Following the monumental success of Balagam, The Pioneer rang up DOP Acharya Venu to discuss his body of work, influences, his unique style of composing shots, and Balagam.
In an interview with John Lingan of Splice Today, late, legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis, who shot films like The Godfather(1972) and Manhattan(1979) once said, “Two people can look at the same thing, they don’t necessarily see the same thing. Whatever happens on the screen really comes out of you. There’s no formula.”
Likewise, each composition set-up by cinematographer Acharya Venu in his debut film Balagam came out of him.His journey leading up to his feature film debut is an interesting one. His exceptional cinematography for a Garo language film(Meghalaya) film titled, Ma.Ama (translates to moan) won him the Asian New Talent Award at the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival.
The young cinematographer became the first Indian to receive the honour at the prestigious Shanghai International Film Awards. He shot to international fame with this honour and creators from around the globe took notice of Venu’s talent.
The Pioneer rang up DOP Acharya Venu to discuss his body of work, influences, his unique style of composing shots, and Balagam.Acharya Venu hails from Rajaiah Pally, Warangal. As a young child, he was a passionate painter of sorts. A student from Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine Arts University (JNAFAU) paid a visit to Venu’s village when he was in his 10th standard. That student was none other than the famous cinematographer, P.G.
Vinda. He was there to film the temple murals and said he too could get into college and become a cinematographer, according to Venu. Years later, he enrolled himself in Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute(SRFTI) in Kolkata.
“That day onwards, everything changed,” recalls Venu talking about the time where he first met P.G. Vinda. “My idea of photography changed. I realised there’s something beyond it. It was just not images. He is one of the main persons who changed everything for me. My interest grew after meeting him and started looking into film schools and got into SRFTI.
That’s how my film journey started.”
Soon after he bagged the award, he was offered to shoot a couple of international films(Nepali,French and Srilankan). However, due to the Covid-19 restrictions imposed around the globe, things changed for him, “Even before I received the award, I worked as a second unit cameraman for Jersey(2019). I was sure that I would work for Telugu films.
There was no doubt about that. Later, I was supposed to work on the Nepali and Srilankan film after returning from the Berlinale film festival. The moment I landed, they imposed a lockdown. Things didn’t workout after that due to obvious reasons.”
After a huge setback of such nature, Venu went back to shooting sports commercials and corporate films. During that time, he was offered to collaborate on 50 odd films but the virtuoso rejected all of them in anticipation of a good script that would match his sensibilities and challenges. “After a point, things stop coming to me,” says Venu before giving us a low-down on how Balagam happened to him. “So, I decided to do something about it. While I was waiting for a good film, I ended up on Balagam through a friend.
I felt whatever it is, I’m doing this film. I thought, ‘It’s a great start for me in the industry’.”
A good collaboration is what makes a creative endeavour worthwhile. Comedian turned director Venu Yeldandi’s Balagam turned out to be a massive blockbuster in the Telugu states. His vision came to life through Acharya Venu’s lens, “Venu was clear about what he wanted. He listens and is not stubborn about how he wants things on the screen.
He’d listen and give me the freedom to do things in my way. He understood my ideas and approach and adapted nicely. Now that he’s got a pliable mind, it was a smooth journey.”
Approach! If you’ve watched the movie, you will notice a lot of realism in the framing.
After a point, you will forget that someone’s shooting. Also, it looks visually appealing. “My work on this film is a complete contrast to how my influences(PC Sreeram and Santosh Shivan) conceptualised their films. For Balagam, I felt it had to be realistic and cinematic at the same time. That was actually difficult. It was a different challenge for me because it had to be cinematic, natural and convey emotion. I did my own homework for Balagam.
I made the best out of where we were and what we had on location. While shooting we learnt a lot and we were quite scared if people would call the film too simple because of the cinematography,” explains Venu.
He further adds: “My first priority was to keep the cinematography seamless. I felt it’d be a good thing if people would talk as little as possible about cinematography. And that worked because V.V.Vinayak sir said the same thing. He said, “After a point, I forgot the fact I was watching the film.” I felt really good about that.”
Going ahead, Acharya Venu will be working on multiple projects sprawling across India. “I like this phase,” wraps Venu with a chuckle. “I feel nice when people approach me after watching my previous work. I am already working on a project that I agreed to be a part of earlier. A lot of people are approaching me after Balagam. I’m listening to a lot of stories.
I want to be known as a DOP who can dabble with anything. I don’t want to be typecast and put in a box that I can only do certain kinds of genres. I want to work across multiple genres.”