Hailing from Telangana, the 34-year-old won the award for ‘Ma.Ama’, a movie shot in the Garo language in Meghalaya.

Meet Acharya Venu cinematographer from Warangal who won at Shanghai Film Festival
Flix Interview Thursday, July 11, 2019 - 10:51

From Warangal to Shanghai, cinematographer Acharya Venu’s journey has been full of surprises. The first Indian cinematographer to win an award at the recently concluded Shanghai Film Festival, this 34-year-old won the accolade for the first ever feature film he was part of, and that too a film shot in the Garo language in Meghalaya. Yes, the language was unfamiliar and the budget was limited, but Venu says a camera and a beautiful narration can indeed do wonders!

Born in Rajaiah Pally in Warangal, Venu says he decided to become a cinematographer way back when he was in Class X. Asked how'd he'd fixed on the profession when most people that age wouldn't have even heard of the word, Venu laughs and says, "I was quite passionate about drawing from my childhood. Not that I did some marvellous paintings from the time I was a kid, but yes, I knew I had an inkling for art. It was when I was in class X that a student from the JNTU Fine Arts College in Hyderabad visited our village. He had come there to film the temple murals. I became friends with him and he told me he was studying to become a cinematographer. He also said that I can get into the fine arts college and become a cinematographer if I was passionate about art and photography. That was it. Two years later, I was at JNTU, studying to become a cinematographer,” Venu recounts.

The Shanghai Film Festival is one of Asia’s largest film festivals and China’s only competitive film festival approved by the International Federation of Film Producers’ Associations. Out of the 15 other nominations from around the world, Venu won the award for the film Ma.Ama, shot entirely in the Garo language.

“The film was produced in a shoestring budget of Rs 8 lakh. Directed by Dominic Sangma, who is also my friend from the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, I had no clue what the Garo language was. Also, we didn’t have a big team and often it was just me behind the camera. When we were short of hands, Dominic himself would help me roll the camera on track. Meghalaya is a very beautiful place, but our film didn’t have any picturesque locations also to boast about. It was sheer determination and Dominic’s beautiful narration that fetched me the award,” Venu says.

Ma.Ama narrates the story of an old man who goes on a journey to confront certain truths about his dead wife. Partly autobiographical, the role of the protagonist Philip Sangma is played by Dominic’s father himself. Interestingly, the majority of the cast members are not professional actors and had never faced a camera before in their lives.

Stills from Ma.Ama

Ma.Ama is Venu’s first ever feature film. After he passed out of SRFTI, he worked on a couple of ads, fashion shoots, sports promos and also a waterways project.

“I bagged the waterways project after its director came across my work on my Instagram page. Then Dominic called me to Meghalaya. I also worked as the second unit cinematographer for the movie Jersey,” Venu says.

Recalling his experience of working on his first Telugu movie, Venu says it wasn’t easy shooting for a film which had a lot of cricket sequences.

“There was a scene in the movie where a cricketer on the field had to catch the ball from up in the air. Though it sounded simple, we got the perfect shot after 120 retakes. Jersey was a learning experience for me, because it wasn’t an ordinary Telugu film and there were many out-of-the box sequences which Gowtam Tinnauri was very particular about,” Venu says, adding, “It’s common for cinematographers to have differences of opinion about shooting a particular scene. After all, a film is a director’s vision and so is a sequence, which is half the director’s brain-child and the other half a cinematographer’s brilliance.”

Venu is currently working on a Telugu project, and has another project lined up in Arunachal Pradesh and one in Sri Lanka.

So how did Sri Lanka happen?

“The director of the film saw my work at the Shanghai Film Festival and asked if I would like to join his set in Sri Lanka. I immediately agreed and I will be soon travelling to the country,” Venu smiles.

An ardent Santosh Sivan fan, Venu also hopes to direct a movie. “Yes, a small one, about the village I come from and the people I love.”

So has anything changed at Rajaiah Pally for him after he won the award?

“Nothing much,” Venu replies, “People there don’t have a clue on why I have won the award but they are really happy seeing the trophy. When I returned home, I was elated and showed my mother the trophy. She smiled, looked at it for a while and asked, 'Did you have food?'. I guess certain things in life never change.”

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