Santosh Sivan PROFILE
He’s a director with Focus. An award-winning cinematographer whose metamorphosis into a filmmaker was instinctive. But it’s been a long journey for this talented filmmaker whose scruffy hair and beard is his trademark. As a cinematographer, his stunning images can never be forgotten. Stunning, lyrical and almost picture perfect, he captured on reel some of the best images Indian cinema has witnessed to date. Anyone who has seen Mani Ratnam's films -- from "Roja" to "Dil Se"--would agree to that. From top South directors to whiz kids in Bollywood, they all want him behind their cameras, whether it is the established Mani Ratnam or debutante Karan Johar who got him to shoot the theme song of "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" in Scotland.
For an inquisitive child who grew up with photography, making movies came naturally to Sivan. Camera and lenses were for this director what toys are for most children. "I am fortunate to have been born my father's son," he says, referring to the elder Sivan, a still photographer who later became a reputed director and cinematographer of Malayalam films. The exposure was not lost on Sivan. By the time he was in college, he was accompanying his father on his shoots and even made amateur films way back then. So competent was he in his knowledge about photography that the young commerce graduate stunned the panel of interviewers -- Hrishikesh Mukherjee was one of them -- at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune when he waxed eloquent on the merits of a Mitchell vis-a-vis an Arriflex. The cinematography course he was admitted to helped further hone his skills as a cameraman.
"Rakh", the first film he independently shot was produced by his brother Sangeet, directed by Aditya Bhattacharya and won him critical acclaim. "Halo", his first directorial venture won him the national award in 1996. After that he directed "Terrorist", the film which won several awards including two National awards, The Golden Pyramid and a bag full of awards at the 23rd Cairo Film Festival. His third film as director, "Malli" was a children film in which he made two young girls, one partially deaf, turn in remarkable performances. His casting eye has even turned to directors: Sivan persuaded director Raj Kumar Santoshi to act in Barsaat. His fourth film, Asoka which, he’s directed for Juhi Chawla and Shahrukh Khan is the director’s first big budget film.
As cinematographer he has notched up four national awards for "Perunthachan", "Kaala Pani", "Iruvar" and "Mohiniyattam". As a filmmaker, Santosh has always been an inquisitive learner asking questions whenever he’s needed answers. After the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, he wanted to find out about the suicide bomber Dhanu and thus "Terrorist" was born. His questions have continued to nag him all these years. Terrorist was his answer to some of them. "The film is not about Rajiv's assassination. It is an attempt to explore the mind of a suicide bomber," said Sivan. His transition from cameraman to director has been smooth: "Sivan has the ability to narrate a story and Terrorist was an elegantly told story," says director Shyam Benegal, adding, "He handles his actors rather well." That passion has only grown. Says Mani Ratnam, "In an industry notorious for killing one's enthusiasm, it is surprising how it grows day by day in Santosh. He has been much more than a cameraman to me, he is an excellent team man." These days, Sivan flits easily between the worlds of art and commercial cinema, the reason he seems to be the favourite camera eye for directors. "I love the artistic challenges of an art film and the extravaganza of a commercial film," he says. Asoka gave him all the challenges this brilliant technician needed to push him to deliver his best. And from the initial reports on the film, Santosh Sivan has outdone himself this time. The child who grew up playing with lenses has mastered them all!