A glimpse into the life voyage of RAJIV MENON, the legendary cinematographer, focussed producer, staunch director, experimenting actor and passionate educator
Sitting in his quaint Chennai office last month, I felt a sense of inspiration surging through my veins whilst conversing with the veteran cinematographer turned-director, Rajiv Menon. The multi-award winner is a simpleton at heart with an insatiable quench for knowledge, and believes that learning never ends. His charismatic personality surfaced through his wit, intelligence and a never dying zeal for his work. The passion and enthusiasm oozed manifold during his photo shoot, owing to his patience and eagerness to pose for the pictures! With a career spanning over three decades, Rajiv Menon has been a stalwart in the media industry.
Menon was born in Kochi, Kerala, to the popular Malayalam and Tamil film playback singer, Kalyani Menon. His father was a naval officer, because of which Menon got the opportunity to live in various naval bases of the country, and attend many naval schools throughout his childhood. The Menon family eventually shifted to Chennai, and Rajiv completed the rest of his schooling there. At an age as tender as his then, he was always fascinated by science and technology; which made him quiz everything happening around him. He recalled, “Those were the days when quizzes were purely visual. They’d show us a picture of a Western classical painting and we as kids, had to identify the same. Generally, not many people can look at a painting at identify the painter – say this could be Picasso and that could be Da Vinci? Exactly this curiosity proved catalyst in getting people attracted to art. This is how I started feeling a passion towards art forms, even though I was a science student.”
Menon was only in his tenth grade, when his father’s untimely demise made him realise how fickle and unpredictable life was, and if there was a time to do something - it was now. As he recalled, he got attracted to photography out of the blue, and went and joined the M.G.R. Government Film and Television Training Institute to study cinematography. After graduating, he couldn’t manage an assistant ship with a leading cinematographer, owing to his newness in the industry. He hence, started working on the steady cam, and the company Prasad Productions sent him abroad to deploy the same. “While deploying the steady cam, I’d gotten opportunities to work with Ashok Mehta, on Akhree Raasta, and various versatile productions. I witnessed various styles of work, in different languages – one day it’s a Kannada film and the other day, it used to a Tamil one. Sometimes it was art cinema and others, it was commercial. It served as a rapid course in film-making for me,” said Menon. He had comprehended that it might be difficult to get into the film industry, and hence, focused his attention on industrial still photography. During his leisure time, Menon used to work with an industrial photographer, Krishnan, to learn the nuances of printing and photography. Krishnan motivated Menon to try his hand at ad-making, since it was a booming industry in Mumbai. Falling in love with ad-making at a young age, Menon kick-started his career in the field of ad-photography, and then went on to make umpteen TV commercials after. He fondly recalled, “While making commercials, one also ends making friends and creative associates. One young chap, by the name Dilip – who later on went on to become A.R. Rahman, was doing the music for us. The first commercial he did was with me for Allwyn Trendy Quartz.” The ad for Asian Paints, Menon recalls, was close to his heart. It had the theme of ‘homecoming,’ which reminded Menon of his childhood days when he used to run to his grandmother’s arms when he saw her from a distance. The ad was a 60 second one, while the designated time for it was 30 seconds. The look and feel of the ad was so well-received that the team decided to go with the entire 60-second version. This particular ad garnered a lot of affection from viewers across the country, and was specially commended and popularised by Alyque Padamsee, the ad-giant. The chain of ads followed with some names like Dove, Bru and other national brands, on his list.
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