In pre-production and during a shoot, Arjun Ravi has one of the toughest jobs for a film; communicating a director’s vision to the audience as a cinematographer. Like other DP’s (Director of Photography), he is tasked with giving the audience an accurate portrayal of the director’s ideas, characters, settings, and emotions, which are integral elements for any film.
Originally from the state of Kerala in Southern India, Ravi graduated from NYFA’s Los Angeles campus in 2017 after completing a 1-Year Conservatory Program for Cinematography. “NYFA has great exposure to many renowned lecturers and guests from the industry,” he says, “which got me interested to join the course even more.”
After graduating, Ravi brought the hands-on skills he learned in his cinematography course back to India with him, where he has gone on to shoot three feature films and is currently in production on another.
One of Ravi’s more recent films, The Kung Fu Master (Directed by Abrid Shine) is a vengeful action film shot in Auli, India, where Ravi remembers filming for four months in negative degree temperatures with a short amount of time for shooting in daylight (8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.). The film itself was martial arts heavy, requiring an even more specialized way for Ravi to shoot since he was capturing action sequences. Ravi, who shot the action-packed film with a handheld camera, describes filming each scene for The Kung Fu Master as a “breathtaking” experience.
“Each scene had to be captured in multiple angles in very few takes, as the actors would get extremely exhausted very quickly due to the lack of oxygen.” In addition to the meticulous detail for shooting the action sequences, Ravi also focused on capturing the environment for the film to convey the director’s tone and sense of place. “A lot of historical places were captured in the film to bring out the beauty of the state [in India] where we were filming.”
From the fast-paced action of The Kung Fu Master, Ravi then pivoted to his next project, Vaanku, which was “a completely different style of story compared to The Kung Fu Master.” Ravi worked alongside female director Kavya Prakash to tell a more concentrated, character-driven story about four ambitious young women in a coming-of-age drama.
“We shot the feature in 29 days. The lighting felt more sophisticated, yet simple at the same time, which gave the movie the look it needed.” Vaanku, which was originally slated to be released in 2020, has since pushed back its release date due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of Ravi’s feature films that he has shot are all considered part of the Malayalam film industry. “Malayalam, to those who may not know, is a language spoken in the southern part of India majority in Kerala, also known as “God’s own country.” Ravi shares that the Malayalam film industry is well known for its scripted films and famous actors, including Mohanlal (Manjil Virinja Pookkal, Rajavinte Makan) and Mammooty (New Delhi). Other well known films that have come from the Malayalam film industry include Kalapani (1996), Manichitrathazu (1993), Killukkum (1991), and many more.
As for what’s next for Ravi, he is currently in production on his latest film, Jillampeppere. He also shares that some of the best advice to becoming a great cinematographer is focusing on your lighting, framing, and, most importantly, knowing what the director needs.
“I listen to the story a few times from the director before we head out for some location scouting.” Ravi notes that there are additional discussions surrounding topics like “the color pattern we would use on the house, for the film as a whole, and the other properties involved with the film.” One of the final parts of Ravi’s process with the director includes making “the shot division [list] according to the dates of the location and the actors, while also taking into account whether there are any action scenes or any kids on the set that day; which means we will need have more time and care.”
New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Cinematographer Arjun Ravi on his success in the Malayalam film industry and looks forward to seeing more from the NYFA alum in the coming future.