It’s not every day that a 37-year-old cameraman gets the opportunity of a lifetime, namely, to crank the camera for a Rajinikanth film. But the lucky G MURALI, the Award-winning cameraman has got this opportunity in his third film itself. In a chat with us, he reveals the challenges of capturing the charisma of a living legend like Rajini and the life lessons he gathered along the way.

Rajinikanth read lots of reference books for Kabali - G. Murali

Like any other youngster of the unit of director Pa Ranjith’s Kabali, Murali too was under the sway of the charismatic superstar. “But on the first day of shoot, I tried to be normal and got busy setting up the camera and lighting. During the first shot with Rajini sir, I got to work, like any other time. But midway during the shot, the overwhelming feeling hit me in a split second, ‘hey I am shooting Rajinikanth!’ It was a surreal moment,” he recalls.

Murali shot his first feature film, the iconic Andala Rakshasi in Telugu. His second film was Madras (Tamil) with his good friend, director Pa Ranjith which fetched him kudos for his camerawork. So when Ranjith bagged Kabali as his next project, he had utmost confidence in Murali and asked him to crank the camera for the mammoth project. How has this association helped while shooting Kabali? He explains, “Both Ranjith and I are in synch since we share similar ideologies that drive the kind of cinema we want to do. Also, we both have studied Fine Arts, so we both love to draw and paint. This helped greatly in Kabali, especially since we shot about 80 percent abroad and in a lot of live locations. So Ranjith would just scribble on a paper, the camera angles or lighting instructions and I would understand immediately. Despite careful planning many times we had to improvise on location due to crowds and this synch helped save time and deliver the goods. So both on a personal and professional level, we share a unique two way communication that helped us immensely during  Kabali.”

Rajinikanth read lots of reference books for Kabali - G. Murali

Murali admits that shooting a Rajinikanth film put an immense pressure on him. “But I got over it with a professional approach. My first priority was to stay true to the script and present first of all, the character of Kabali the protagonist. Once I got that, capturing the magic of the Rajini charisma as it unfolded, came next. This way, I could stay grounded without being overwhelmed by the Rajini magic, which is mind-blowing when you watch him through the camera lens!” says Murali. Rajinikanth for his part, put the whole unit and its young cast and crew at ease by chatting with them between shots and sitting calmly on a plastic chair without retiring to the caravan.

Thalaivar’s love for fans

One of the challenges the unit faced during the international shoot in Malaysia and Thailand, were the immense crowds, some of whom gathered from dawn waiting for a glimpse of Thalaivar. Says Murali, “The crowds were overwhelming since they love Tamil cinema and rarely get to see the stars. Many times, somehow they would get news in advance of where Superstar was going to shoot and land there before us, all set with huge banners welcoming him. At his age and for his stature, it was amazing to see Rajini sir care so much for his fans. He would stop and wave at them and even during lunch break, he would first go and greet them before having lunch. He would say, ‘they have come from far away with kids in tow, waiting since morning. If I meet them, they too can go home for lunch.’ This kind of consideration for people even at this stage of his life, has left a huge impact on me.”

Rajinikanth read lots of reference books for Kabali - G. Murali

Shooting internationally with crowds was not always possible so the unit made large sets in Chennai also and blended them with the originals with special effects.

Speaking about Rajini’s dedication to his craft, Murali reveals, “Despite doing so many films, Rajini sir would take the dialogue sheets a day in advance and practice them before coming to shoot. He wanted to get into the skin of the character and for that he would have hours of discussions with Ranjith about the director’s different ideologies and revolutionary ideas ranging from Africa to India. Rajini sir has taken several of the reference books that Ranjith suggested, and read all of them, nearly 10 in number, during the shoot. It was very inspiring for me to see such a big star so sincere and devoted to his craft. It certainly taught me a lot.”

Rajinikanth read lots of reference books for Kabali - G. Murali

Murali also recalls another habit of Rajini. “Many times when there are two people in a scene, we shoot with each of them separately due to date and time constraints. But Rajini sir has this unique habit of actually first studying the monitor to see the dialogue and reactions of his co-star in that scene. Only once he’s seen it, he would deliver his dialogues accordingly. This is something unique about him which shows his complete involvement in his work.”

Fun on the sets of Kabali

Murali recalls the lighter moments on sets and Rajini’s respect for even the remotest unit hand on sets, “He would talk to each and everyone on the set, no matter how remotely placed the person was. He notices everything around him. We would have fun moments on sets with him too. For many scenes we would rehearse with actors and for Rajini sir’s role an assistant director would take over and mimic him and enact. When Superstar arrives on sets, he would each time watch the rehearsals on the monitor and then say with a laugh , referring to the boy who had played him, ‘now watch, how I do it better!’ For the most junior of unit hands, it was a hugely cherished moment when Rajini sir himself would carefully watch their enactment of his dialogues and even refer to them by name!”

Rajinikanth read lots of reference books for Kabali - G. Murali

For Murali it’s been a life changing experience, “Rajini’s sincerity and dedication to the cinematic medium, his eye for detail, his respect for everyone connected to the craft and his perseverance has been a huge life lesson. The effects of what I’ve seen will spill out to every sphere of my life. I feel very lucky when I reflect that through Kabali, I’ve become  a small part of the Superstar’s iconic cinematic journey and he has become a part of mine.”