Thursday, June 6, 2013

My First Feature Film - VIDYARTHILKALE ITHILE ITHILE


Now that 100 Years of Indian Cinema is being celebrated , as part of it I who have completed more than 100 Malayalam Films will be writing about some of the films I have worked as Cinematographer.

I'll  start with my first feature film VIDYARTHILKALE ITHILE ITHILE Directed by John Abraham. The year, 1971. I was studying in the Final year of Diploma in  Motion Picture Photography Course at the Film Institute of India , Poona. There was a student strike going on, and when it extended for a long time,our parents were instructed by the authorities to take us back home, to cool our tempers. While at home I was informed that John Abraham is planning to direct a Malayalam film based on a script by M. Azad and both of them were at Madras. So I went there and met them. They had in mind to have S. Ramachandra as the Cinematographer for the film as he was a close friend and room-mate of Azad. They have offered me an opportunity to work as an assistant cameraman in that film. Since I have still not completed the course and was looking for an opening to enter the film industry, I readily agreed to their proposal so that I can get familiar with the working methods in Malayalam films.



 

Azad and John in serious discussion




 

In a jovial mood 



The producer was Mr. Minnal, who was running an AD Agency called Mars Advertising Company located at 49, Wallajah Road, Triplicane. The Malayalam film titled "VIDYARTHIKALE ITHILE ITHILE" was to be produced under the banner Mehboob Movies. At that time both John and Azad were staying there in the office itself and were working on the script as the dates of the shooting schedule have not yet been fixed.



After my return to the Institute the strike prolonged for some more time and finally ended as the Government had agreed to constitute an enquiry commission. Our courses were nearing completion and I was wondering about the future, whether to try my luck in the Bombay film industry or in the Madras film field. In those days Film Institute graduates had a tough time finding work as they were thought to have only bookish knowledge and no practical experience. They had to struggle for some years assisting the veterans in the industry before they get a break. Though I was offered a job at the Hindustan Thompson AD agency, I declined because the work involved was only making sample films in 16mm for clients to view and I was more interested in doing feature films.I was thinking of going down south at Madras which was a much familiar city to me as I had done my graduation from Loyola College there. Also there was no language problem too as I had my schooling in Tamil medium. Then I received a letter from John and Azad saying that they have decided to give me a break in the film as the principal cinematographer!


 It came as a great surprise as I was offered this film directly without working as an assistant to anybody at any capacity in the film industry and that too before the completion of my final examinations. I was really lucky indeed to have got such an easy entry in films ! I asked my old roommate and batch mate Kasturi Ramachandra Murthy, who was also keen on going to Madras to work as my assistant in the film and he readily agreed to my proposal and joined me.



Letter from John 



After a few days I received the official letter from the producer confirming that the shooting is scheduled from 5 th June 1971 on wards and I was expected to be in Madras on the 1st of June to attend the pre-production work.



 Producer's Letter

After our classes were over at the Institute myself and Kasturi R Murthy travelled by train to Madras to take up our first feature film assignment. Since Murthy had some relatives at Madras, he preferred staying with them. I joined John and Azad at their office at 49, Wallajah Road and was accommodated there for the time being. We did not have a separate room for ourselves and spent the day amongst the office staff and at night, we all slept in the settee and carpet in Producer Minnal's air conditioned cabin. In the hot and humid climate of Madras the air-conditioning was really a luxury. There was a nearby "Nair's Mess" at Triplicane which provided tasty Kerala type meals at very low prices. It was a small place and was always crowded and you have to wait for some time to manage a seat. The food and accommodation was quite comfortable.


As I was a novice in the Madras film Industry I had to learn many things about the procedures and working methods there. At the Institute you had all the equipment at your disposal and all you have to do is to write the list in the register and take them for the shooting. But here the equipment had to be hired from rental companies. Since Azad had worked in a few P.N.Menon’s films, he took me to Sujatha Movietone Unit, whom he said charge reasonably and had good workers. The camera we wanted was Arri IIC with option to use blimp as John wanted to use location sound recording. But the compact and portable Nagra recorder was not available at Madras as it was not considered a "Professional" equipment by the sound recordists there. Because of its small size and 1/4 inch tape they thought that it will create sync problems in lengthy shots. P.Devadas an alumni of the Institute who was at that time was with Chitralekha Film Co-operative Studio founded by Adoor Gopalakrishnan was contacted and he joined us with his Nagra equipment to do the sound recording.
We had planned to do our shooting in real houses instead of the usual practice of using studio sets using the household power supply. But to match the indoor light with the bright sunny out door light required the use of more powerful lights, such as 5KW or 10 KW. We could not use them as they would consume more power and the house connection will not take up such heavy electrical load. Generators were rare and very expensive too; hence locations with 3 phase power supply were only selected if additional lighting is required. Apart from the usual Junior and Baby lights I asked for Colortron (USA) lights which I have used at the Institute and are known to give much brighter light output. To my surprise I was given a Bombay made light which had a sealed beam spot light whose intensity can be varied step by step using a transformer and they called it "Colortran" light! Since it always produced a hot spot I asked for a few white boards to be made for bouncing the lights.




First Day of the Shooting


Having been brought up in Tamil Nadu, I haven't seen many Malayalam films. I have seen a few of them while we went to Kerala on summer holidays to my parent's place. I had seen Ramu Kariat's CHEMMEEN at Madras and P.N.Menon's KUTIYEDATHI ( Starring Jayabharathi ) and few other Malayalam films at the Institute. In fact I have never even witnessed the shooting of a Malayalam film either before I ventured into the film industry as Cameraman.

ORWO Film


We were using ORWO Black and white negative film as Kodak film was much expensive and also hard to get and required and import licence. Since ORWO film was manufactured in Communist East Germany and was imported against Rupee payment it was freely available and cheaper than Kodak film. ORWO negative was available in two speeds, ORWO NP55 which was 64 ASA and ORWO NP27 which was 400 ASA but rated as 320 ASA.I used the faster NP 27 stock for indoor filming and the slower NP 55 for the outdoors. Since we had white walls all around I did the lighting by bouncing a few units on the ceiling, the walls and on the white boards to get a soft day light effect.

I started the first day of my cinematographic career by taking a close up shot of Malayalam Actress Jayabharathi at a small house in CIT colony in T.Nagar. The scene we had to shoot was her interaction in the role of a school teacher with a few children, who were playing their role of her students. After the day’s shooting was over Jayabharathi called the Producer aside and expressed doubts whether some image will be recorded on the film as this novice cameraman had not put any light on my face. Instead he had focused the lights everywhere on the walls, ceiling, boards etc except my face. Having been used to the hot direct spot lights hitting her face in studio floors, it was but natural for her to think like that. Also I was very young (hardly 23 years old) thin and still not out of the Institute and an inexperienced hand. Having heard this doubtful remark from the Leading lady the Producer also started worrying about the results.

The next day I got a call from the Vijaya- Vauhini Laboratories asking me to meet the Laboratory Chief Mr. Sen Gupta. The reason was they were getting only blank film when they processed the test negative. In those days a 5 ft Test shot close up of a face is taken either in the beginning or at the end of the roll which will be processed first and after checking the density the duration of the processing is adjusted accordingly. Under exposed negatives will be brought up to required density by processing for more duration and over exposed ones for lesser time to obtain a uniform density final negative. Usually the density of the negative image is visually checked by experienced personnel and may vary from person to person. Also there will be a variation of the skin tone of the actor in the close up. In order to overcome this I took a Test shot of 18% grey card (considered to be equivalent average skin tone) and asked them to develop it and measure the density in the Densitometer and keep it as standard for the processing. It was the grey card that they found instead of the close up and that created the confusion.

The Laboratory Chief Mr. Sen Gupta agreed to my contention but requested me to have the face close up as test since the Lab technicians over the years are used to that practice. Finally when the rushes were printed and projected in the Lab theatre all anxieties vanished and the producer and the Director were fully satisfied with the results.

Madhu who had by then been well known all over India for his role in CHEMMEEN was the leading actor in our film. On his first day in our set, unfamiliar with the formalities existing in Malayalam film industry I addressed him as "Mr.Madhu". He turned and gave a piercing look at me, a thin young man of only 23 years for calling a top hero like him in this manner. I noticed it and continued " Please come and stand in position for the lighting". He understood the nature of the Institute bred people as he himself was the product of National School of Drama and willingly came and stood in his mark for me to adjust the lighting. Later on I found everybody else on the sets were addressing him as "Madhu Sir" and I too followed it!





We continued our shooting in that C.I.T Nagar  house location and also in the streets of Madras for a few days. We shifted to a flat at Mahalingapuram which functioned as our production office as well as our residence and guest house. In the floor below us were Director J.D.Thottan’s Office  and Vayalar used to stay there.

We  were fortunate to have M.B Srinivasan as our Music Director. In those days the Institute graduates were looked upon with contempt and suspicion by the veterans of the film world. But MBS was different, he immediately took a liking for us and soon became our friend, philosopher and guide. Along with John Abraham and Script Writer M.Azad , I used to attend the song composing sessions and rehearsals at his Cenatoph Road residence at Chennai, which was enhanced by warmth and hospitality of Zahida Deedi, his Kashmiri Wife. 

It was at MBS's residence that , I met Yesudas for the first time. In those days the singers learned the songs and had the rehearsals at the residence of the Music Directors before going to the Recording theatres. They have to be well prepared as recordings are done with full orchestra and in one full take and any mistake means that the whole take had to be once again taken in full! Unlike the present cut and paste era, in those days every sound was recorded live, in the studio. During the rehearsals the musicians, singers and other assembled at one place and practiced to perfection. 

During the rehearsals I listened to MBS singing the song “ Nalanda…. Thakshasila …” written by Vayalar Rama Varma. Later on, I heard the recorded song sung by Yesudas. But in spite of the great voice somehow I felt that the song sung by MBS even with poor Malayalam pronunciation and voice quality was superior and Yesudas could never match the feelings and emotional quality of the song. This I am not saying to belittle Yesudas as a singer. Any Director who sits during song composing sessions will agree with me. When it comes from the Music Director the impact is direct and never a second hand product. It comes from deep inside the Music Director's soul itself as he had been living with the song for many days. A singer could never match the emotional feel of the song as sung by the music director as at the maximum he can only imitate the Music Director. There lies the difference between the original and a copy.

John had a great sense of Music and sings fairly well and in spite of his eccentricities was much liked by MBS. He treated him like a younger brother and advised him against excessive drinking. John had the freedom to knock at his door at any hour of the day or night and MBS was always willing to play host to him. It was this relationship that was instrumental for John to cast MBS as the eccentric professor in "Agraharathil Kazhuthai", a Tamil Film, produced by John's sister and Charly John.


MBS always stood for the working class and fought for their genuine and reasonable rights and welfare. With the late Nemai Ghosh in the Sixties he established the early Trade Unions for the Film Industry at Chennai. He made me to become a Member of the Cine Technician’s Guild  the first Trade union for Cine workers in South India.




Meeting with Bala Mahendran

One day while walking towards our Producer Minnal's office at Wallajah Road, Triplicane, a tall lean man approached me. When he came near I recognized him, it was Bala Mahendran with out his French beard. I had known him at the Institute as he was my senior by one year and was also  the batch mate of John Abraham and Azad. During the Institute days he had a different look with  receding hair and a French beard  and had not started wearing his trade mark cap. He was mostly  found in the company of foreign students since he was a native  of Ceylon. Even though most of the time he spoke in English, since his name was Bala Mahendran I guessed that he must be knowing Tamil and I used to speak to him in Tamil when ever I met  him on a few  occasions. He was a reclusive person and had only a few friends mostly foreigners and some South Indians at the Institute. His peers at the Institute told me that he was such a romantic person that even when he visited Budhawar Peth Red light  area he used to take flowers, kaajal, bra's etc as gifts to his regular  girls there.




Bala Mahendran




A tired looking Balu was extremely  happy to see me at Wallajah Road and narrated his sad condition.  D. Gautaman, his senior at the Institute in  Direction  who was working as assistant to Director Ramu Kariat had recommended Bala Mahendran for his next colour film NELLU. Hoping that the film will start soon, Bala arrived in Madras and was staying with some distant relatives. The start of the film got delayed and with no income, his relatives were about to show him the door. He was on the look out for alternate accommodation and  had no money as Ramu Kariat had gone to Kerala for the shooting of another film. He also didn't have much friends at Madras and was roaming around. It was then he happened to see me on Wallajah road.  On learning about his pathetic condition, I offered to take him up with me for staying in our producer's flat at Mahalingapuram. At that time there was a break in our shooting schedule and all others like John, Azad etc  had left for their native places and I was living there alone and it was easy to accommodate him there.

My producer Minnal on his way to his office used to come there and   give me  money  for the day's food expenses and I used that amount to feed both of us. After a few days I had to go home for Deepavali  and Bala could not be left there as  he was not in a position to meet his daily expenses in my absence. So I decided to take him along  with me to my  home at  Maduranthakam which was 50 miles away from Madras. There he stayed for a few days with my family and then we returned to Madras together. Soon  Ramu Kariat returned from his Kerala location shooting and Bala managed to get some money and found alternate accommodation, but he still remained unemployed.

In the mean time myself and Kasturi Kurthy  had to go Poona for my Viva Voce  examinations. But a few days of the busy actress Jaya Bharathi was available and all of a sudden the shooting of a song sequence was planned on the same dates. So I had to find an alternate cameraman to do the  work  in my absence. Since Bala was from the Institute and  batch mate of John and Azad, I suggested to let Bala do the work.  John preferred someone from the Institute and he accepted Bala. Thus Bala started his career in feature films  by cranking the camera under the direction of  John Abraham for a song picturisation sequence in the film VIDYARTHIKALE ITHILE ITHILE.

The film Nellu took still longer to materialize and Bala used to visit us often as we were all from the Poona Film Institute. K.G.George who had joined Ramu Kariat also was part of our group.  In the meantime Director P.N.Menon was on the lookout for a cameraman for his B&W Malayalam film " PANIMUDAKKU " ( Strike). Bala got the break to work as an independent cameraman for a feature film. The film was to be shot in a place called Puthukkad near Trichur, Kerala. At that time Bala didn't have  an exposure meter the essential tool for any cameraman. He didn't have the money to buy one either and even if he had, he need to place an order with the Xaca company at Mount road and it will take weeks to arrive from Bombay.

Since I wasn't shooting at that time, I lent him my own exposure meter and also sent my friend Kasturi Murthy who was working with me to be his assistant for the film. After the shooting started, from the money  I obtained from the producers of that film I purchased a new Sekonic exposure meter and sent it over to Bala's location.  Kasturi Murthy later kept on associated with him for  many of Bala's films.

The film NELLU  still needed more time  to materialize, but soon  Ramu Kariat started a B&W film MAYA and gave Bala the opportunity to work with him. Ramu Kariat was the main  reason behind Bala coming to India from Ceylon.  Meanwhile he had changed his name into Balu Mahendra and is now known only by that name.

In spite of having done this much for him he had  never  shown the courtesy of inviting me inside his  home on the two or three occasions that I visited his residence at  Madras. He always met me at the gate and saw me off, never letting me in. Strange!

May be he was too much  protective or possessive   about his family !


My Practical Examinations and Viva Voce were not over when I started my career as a Cinematographer in the film industry. In the meantime the dates of our Viva Voce examination at Poona were intimated to us.  Entrusting the two days of song shooting to Bala, myself and Murthy left for  Poona and  finished our exams! We bid farewell to all our dear friends at a party held at a hotel Deccan Gymkhana. Many of them came to see us off at the Railway station.

 After a long train journey from Poona, Kasturi Murthy and I returned to our flat at Madras Mahalingapuram and were getting ready for a refreshing bath. I was standing on the balcony and some one beckoned me from the road, who claimed to be a policeman. Since he was not in uniform, I signed him to come up to my flat and explain what he wants. The man came up and showed his identity card and said that our Director John Abraham had been arrested for being drunk and is being held in the lock up at the Nungambakkam police station. ( those were the days when Prohibition was in force in Tamil Nadu). Suddenly he noticed two empty XXX Rum bottles lying near our baggage and started questioning us about it. We convinced  him that we had just arrived from Poona and those bottles were filled with water for use during  our long  train journey and as proof we showed him our train tickets too. In those days when packaged drinking water was not in vogue, empty glass bottles were used by most of the passengers to fill up water from wayside stations.


The policeman then told us arrange for bail to get John released from the Police station. I immediately telephoned our producer Mr.Minnal and informed him and soon he went to the station and  obtained bail for John and they both arrived at our flat. Then John explained to us how it all happened.


Producer Minnal 



Under the Kodambakkam railway over bridge there were a few illicit country liquor dens catering to die hard addicts during Prohibition days. That afternoon John went there to have a few drinks and was returning back to our flat. In 1971, Mahalingapuram  was a vast open space littered with a few building here and there. That day even at noon it was a really deserted place except for a young girl walking ahead of John. He  was shabbily dressed  with  unkempt long hair, beard and mustache and was walking with faltering steps. His very appearance created fear in the girl's mind and  she started walking faster. On seeing this, just for fun John also increased his pace a little more. As she increased her speed of walking , John also increased his speed. This continued for some time till the girl started to run and just like that, John also ran after her. She ran into a slum adjoining the railway tracks and shouted for help and people started coming out of the huts. Meanwhile someone telephoned the police and in a few minutes police came and arrested him before he was beaten up. Thus a small innocent act for fun ended in John being put behind the bars in police lock up.





The next day  he was produced in the Saidapet Magistrate's court and one by one  cases were being heard and disposed off quickly  as most of them were Prohibition cases. It went on  like this:





Magistrate:  What is your name ?

Accused :   Kuppusami 

Magistrate:  Did you drink?

Accused : Yes Sir.

Magistrate:  What's your Job ?

Accused : Carpenter

Magistrate: Fined Rs.5..



The next person comes...



Magistrate:  What is your name ?

Accused :    Muthu

Magistrate:  Did you drink? 

Accused :    Yes Sir.

Magistrate:  What's your Job ?

Accused :     Rickshaw puller..

 Magistrate: Fined Rs.5..

Now it was the turn of John

Magistrate:  What is your name ?
John :  I am, John Abraham
Magistrate:  Did you drink?
John :  Yes
Magistrate:  What's your Job ?
John :  I am a FILM DIRECTOR !
Magistrate:  Twenty Five Rupees !




Afterwards the Producer was jokingly lamenting that had John told the Magistrate that he was employed in some petty  other job, he would have saved Twenty Rupees!



The duration of the shooting extended to  nearly a year  in several schedules due to John's vagaries and Producer's financial conditions. Inspite of that Producer Minnal had immense faith in John and had roped in some of the popular artistes such as, character actor S.V. Ranga Rao, comedienne Manorama and M.R.R Vasu from the Tamil Industry  to act in his film. Manorama even had sung a Malayalam song " Chinchilam chiluchilam" with Adoor Bhasi for the first and only time in this film, under the baton of M.B.Sreenivasan.



We  were fortunate to have M.B Srinivasan as our Music Director. In those days the Institute graduates were looked upon with contempt and suspicion by the veterans of the film world. But MBS was different, he immediately took a liking for us and soon became our friend, philosopher and guide. Along with John Abraham and Script Writer M.Azad , I used to attend the song composing sessions and rehearsals at his Cenatoph Road residence at Chennai, which was enhanced by warmth and hospitality of Zahida Deedi, his Kashmiri Wife. 

It was at MBS's residence that , I met Yesudas for the first time. In those days the singers learned the songs and had the rehearsals at the residence of the Music Directors before going to the Recording theatres. They have to be well prepared as recordings are done with full orchestra and in one full take and any mistake means that the whole take had to be once again taken in full! Unlike the present cut and paste era, in those days every sound was recorded live, in the studio. During the rehearsals the musicians, singers and other assembled at one place and practiced to perfection. 

During the rehearsals I listened to MBS singing the song “ Nalanda…. Thakshasila …” written by Vayalar Rama Varma. Later on, I heard the recorded song sung by Yesudas. But in spite of the great voice somehow I felt that the song sung by MBS even with poor Malayalam pronunciation and voice quality was superior and Yesudas could never match the feelings and emotional quality of the song. This I am not saying to belittle Yesudas as a singer. Any Director who sits during song composing sessions will agree with me. When it comes from the Music Director the impact is direct and never a second hand product. It comes from deep inside the Music Director's soul itself as he had been living with the song for many days. A singer could never match the emotional feel of the song as sung by the music director as at the maximum he can only imitate the Music Director. There lies the difference between the original and a copy.

There was one more song "VelichameNayichaalum" sung by S.Jankai which is still very popular even today. 

John had a great sense of Music and sings fairly well and in spite of his eccentricities was much liked by MBS. He treated him like a younger brother and advised him against excessive drinking. John had the freedom to knock at his door at any hour of the day or night and MBS was always willing to play host to him. It was this relationship that was instrumental for John to cast MBS as the eccentric professor in "Agraharathil Kazhuthai", a Tamil Film, produced by John's sister and Charly John.
MBS always stood for the working class and fought for their genuine and reasonable rights and welfare. With the late Nemai Ghosh in the Sixties he established the early Trade Unions for the Film Industry at Chennai. He made me to become a Member of the Cine Technician’s Guild  the first Trade union for Cine workers in South India.

Another escapade by John 


One day I received a call from K.G. George  frantically asking for John’s whereabouts, and he told me to find John immediately and keep him in some safe place as John’s life is in danger .  I asked him the reason for it. It so happened that a drunk John went to meet George who was working as Assistant to Ramu Kariat for the film MAYA. George was supposed to be at the Jayamaruthi pictures  office which was a part of the residence of the Producer T.E.Vasudevan. When  John went there George was not there and the doors were closed. The house had two gates, the larger one was permanently locked and the other smaller one open. John was standing in front of the locked gate and rang the bell. No one opened the door, but he could see some movement behind the window and sensed that there are indeed people inside the house. Actually what happened was, there were only womenfolk inside and seeing  John’s shabby dress and beard mistook him for a beggar and did not open the door.
Since whoever was inside were not deliberately opening the door, John banged at the gate and made a big noise. Those inside were frightened by this sudden development. Finding no one coming out of the house,  he jumped over the gate, reached the main door and started banging it repeatedly. In fear of their life the inmates called their near and dear for help. The news spread like wildfire in the film industry as Producer T.E.Vasudevan of Jayamaruthi pictures  was one of the most respected  people in Madras. It was atrocious that someone created trouble when only women folk were there, and it was decided that whoever responsible was to be given a severe beating. Harry Pothen’s drivers, Padmini’s brother Aniyan, Sobhana Parameswaran Nair, Manikandan Nair  and a whole lot of people were in search of the culprit John. They were looking for him in every possible place at Madras.

It was then George telephoned and told me that any moment they will catch hold of John and beat him up. I then contacted our Producer Minnal and together searched and found John in one of his regular arrack den. We told him a lie that his brother at Kumbakonam wants him to come there on some urgent matter. John was taken to Egmore Railway station and was put in a second class compartment (those were the days of First, Second and third classes) and waited till the train left. On seeing the shabbily dressed John sitting in the second class compartment, a gentleman passenger  seated nearby was staring at him with suspicion. Sensing that, John immediately pulled out his ticket from his pocket, showed it to him and said “Look, I have got a second class ticket”. The man hung his head in  shame as he had thought John was some vagrant travelling without ticket !
John returned months later well dressed with his shirt tucked in and with a clean shaved face and a nice mustache. He had transformed himself into an entirely new person, totally unrecognizable!


Our Producer Minnal had entrusted the safeguarding of John to me and always handed over the money for our daily expenses to me and not to John.  John was left penniless so that he will not go after liquor. From the money I had, I paid for all   John’s needs like food, beedi and other expenses but liquor was the forbidden item.. I was always with him to see that he doesn’t get access to country liquor sold under the Kodambakkam bridge. Even if he begs, I will not give him money for drinks but once in a while,  I’ll give  him a rupee for a ganja smoke. When he is high on ganja he is a very different personality altogether, very docile and soft mannered and becomes creative singing songs and composing poems. I found that only liquor makes him violent and boisterous bringing out his Satanic nature.

Once we were invited for a party at Ramu Kariat’s place at Ashok Nagar attended by celebrities like Vayalar, Kannadasan, Harry Pothen, Sobhana Parameswaran Nair, K.G. George and others. In those days the last bus from Ashok Pillar left at 8 P.M. and the only other mode of public transport was cycle rickshaw.  After the party was over it was my duty to take John back to our flat at Mahalingapuram  and it was past  1 AM.  I engaged a cycle rickshaw for our journey back and managed to get the fully drunk John board the vehicle. While we were travelling on the deserted Kodambakkam High Road John burst into singing loudly some old song. Once in a while he will put his leg on the shoulder of the rickshaw driver. I had to pacify the driver and take off John’s legs from his shoulder. Fortunately there was no police patrol at that time, otherwise we both would have ended up in the lock up.


 In spite of his wayward life and addiction to alcohol John  had a great number of friends and admirers amongst the cream of intelligentsia of Madras. Apart from the film industry  he had contacts with people like literary critic M. Govindan,  Danseuse Chandralekha, Tamil writer Jayakanthan, Painter K.C.S. Panikkar, Theatre group Madras players etc. He had the extraordinary capacity to mingle with any class or type  of people. Once while the editing was going on at the New Era Lab  suddenly he was missing. He was later found to be among  the mourners dancing in the funeral procession that passed by the Lab. Even though I had never seen him reading any book, mention the name of any book and he will quote or say something about it.

Our shooting  unit  entirely consisted of Film Institute Graduates - Director John Abraham, Scriptwriter M.Azad, Editor Ravi  and Sound Recordist Devadas. At that time Devadas was working in the Chitraleka Film Co-operative in Trivandrum and he used to come and join us with the Nagra Recorder as at that time many Sound recordists at Madras were reluctant to use a portable recorder.

John was open to new ideas and planned one sequence of stop motion animation of Adoor Bhasi's character riding without a bike being chased by Dracula in a nightmare sequence.It took one full day to shoot with my friend Kasturi Murthy hand cranking one frame at a time using the Mitchell camera and Adoor Bhasi moving a little at time holding the position of riding an imaginary motorbike.

One of those days we shot a small sequence  on the sets of a studio where  popular Tamil Director A.P.Nagarajan was shooting a Devotional film, where our child artiste solicit donation to help a noble cause.

 Below are the two frames from the original camera  negative  taken when the camera was test run after the film from  loaded magazine was threaded in the camera. I found this piece from the NG negative cuttings in the editing room and it is the only surviving " working still of my First feature film!



Two Frames from the original negative

A discussion :  John in centre and myself on the right

The story was an adaptation of a French film by Azad and John was not happy about introducing the  so called " Commercial elements" in his film. He often used to say that it was not his kind of film and ultimately decided to include and "Alienation sequence" in the film. 

In a Ganja smoker's den John, Azad. Deavadas, Editor Ravi and myself discussed about the film we were making and denounced the film saying that it doesn't represent our true intentions and likings and not the kind of film we, as responsible film makers should have attempted to make. Although we actually shot the scene, it  was ultimately edited out of the film for obvious reasons.



Finally a year after the film started, it ultimately made it to the theatres in Kerala 1972, but for a lukewarm reception.



Film Data:   

Banner: Mehboob Movies
Producer : Minnal
Director: John Abraham
Cinematography: Ramachandra Babu
Editing: Ravi
Screenplay: M. Azad
Lyrics: Vayalar
Music: M.B.Sreenivasan
Cast: Madhu, Adoor Bhasi, Paravur Bharathan, T.K.Balachandran, Sp.Pillai, S.V.Ranga Rao, M.R.R.Vasu, Jayabharathi, Manorama, Santha Devi,  Master Sathyajith, Master Vijaya Kumar
Release date: 19-5-1972


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

40 th Anniversary of First Cinemascope Film in South India

We are now celebrating the 100 Years of INDIAN  CINEMA. This year also happens to be the 40 th Anniversary of the First Cinemascope Film in South India - RAJA RAJA CHOZHAN ( Tamil) which was released in 1973. The First Indian Cinemascope film was Guru Datt's KAGAZ KE PHOOL ( Hindi - B&W ) released in 1959.The legendary  Cinematographer V.K.Murthy was the man behind the camera.

RAJA RAJA CHOZHAN   CinemaScope - Colour
  
First CinemaScope Tamil Film Produced in South India

The film was produced by G. Umapathy of Anand Theatres , Chennai and Directed by A. P. Nagarajan. The Music scored by Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan and the Cinematography by  W.R. Subba Rao.
Censor Certificate Dated 16 th March 1973
 
The cast :  Sivaji Ganesan,  R. Muthuraman, Sivakumar, M.N.Nambiar, Lakshmi, Manorama,Vijayakumari,S. Varalakshmi. It also had Singer actors T. R. Mahalingam  and Sirkazhi Govindarajan 

Sivaji Ganesan and M.N.Nambiar
Many, even from the Film Industry are not aware of the fact that CinemaScope is the Registered  Trade Mark  of 20 th Century Fox  International Corporation and Royalty had to be paid for the use of the name "CinemaScope" in the publicity material. But in the First CinemaScope film, there is a special title card regarding this:


License from 20 th Century Fox






Inspite of the new wide screen CinemScope format,  grand settings and super actors the film bombed at the box office and it was only few years later that Cinemascope as format was revived and came into vogue. I think that the next one was my film ALLAVIDHEENUM ARPUTHA VILAKKUM (Tamil and Malayalam - 1979) Directed by I.V.Sasi.

ALLAVIDHEENUM ARPUTHA VILAKKUM




 
Afterwards there was no going back and now it had become the most widely accepted format in India!