Graduate in cinematography from the FTII, Pune, Shaji N Karun started working with notable directors like G Aravindan, K G George and M T Vasudevan Nair as a cinematographer. His camerawork, especially the films of Aravindan from Kanchana Seeta to Chidambaram virtually defines the look of Kerala's New Wave Cinema.
Shaji made his directorial debut with Piravi (1988), which won him the prestigious 'Camera-d'Or' at the Cannes Film Festival. While Piravi was about the grief of a father who loses his son, Shaji's second film, Swaham (1994) continued with the theme of grief. Swaham was selected to the competition section of Cannes Film Festival. Vaanaprastham (1999) dealt with the identity crisis faced by actor.