan) were lavishly shot—he shares that he seems to be the go-to cinematographer for “epic, glamorous, superstar films that take forever to make.”
Does he think the audience is able to decipher good cinematography now? “They do understand—it should be pleasing to the eyes, not distracted by too many elements. The story should not suffer,” he says. As for striking a rapport with the director, it is simple: “Either I’ll think like him or he’ll think like me.”
Between the Khans, he says Shah Rukh is good with stunts, while Salman is non-intrusive by nature. He also loves the wider canvas that Bollywood offers—“bigger space, better equipment, better atmosphere”—and, as a fan of all genres, he wants to do a “dark, gritty film” next. “I am never completely satisfied with my work. I keep finding faults,” states Manikandan, who takes up one film at a time, signing off with a wish to shoot more ads. “High time I took a ‘commercial’ break,” he quips.