Alagappan, who hails from Nagerkovil and a classmate of the wizard of frames, P C Sreeram at the film institute, has worked in nearly 50 films in Malayalam with some of the finest directors like Sathyan Anthikad, Shyamaprasad and Blessy. He has won nearly 30 awards including six Kerala state award for his artistic camerawork.
Alagappan was a bit hesitant to venture into the fantasy world of Tamil cinema at first. It was director Simbudevan who convinced him to try out a “Tamil fantasy entertainer” with Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam , which has now turned out to be a hit. Everybody is talking about his spectacular cinematography in the film and the way he has picturised the panoramic outdoor action scenes in it.
Says Alagappan, “I have got more accolades for my work in rumbu Kottai Murattu Singam than in any other film. It was the most challenging job of my career. I freaked out using wide-angle lenses to provide the film with a panoramic look. Simbudevan had done his homework and gave me a lot of reference material. During my institute days, we used to talk only about cowboy films and the way Sergio Leone shot his spaghetti westerns. I took a leaf out of Leone’s filmmaking book — juxtaposing extreme close-up shots with lengthy long shots — to give the film that grandeur and richness associated with a western.”
Alagappan is all praise for Simbudevan and his team comprising art director Muthuraj and costumer Sai, who, he feels, worked together to create that perfect colour combination, which gave the film its “cowboy feel”. The locations that the director chose — like the valleys and ravines of Palakkad, Ambasamudram and Salem — blended beautifully with the cowboy milieu of the film. “I used a Super 35 camera for the film because of the variety of lenses it offered and its ability to reproduce quality colour,” says Alagappan.
His success as a cameraman, Alagappan says, is mainly due to his early days when he covered news and sports for the national channel. “My initial days there enabled me to hone my skills as a cinematographer as we had very basic equipment and my job was to make the picture look good on television. It helped me work fast and develop a presence of mind. For instance, when we had to cover one-day matches using outdated equipment, we only had a split second to make a decision,” reminisces Alagappan.
Now, Alagappan has gone back to Kerala and is doing a romantic musical, Pattinte Palazhi, with his favourite heroine Meera Jasmine. “Meera is the best actress I’ve worked with. I have done four films with her. In each film, her look and body language have been completely different,” says the ace cinematographer, who signs off by saying that his dream now is to work in a Mani Ratnam film.