Jithin Majeed is a cinematographer whose experience stretches back to the time he had his hands on a Nokia phone. He came into the spotlight when he won the prestigious Royal Television Society Award for his documentary titled Moksha in 2019. Back then, he was a Film Studies student at the Regent’s School of Film and Media, London. That said, a lot went into the making of the person he is today.
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Hailing from Kozhikode, Jithin Majeed has shown us what it means to portray a vision on the screen. We interviewed Jithin Majeed about his journey, and here’s what he had to say.
How did it all start?
It was definitely a more gradual progression into the media arts for me. Back when I was a wee kid, my cousins and I used to film little home videos with a Nokia phone. Boasting a 2 megapixel back shooter, it had a start/stop feature so you could make cuts while filming (OG Nokia fans will remember). We made a number of these films; I still have some of them on my hard drive. This is probably my earliest recollection of making scripted videos. I got into Photoshop and After Effects when I was about 11. But all this was just something I did for fun, among a ton of other fun things I did at that time.
My dad bought me my first DSLR when I was in high school. A trusty Canon with two lenses. I’d had a few cameras and handycams before that, but this was the first one with interchangeable lenses. From there on, I filmed myself and did filmmaking tutorials on YouTube. While in grade 10, with the help of my mates, we shot two short films which were submitted to a film competition and ended up with a few consolation prizes. Over the next few years, I made sure to learn the craft as much as I could, mostly through YouTube.
Straight up, high school wasn’t too eventful and the only thing that pushed me to survive was my mates; our brotherhood still goes strong today. After grade 12, owing to my experience with the education system, I decided to never study or do what didn’t interest me again and If I were to be in a line of work, I didn’t want it to feel like ‘work’. If there was ever a light bulb moment, that was probably it. Weighing all my options, a media career didn’t look too bad. It wasn’t a commitment purely induced by passion, but also because I saw opportunities in it. I can’t lie, it was scary at first but my parents saw the bigger picture and gave me the confidence I needed to make that leap. Things got very real very quick when I joined film school in London and that was it. I Haven’t looked back since.
Can you share the story of your ‘colourise moment’ series?
Photo and film colourisation have always been puzzling concepts to understand, even for people working in arts and media-related industries. A few years ago, I came across colourised material and found it difficult to wrap my head around how this was possible, especially motion pictures. When Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) came out, I had a sudden urge to learn colourisation myself. I tried to do it in 2018, but the iterations were poor and not convincing. It was not until recently, when Jason Antic and others came out with powerful colourisation AI, that made it accessible and less intensive. I used Google’s Colab platform to run the code required to colourise a series of historical images from Kerala for my first attempt. These were then processed through Adobe Photoshop to get the final image.
I initially posted this series as an Instagram Story. But some of my friends compelled me to put it up as a post so they could share it with their friends. The response has been overwhelming and it led me to dive deeper into pre-independence photography and history. Succeeding this series, I colourised a scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), which received positive responses. In 24 hours, It got 1.6 million views on Reddit and ended up on the front page.
A few people criticised it as they thought it ruined the original, which I completely agree with (Psycho is meant to be seen in b/w). But the point of it was to merely display how far colourisation and AI have come. I’m super excited to see the progression in colourisation AI and yes, the next colourisation project is in the works.
You won the Royal Television Society Award for Moksha. Do share an experience you’ll never forget
Moksha is a short documentary exploring life and death in Varanasi. I directed and shot the film as a part of my graduation project in film school. Due to logistical constraints, we were a tiny two-person crew with my good friend Kiran Patel, who is a photographer in London. He is one of the producers of the film as well.
‘Moksha’ was inspired by the film ‘Beyond Life’ by Ayas Hasn, which I stumbled upon on Vimeo in 2017. The film took about 2 years to come to fruition, with pre-production commencing in mid-2017 and principal photography in January 2019. I had pitched the film to a production company in Canada prior to filming. Due to the film still being in its early stages at the time, all I had available at the pitch meeting was a synopsis and an early look poster (I had to use a stock image). I sold them the film in December 2018, a month before filming. We shot the film in 15 days and post-production took another 70 days. This production was incredibly intense in many ways. For example, Kiran and I took a combined 12 flights, to and from the UK, to complete the film. It was well received and played in festivals in the UK, USA, UAE, Germany, Italy and so on. It also had a special showcase screening at the BAFTA qualifying Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York, England. Two years on, it is still running in festivals with the next screening at the Jacksonville Film Festival in Florida (USA) next month.
The most memorable moment during this whole project was definitely winning the Royal Television Society award in London last year. We won the award for camerawork craft skills, which is essentially cinematography. It was one of the few moments I patted myself on the back because those in the industry know that RTS awards are hard to come by. The team put a lot of man-hours and money into this, and to see all that work being paid off in such a big way was quite ecstatic. Another specific moment I’ll never forget is when Girish Gangadharan (‘Jallikattu’ cinematographer) messaged to congratulate me on the win. We are planning a public release once the film exits the festival circuit.
Can you share a moment that changed your perception of cinematography?
I’m still (and always will be) learning so perceptions change all the time. Most of what little I know comes from being on shoots and meeting people. Throughout the years, I learned the importance of having proper lighting technicians and set designers. They go hand in hand with how good the frame looks. Most people look at a Wes Anderson film and praise the cinematography, but a well thought out set design and lighting setup play a major role in his frames. Good cinematography has a lot to do with shaping light, which is where I put most of my effort into these days. Though, I do prefer natural light (Chivo fan here).
How has your childhood experiences shaped the way you perceive the world and your art?
I spent a lot of my childhood travelling. My dad is a maritime officer, so he took me and my mum everywhere. The UK has a special place in my heart because I lived and did my primary schooling there for a while, this is why I went back there to study film. I got into painting very early on. That was probably the first time I did something ‘artistic’. Although, nowadays I don’t paint as much as I used to or want to.
I was a happy kid; my mum says there isn’t a childhood photo of me where I’m not smiling. I wasn’t confined to anything, so I was blessed in the sense that I got to explore everything from making movies to dancing. I think that freedom was crucial because it led me to try everything. Which in turn helped me define my strengths.
I owe a lot to my mum and dad for their A+ parenting. The career I chose isn’t an obvious one, especially considering where I come from. If they hadn’t given me the support they gave when I left high school, it would’ve been a huge missed opportunity. They never said no to anything and because of that, I found my calling. I wouldn’t say they were super motivating but that was a good thing. A.K. Lohithadas once said, over motivation kills talent. I’m thankful I wasn’t being hyped early on. They just let me do me.
What does the ‘perfect shot’ mean to you?
I think a ‘perfect shot’ is ill-defined. But I think most good shots radiate emotions. When a DOP lines up a shot that does justice to what the director and screenwriter have in mind; that’s something. Furthermore, when a shot exceeds the preordained visualisation of the filmmaker or audience, that essentially becomes ‘perfect’ in their minds. But obviously, don’t quote me on that.
Best works in Mollywood that you’ve been inspired by, and the reason behind it.
Too many to list. Anything by the usual suspects – Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mankada Ravi Varma, Shaji N Karun (except his film Oolu), Murali Nair, Jayaraj Rajasekharan Nair, Salim Ahamed, M.J. Radhakrishnan, A. K. Lohithadas, Thilakan, Rajeev Ravi, Muhsin Parari, Zakariya, Amal Neerad, Dileesh Pothen, Syam Pushkaran and so on. They are simply the best at what they do.
What does the future hold for Jithin Majeed?
Your guess is as good as mine, we plan and God laughs. I try not to look too deep into it, I’m just happy to be here in the present. But I hope it holds something wonderful, Inshallah!