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Jeeva’s lyrical frames

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The young filmmaker’s untimely death has left film industry shocked.

Jeeva: Lens-eye for detail.
Jeeva: Lens-eye for detail.

Praveena Shivram

Cinematographer-turned-director Jeeva’s cinema is all about an unrestrained cadence, sophistication and style, and a motif of truth expressed with simplicity. In the death of this 43-year-old filmmaker at the peak of his career, Indian film industry feels the loss of the unique perspectives brought by him, especially in cinemascope.

Born in Thiruthooraipoondi, in a village near Thanjavur, Jeeva grew up in a communist household. Working as an assistant to PC Sreeram, Jeeva was known for his studious demeanour, a ruthless determination, and a meticulous eye for detail. As an assistant, Jeeva had the advantage of interacting and learning with stalwarts in the industry — be it actors, directors or other technicians. A learning he took seriously, and emulated later in his own cinema.

His foray into filmdom began as one of Sreeram’s assistants for

Nayagan

, the national award-winning Tamil film directed by Mani Ratnam and starring Kamal Hassan. A succession of films followed, such as

Idhayathai Thirudadhe

,

Gopuravasalile

,

Agni Nakshathiram

,

Amaran

, and PC Sreeram’s first directorial venture,

Meera

. His first independent venture as a cinematographer was in Priyadarshan’s

Abimanyu

in Malayalam.

Right from his first film, Jeeva exuded a maturity in understanding the language of cinema. A director’s dream cameraman, Jeeva delivered not just what was required of the script, but also added his own creativity to the medium. In his earlier films like

Gentleman

,

Kaadhalan

and

Indian

especially, all of which were for director Shankar, Jeeva’s cinematography quickly transformed into a brand of its own, one that spelt a distinct style of soft and half lighting, with colours playing a major role in defining his frames and tone. Venturing into Bollywood with Priyadarshan’s

Hera Pheri

, which is loosely based on

Agni Nakshathiram

(a film that Jeeva worked on as an assistant), Jeeva did a slew of other films also with the director, including the recent

Bhagam Bhag

.

Juggling his directorial interests deftly with the cinematographer in him, Jeeva walked the tightrope with apparent ease. In films like

Sachein

and

Sanda Kozhi

, Jeeva’s brilliant use of colour and tone come to the fore. Subdued whites, blues, greens and greys are almost transcendental in the depiction, while the clear, vibrant, aggressive colours of the rustic countryside are evocative in form.

12B

, featuring newcomer Shaam with Jothika and Simran, was certainly a risk that Jeeva was taking. It was a fresh script, a screenplay that Tamil cinema hadn’t been exposed to yet. Would it work? A film about missed opportunities, the ‘what ifs’ in life... A film that, despite following the precepts of commercial cinema, existed in a complicated framework. Jeeva was bold enough to take the plunge, spot the right talent, and make them perform for his cinema. With the 8217;s cap; that he had delivered a good product with upcoming stars.

Ullam Ketkume

came next, with three newcomers — Asin, Arya and Pooja, who are today at the peak of their careers. A breezy college romance, it addressed a specific “young” audience and was another hit to Jeeva’s credit. His last film,

Unnale Unnale

, again with newcomers Vinay and Tanisha in the lead along with Sada is set in picturesque locales of Australia. If

Ullam Ketkume

was effervescing with youthful energy, Unnale Unnale was tinged with mature insights.

Save a few names like Balu Mahendra, PC Sreeram and, now, Vijay Milton, there aren’t many cinematographers who take to wielding the megaphone simultaneously.

In Jeeva’s case, handling both direction and cinematography to perfection was certainly one of his strong points. He nevertheless continued to fuel his passion for cinematography by working with other directors, and constantly learning and imbibing different styles of filmmaking. .

As speculations were just beginning to make the rounds about his next film,

Dhaam Dhoom

, with Jeyam Ravi and Kangana Ranaut, Jeeva suffered a massive heart attack while shooting for the film in Russia. He is survived by his wife and two children.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 13, 2007)
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