Acharya venu, National Award Winner for Cinematography, one of the Berlinale Talents from India, talks about his journey and the most acclaimed work till date. Interview with Acharya Venu
Acharya Venu was born in a village in Warangal district of Telangana. While pursuing education, he realised that he has a niche for filmmaking, especially on the technical front. After earning a Bachelors of Fine Arts from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU), Hyderabad, he went on to earn a Post-Graduate Diploma in Motion Picture Photography from the prestigious Satyajat Ray Film & Televison Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata. Thereafter, he was selected to participate as one of the 24 fellows at Asian Film Academy, which was part of the Busan International Film Festival, held in Busan, South Korea, in 2013.
Which projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a Telugu film which is being directed by a debutant named Avaneendra. This is the first film in my mother tongue Telugu that I am shooting as a cinematographer. I am very excited about the project as I grew up watching Telugu films more than any other language.
Could you share with us your journey of becoming a cinematographer?
Before cinematography, it was camera—which I think is one of the most amazing things invented by mankind—that intrigued me the most. Camera allows you to freeze a moment of life and literally hold that moment in your hand in the form of a photograph. But, as a kid, I rarely got a chance to get my hands on this magical machine. However, when I was in the 10th grade, a professional photographer came to my village to capture images of some temples. I was lucky to meet him that day. I saw a big camera and lens and was instantly hooked to them like a child to a candy. That day I came to know that movies are shot with bigger cameras and that is what we see on the screen. From that day onwards, my interest in the machine got serious and I decided to become a cinematographer. I finished my graduation in Fine Arts at JNTU and applied for a cinematography course at the prestigious Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) in Kolkata and got through somehow. That’s how my journey as a cinematographer began.
When you were shooting in Megalaya for Domnic Sangma’s Ma.ama, a Garo language film, you didn’t know the language. How did you manage to pull off a great job?
The place where we were shooting was called Nongthomoi, an unknown territory for me in Meghalaya. The weather there was unpredictable and the light was very inconsistent. We were a crew of only 10 members and the budget was tiny. All the actors were local people who never had any experience facing the camera before. My options were very limited and I had to create something with whatever I could get my hands on. I had to shoot in a hilly village where electricity was a luxury for most residents. The people spoke a different language and there was no script in my hand. I spent few days with the crew before we started shooting. I remember trying to interact with them in my own way to understand things better. But when we started shooting, most of the crew members became my friends. Shooting was not easy as they were not trained actors, however because they grew so comfortable with me that they were not nervous and delivered well at the end.
It’s a great surprise that you come from one of the biggest film production centres of India (andhra Pradesh), but your biggest break came from Domnic Sangma’s ‘Ma.ama’. How did it happen?
I grew up watching Telugu films and I would love to shoot the same. I am always ready to shoot anywhere and in any language. Also, the director was my senior in film school, so we had discussions about making a film together in future.
How was your experience when you bagged an award in the Shanghai Film Festival?
Euphoric, obviously. ‘Ma. Ama’(Moan) has earned me the most prestigious accolade till date. This happened in a ceremony organized on 21st June, wherein I was awarded the Best Cinematography award in Asian New Talent of the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival. The award was given at Shanghai Grand Theater in a star-studded festival ceremony. I could interact with many filmmakers and film lovers from around the world. The jury said about my cinematography that “it’s more truthful and organic in its approach for a new cinematographer”. ‘Ma. Ama’ was among the 14 films shortlisted out of 300 entries submitted from various countries.
Who has been your major influence as cinematographer?
There are many. But among Indian cinematographers, I admire the works of mostly Santosh Sivan and PC Sriram. These are the masters who made me think about filmmaking.