Subhash K Jha Interviews B R Vijayalakshmi , India and Asia’s First Female Cinematographer. Hailing from Tamil Nadu Vijalakshmi was mentored by the legendary cinematographer Ashok Kumar before she broke out on her own and shot 22 films independently in the 1980s.
As Asia’s first female cinematographer what do you feel about the progress made by women in India and abroad,by women in the field of cinematography and in other technical sphere of filmmaking?
I feel that the last few years have seen a lot of progress. There are women today in every technical sphere of filmmaking including script, cinematography, direction, editing etc. When you started out as aDOP in 1985 did you have to encounter a lot of hurdles, male prejudice and gender discrimination?
I hardly experienced any gender discrimination. I worked as an assistant to Shri.Ashok Kumar for almost five years before shooting a film independently. So people have seen and observed me working in the field and once I got my first break and that film was a success,there was no looking back. I also find the males in the film industry liberal, broadminded, open and ready to trust and appreciate you if your work is good.
Do tell us about some of your most memorable experiences while shooting?
Every moment and every film has been memorable to me. Shooting a film is a very personal experience. I worked in film, not digital.We didn’t have video assists at that point in time. The director depended purely on the director of photography to assure the precision of the shot. At a time when there were no women behind the camera, I feel my directors/actors/producers showed a lot of trust in me, because of which I could continue to do 22 films.
Do you feel there is any difference at all in the way a man or a woman shoots a film?
No, not really. The art of cinematography is the same..the way its being perceived and executed depends on the individual’s personality and tastes and not by gender.
Why according to you is there a paucity of female DOPs not just in India but across the world?
One of the reasons is because I think there are limitations for a woman when it comes to marriage and rearing children. Having a supportive spouse and family environment can go a long way in assuring our success. But when I interact these days with DOPs who are men; I think the fact that you want to spend time with your child or vice versa limits your scope of work for men as well(laughs)
Who according to you are the most accomplished contemporary cinematographers of our country?
Ashok Mehta, Govind Nihalani, my guru Shri.Ashok Kumar, BaluMahendra and from my contemporaries, I would say Santosh Sivan and P.C.Sriram.
As a very successful woman professional, what advice would you like to give to all the women who work in front and behind the camera in the entertainment industry?
Simply to stay focused on what you do and do it well. Work every shot like it is the last one you are going to do in this lifetime. We are here for the passion of cinema and we need to have the commitment and dedication to excel. Everything else falls into place by itself.