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Santosh Sivan (1976) has become an active member of the American Society of Cinematographers. The club is international (despite the ‘American’ title) and entry is only by invitation from peers. So, entering this league is considered a top honour among cinematographers, and Santosh is the first from South Asia to make it.

Becoming an active member is a four-step process. According to the President of the Society, “First, you have to be recommended by three active members who write letters explaining why they think you’re qualified. They take into consideration your body of work as well as the integrity of your character. Those three letters are not something that you can solicit; they just have to happen. You and your cinematography have to have made enough of an impression that three of the world’s best cinematographers took notice.” Then the candidate is invited to sit before the Membership Committee. After hearing from the candidates’ about their work, thoughts on cinematography, etc., the Committee votes. If favourable, your name goes to the Board of Governors of the Society, who consider the recommendation and vote. If you are still favoured, a letter proposing you for membership is sent to every active member of the Society. If there are no objections within 30 days, the candidate is admitted into the Society.

Santosh Sivan’s name was proposed by Michael Chapman (cinematographer notably of Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull), Theo Van de Sande, and Gabriel Beristain. His interview before the membership committee was in November 2011. The committee found it “very refreshing to hear Santosh’s philosophical, artistic and poetic approach to filmmaking,” reported a participant.

Santosh is the first active member from South Asia. Before him, a few non-cinematographers of South Asian origin have become associate members of the Society.


Trivia: Michael Chapman was the cinematographer of The Fugitive; Santosh Sivan was the cinematographer of its Malayalam remake, Nirnayam.

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