Celebrating Balu Mahendra

balumahendra

On February 13th 2014 we lost a man who has changed the language of Indian Cinema. Born Balanathan Benjamin Mahendran, Balu Mahendra started out as a cinematographer after graduating from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. He created a visual revolution with his unique style of cinematography. As a director, Balu Mahendra created a new wave in South Indian cinema by making films close to reality and handling them with sensitiveness that no other filmmakers could at that time. Handling the camera for every film that he directed added an element of poetry in every frame.

Here is an article by Kamal Hassan celebrating this great auteur’s life. http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/kamal-haasans-tribute-to-balu-mahendra/article5688417.ece

We, at TCRC will like to pay our tribute by highlighting the many ‘firsts’ that Balu Mahendra was associated with:

Kokila – Balu Mahendra debuts as a director. See a trailer of this path breaking film.

Mullum Malarum – Balu Mahendra handle’s the camera for yet another great film maker, Mahendran. Here is a very popular song from this film.

Pallavi Anu Pallavi – This Kannada film was Maniratnam’s debut. Balu Mahendra’s cinematography played a vital role in this film.

Sadma – Balu Mahendra’s first Hindi film which was the remake of his own super hit Tamil film Moondram Pirai. See the heart wrenching climax of this film which is still talked about even today.

Thalaimuraigal – Released on December 20 2013, this was the last film directed by the stalwart. It was, at the same time, the first  film that he completely shot in digital and also the first time he faced the camera by playing one of the lead characters. By playing the grandfather in the film it could have also probably been the first time that the world would have seen him without his trademark cap. Here is a trailer from of the film.

Advertisements

The ‘Epic’ Story of Indian cinema: Moving Beyond Hindi Films & Finding Aravindhan!

The ‘100 years of Indian cinema’ celebrations that are happening across the country is something that we at TCRC wholly welcome, notwithstanding the fact that a vast majority of them seem to interpret it as ‘100 years of Hindi cinema.’ Thankfully, there are voices out there calling for balance and recognition of the other film industries in the country as well. And among such calls, we found Salil Tripathi’s piece for Mint most refreshing.

He starts off by speaking about the influence of our epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, on our cinema:

Indian cinema has always been utterly reliant on the power of a narrative, and which narrative has greater richness than the Mahabharata? After all for Ved Vyas it is said, “Vyasochishtam jagat sarvam,” or whatever you find said in the universe, Vyas has said it before. It is that easy familiarity with the story—or what the critic Ashish Rajadhyaksha called the power of the epic, in his biography of Ritwik Ghatak—that makes Indian cinema so accessible to so many, in a country divided by everything—language, class, caste and faith—but united by the fascination for a good story.”

And then, he makes the argument that we’ve been parroting all along:

 I love Hindi films too, but you don’t honour a national phenomenon by glorifying only one-fifth of it.”

Salil’s roundup of noteworthy cinema from the South of the Vindhyas was particularly interesting:

Moving south, there is so much to admire in Kannada cinema: two of U.R. Ananthamurthy works stand out. Girish Kasaravalli’s Ghatashraddha (1977) is about the outcasting of a pregnant widow. In Pattabhi Rama Reddy’s Samskara (1970), Girish Karnad’s Praneshacharya is a flawed progressive Brahmin who tries to do right, but succumbs to passion and is consumed by guilt. Karnad’s own Ondanondu Kaladalli (1978) was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films.

Further south, in Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Elippathayam (1981), the rat trap becomes the metaphor of the patriarchy of a closed society. His earlier film, Swayamvaram (1970), told the story of a young couple marrying against their parents’ wishes, moving to another town to start their life, and the inevitability of tragedy befalling them, and the determination of the young woman to cast her own lonely furrow. Another great film was G. Aravindan’s Oridathu (1986), which showed the transformation of a village’s life, and its people’s relationships, with the arrival of electricity. And the sheer melody of K. Vishwanath’s Telugu classic Shankarabharanam (1979).”

It’s not everyday that one finds a mention of G Aravindhan in a feature-style story about Indian cinema. Hailing from Kottayam in Kerala, Aravindhan was a cartoonist who later became a filmmaker. His debut film “Uttarayanam” was released in 1974 and won the National Award for the Best Feature Film on the 25th Anniversary of India’s Independence. Said to be be one of his finest films, “Uttarayanam” was set against the Independence movement and spoke of the opportunism and hypocrisy that existed during the time. The film is considered to have a played a key role in shaping the parallel cinema movement in Kerala.

Given below is Shaji Karun’s documentary on Aravindhan. Shaji is a National Award-winning filmmaker who used to be Aravindhan’s cinematographer. Shaji’s debut film “Piravi” (1988) won the Caméra d’Or – Mention d’honneur at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and his 1994 film “Swaham” was the last competitive entry from India to be selected at the Cannes Film Festival.

 

25 Greatest Acting Performances in Indian Cinema: The Forbes List!

The Forbes India magazine recently put out a list of the 25 greatest acting performances in Indian cinema, 8 of which are performances in Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil films.  Now, here at TCRC, we are always a little wary of lists such as these, fully aware that it’s incredibly hard to pick just 8 or 10 performances from over thousands of films made in the southern part of the country across the span of almost a century. But since this list is a part of their ‘100 Years of Indian Cinema’ set of features, we felt compelled to share this. Given below is an excerpt from the piece (click here to check out the entire list):

JV Somayajulu 
in Sankarabharanam (The Ornament of Shankara), 1980 
JV Somayajulu, an IAS officer in his 50s, plays a Carnatic musician, misunderstood for supporting the daughter of a prostitute, ignored by a society where classical music is in decline, and is being overtaken by pop music. It was a surprise hit. It opened to empty seats, gathered speed and, today, enjoys a cult status. Somayajulu played his part with such dignity and intensity that you can’t listen to any of its hugely popular songs without imagining him performing them as his sadhana.

JV Somayajulu in "Sankarabharanam" (Telugu, 1980). Photo Courtesy: Forbes India.

JV Somayajulu in “Sankarabharanam” (Telugu, 1980). Photo Courtesy: Forbes India.

“Sankarabharanam” turned out to be a cult film as far as Telugu cinema was concerned, after getting off to a slow start in the box office. Directed by K Vishwanath, the film is remembered for its music, scored by KV Mahadevan. The film was shot by cinematographer-turned-director Balu Mahendra, who later made “Moondram Pirai” with Kamal Hassan and Sridevi (“Sadma” in Hindi). The director of “Sankarabharanam,” K Vishwanath, went on to narrate yet another story revolving around an art form (classical dance) in “Saagara Sangamam” (“Salangai Oli” in Tamil). The film featured Kamal Hassan and Jayaprada in career-defining roles and like “Sankarabharanam,” it is said to be a musical success, with tunes composed by Ilaiyaraaja.

The incredible story of PK Nair, India’s most respected film archivist, has now been documented!

On the 3rd of May later this year, an anniversary of epic proportions will occur. For it was on that day in 1913, one hundred years ago, that “Raja Harishchandra”, the silent film produced and directed by Dadasaheb Phalke which is widely accepted as the first Indian full-length feature film, was released. In effect, the day marks the existence of one hundred years of Indian cinema. And what a glorious century it has been!

Of the many ways in which this anniversary is likely to be commemorated, we at TCRC are particularly excited about the release of Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s National Award-winning documentary “Celluloid Man” on 3rd May 2013. The film showcases the life and work of legendary Indian archivist and founder of National Film Archive of India (NFAI), PK Nair.  Given below is an excerpt from the film:

The film is said to feature interviews with many leading film personalities including including Krzysztof Zanussi, Lester James Peries, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Gulzar, Basu Chatterjee, Naseeruddin Shah, Kamal Haasan, Girish Kasaravalli, Jahnu Barua, Jaya Bachchan, Dilip Kumar, Saira Banu, Sitara Devi, Santosh Sivan, Rajkumar Hirani, Shyam Benegal, Mahesh Bhatt, Yash Chopra, Ramesh Sippy and Mrinal Sen, all of whom share their reflections on the influence of PK Nair on the films that they watched and loved. In the 2012 National Film Awards, “Celluloid Man” won accolades for Best Editing and Best Biographical/Historical Reconstruction.

PK Nair, now 80 years old, has meanwhile spoken about how the prints of films such as “Raja Harishchandra,” “Alam Ara,” etc are not available at all and has lamented the loss of many important films made before the 1950s (click here to read that whole story).

We at TCRC salute PK Nair, or Nair Saab as he is known, for his commitment to archiving the early days of Indian cinema. May his tribe only grow.

The First Kannada Talkie: “Sathi Sulochana” (1934)

Keeping in line with our focus on the regional cinemas of Southern India, we at TCRC bring to you a piece published by The Hindu in 2004, where historian Randor Guy writes about the first ever Kannada talkie film, “Sathi Sulochana.” It was released in 1934 and featured Rattihalli Nagendra Rao and MV Subbiah, who were popular theatre artists at that time. The film was directed by Yaragudipati Varada Rao, who cast himself in  an important role in the movie. YV Rao was also the director of “Chintamani,” the record-breaking Tamil film that was released in 1937. YV Rao’s “Chintamani” was the first Tamil film to run continuously for a year and is said to have played an important role in catapulting actor-singer MK Thyagaraja Bhagavathar to stardom.

In his piece on Sathi Sulochana, Randor Guy offers some very interesting trivia about the production of the movie:

Sathi Sulochana” took two months to be completed. Shooting was done in natural sun light and by using man-made reflectors. Shooting with artificial lighting in that town was difficult. Mirrors were carried by camera-assistants on their shoulders to reflect sunlight onto the set to provide back-lighting and the men had to keep moving, shifting the mirrors to be in alignment with the moving sun! The sets had no ceiling and were covered by a white cloth.”

MV Subbiah Naidu in “Sathi Sulochana” (1934), the first Kannada talkie

We at TCRC are proud to feature such gems from our illustrious history of cinema. Please feel free to write to tcrcindia[at]gmail[dot]com with your feedback and suggestions.