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Bramayugam DoP Shehnad Jalal interview | A good cinematography is when you don’t notice it

Cinematographer Shehnad Jalal, who shot Bramayugam starring Mammootty, talks about the monochromatic presentation, converting the mana into a character and more

Bramayugam DoP Shehnad Jalal interview | A good cinematography is when you don’t notice it
Shehnad Jalal; Mammootty in Bramayugam

Last Updated: 05.16 PM, Feb 22, 2024


Mammootty’s recent supernatural horror Bramayugam has been witnessing a successful run at the box office, so much so that the film will have its dubbed versions in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada, released on February 23. While the film received positive acclaim for the actor’s performance, no compliment left the cinematography uncovered.

Presented entirely in black and white, Bramayugam, the film stood out for its distinct and cleanly executed style of cinematography. The vastness and confined spaces of the eerie mana, deeply contrasting black and white frames, and textured patterns of cracked teeth and skin of Potti surely added to the captivating presentation Bramayugam had to offer. Cinematographer Shehnad Jalal, the man behind the frames, in an exclusive chat with OTTplay speaks about crafting the horror drama and the extensive pre-production that resulted in the aesthetics.

Visual sense of Bramayugam

Shehnad recalls the time when director Rahul Sadasivan came up with the idea of Bramayugam at the time when the duo was working in latter’s sophomore directorial Bhoothakaalam. “During the post-productions of Bhoothakaalam, Rahul Sadasivan narrated me the idea of this black and white feature and gave a basic storyline. It took him some time to develop and once the first draft was done, I read it. By reading it only you can see the film and visuals,” he says.


The cinematographer says that building the visual sense of a film is a collective process, involving the filmmaker, art director, sound designer and other departments. Having worked in Bhoothakaalam before, the duo shares a good rapport, Shehnad was able to crack the look and style along with constant discussions with the art director. “When the sets were being worked on, we began to plan the type of shots. Rahul used to storyboard it, and since it is a period film, we pre-planned every detail in the pre-visualisation process,” adds the technician, who took a number of still photographs of every angle and decided the angles to be used for each shot.

Monochromatic presentation

For Bramayugam, Shehnad, even as he was unable to point out references, credits old black and white films to be as one. “Most of those films were shot in celluloid so it is difficult that texture on digital, but there was no one reference, because we are creating a new space altogether. I have personally seen all the master’s works like Akira Kurosawa and you kind of get well-versed with their aesthetics. As a photographer also, I began shooting black and white stills, so the aesthetics was easy to crack.”

So, when asked what’s his favourite black and white film?... “I guess, it has to be Rashomon by Kurosawa.”

With its monochromatic presentation being the starting point of the film, Shehnad says that the choice was made to get the right mood and capture the darkness of the subject. He continues, “I personally feel that you cut away from reality when shot in B/W and you can transport to another world easily. In another way, We used particular lensing and effective lighting to convey the feel that narrow spaces were created.”

Even with the towering performance of Mammootty along with delightful acting chops by Arjun Ashokan and Siddharth, the mana (Varikkasseri Mana, Palakkad) in Bramayugam speaks volumes as a character. Shehnad says that they shot through the existing features of the mansion, like the pillars, and window jalis. However, the cinematographer says that he stressed on creating textures to his art director since the film is monochromatic. “In black and white, the textures come out very well. The macro shots were an aid. Another tool that we used is the landscape, to show a gradual change from the vastness to being trapped inside this mana,” Shehnad says.

Landscape and lighting

In terms of landscape, Bramayugam starts with vastness of forests and waterfalls, until Arjun Ashokan’s Thevan ends up at the mana ruled by Potti (Mammootty). “In that journey, the transition was needed. But once we were inside the mana, there were many rooms and spaces that are different to one another. We had to give variations and lighting style for each room. The compositions had to be very strong.”

Coincidentally, both in Bhoothakaalam and Bramayugam, the house acts as a main character in the story, with a lot of exterior shots incorporated. While that is a common thread, the cinematographer says how the architectural details, light changing inside the rooms, and angles were used to make the houses emote and add to the storylines. One main aspect was lighting. Elaborating on this, the technician explains, “It is a period film and the only sources are fire and torches. In small spaces, you can go with the simulation of these sources, but in the case of big spaces like halls, you need to light up the space with high contrast so that it does not look dull. I had to extend the highlights.”

Apart films, Shehnad has also shot documentaries, the recent being Curry and Cyanide for Netflix. Speaking about the difference in shooting films and documentaries, he says, “We had to visualise more of the narrative and since Curry and Cyanide is about an ongoing case, we cannot show faces and play with dark spaces. So, we used a lot of forms and silhouettes.”

As a technician, Shehnad believes that a technician’s work is only fulfilled when the audience consumes the film as a whole and sticks to the story alone, with the technical facets only being underlying fiddle and not overpowering. “People should not notice, but I think since Bramayugam has a prominent style, it is being noticed (laughs),” he signs off.

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