Support our Digitization Project

The Cinema Resource Centre along with Orangestreet.in have joined hands to raise funds for a digitization project of important materials in our archives.
Due to the fragile nature of the old song books, posters and photographs, we have decided to digitize some of the material in our archives and make it easily accessible for researchers and people interested in cinema.

For this we request you to make a donation via the following link : https://www.orangestreet.in/projects/tcrc

We will be delighted if you could share this link on your Facebook and Twitter accounts and help spread the word.

Please watch a few videos on the project below:

The Madras Film Industry in the 1960s: On the sets of “Thillaanaa Mohanambal” in a French documentary!

Today, we bring to you a clip from “L’inde Fantôme” (Phantom India), a documentary film made by Academy Award-winning French filmmaker Louis Malle. This is an excerpt from “Choses Vues A Madras,” which was the second episode of the documentary. Focusing on the Madras film industry in the late 1960s, the excerpt features footage shot on the sets of the 1968-released, classic Tamil film “Thillaanaa Mohanambal,” starring Sivaji Ganesan, Padmini, Balaiah, Manorama and others. Directed by AP Nagarajan and written by Kothamangalam Subbu, the film and its songs continue to be remembered even today.

What we found most interesting was the commentary in French (you can turn on the English subtitles by clicking on the “Captions” button in the bottom bar on the YouTube video). The commentator, at one point, refers to Sivaji Ganesan as the “Indian Belmondo.” “Belmondo” here is a reference to Jean Paul Belmondo, the French actor who was a prominent face in the New Wave films that were made in France in the 1960s. He continues to be remembered for his portrayal of the character Michel Poiccard in Jean Luc Godard’s extremely influential film “Breathless” (“À bout de souffle” in French). “Breathless” was a path-breaking film that inspired many filmmakers through its brilliant use of the jump cut. So, while the comparison to Belmondo is flattering, it’s important to remember that Sivaji Ganesan had made his mark with “Parasakthi” in 1952, a good eight years before Belmondo broke out with “Breathless” (1960).

Jean Paul Belmondo in "Breathless" | Sivaji Ganesan in "Thillaanaa Mohanambal"

Jean Paul Belmondo in “Breathless”   |    Sivaji Ganesan in “Thillaanaa Mohanambal”

Do watch the clip and let us know about your thoughts on Louis Malle’s commentary and his take on Indian films. You can leave a comment or write to us at tcrc.india[at]gmail[dot]com.

“Elphinstone Elphinstone Everywhere”: The story of Elphinstone Theatre in Madras, the first with a balcony!

The Indian Express carried a PTI (Press Trust of India) story yesterday about tent cinemas returning to Delhi as a part of the ongoing “100 years of cinema” celebrations. We found a couple of paragraphs at the end of the story rather interesting (click here to read the entire piece):

In India, among the pioneers of tent cinema, the most important name is that of J F Madan, a Parsi businessman who started ‘Elphinstone Bioscope Company’ in early 20th century in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and would do tent shows in the Maidan there. He later started the cinema halls by the name of ‘Elphinstone Picture Palaces’.

His ‘Elphinstone’ was also one of the few Indian companies, among other European production houses, which filmed the historic 1911 Delhi Durbar attended by King George V and Queen Mary.

His legend has survived today in the form of various ‘Elphinstone’ theatres spread across India.”

Now, we were aware that a New Elphinstone Theatre was operational up till sometime in the 1970s, off Mount Road. So, we did some searching and it turns out that there was indeed an Elphinstone in Madras as well. Manish Raj, writing for the Times of India, mentions the cinema hall in his piece of theatres in Madras of the yore (click here to read his entire story):

New Elphinstone Theatre in 1916 was inaugurated by the governor general of Madras and it was one of the first theatres in India to raise funds for the World War I through its shows. It housed the most unusual indoor sport — a boxing ring where amateurs sparred. When the film bubble burst, it later became Elphinstone Soda fountain, which sold beverages.

Given that there was a New Elphinstone, we realised that an Old Elphinstone had to be a part of this history. Historian S Muthiah, in his lovely piece titled “Cinema at Round Tana”, fills the gaps:

A New Elphinstone meant there had to be an old Elphinstone – and there was one, rooted in almost the beginnings of cinema-screening in Madras. The Elphinstone was located across Round Tana from the New Elphinstone on the site of Misquith Building, just west of the old Hindu building at the junction of Ellis Road and Wallajah Road. (Wallace) Misquith & Co., established in 1842 built itself a magnificent brick-exposed Indo-Saracenic building to house on the ground floor its showroom for musical instruments and, on the first floor, music salons which could be rented by the hour for anyone wanting to play any instrument.In time, Misquith’s’ became Musee Musicals and moved further down Mount Road, but in its heyday it housed the Lyric, a hall of entertainment that a man named Cohen established on the first floor when he took over Misquith’s in 1907.

In 1913, the Lyric began screening films, calling itself the Empire Cinema, but a fire in March 1914 closed it down. Later that year, J F Madan of Calcutta, owner of India’s biggest cinema chain at the time, took over the Empire and renamed it with that of his flagship, the Elphinstone. In 1915, Madan bought the Misquith Building and made the Elphinstone a permanent cinema theatre, the biggest and the first with a balcony in Madras.

Given that Dadasaheb Phalke’s “Raja Harishchandra,” the first feature length Indian film was released at around the same time that Empire Cinema was started (1913), we at TCRC were thrilled to find the various strands of our cinematic history crisscrossing. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find a single image or photographs of the Elphinstone Theatre and this only served to remind us of the importance of archiving  images of our cinemas’ golden past. Interested in helping this sort of archival effort? Volunteer at TCRC!

The ‘small’ film about Blaxploitation: Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” (English, 1997)

Maverick filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s films have always evoked extreme reactions and his latest film “Django Unchained” hasn’t been any different. Critics have mostly been underwhelmed by his take on slavery in the Deep South in “Django Unchained” and fans across the world are already curious about Tarantino’s next venture.

While talking to the French publication Les InRocks, the filmmaker indicated that his next film after “Django Unchained” would be a ‘small’ film in the vein of “Jackie Brown.” So, what exactly is “Jackie Brown” all about?

Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” | English | 1997. Photo Courtesy: Internet Movie Poster Awards

This lesser-known Tarantino cult classic was released in 1997, three years after Tarantino’s insanely-popular breakout movie “Pulp Fiction.” Starring Pam Grier, Samuel Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton and Chris Tucker, “Jackie Brown” was an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel “Rum Punch.” It is said to be a tribute to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s. Blaxploitation refers to the sub-genre of the broader category of exploitation films, which were characterized by funk and soul music soundtracks with the lead protagonists invariably being black.

In article titled “The One Time Quentin Tarantino Got Blaxploitation Masculinity Right” for The Atlantic (click here to read the entire story), Noah Berlatsky delineates why “Jackie Brown” works:

Jackie Brown, then, is not just a tribute to blaxploitation, but a critique of it—which means it’s also a critique of all those mainstream gendered assumptions and fantasies which informed blaxploitation in the first place. From previews and reviews, it seems unlikely that Django Unchained, whatever its other virtues, will manage to be bracing in quite the same way. But then, there aren’t many folks, of any gender, as cool, as smart, or as exhilarating as Jackie Brown.”

And here’s the trailer of the film.

We at TCRC are big fans for this lesser-known Tarantino film and we’d love to hear your thoughts about it. So, do write in!

Ray’s 21st Death Anniversary: Revisiting ABP’s “No Ads, Please!” Tribute & The Films That Ray Would’ve Liked To Make

On 23rd April 1992, Satyajit Ray, one of India’s most celebrated personalities from the world of cinema, passed away in Calcutta. Twenty one years later, we at TCRC revisit some material on the illustrious life of the iconic Bengali filmmaker.

Satyajit Ray's funeral. Photo from the newspaper Anandabazar Patrika dated 24th April 1992.  Photography by Tarapada Bandopadhyay. Courtesy: Riddhi Goswami (found on the Facebook page "FeludaSeries"

Satyajit Ray’s funeral. Photo from the newspaper Anandabazar Patrika dated 24th April 1992. Photograph shot by Tarapada Bandopadhyay. Reproduction Courtesy: Riddhi Goswami (found on the Facebook page “FeludaSeries”)

The New York Times published a glowing obituary of Ray, the day after his demise (click here to read the entire obit).  The obituary, penned by Peter Flint, recounts how a three-member Oscar committee visited him at Belle Vue Hospital in Calcutta, a month before his death, to present him with the golden statuette for lifetime achievement in cinema. The presentation of the Oscar was filmed and his acceptance speech was screened two weeks later at the Oscars ceremony at the end of March that year.

The NYT obit also showcases a quote from Ray (given below), which beautifully captures how the auteur’s approach to mise-en-scene:

You had to find out yourself how to catch the hushed stillness of dusk in a Bengali village,” he said, “when the wind drops and turns the ponds into sheets of glass dappled by the leaves of the trees, and the smoke from ovens settles in wispy trails over the landscape, and the plaintive blows on conch shells from homes far and wide are joined by the chorus of crickets, which rises as the light falls, until all one sees are the stars in the sky, and the stars blink and swirl in the thickets.”

Interestingly, the Bengali newspaper Anandabazar Patrika didn’t carry a single advertisement on the day after Ray’s death as a mark of respect to the master filmmaker. Well, from where we see it, very few filmmakers today would even be considered worthy of such a tribute and fewer media outlets would be willing to pay such a tribute!

We also loved Dilip Basu’s biography of Ray for the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at the University of Southern California, Santa Cruz. Here’s an excerpt (click here to read the entire biography):

How he managed to make the film, pawning his rare music albums, his wife Bijoya’s jewelry and his mother, Suprabha’s networking in the Government circles in Calcutta, has now become a by-word in the annals of Indian film history. It also provides a paradigm on the “modes of production” in the kind of world cinema that stubbornly refuses to kowtow to commercial pressure. The paradigm required a perennial search for the elusive producer; an essential routine of most of Ray’s movie-making career. If he had access to funds for the kind of films he wanted to make on his fiercely independent and nonnegotiable artistic terms, the world would have seen more diversity and many more period pieces in Ray’s oeuvre: films based on ancient epics, the Mughals and the British Colonials. Instead, he limited himself to what was locally available and possible, refusing to stop or give in to commercial presuures. By 1992, the year he passed on, he had made forty films including shorts and documentaries. Some of these are all-time classics, great and near-great films. Unlike his illustrious contemporaries Antonioni, Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa, for example he never made a film that can qualify as “bad” from the filmmaker’s standpoint.”

Dibakar Banerjee: Discovering “good” international cinema through a search for porn!

We at TCRC are always looking for fabulous written material on films and their makers, and it is during one such search that we found Jai Arjun Singh‘s absolutely delightful piece on Dibakar Banerjee, the director of films such as “Khosla Ka Ghosla,” “Oye Lucky Lucky Oye,” “Love, Sex Aur Dhokha” and “Shanghai.” All too often, we find directors giving interviews about their latest film and such interviews invariably end up including a couple of stock questions about the process of writing and making films. But Jai Arjun’s story for The Caravan magazine focuses entirely on Dibakar Banerjee – the man, his influences and his creative process. Discursive and detailed, the piece builds a fascinating, multi-dimensional picture of the filmmaker who has made some truly path-breaking yet commercially successful films. Sample this:

For the young Dibakar, “getting his hands dirty” meant being part of a street-smart lifestyle that was far removed from the cliché of the armchair intellectual. And that early life is inseparable from what he is today. Even “good” international cinema came into his personal orbit through what was an adolescent’s rite of passage: at age 17, he and four friends rented what they thought would be a porn film called Confessions of a Taxi Driver to watch in a darkened room in Jhandewalan—and ended up with Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver instead. “We closed the drapes, waited for the obligatory hardcore moment but nothing happened—and by the end, here were five guys from a typical Karol Bagh setting, riveted by what they were seeing.”

Love Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD)  |  Hindi  |  2010

Love Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD) | Hindi | 2010

Truth be told, this profile of Dibakar Banerjee is easily one of the best (and longest) pieces of writing about a filmmaker that we’ve come across in the recent past (click on the image above to read the full story). We at TCRC would like to doff our hats in salute to both filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee and writer Jai Arjun Singh.

The Changing Face of Film Distribution & The 50 Best Undistributed Films of 2012

The current model of distributing movies (i.e., the use of “release windows” to ensure that films don’t eat into each others’ businesses and the staggering of the release of material across cinema, TV, home video, etc) is repeatedly dissed as archaic and incongruent to present day trends where people live their lives, shuffling from one screen to another. Chris Jones, who runs the London Screenwriters’ Festival, has an interesting blog post about the same topic, in which he lists down the key problems plaguing film distribution today:

1.    The high impact life of your film is 14 days, max. Any buzz you create, any momentum you build, is now created on a global scale. Social media does not know boundaries – posters, trailers, interviews, articles – all go global in a moment, and ideally viral. I believe that you can only get REAL buzz for your project for a few weeks… After those two weeks, internet dies back considerably.

2.    It follows then that you need to get your movie out as quickly as possible, and in as many territories as you can, and finally on all devices (TV, web, phone etc.). Ideally this would happen on the same day too.

3.    If we create buzz and then fail to deliver an easy way for people to legally watch our films, we are simply begging people to rip and upload our films to share. I don’t believe these people think of themselves as pirates. This isn’t about money, it’s about us promising something amazing and then failing to deliver a way to watch the film legally and easily.

4.    No single platform, aside from iTunes, seems to work well as yet. And iTunes being Apple owned, is housed a ridiculous walled garden.

5.    Forget theatres, they are operating in a different century.

As a film maker, all this means that I will get very little back from current distribution methods and my film will get seen mostly via illegal downloads.”

Given that film distribution is a complicated quagmire, some great films don’t end up getting distributed at all. For instance, late last year, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s blog FilmComment had put together a list of the 50 best undistributed movies in 2012. The list (click here to see the entire list) features movies from across the world and is an eye-opener in many ways.

“Gebo and the Shadow” | Manoel de Oliveira | Portugal/France

We at TCRC are huge fans of anything cinema and it’s always a joy to see the internet ensuring that we hear of such little-known (or distributed) gems. Follow this space, for we intend to showcase many more of these undiscovered beauties!

 

Film v/s Digital: Answers to the big question

We at TCRC recently chanced upon an interview with Senthil Kumar, the co-founder of Real Image Technologies & Qube Cinema, companies which are said to be among the best as far as cinema exhibition technology is concerned. In this interaction with blog Pulse72+, Senthil had an interesting response to a query where he is asked to give five reasons as to why someone should choose digital filmmaking over conventional filmmaking. Here’s what he had to say:

Senthil Kumar, co-founder of Real Image Technologies. Photo Courtesy: IndianTelevision.com

Anything digital will keep improving in quality over time while the price reduces so it’s usually a certainty that digital will triumph. In the case of shooting, the future was obvious because of the precedent set by still photography – for many years now, it’s been hard to see a film camera in use, let alone buy and process film negative! So a key plus for digital is the reduced cost of equipment – which is now economic enough that a production can buy the equipment just for a film rather than rent it. The second reason is the very low cost and reusable nature of hard drives in digital when compared to film stock – this allows for shooting difficult subjects like children and animals or even amateur actors where it’s often necessary to just keep the camera running in order to get the shot you want. Another reason is the lack of film grain and hence the randomness that makes compositing and other special effects harder on film-originated material. The fourth reason is the excellent low-light performance of digital cameras where just the light of a candle is sufficient when the scene calls for it. And finally, digital now has a very wide dynamic range, the range of light within a shot, from the darkest to the brightest part. This is especially because of the new High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques available in some digital cinema cameras. There are more reasons to use digital cameras but these would be some of the top ones.”

However, not everyone seems to share his enthusiasm for digital cinema. Director Christopher Nolan, best known for powerful films such as “Memento,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Inception,” has spoken about the advantages offered by film numerous time. We found his argument in an interview to the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Quarterly particularly compelling. Here’s what he had to say:

Director Christopher Nolan. Photo Courtesy: DGA Quarterly

For the last 10 years, I’ve felt increasing pressure to stop shooting film and start shooting video, but I’ve never understood why. It’s cheaper to work on film, it’s far better looking, it’s the technology that’s been known and understood for a hundred years, and it’s extremely reliable. I think, truthfully, it boils down to the economic interest of manufacturers and [a production] industry that makes more money through change rather than through maintaining the status quo. We save a lot of money shooting on film and projecting film and not doing digital intermediates. In fact, I’ve never done a digital intermediate. Photochemically, you can time film with a good timer in three or four passes, which takes about 12 to 14 hours as opposed to seven or eight weeks in a DI suite. That’s the way everyone was doing it 10 years ago, and I’ve just carried on making films in the way that works best and waiting until there’s a good reason to change. But I haven’t seen that reason yet.”

That said, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, etc are said to be amongst the few in Hollywood today who still prefer to shoot only on film. Digital filmmaking is clearly the dominant mode there. And the struggle here really seems to be a question of aesthetics and choice, with filmmakers like Nolan fighting for film to remain an option whose existence is threatened by the convenience that digital cinema claims to offer.

And as if to prove the importance of the ‘film v/s digital’ question, actor Keanu Reeves has produced a documentary called “Side By Side” on the same issue (see trailer below). We at TCRC loved what Martin Scorsese had to say and if we were asked for our take on the issue, that is exactly what we’d say.

Happy b’day, Charlie Chaplin!

Wear a shabby suit,
And a bowler hat.
Swing a cane,
And sport a toothbrush ‘stache.
Turn into Chaplin, 
for he was a comic genius.
He taught us how to laugh,
and made the business of comedy, serious.” 

Comedy king Charlie Chaplin was born this very day back in 1889. He may have passed away in 1977. But he lives on through his movies, which have spread joy and cheer while making us reflect on the vagaries of life.

One of the best tributes to Chaplin that we at TCRC are aware of is the permanent show titled “Charlie Chaplin – The Great Londoner” that has been set up for him at the London Film Museum (click image below to know more).

“Charlie Chaplin – The Great Londoner” | London Film Museum

Also, our favorite Chaplin film has got to be “The Kid.” Incidentally, The Kid has been preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Here’s wishing the comic genius a very happy b’day!