Konjam Nilavu: When PC Sreeram redefined ambient lighting & field illumination forever, in Indian Cinema

It was 1993. Tamil cinema wasn’t yet familiar with the idea of ‘frisking with the lights’.

It hadn’t really visualized a truly explosive introduction for the ‘heroine’ – leave alone, one for a sultry supporting lead.

But then, we are talking Mani Ratnam here.

The situation happened to be one of routine.

A female singer, with a supposed shady side, is going through her concert. The event is happening in some sort of a magnificent fort – a visual that is meant to give our senses the equivalent of a surreal dream.

Imagine you are at the helm of affairs, and your musician unleashes something like “Konjam Nilavu” on you, one fine day, how would you visualize such an out-of-the-world composition?

That makes me curious about Mani’s thought processes when he went to PC Sreeram to detail the requirements for something that could have been easily dismissed as an ‘item number’.

Did he feel insecure about doing justice to such a powerful piece – something that involved extensive use of experimental sounds, including foreign orchestral elements and techno pop for the first time in Indian cinematic setting?

Why did he zero in on the National Art Gallery Museum for the bloody coup? We might never know.

But then it happened.

And PC probably took it upon himself to redefine ambient lighting and field illumination forever.

Conceiving and recording something so ahead of its time is one thing. You could indeed pass off an art gallery as an old fort with a handful of lights. But making it stay with us twenty five years later as one breathtaking sight is proof of PC’s genius.

As the musical frenzy begins, the main entrance gets lighted first. It’s a too-good-to-be-true moment, when the mystical humming smoothly segues into a fascinating wide shot.

It’s orgasmic, to say the least.

The subsequent chambers light up one by one in long shots. It’s a sight to behold.

Yellow. Bluish grey. White. Red… colours go on a rampage as Anu Agarwal at her sensual best, gyrates to an audience that largely found it tough to make sense of the happenings.

It was in that way, a daredevilry of sorts.

A tight-rope walk between sensual grace and voluptuous titillation that was understandably too much to handle for that time-frame.

Battling goosebumps, a generation was forced to hold on to the suspension of disbelief.

Smoke rose. Anu was skimping around in a dangerously short costume. The dancers were pulling off the most erotic of moves. But nothing could bait the gaping viewer from Sreeram’s spectacular frames.

It was nothing short of hypnosis. A revolution, taking root.

Not that the man wasn’t there in the spotlight before. But with “Chandralekha”, PC was probably for the first time, threatening to take the public glare beyond actors and filmmakers to a hitherto invisible artist, who was then seldom spoken about.

It was an assertive demand to be acknowledged. And the world sat up and took notice, after years of technical insensitivity.


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