Director Bharat Bala, and cinematographers Sudeep Elamon and Vijay Karthik Kannan, discuss the theme behind the anthology’s teaser video, its music, shooting with the ensemble cast and more.

Gautham Menon shooting for Navarasa teaser Screengrab/YouTube-Netflix
Flix Kollywood Wednesday, July 28, 2021 - 12:20

“The idea was to do something encompassing all the emotions, featuring the key talents from different episodes and bring it all under the umbrella of Navarasa. We wanted to focus on every emotion by shifting the attention particularly on the emotional transitions and peaks, like the burst of anger or shock. These moments were further elaborated by music as well as visuals, making it an opera of emotions,” filmmaker Bharat Bala, who conceptualised and directed the teaser of upcoming Netflix anthology Navarasa, tells TNM.  

Produced and presented by Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan, the nine-part anthology marks the coming together of nine Kollywood directors and a star cast. Contrary to movie teasers we generally see, the teaser of Navarasa, which was released on July 9, manages to keep audiences hooked despite revealing little or no details from the plot. Instead, we see the stellar actors from the ensemble cast, dressed in plain black clothes, performing different rasas (emotions) in front of the camera. From love to vengeance, from despair to fear, the monochromatic video presents a rollercoaster of different emotions. 

Explaining why the makers made the aforementioned choices, the Maryan director says, “The costumes, colours, the roles of these characters in their respective shorts or other details in the background, would have acted as a distraction. There was a sense of simplicity to the idea and we stuck very strongly to that. Our focus was solely on the human story of emotions. I did get an opportunity to see the early edits from some of the shorts when Mani sir and Jayendra approached me, to understand how it evolved, but we did not try to connect the visuals with the stories the actors will be featuring in.” 

Presenting intriguing visuals of each actor in the cast, the teaser features actors Suriya, Vijay Sethupathi, Prasanna, Aditi Balan, Prayaga Martin Siddharth, Parvathy and Revathy, to name a few. Elaborating on how the idea was developed, cinematographer Sudeep Elamon explains, “We have all seen these emotions, even in earlier movies done by the actors from Navarasa. But we wanted to capture it in a way we have never seen before, which is why you see close-up shots of the actor, where we have paid great attention to minute details. Even for a commonly known emotion like smiling, when you shoot close-up shots at high speed, we see details such as how the facial muscles move,” Sudeep shares. He also emphasises that in these visuals, it is not the actors or their stardom that we witness, but it is their emotions that we pay attention to. 

Adding to Sudeep’s point, Vijay Karthik Kannan, who was also on board as cinematographer, tells TNM, “I haven’t seen face emotions change at 1000 frames per second before. We had to capture every intimate emotion to the fullest. It had to be very personal and not too cinematic. Which is why the camera was closer to the actors.” 

Decoding the visuals  

A tranquil Suriya enters the frame as he emerges from the smoke surrounding him. His face, seemingly placid, changes rapidly. And before we know it, the actor leaves us with an ecstatic smile. The interesting part is that all of this happens almost within a second in the teaser. Meanwhile, Prayaga, who is paired opposite Suriya in Gautham Menon’s short Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru, is seen displaying the emotions of desire and love.  

Unlike Suriya, in the visuals featuring Prayaga, we see her drenched in the rain or against the backdrop of water. Discussing the reasoning behind the emotions and the elements we see in the backdrop, Bharat Bala says that it's based on the most common perceptions associated with the said elements. “Elements like fire are generally used for anger or vengeance, whereas water is used for love,” he says, while cinematographer Sudeep points out how there are also subtle associations with the plot of the segments, the respective actors are part of.  

In the 156 seconds-long-video, the only point where the makers add a splash of colour, is when Revathy wipes her red sindoor/ pottu,  which as per Hindu customs, is worn by women as a mark of their marriage. The act of wiping or not wearing pottu is often associated with widowhood. “We used colour for this shot in particular to heighten the pain she goes through, to shine light on the grief and the sense of loss she feels,” Bharat Bala underlines. Meanwhile Sudeep points out how the colour red being used in both Navarasa as well as Netflix’s logo, acted as a brownie point. One also wonders if Revathy’s visuals in the teaser or one of the segments in the anthology, takes a jibe at the patriarchal and discriminatory practices that widowed women are expected to follow. 

Delving deeper into the shot where we see Prakash Raj performing three varied emotions, with two of them placed parallelly and one in the centre, Bharat Bala notes, "Prakash Raj’s personality as an actor is very complex. I wanted to bring that complexity to life with three shots where he is emoting three different reactions. We used his expertise to our advantage.” 

We also see how the makers have experimented with symmetrical visual imagery in the teaser. A shot where actors who are seen alongside each other, carrying out contrasting emotions comes across as a juxtaposition. Whereas in the last visual, the collage of actors Parvathy and Siddharth’s reactions have been used to present a startling image. 

Emphasising how the extra elements added to the core idea, Sudeep quips: “While smoke just adds to the aesthetics of the visuals, that was not the case with fire since it is associated with anger and other such emotions. The flickering fire that we see in Vijay Sethupathi’s shot was actually a continuation of the flame in Aditi's shot.”  

Cinematographer Vijay Karthik also shares behind-the-scene details from Vijay Sethupathi’s shoot for the teaser. “A lot of improvisation happened on the sets with respect to Vijay Sethpathi’s shots. He said he’d chew betel nut for striking a wicked smile. It worked well and the shot made it to the final edit,” the cinematographer shares.  He further says, “We also tried to shoot all nine rasas at one go with him. He did till the eighth one, but we don’t see the shot in the teaser.” 

Image Courtesy: Screengrab/ YouTube- Netflix

Watch the making video of ‘Navarasa’ teaser here: 

Challenging parts of the shoot 

The filmmaker as well as the cinematographers point out how it was testing for the actors to perform the respective emotions within seconds. The emotional outbursts of the characters we see on screen, happens in the later parts of movies, making it easier for actors to get into the skin of the character. Even in the cases where the film is not shot in the order in which it is edited, actors still spend a significant amount of time getting into the head of the character they play and understand their backgrounds, to emote accordingly. However, Bharat Bala as well as the cinematographers observe how it was quite a task for actors to display emotional transitions within a short span of time, a few seconds to be precise.  

“We had given very specific instructions to the actors, such as wanting them to keep their eyes open while crying, make a teardrop roll down their cheek at one particular moment or details about the movement of their facial muscles, that they had to prepare for. Pooja Devariya, who was on board as the acting coach, helped the actors with their expressions,” Bharat Bala notes.  

As for the technical team, the challenging parts of the shoot had to do with the equipment and the lighting. Noting that they used Phantom 4k and Bolt high-speed robotic camera for the shoot, cinematographer Vijay says, “It is one of the fastest cameras and also very expensive, so not all technicians use it. We also had to add a lot of additional lighting because of the high frame count at which we were shooting. I tried not to add too much light to ensure that it is not too flashy,” he states.  

Meanwhile, director Bharat Bala, who is working on a Hindi miniseries and his virtual Bharat initiative, speaks about AR Rahman’s music for the teaser. "In my brief to ARR, I discussed how I did not want a song but rather music that conveys the theme of Navarasa’s teaser shoot and goes well with the emotional transitions,” Bharat Bala, who had teamed up with Rahman for his 2013 movie Maryan, tells TNM.  Expressing that he was happy with the output, the filmmaker adds, “The track Rahman gave captured the journey of different emotions musically, while retaining its simplicity. 

The list of nine directors roped in for the project includes Gautam Vasudev Menon, Priyadarshan, Bejoy Nambiar, Karthik Subbaraj, Sarjun, Vasanth, Karthick Naren, Arvind Swami (in his directorial debut), and Rathindran Prasad. The artists involved in the project are offering their services pro-bono to extend their support to members from the Tamil film fraternity, who were affected during the pandemic. The nine-part anthology is set to premiere on Netflix on August 6.    

Watch the teaser of ‘Navarasa’ here: 

Watch: 'Navarasa' kept us sane during the pandemic: Mani Ratnam and Jayendra intv    

ALSO READ: From love to vengeance: Trailer of ‘Navarasa’ presents a confluence of emotions

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