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|Established as Toronto's first public college in 1966, Centennial College offers programs in business, communications, community and health studies, science and engineering technology, general arts, hospitality and transportation.|
Behind every newly minted celebrity is a team of hard-working production people. Budding cinematographer Arjun Mano is one of those people.
“Review Raja” – the mysterious young man from Belleville, Ontario – is famous in the Tamil community as a local connoisseur of “Kollywood” films, offering his fun and enthusiastic movie reviews on YouTube for the world to see. Mano is responsible for putting Review Raja on the little (even hand-held) screen.
Review Raja’s journey to fame started humbly enough. He formed a friendship at the IT company where he worked with Rajeev Kugan, who invited him to watch Tamil movies along with buddy Mano. After seeing Billa, Review Raja was infatuated with the genre, and even went to a screening in a public theatre, where he was transfixed by the joy audience members expressed in seeing their favourite Tamil stars.
In order to fulfill his desire to present Tamil movie reviews in English to a wider audience, Review Raja enlisted the help of his two friends. Mano, a Broadcast and Film student at Centennial College, became key to helping deliver Raja’s unique reviews online.
“Raja loves Tamil films for their style and their swagger,” explains Mano. “My friend Rajeev had the idea of building up Raja as an English reviewer, so we shot a teaser for Billa 2 as our first project.” The lads were pleasantly surprised by the reaction online. So they created more, and Review Raja was hatched.
Born in Toronto of Sri Lankan decent, Mano had intended to become a businessman like his father, even though he had fantasized about working in film, but doubted it could provide him with a living. He started university, but didn’t advance far in his business studies. He had discovered something else to ignite his passion.
“Our church gave me the opportunity to help edit some videos for them, and as I started doing it, I found I really enjoyed it. Then I started shooting short videos for the church youth group,” he recalls. Mano abandoned his university program and announced to his parents that he was going to pursue film studies at Centennial.
“My family wasn’t happy with my choice,” he says bluntly. “But the church had taught me to use my gifts and talents, and not to ignore them.”
Enrolled at Centennial’s Centre for Creative Communications in East York, Mano was in his element. His classes and his professors were very good and, best of all, he was encouraged to sign out the equipment and use it as often as possible.
“Unlike other schools that guard their equipment and facilities, I was happy to have unlimited access to the video equipment. They wanted you to learn your craft at every opportunity,” he says.
After completing the first semester, Mano bought a professional video camera of his own. He set up a freelance business – Trinity Pictures – and began filming weddings, commercials and web spots, focusing on Toronto’s large Sri Lankan and Indian communities and their businesses.
He was able to combine lessons learned at Centennial with his natural talent for cinematography and managed to grow a viable business. The 23-year-old started to make a name for himself.
“I’ve worked with some of the giants of the Tamil film industry who’ve come to Toronto to shoot music videos and other projects. People like actor Jayam Ravi, film director Ameer Sultan and music director Yuvan Shankar Raja.” Mano wanted to get a taste of Hollywood, too.
He applied to intern with cinematographer Shane Hurlbut on a $1.2 million TV commercial shoot in Los Angeles. To his delight, he was chosen out of 700 applicants from across North America, along with two other young people. It was a hectic few days of work – with no pay – but the experience of working with a Hollywood giant was priceless.
Mano has even gained some exposure in front of the camera. He appeared in the music video Is Anybody Out There for recording artists K’Naan and Nelly Furtado, and worked as an extra in the Toronto-shot sci-fi movie Total Recall in 2011.
“I really get out there and work every moment I can. Your teachers will recognize your passion and will go out of their way to help you make connections. Build the momentum and network during school, don’t wait until graduation,” he advises others.
Mano is currently in the last semester of his three-year film program. His wish is to work with a professional cinematographer during his field placement and learn the intricacies of manipulating light and colour. He counts cinematographers Wally Pfister and Roger Deakins among his biggest role models.
After graduating this year, Mano plans to establish a film production house to create videos and movies for other companies, with projects in both Canada and India. He’s already been to Chennai, known as Kollywood’s production centre.
And what does his parents think of his career choice now? Mano says they’re really happy to see him busy and making a name for himself. Breaking into the popular film industry seems like the stuff of dreams, but he’s managed to do it.
Mano credits his Centennial professors and his church for giving him the confidence to pursue his craft, even if he lacked his parents’ blessing at the start.
“I see a lot of my friends who are doing what their parents want, and they’re not happy.”
For more information about Centennial College’s media programs, go to: www.centennialcollege.ca/thecentre