How Mental Manadhil Song was shot?

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Mental Manadhil, one of the most famous songs from his recent film O Kadhal Kanmani released in 2015. Lyrics for the song were written by Mani Ratnam and A.R.Rahman.

P.C. Sreeram is one of the top Cinematographers in India. He is famous for his versatile lighting and camera experiments in his films. He is also known for his collaboration with Mani Ratnam, one of the great living directors of Indian Cinema. After 15 years Mani Ratnam and P.C.Sreeram join in this film. The last movie which they did together was Alaipayuthey which released in 2000. Mani Ratnam is known for shooting songs more aesthetically, where his song sequences always revolve around the context of the story. This song looks technically different from every other song in Indian films. The frames in the song look dreamy, blurry, fast moving with zoom in & outs and ramping. Why it was shot like this? How it was shot? Let us explore.

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Why it was shot like this?

The answer for this question comes from the story of the film and lyrics. The song starts with the words “Mana Mana Mental Manadhil” which means a “In our mental minds”. As per the plot of the film, the young couple who has no believe on the marital relationships of Indian tradition meets fortunately in a wedding. As soon as they come to know that their way of thinking and life style are similar to each other, they become close and fall in love. They decide to live-in relationship before they go their separate ways for their respective careers. So this song starts as soon as they start understanding each other. Their mindsets are contemporary and different from our Indian traditions. They live up to their own values, ambitions and dreams.
The later part of the lyrics goes like this: (Why Tamil lyrics? Because the original lyrics would relate to the context of the film much more than the dubbed versions)

 

“Naettru enbadhu indrillai
Naalai ninaippae
Oh thollai.
Like-a like my laila laila
Indru mattum king and queen-ah”
Meaning – “Yesterday is not today. Tomorrow’s thought..? Oh it’s a nuisance. Like-a like my laila laila we are just king and queen for today.”

“Kannaalae kollaadhey
Seendaamal sellaadhey
Thottaalum thullaadhay
Vittaalum pogaadhey”
Meaning – “Don’t kill with your eyes, don’t go without disturbing, don’t judder on touching, and don’t go on breakup.”

“Kalyanam, kacheri
Samsaaram, samandhi
Pen pillai
Aan pillai
Ayyaiyyo oh maaney“
Meaning – “Marriage, concert, family life, relatives, bridegroom and bride, Oh no, my dear..!”

By knowing the meaning of the lyrics one can understand that this couple’s world is completely different. They call their minds as mental minds who neither feel for yesterday nor bother about tomorrow. So in order to separate their world from rest, this song was shot as a dreamy sequence with blurry frames which has very fast camera movements which represents this 21st century generation’s speed, freedom of choice, thoughts and ambitions.

How it was shot?

In order to know how P.C shot this, we need to get introduce to some of the technical theory involved with Motion Picture cameras. So bear with us a few minutes. This is quite interesting to know the other side of the cinema.
Some might think, these effects can be done through editing software later in post production. But there is lot more we need to know what a camera can do on location to achieve this effect. This effect is associated with the camera technical term “Shutter Angle”. Due to the very fast advancement of technology, everyone who owns a DSLR camera might be aware of the term “Shutter Speed”. Shutter speed is the length of the time when the camera’s shutter is opened and the sensor is exposed to the light. It is measured in Time (sec). This system is for DSLR cameras. Whereas in motion picture cameras, the shutter angle is used to express shutter speed relative to the frame rate.
Shutter angle refers to a rotating semi circular disc in front of the film strip which opens for a certain period of time while the film exposes to light. When the disc is half way opened for every revolution, one film frame will get exposed to light. And in the other half time, the pull down claw enters the perforations (holes) of the film strip and brings down the next frame to expose to light. The registration pins will keep the film strip steadily attached to aperture plate while exposing to light. This cycle keeps on repeating. This phenomenon is showed in the below picture.

Hence the period of time the film is exposed to light be dependent both upon the speed or frame rate (frames per second) of the camera and the angular opening (cut out) of the shutter (rotating disc). So adjusting the shutter angle controls the proportion of time the film is exposed to light. The larger the angle, the slower the shutter speed, the blurry the image. The smaller the angle, the faster the shutter speeds, sharper the image. This following image will explain the scenario.

ShutterAngle

As 24 fps and 180 degree shutter angle are standardized to shoot a film or project a film, almost all the films are shot on 172.8 or 180 degree shutter angle at 24 fps. 24 fps means 24 frames are exposed to light per second. The time taken for each frame to expose would be 1/24th sec. But due to the semi circular disc only half of the whole successive interval is used to expose the film. So the exposure time for each frame would be 1/48th sec. 180 degree shutter angle will give us minimally blurred frames as our eyes are used to this amount of motion blur. If you decrease the shutter angle, the image looks crispy and sharp as the shutter speed will be high.

The perfect example for low shutter angle is Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”. This film was shot setting the shutter angle at 90 and 45 degrees all through the film. The very first D-Day war sequence will take you to the time period of World War II. Because of the low shutter angle 45 degrees the explosions looked too real and crispy where details of the explosions were visible to our eye very clearly. The soldiers running shots were filmed at 90 degree shutter angle. As film cameras have a mechanical rotating disc, the shutter angles were limited to 180 degrees or lower only. But due to technical advancement, mechanical shutters were replaced by the electronic shutters where shutter angles can be alter between 0 to 360 degrees. This gave an advantage of shooting at slow shutter speeds.

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After all this technical discussion, here comes our topic. This song Mental Manadhil was shot at higher shutter angles like 300 degrees or above which is complete opposite to Saving Private Ryan. Sometimes it might go up to 360 degree shutter angle which makes the shutter speed very slow. Thus song looks so blurry. The fast moving camera angles shot in zoom lenses made the frames still more blurry. The more the focal length, the less the depth of field (the sharpest region in the frame). Some of the ramping shots (The change in the frame rate in a single shot while the camera is running. E.g. A sudden change from normal to slow motion or fast motion in a single shot) might be done in camera or would be manipulated in post production later. Some shots have been also taken in lower frame rate which made the characters move fast. I wonder how did the focus puller managed to keep the characters in focus. That’s a tough task.

If you pause the song at any instant, the frame looks motion blurred. If you pause the “Saving Private Ryan” D-Day war sequence at any instant, the frame looks sharp, crisp and real.

Did anyone have done this before?

Yes. We would like to take you to French cinema. There was a French romantic comedy film called “Amélie (The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie)” made in 2001 by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Ok Kanmani has nothing to do with this French film but if you observe the climax sequence from the Amélie. That bike sequence looks similar to the Mental Manadhil song. The camera angles in Amélie are low angled whereas in Mental Manadhil song it was eye level most of the time and was shot from several angles though majorly camera was always on the profiles of the characters. This might be a technical inspiration for the mental manadhil song (We are not sure though. Yet P.C cinematography is unique and aesthetic here in this song. He is a master who has done several experiments in Indian Cinematography. He has used this technique in a most perfect way to express the context of the film and mindset of the 21st Century generation). Here are some of the frames compared.

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Here is the Scene:

Can we do it with our DSLR cameras?

Yes we can do it. Here we need to play with the shutter speeds in video mode. Normally we use 1/50 sec shutter speed at 24 fps. But in order to achieve this effect decrease the shutter speed and shoot in zoom lens at the higher end of focal length available. If you do the opposite the resulted video will be sharp without any motion blur. Frame rate also adds to shutter speed in order to avoid blurriness in our videos or images. The lesser the shutter speed the more light reaches the sensor. Aperture settings and ND filters comes into play in controlling the amount of light hitting the sensor.

By
Dinesh A

M.F.Tech Cinematography

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