The cinematographer-turned-director talks to OTTplay about his debut film Cold Case, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Tanu Balak has been active in the film circles for over two decades now. While he has helmed music videos and cranked the camera for films such as The Train and Of The People, he has predominantly worked in the advertising field. With Cold Case, an investigative thriller that has horror elements, Tanu marked his debut as a director.
In a quick chat with OTTplay, Tanu tells us about working with Prithviraj Sukumaran and Aditi Balan in the film, and the challenges of shooting the film during the pandemic.
You have done over 1,000 ad films and have also worked as a cinematographer in movies. So, why did it take you so long to make your debut as a director?
Professionally, I am an ad filmmaker and that’s what I have been doing. Even though I did cinematography, films weren’t my career. Also, I didn’t find a script that appealed to me till Srinath V Nath came with Cold Case. I had confidence that it would make a good movie and that’s why I went ahead with it.
Did doing ad films help in the making of Cold Case, which was also shot keeping in mind the pandemic restrictions?
There were a lot of challenges doing the film during the pandemic. In terms of the schedules, we shot the indoor portions first and then did the outdoor scenes that had crowds. There were close to 100 people working in the movie, and they had to be put up in hotels so they didn’t break the quarantine bubble.
Even those from outside had to get the RT-PCR tests done before they came in contact with those working in the movie. Many scenes were shot with the team wearing PPE kits. Also, there were some pre-decided sites that became containment zones and we had to then look for other locations. We shot for 46 days and fortunately nobody contracted COVID-19.
Prithviraj had mentioned that you have known each other for a long time and you had also worked in his film Akale back in 2004. Did that influence your decision to cast him as the lead of Cold Case?
Not really, I believe it’s my luck that he agreed to be part of it. The reason he joined the film is because he liked the script after Jomon (T John) had pitched it to him. When he became part of it, the movie got a wider scale. If we cast someone who wasn’t as popular as him, it wouldn’t have gotten this attention. It’s not a character-driven film where his role had emotional layers; Cold Case is plot-oriented. So, the reason he agreed to do the movie was his faith in the script. Of course, if we pick the top five actors who aced the role of cops, Prithviraj will definitely be in that list.
The film has a different cast with Aditi Balan, Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli and Suchitra Pillai. How did you go about that?
In the movie, apart from the established actors, it also has a lot of newcomers. It’s my debut film, Srinath is a first-time scriptwriter and composer Prakash Alex hasn’t done too many movies either. So, to balance that we wanted a few popular faces too.
Three cinematographers were on the sets of Cold Case - Jomon, who also served as a producer, Gireesh Gangadharan and yourself. How did that help the visuals?
All of us weren’t on the sets together. Jomon had another film he was busy with. All of us have known each other for long. Even though I hadn’t done films, we have been acquainted with each other, so the flow was seamless.
If the movie wasn’t done during the pandemic, how different would it have been?
Maybe the ease of access would have been more. We would have shot at the locations, which were turned into containment zones. Those would have been the only changes. But I don’t see a point looking back now.
It’s your debut film. Did you want it to be released in theatres rather than OTTs?
All of us would wish that, especially because it’s a horror genre film that has an investigation. So, in terms of the sound and atmosphere, it has to be experienced on the big screen and that’s what we were aiming for too while making the film. We didn’t know the second wave of COVID-19 would happen. Right now, we don’t know when theatres will reopen and even if cinema halls open, we can’t ask the audience to go and watch the film. The advantage of an OTT release is that it can reach people in so many countries. A theatrical release might not have got such wide publicity. Now, everyone can safely watch a film in the comfort of their homes.