Future of Telugu Cinema Cinematographers

SICA (South India Cinematographers Association) and WICA (Western India Cinematographers Association) have their byelaws, rules and regulations and clauses. In 92-92, People in the Telugu film industry came up with the Telugu cinematographers association and there is a mutual understanding between SICA and TCA that when a non-local technician comes to Hyderabad to work, he has to rope in couple of assistants in their team to encourage local talent and also they should donate a certain amount of money to the association for the welfare of the members of the association.

The bone of contention now is that certain cinematographers are not willing to pay the little money from their huge remunerations to the welfare fund. They are going to the extent of asking the Telugu producers to cough up the money to the association which is an issue purely between the cameraman and the association. None of them are being forced, they are merely requesting them to donate. There are very few cases of Telugu cameramen going to Chennai or Kerala to work in Telugu or Tamil films being shot there. When they go, they donate the money to their association on a humanitarian basis. It is mutual. It is mostly technicians from other States coming to Telugu States. Our producers dole out money even for their drinks and give a five star status to the technicians but on the other hand, Telugu technicians are never given work or encouraged.

Once upon a time, the view of the Telugu technicians and assistants was that of cheap labor up in the North; That they report to work early, work hard and all they require is Idli and Sambhar. The dynamics have changed. The Telugu film industry now is the flagbearer of Indian cinema by winning the Oscar and also more than ten awards at the National Film Awards. The producers here spend the largest budgets and treat the cast and crew with great remunerations and luxury. There are 300 films being produced every year and even if 100 are considered defunct, out of that 70 to 80 cinematographers working from other languages in Telugu films and 150 films are done by non local cinematographers. Around 30 to 40 cameramen are settled here. Most of them lack potential.

A letter has been sent to the Federation asking them to provide support and employment to the local technicians and assistants. In the near future, there will be an existential threat of these people being considered to be unfit for work. The Association is willing to upgrade the talent and craft of the people with the help of the government. Local people’s survival is still at stake with the advent of OTT. Gaffers from the Middle East and Polish technicians have been working here for the past two years. They are being hired because of very low remunerations but now after the films are a hit, they are quoting big too. Initially they came here just for an opportunity.

“One way the success of the Telugu cinema is showing up and on the side our people are struggling. Other countries don’t give employment to Indian technicians but here we are importing technicians. We don’t need international technicians to show people that we have reached international level. Virata Parvam is a local naxalite story. The sensibilities are different and yet a foreigner has been hired,” says a technician who doesn’t wish to be named..

Mikolaj Sygula worked as a camera operator for Gang Leader and is now working in OTT Telugu series. There is Miroslaw Kuba Brozek for Pushpa and Gang Leader and Dani Sanchez Lopez (Mahanati and Virata Parvam). Serbian cinematographer Djordje Stojilikovic is working on Project K.

Sources reveal after the tremendous success of Tamil actor Vijay’s film made by producer Dil Raju, another young director approached the actor but backtracked soon. The reason? The hero had reportedly set a condition that the entire crew of the film should be from Tamil Nadu. Thankfully, the director is allowed to direct and the producer can pool the money for the film. Many years back, we had our own Chota K Naidu, who worked for a Rajinikanth film Baba and was asked to rope all Tamil assistants. He had his way finally because he apparently cited the dozens of Tamil crew already working in the then unified State.

In the past five years, the superhit films and the recent Samajavaragamana and Baby, Writer Padmabhushan, Balagam, Sitaramamam, Karthikeya 2, Dhamaka, Virupaksha, Bimbisara have all local cameramen taking the credits. They are doing immensely well. On a positive note, many youth are graduating from film schools and education is being added to their skill. Once upon a time, our cinematographers were just school or college dropouts and excelled in their work but now our industry optimistically looks at new horizons.

Human psychology is to ask for fresh names and young technicians which is why this change is happening. The demand is from our heroes. In Hollywood Mad Max 2 Cameraman Deam William Semler got an Oscar, he is 82, whereas here there is want for foreign names in the credits.

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