“Lightman”… An inconsistent yet illuminating docu/fiction about cinema’s foot soldiers

Posted on February 9, 2017


Spoilers ahead…

Venkatesh Kumar G’s Lightman shines a spotlight on… the men whose job is to shine a spotlight. The film narrates the story of Guna (Karthik Nagarajan), a folk-theatre artist who leaves his village in Madurai and comes to Chennai with dreams of making it big in Kollywood. But he’s not able to get a foot in the door, and to make ends meet, he becomes a lightman, operating lights in accordance with the cinematographer’s vision.

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Guna’s troubles are genuine. He earns very little for backbreaking work, which leaves him with aches he alleviates with a few drinks at night. He cannot even go to his village to see his newborn boy, as that would mean an interrupted shooting schedule. We might have felt for Guna if his plight wasn’t hammered home so. The director resorts to an excessively sentimental background score and the purplest of prose: Cinema vaaippu enbadhu oru vaanavil maadhiri, or Namma cinema-va rasikkirom, aana cinema nambala rasikkala.

After some thirty minutes, Lightman abandons the pretence of fiction (and that background score) and becomes a talking-heads documentary featuring real-life lightmen. And this is when the film finds its footing… somewhat. These lightmen speak of having to reach the set before everyone else in order to set up the equipment, and leaving after everyone has left in order to dismantle the equipment. Sometimes, they have to lug these heavy lights up flights of stairs. Sometimes up a hill. Sometimes through a forest in Mudumalai, which is what happened during the filming of the 1985 Sivaji Ganesan starrer Naam Iruvar. An elephant charged at a van carrying equipment, endangering the lives of lightmen. The next day’s papers reported that Sivaji Ganesan had a narrow escape.

Some of the narratives get repetitive, but there’s no denying the irony that drives the film. We wouldn’t be able to see our favourite stars if lightmen weren’t around to illuminate them, and yet, these lightmen remain invisible. With this film, they finally step into the limelight.


  • Cinema vaaippu enbadhu oru vaanavil maadhiri = A chance to make it in the movies is like a rainbow.
  • Namma cinema-va rasikkirom, aana cinema nambala rasikkala. = We love cinema, but cinema doesn’t love us back.

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Tamil