Ravi Varman is an independent cinematographer, producer, filmmaker, and director who has worked in Indian cinema. He has worked in films in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, English, and Hindi languages. He has done TV advertisements, music videos, short films and documentaries. He has won multiple awards for his work as a cinematographer.
Ravi Varman was born in Poyyoundarkudikkadunear Tanjore(Thanjavur), Tamil Nadu, India. His date of birth has been a matter of controversy. According to some sources, he was born on 9 May 1972 (aged 50 years; as of 2022) whereas according to some sources, he was born on 31 December 1969 (aged 50 years; as of 2022). Some sources claim that he was born on 5 October 1973 (aged 50 years; as of 2022) and some other sources claim that he was born on 3 May 1972 (aged 50 years; as of 2022). He was born in a poor childhood. He studied in a government school (Tamil medium) and dropped his school in the 7th class. He did not undergo any formal course in cinematography. After his mother died when he was 12 years old (his father had already died), he tried to commit suicide by laying on a train track. He was saved by a policeman but was framed in a theft case and after beating him for 15 days, they put him in a juvenile home for 30 days. He was bailed by a relative however after villagers labeled him as a thief, he left the village and came to Madras via Rameshwaram Express, the same train he tried to come front of, to give his life. One of his father’s closest friends, a lawyer, offered him a job of cleaning bathrooms which he denied, and started working as a waiter at Amaravathi Hotel. He earned Rs150 per month. One day, he was going to Moore Market to buy Singapore Veshti, a traditional dress however bought an old Russian camera Zenit 6 for Rs 120 from an imported goods store. He developed an interest in photography and bought a book to learn about it. He also wanted to learn English and would read the book Rapidex: English to Tamil and would watch English movies at the Alankar theatre. He would click photos of his actor friend and would accompany him to the film sets to find work in movies. He started working at a production house however when the film Neram Nallairukku flopped, he again was without work. He started working under photographer K.V. Mani and considered him his guru. K.V.Mani introduced him to cinematographer V. Ranga. V.Ranga was working on Rajinikanth’s movie Mappillai. He worked under V. Ranga for 6 years. The director Rajasekhar suddenly died and he was again without work. On the advice of Balu Mahendra and after a friend’s suggestion, he met cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran and started working with him. In 1999, he started working in Malayalam films and later, went to work in many famous films like Barfi, Anniyan, Ramleela, Jagga Jasoos, and Mission Mangal.
Height (approx.): 5′ 5″
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
He belongs to a poor family.
Parents & Siblings
His father got involved in politics and died soon after his birth. His mother died when he was 12 years old. Not much is known about his siblings.
Wife & Children
He is married. He has 2 children, one son Arjith and one daughter.
Ravi Varman with his wife and children
He started working as a cameraman and his story about his journey of becoming a cinematographer started when he was young. He said in an interview,
“It is a rather emotional story. I lost my mother when I was very young. Just before she died there was a wedding in our neighbourhood and my mother’s image was accidentally captured by the wedding photographer in one of the photos. I went to a studio and asked for a picture to be enlarged and learnt what ‘out of focus’ is. Thus, I developed an interest in photography and later bought a still camera and started practicing it.”
He has worked in 34 films with 32 directors including famous directors like Anurag Basu, Rajkumar Hirani, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and Imtiaz Ali. His first major movie was the Malayalam movie Jalamarmaram in 1999 directed by TK Rajeev Kumar. The budget for this movie was only 11 lakhs and they were making an art movie. He followed instructions from the book American Cinematographer while shooting however when the negative reel came out, it was all white and the director got angry with him. He checked with the lab technicians and when one-stop overexpose was corrected, the reel became good and he was appreciated for his work. In 2001, he worked on the Malayalam movie Shantham and won accolades for the movie. He shot an iconic scene in which a dragonfly sat on the sword of the actor.
Shantham movie iconic scene when a Dragonfly sat on the sword
In 2003, he worked in a Bollywood movie Armaan starring Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, Preity Zinta, and Gracy Singh. He likes to shoot in natural light and calls himself a non-technical cinematographer.
Ravi Varman (in black, center) with Anil Kapoor (left), Amitabh Bachchan (center) and Preity Zinta during the shoot of the movie Armaan
In 2004, he worked on the movie Phir Milenge starring Salman Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, and Shilpa Shetty.
Ravi Varman (right) with Salman Khan during the movie Phir Milenge
In 2005, he replaced V.Manikandan in the middle of the film Anniyan and said this about how he shot the scenes in the movie. He had a keen desire to work with S. Shankar and he was the director of this movie. In an interview, Ravi said about the happiness he felt after getting the chance to work with S. Shankar,
“I felt extremely happy when Shankar Sir offered me Anniyan. The first time I felt that happy was when I met Ravi K Chandran and joined him as an assistant. The next time I felt so happy was when I eloped with the girl I loved and got married to her. The third time I felt so happy was when my daughter was born. The fourth incident was when Shankar sir offered me Anniyan. I felt the same happiness when I won the international award for Santham too.”
Ravi Varman (right) during the shoot of the movie Anniyan
He often admires Kamal Haasan on various occasions and in 2007, he got the chance to work with him on the movie, Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu. It was directed by Gautham Vasudev Menon. He shot an iconic scene and wrote on his Instagram this while posting the below picture,
“LIGHT IS A MAGIC ,EVERY SECOND IT MAKES WONDER!*Both of the shot is taken simultaneously with two cameras , one is kept on 3 feet with wide lens (12mm) for sun glare , & another one is kept on 6 feet with tele lens (75mm) for reflective flare . 3 minutes after the shot sunlight is like this in the second picture”
Shots from the movie Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu
In 2008, he worked on the movie Dasavatharam starring Kamal Haasan.
A scene from the movie Dasavatharam
In 2012, he worked on the Hindi movie Barfi directed by Anurag Basu and starring Ranbir Kapoor, Ileana D’Cruz, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
Scenes from the movie Barfi
Ravi Varman(in centre, in camouflage hat and black t-shirt) with Priyanka Chopra Jonas during the shoot of Barfi
In 2013, he worked in the movie Ramleela directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali starring Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone.
Ravi Varman (below) on the shoot of Ramleela
Ravi Varman (right) with Sanjay Leela Bhansali during the shoot of Ramleela
In 2017, he worked on the Tamil movie Kaatru Veliyidai starring Karthi for which he won many awards.
Ravi Varman (left) with Karthi during the shoot of Kaatru Veliyidai
In 2017, he also worked on a Hindi movie Jagga Jasoos directed by Anurag Basu and starring Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif.
Ravi Varman (left) with Anurag Basu (centre) and Ranbir Kapoor (right) during the shoot of Jagga Jasoos
In 2017, he also worked on an English movie Heartbeats. In 2018, he worked on the movie Sanju and Mission Mangal.
Ravi Varman (left) with Rajkumar Hirani during the shoot of Sanju
Ravi Varman (left) with Akshay Kumar during the shoot of Mission Mangal
In 2022, he worked on the movie Ponniyin Selvan: I. The movie was a superhit and he said about the director Maniratnam gave him the freedom to shoot as per his will. He said,
“He wants his DOP (Director of Photography) to contribute in a big way. Many times we would have gone to the location two to three times before deciding how to film and when to film. A simple palm tree in Pollachi looks spectacular with a hint of rainbow colors in the sky ponni nadhi song. We were lucky in such cases; Sunrise and light intensity are different on different days.”
Ravi Varman (right) with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan during the shoot of Ponniyin Selvan I
In 2010, he also directed a Tamil film Moscowin Kavery starring Samantha.
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- The best cinematography award at the 23rd International Cannes Film Festival in France for Jayaraj’s Malayalam film, Shantham.
- For the movie Anniyan, he won the ‘Filmfare Award for Best Cinematographer – South’ award.
- For the movie Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, he won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Cinematographer award.
- For the movie Dasavathaaram, he won the ITFA Best Cinematographer Award.
- For the movie Barfi, he won Star Guild Awards for Best Cinematography, Screen Awards for Best Cinematography, TOIFA Awards for Best Cinematography, and IIFA Awards for Best Cinematography.
- For the movie Ramleela, he won the Zee Cine Awards for Best cinematography.
- For the movie Kaatru Veliyidai, he won the Ananda Vikatan Cinema Awards for Best Cinematography, Vijay Award for Best Cinematographer, SIIMA Award for Best Cinematography, and Behindwoods Gold Medal for Best Cinematographer.
- For the movie Jagga Jasoos, he won the Power award for Best Cinematography.
Ravi Varman’s Power award for Best Cinematography
- He was given The Most Admired Global Indian 2020 award by Passion Vista.
- Ravi did not have the surname Varman. He chose the name Varman as he was inspired by the rulers of the Chola dynasty like Arunmozhi Varman (King Raja Cholan) and Kulothunga Varman.
- While shooting for the Tamil film Kaatru Veliyidai by Maniratnam, he mistakenly crossed into the danger zone while shooting a scene. He said about the incident,
“The average temperatures we shot in were around minus nine degrees centigrade. Since it’s in the backdrop of the air force, during a shoot in Belgrade we were filming the takeoff of an M87 war plane. The airstrip technician there told me not to enter beyond a certain marking, around 200 meters from the aircraft. Mani sir was far away from me with the other camera unit. I decided that since the plane was far away I should get closer for a better shot. So I disregarded his warning and went beyond the cutoff point till I was just 100 meters from the plane which was about to take off. As I was filming, suddenly I felt a wave of heat all around me. It was freezing cold and I was covered from head to toe in protective gear. Yet that searing heat got to me. Nearby, I noticed that the grass in the area was singed by heat. In a split second, I realised that the heat from the plane’s emission had singed the grass. Because I was so close it would have burnt my hair too but luckily it was my thick woollen cap and winter clothing that protected me! I realised that within 5 minutes the plane was going to land again so I quickly got out of close range. I realised then why the technician had told me not to come beyond that 200m point! It was a narrow escape from injury that day.”
- When Seema Biswas informed him on the phone that he has won the Best Cinematographer award at the 23rd Cannes Film festival, his wife had gone to give her engineering exam, so he danced in the shower for one hour.
- He has worked in more than 500 advertisements with famous cricketers and celebrities like Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh.
Ravi Varman (right) with Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Ravi Varman (left) with Yuvraj Singh