Neerparavai: Boldly telling an untold story

Scene from Neerparavai
Cinematographer Balasubramaniem
Scene from Neerparavai
Scene from Neerparavai

Director Seenu Ramasamy together with cinematographer Balasubramaniem boldly tell a story on film about a five decade-old problem hitherto untold by any filmmaker. Neerparavai narrates the lives and deaths at sea of Tamil fishermen. Interweaved into this narrative is a touching love story. The movie travels back to 1935, 1985 and into 2012. “Since the story of Neerparavai travels through various periods it was a challenging job to showcase each scene with originality and true colors,” says cinematographer Balasubramaniem.

The movie was shot during the peak southern summer (March-May) mainly in the waters of Kanyakumari, South India. Using two ARRI cameras (a 435 and a 235) and a complement of lenses including Optima and Allura zooms, Ultra Primes and a Cooke S4, the cinematographer captured the drama on a mixture of KODAK VISION3 film stocks.

“I used the KODAK stocks to capture the harsh outdoor lighting, the original raw colors and for their good depth of field,” says Balusubramaniem. “To capture the rich black colors of the night scenes at sea, I used mainly KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 and some 200T 5213,” he adds. “KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 was used for low-lighting shots and for the majority of the outdoor scenes I used KODAK VISION2 50D Color Negative Film 5201. The 5201 is one of my favourite stocks as its high latitude does not burn the naked eye and it captures depth of field really well.”

“I am a big fan of film technology,” he continues. “As far as I am aware digital technology is still unable to capture harsh lighting with true colors. Let me give you an example, for one scene I had to shoot the pure white of a salt area. If I had shot this in digital, the silhouette clarity of the salt would burn and would just show as a white background area whereas film gives a true rendition. Also digital does not show the gradient color variations of sunrise and sunset shots whereas film does.”

“The film was graded by colorist Muthu at Prasad Lab Chennai. The first two reels were 50% de-saturated and the remaining reel we graded in true colors. The original colors are well balanced throughout the film. Following discussions with Muthu, I asked him to retain the original skin tone in the flashback segment and to add a warm tone for the live portion. I decided to do the 1935 portion in black and white.”

“Film was also great for showing the changing color of the sea which some days appeared green and other days was red. In fact it would be true to say it changed from day to day. I wanted to enhance the red color, but not in grading; the red sea that you see in the film is the original.”

Neerparavai was shot on a very tight schedule,” he concludes. “And again, film helped with this. I had to shoot in a wide variety of lighting conditions and even with the limited budget, film meant that the quality of the movie was not compromised. I love Kodak’s contrast levels and saturation.”