All cinematographers have a favourite location though they would have visited numerous exotic places as part of their work. Vinod Illampally, who has been associated with several hit Malayalam movies has his likes too.
"My camera has captured visuals from cities and villages. The sunflower fields of Gundlupet, highways in Kochi, and the rural landscapes of Mulanthuruthy have all been locations for films I was involved with. However, when I was assigned to be part of the 'Ohm Shanthi Oshaana' team, it was to be my first outing at Thodupuzha, though it had been the location of several other movies," he says.
Vinod believes that the greenery of Thodupuzha, including the paddy fields and rain-drenched paths, have a beauty of their own which played a major role in the success of the movie. The landscape also added to the intensity of the love affair between Pooja and Giri.
When director Jude Anthany Joseph told Vinod that Thodupuzha would be the location for 'Ohm Shanthi Oshaana,' he recalled all the hit films that were shot there. They included 'Katha Parayumbol,' 'Vinodayathra,' 'Rasathanthram' and others. Thodupuzha, like Ottapalam, is considered a lucky location by filmmakers, but Vinod had never worked there before.
"When a director relates a story to a cinematographer, the visuals crop up in his mind. Such images would be based on the films which were shot earlier at the location. But every cinematographer dreams of finding new spots to give freshness to his work," says Vinod.
Vinod was firm on doing something different for 'Ohm Shanthi Oshaana' though he was shooting at a location that had been shown numerous times on screen. The normal procedure is to contact the location manager who would suggest the places where shooting could be carried out. "I was particular that the location should give a new feel and decided to search for the right spots myself. Jude and I took a bike and went exploring the town as well as the interiors," says Vinod.
During this ride, Jude and Vinod gradually stumbled upon several houses and scenic spots which had never appeared in films. "The advantage of a bike is that it can pass through even narrow lanes," explains Vinod.
One of the unique scenes in the film was the wine room at the house of Pooja's aunty. This house was located by Vinod and Jude after a thorough search. The house had a dimly-lit cellar which was turned into a wine room for the film. "The scenes were picturised in a single shot in the wine room," recalls Vinod.
Other scenic locations identified by Jude and Vinod during their journey included Pooja’s house amid greenery, Giri's house near paddy fields, the hilltop where Pooja reveals her love to Giri and the path to the hilltop passing through a wooded area having a waterfall and flowering plants. "The love scenes in the film became touching because of the shooting done on the hilltop. The place is about 10– 5 km from Thodupuzha town and was shot for a movie for the first time. However, the old temple shown in the movie was set up by the film crew," reveals Vinod.
He realised after the work on 'Ohm Shanthi Oshaana' that persistent efforts to find the ideal shooting locations would certainly pay off.
Vinod shot all the initial scenes of Nazriya looking at Nivin with a special lens which made viewers feel that only she had an expression of love on her face. He used Red Epic camera to capture the scenery, including the changing colours of the sky. These shots formed the background in the song sequences. "Malayalam cinema has also adopted the methods used by foreign films like shooting a scene with two cameras and mixing the visuals later," explains Vinod.
Vinod says that a film need not be shot exactly at the place where the story is based. It should only be ensured that the viewers get a feel of the location suggested by the story, he says. For instance, in 'Oru Second Class Yathra,' the story takes place in Kannur, but the scenes of the village shown in the movie were shot at Mulanthuruthy. In 'Orissa,' another film Vinod was involved with, Gundlupet was shown as an Orissa village. Vinod had visited Orissa after learning that the story was based there and realised that it had many similarities with Gundlupet.
Cycling around his native place Neendoor, near Kottayam, is another thing that Vinod loves to do when he is not working. He enjoys the sights of the village paths of Neendoor and Aymanam and says that many Keralites fail to notice the beauty of the places in our own state. "Neendoor, in fact, is among the most scenic spots I have ever visited," feels Vinod. This area has appeared in films like 'Kazhakam,' 'Aparahnam,' and 'Drishtantham' made by M P Sukumaran Nair. These films had captured the scenery of Neendoor, but Sukumaran Nair had not included wide angle shots. "I have always felt that this place has retained its rustic charm even after the arrival of modern lifestyles," says Vinod.