S Ravi Varman

A Striking Personality with Simplicity Drawn from Nature

An artists’ work says a million words without them actually saying anything. S Ravi Varman is an artist who uses his proficiency with handling the camera to express what the audience should see. The man, who started as an office boy, became a photographer and finally an assistant cinematographer. He shot his first movie as a cinematographer in 2000. Since then, Ravi has been unstoppable in the industry with thirty-four films to his credit where he worked with top Indian directors in multiple languages.

Drawing inspiration from ancient paintings and poetry, Ravi believes in a naturalistic approach when behind the camera. He proved his skills by delivering an entire Indian film in natural light and rain. It is stuff like this that drives the vision for his frames.

Ravi comes from a background where using the word “struggle” to describe his past would be an understatement. Having lost his parents even before he turned a teenager, he had to fend for life’s basic necessities by living off the streets and working as a waiter. A silhouette of his mother’s image in a photograph drew Ravi closer to his unknown passion of capturing memories that live longer than a person does. After losing his mother, he made up his mind to make a camera the source of his profession.

An artist creates images that connect with one’s deepest emotions. There came a time when Ravi’s skills were put to test. While the world was shooting movies with high-end and multiple cameras, he had to use a 16mm blowup. But with research and the determination to showcase things even in such settings with the availability of only natural light, Ravi made it work. It was such a success that the famous director-producer Martin Karmitz watched the film and said, “One of the best films I saw in 16mm blowup.”

Ravi believes that a camera is just a piece of equipment to capture the feelings, but his strengths lie in using apt lighting. “It has more emotion and depth in it. So, you have to be strong on the management side. And my biggest strength is how I have never stopped believing in myself, despite all the oppositions and problems I have faced in my life,” he explains. Inconsistency has always been his consistency, which has led him on a route of miracles.

A true illustrator on camera, Ravi compares his work to nature. Much like nature, where there is no consistency. Sometimes we see mountains, sometimes the fog, and sometimes, a clear sparkling sky. Similarly, his work is also the same, wherein he gets to showcase the different realities and feelings of life. It is this confidence of seeing the best in everything that helped him overcome poverty, hurdles, and failures in life. That said, he agrees that sometimes he gives way to his temper, which he wishes to change.

With a razor-sharp focus, Ravi gradually learned what it meant to be a praiseworthy cinematographer. He started appreciating the little details that made a sizeable difference to capturing scenes on a camera. When talking about his cinematographic style, he elaborates, “I love the sunlight; I enjoy the rain, the greenery and the dry land. If we are deeply in love with nature, then nature returns the love. It started to give me the light that I wanted, and it poured rain when I needed. I immerse myself into nature and become one with it.” He also adds “When I open my eyes wherever I see light it speaks to me, even with my eyes closed I can see the light in the darkness although when I am sound asleep the light brings me a fairy tale, when I look through the viewfinder with one closed eye I see my mother’s poverty and with the eye which is in viewfinder I try to bring her into dream world”

In 2002, the France Film Festival bestowed upon Ravi his first international recognition as the Best Cinematographer in EME 3rd Continents Award. Besides this, he is also a recipient of several other prestigious awards like the Filmfare, IIFA, and state awards, to name a few. The year 2013 was one where applauds rained upon Ravi for his film Goliyon ki Raasleela, Ram Leela and Barfi. He is also the winner of the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Cinematographer.

Everything that Ravi learned, he learned by himself, be it cinematography or the fluency to speak in the English language. All he did was engrossed himself in reading relevant magazines and watching Hollywood films. “Since I learned it the hard way, and when I became a cinematographer budget, money or equipment was never a hindrance to my vision.”

When it comes to giving the world of readers a message, Ravi happily asks people to “love yourself.” He says “women are wonderful! During my struggling times, I had my mother pave a way for me and then I had my wife show me a path. I feel blessed to have such glorious women in my life”. He also emphasizes on cultivating the habit of reading and learning from others & life. Although, he suggests being a little mysterious too so that one is not a hundred per cent visible to others.

S Ravi Varman is a striking personality with simplicity drawn from nature.

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