Taking Off – An interview with editor – director Mahesh Narayan

With his debut film Take Off Mahesh Narayan has proved to be a writer- director to watch out for. But cinema is not a new arena for this talented film maker. Having edited over 70 films,spanning over 10 years and across many languages, Mahesh Narayan is an established name in the Indian film Industry.

In the middle of his research work for his next project the writer-director-editor takes time to interact with Adithya Iyyappan.

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Stanley Kubrick was quoted as saying “I love editing. I think I like it more than any other phase of film making. If I wanted to be frivolous, I might say that everything that precedes editing is merely a way of producing film to edit.Do you agree with his views on film editing? How has been your progression from an Editor to Director?

For me, I was always fascinated to watch a story being narrated on screen. Editing for me is an art of story telling.  I believe that the final draft of a screenplay is always written along with the editor. As an editor, I will assemble the story with the materials I have.  That’s never considered as a limitation. But when I am getting an opportunity in forming my own story, deciding the way how it should be told and then finally shaping it in the editing table has extended my creative boundaries. So in a way this progression from an editor to a director has given me more responsibilities to face challenges in the complete film making process.

Do you feel that your job as a director has been easy since you were already an editor?

That depends upon the aesthetic sensibility and way of approach on the kind of movie you are going to make. Being an editor, actually gives me a freedom to decide on what I require at a much earlier stage. Also it adds conviction to my technical and performing crew. But that has got certain disadvantages too. You will start restricting things in a desired pace, where you always lose the organic flow. So I think, there should be a common midpoint where, the director should never always think as an editor on location.  Also when you are making a film in a really tight budget, it’s always a blessing when you use the editor’s brain. That saves a lot of cost, when we plan on filming only what is needed.

Tell us about your journey into cinema, your early inspirations and how you started as an editor?

I am a graduate in Film Editing from Adayar Film Institute. Before joining the institute I was not very keen into Film Editing. All my curiosity was on the story telling part. Then I understood the value of the editing table, where we get to see a lot of information in detail. I grew up in Trivandrum, a town that has a definite impact on a lot of budding filmmakers. We had screenings mostly on all days a week by various film societies. Most of the classics by Orson Welles , Vittorio De Sica , Bergman etc were shown frequently. Later when I started working, I got a chance to work on a lot of documentaries from senior directors. My first independent feature film as an editor was “Rathrimazha” (2005, Malayalam), again by a senior award winning director Lenin Rajendran.

The Malayali nurse is someone who should be as celebrated as our software engineers, what made you choose the rescue of Malayali nurses from Iraq in 2014 as the subject for your debut movie?

For me this movie is about survival. Survival also has got a lot of inner meanings. It’s not about the survival from a war torn country, but it’s about a survival for existence. Initially this film was only about a divorced lady and her challenges when she gets pregnant with her second husband. Much later after this 2014 incident, I happened to meet Mareena Jose , a survivor who came from Iraq after the 23 day long hostage crisis. Most of them were small town women who went to Iraq in search of greener pastures, without realizing the gravity of the situation, only to be caught in a nightmare in the middle of a civil war. She told us about how straight away, almost as soon as they reached their workplaces, they had to patch up bullet and bomb injuries and not the usual fever and stomach aches that they were used to dealing with back home; of how ill-equipped they were to help patients; of how they were barred from even stepping out of the hospital; of how distant explosions and gun fire were a constant through day and night.This struck a new idea into the story, which actually blended well with the original concept. So it’s basically placing all fictional characters around a real life incident, which people could relate and connect well.

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Take Off which you wrote and directed and Milli which was written by you are both  women centeric stories. This has been a conscious decision by you?

No. Never. But I believe, there are more stories to be told about women.

How much of your personal life has influenced your cinema? Who are you inspirations in film making?

Inspirations keep on changing time to time. It’s about revisiting your favorite films again and again. Every time you get a different interpretation, which really adds to your perception on knowing the art.

What are your views on sub titling of Malayalam movies and them reaching a pan India audience in the recent times?

I think this is a great period for Malayalam cinema. People are enjoying all kinds of movies. There is good space for experimenting with challenging concepts. English subtitles have added a lot of advantage for new age filmmakers who are attempting on subjects that can acquire a wide spectrum of audience irrespective of language barriers. This revenue generated, really gives a motivation for more producers to happily fund such films with conviction.

What is your next project? Do you plan to continue your editing work along with direction?

Editing is my heart and soul. It’s my driving force, people know me for it and I have no plans to give it up. Now I am editing Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam2.

Thank you for talking with TCRC . Before we sign off  please let us know your opinion about the importance of preserving and archiving cinema heritage.
During film institute days, it was always a blessing to watch some brilliant classic films on 35mm print. We even had a film club at the institute, which collected 16mm versions of certain films too. Thus we came to know about the National Film Archive of India, Pune, from where those prints were reaching us. Works of P.K Nair will always be remembered, because of his lifelong dedication towards the preservation of films in India. And now with this new digital leap, even when we say it’s easy to preserve content, it needs immense passion and dedication in analysing and archiving films for future studies.

 

 

Filmy Ripples – ‘Titled’ Film Artistes

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

It is distinctive practice of Tamil Cinema and perhaps to an extent even Malayalam Cinema, to add adjectives to the nouns of its Artistes as ‘titles’, since times immemorial. I do not know about the other regional film Industries of the South. It seems not as widely prevalent in Bollywood either, though there are sporadic references to specific artistes such as “King Khan” or “Big B”, while they are not used as prefixes to the relevant names.

Some of the “titles” that the film industry had given its actors are either in recognition of their fine talents or out of sheer fanciful love & affection to them.

MGR got the ‘title’ of ‘Puratchi Nadigar’ from Karunanidhi in 1952 when the latter presided over a Stage Play of MGR. This title later became ‘Puratchi Thalaivar’, when MGR founded his own party.

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A picture of MGR from the 1959 Deepavali Malar of the magazine Kalai. The write up next to the photo mentions him as ”Puratchi Nadigar”

V.C.Ganesan became ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan when he shot into fame for his role as the Maratha Warrior King Sivaji in a Play penned by C.N.Annadurai. Later, Sivaji Ganesan was given the title “Nadigar Thilakam” in 1957, by the reputed ‘Pesum Padam’ film magazine & it was in the credit titles of ‘Ambikapathi’ film, released the same year, that his new title was first ever featured.

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Sivaji Ganesan mentioned as Nadigar Thilagam in the 1959 Deepavali Malar of the magazine Kalai.

The prefixes such as ‘Sivaji’ (Ganesan) or ‘Bharath’ (Mamooty) to certain leading stars were rather ‘earned’ titles bestowed upon them by respectable institutions or the Government.

Gemini Ganesan acquired the prefix ‘Gemini’ in his name, owing to his earlier career as a Casting Director in Gemini Studios. He was later referred as ‘Kadhal Mannan’, a fond title given by his fans for his impeccable romantic roles.

Similarly, titles such as ‘Ulaga Nayakan’ (Kamal), ‘thala’ (Ajit), ‘ILaya thaLapathi’ (Vijay),  were conferred by their passionate fans, in decorating them affectionately.

Though such decorating titles were not as common for female actors, there were, of course, ‘Punnagai arasi’ (K.R.Vijaya), ‘Abhinaya Saraswathi’ (Saroja Devi), “Nadigaiyar thilakam” (Savithri), “Nattiya PerolI” (Padmini) and the like for a chosen few, based on certain USPs.

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An ad for the film Ayiram Rubai from the December1964 issue of Naradar. Here Savithiti is mentioned as Nadigar Thilakam.

In 1963, the duo MSV-TKR was conferred the title ‘Mellisai Mannargal’, suggested by Kannadasan & conferred by Sivaji Ganesan at a star-studded function organized by Triplicane Cultural Academy at NKT Kala Mandapam, Triplicane. ‘Chithralaya’ Gopu, who a close pal of MSV, was instrumental in organizing the event, which was majorly supported by ’The Hindu’ newspaper.

Sometimes, adding a prefix (aka ‘title’) to an actor’s name was necessary in avoiding comedy of errors. In the bygone era of Tamil films, we had “Friend” Ramasami, “PuLimoottai” Ramasami,  “K.R” Ramasami, “V.K” Ramasami each ‘title’ making them distinct with their own ‘brand equity’ and avoiding the potential confusion as to which ‘Ramasami’ one is talking about. If two Gopus were there, one had to carry the ‘title’ of ‘typist’ while the other carried the prefix of ‘Chthralaya’. If Ganesans had to be distinct, one had to be ‘Gemini’ & the other had to be ‘Sivaji’. When two Balachanders were there, not withstanding their different time frames, their names were always referred with their initials & one was S.Balachandar & the other K.Balachander. The Varalakshmis were distinguished whether she was ‘S’ or ‘G’!

Some ‘titles’ of actors were linked to a character they had earlier played or the film in which they were debuted. Some of the actors who went by the names of movies that brought them to fore are ‘Vennira Aadai Murthy, ‘Nizhalgal’ Ravi, “Pasi” Narayanan, ‘Jayam’ Ravi & ‘Vietnam Veedu’ Sundaram. ‘Chiyaan’ Vikram was named so after the character he had played in the film ‘Sethu’ that made him a star.

Such practice extended to even stage artistes, as in, ‘Nawab’ Rajamanickam, ‘Cho’ Ramaswamy, ‘Kathadi’ Ramamurthy, ‘Typist’ Gopu etc. referring to their memorable characters in some play.

Then we had ‘Ennethe Kannaiah,’Gundu’ Kalyanam, ‘Oru viral’ Krishna Rao, ‘Thayir Vadai’ Desikan, ‘Omakuchi’ Narasimhan, ‘Major’ Sundarrajan,  ‘Galla Petti’ Singaram, ‘Loose’ Mohan, ‘Chattampillai’ Venkatraman, ‘Usilai’ Mani,  ‘Kakka’ Radhakrishnan, ‘Naradar’ Mahadevan, ‘Silk’ Smitha and the big names like ‘Danal’ Thangavelu, ‘Thai’ Nagesh & ‘Thengai’ Srinivasan. Of course, in Malayalam too you had/ have the likes of ‘IdaveLa’ Babu, ‘Oduvil’ Unnikrishnan, ‘Nedumudi’ Venu, ‘Kuthiravattam’ Pappu & ‘Jagathi’ Srikumar.

Many film artistes never shed their organic ‘initials’, without the inclusion of which we would never ever refer or even recognize them. In this regard, ‘T.M’ Soundarrajan, ‘U.R.’ Jeevarathnam, ‘S’Janaki, ‘P” Suseela, “S” Varalakshmi, ‘P.U’ Chinnappa, “M.S’ Viswnathan, ‘T.S’ Baliah, ‘M.R’ Radha, ‘M.K’ Radha, ‘M.G’ Ramachandran, “N.S’ Krishnan, ‘T.R’ Rajakumari, ‘SPL’ Jayalakshmi, ‘S.V’ Ranga Rao, ‘A.P’ Komala, “T.V’ Rthinam are few instances. However, the long list goes on!

Some became eternally iconic abbreviations like ‘MGR’, ‘MKT’ or ‘MSV’, which were Brands by themselves.

Some, preferred to be identified with the names of their native place such as “Pattukottai” Kalyanasundaram, “Kothamangalam” Subbu, “Kovai’ Chezhiyan.

For a chosen few only assumed names gave them recognition & reputation, like in ‘Kannadasan’ or ‘Vaali’.

We have stuntmen too with adjectives to their names, such as ‘Mafia’ Sasi, ‘Kanal’ Kannan, ‘Anal’ Arasu. ‘Super’ Subbarayan and what not!

After all, the individual actors or other film artistes are individually selling themselves as a product in a stiffly competitive industry called cinema. This makes a valid reason and absolute justification for such distinctive ‘titles’, as they constitute their market capitalization, in a way.

 

 

Directing Sexy Durga – An Interview with Sanal Kumar Sasidharan

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan is back in India after his glorious win of The Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam 2017 for his latest film Sexy Durga. The director of Oraalppokkam and Ozhivudivasathe Kali takes time to interact with us at The Cinema Resource Centre (TCRC).

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PC: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan FB page

Firstly, congratulations on this wonderful win! Was this kind of international recognition something that you had expected for Sexy Durga?

Thank you. I never expect anything except a good movie, while making it. But once it is made in the way I want to make it, I don’t hesitate to dream about its success. For me, film is not a local art. It has universal readability, so I naturally dream of international success. A dream is an expectation too.

How important are film festivals and these recognitions for an independent film maker?

Independent film makers are really very fragile in many respects. We have no stars, no money, no market and no popularity gimmicks. We have only a few openings through which we hope to reach audiences. One of the most important openings is film festivals. Film festivals play a great roles in bringing art house movies and indie film makers to the limelight. They are also important as they serve as forums for serious discussions about such films.

Tell us more about Sexy Durga and the team behind it.

Sexy Durga is an art-house movie that has many layers to it. It is very simple, yet complex. There is no ‘story’ in it. But you can attribute one to it though your experience of the movie.

Prathap Joseph, the cameraman did a good job with the many difficult camera movements the movie demanded. Murukan was the Art director, Harikumar Madhavan Nair was the sound recordist, and music was by Basil CJ.  Editing was done by me. Murukan and Basil CJ have been working with me since my first film.

For the role of ‘Durga’  I wanted an actress who was fearless about using her body and was comfortable with her physicality. Rajshree Deshpande seemed the perfect fit for the part., and was sold on our idea of her character and thus, became part of the movie.

All other artistes are mostly new faces or non-established actors. The main artists are Kannan Nayar, Vedh, Bilas Nair, Arunsol, Sujeesh KS. Byju Neto and Nistar Ahammed, who acted in Ozhivudivasathe Kali, also essayed roles in the movie.

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PC: Sexy Durga FB page

How is Sexy Durga similar to and /or different from your earlier films?

Sexy Durga is totally different in approach and the making from my earlier films. But all the films are socially rooted in the Malayali psyche.

Sexy Durga had no storyline or script. Most of the portions of the film were shot in midnight, in available light. The tough decisions involved in the making of the film gives it a unique feel.

From a lawyer to a film maker. How did this journey and the discovery happen?

I really only wanted to become a film maker since my childhood. But my family had a problem with my dream of becoming a film maker. My father was dead against my desire to apply to a film institute. So I was thinking about ways to infiltrate the film industry through the back doors. I approached several directors to take me on as an assistant director. Nobody was willing because I had no one to recommend me. Then I thought that if I had a professional degree and the kind of dignity that comes from it, people may accept my passion. But I was wrong. After my Law degree, I was forced to remain a lawyer. But I dropped the profession and escaped. I formed a film society named Kazhcha Film Forum and started making short films. In between, I worked other jobs, some of which I don’t even remember properly. In 2013, I made my first feature Oraalppokkam, produced by Kazhcha Film Forum, and that was the turning point

What is your typical pre-production process for your films?

Actually my films are simple for me. I don’t like much production set-ups, technical extravaganza and too many big artists in my film. I always wanted to keep the freedom and possibility to evolve even at a later stage of making. I don’t even like a concrete scripting process. The main part of my pre-production is dreaming and meditation. I think about the making pattern a lot. I rethink and rethink and keep all the options open. It may have its own drawbacks but I love it. Identifying location is the most important thing for me. Once I find a comfortable location, I feel relaxed. Finding actors is the next important step for me. If both are properly and satisfactorily done, I am sure that my film is done.

How much do you depend on your actors to take a scene forward and to decide the pace of the film?

I depend upon my actors a lot. Actually, I love to play with them. I put them in the location and let them freely do something. I only casually explain to them, so they may not even get a clear idea of what I have told them. In fact, I don’t even ask if they understand properly. But I make sure that they clearly know the situation and the political emotion behind the scene they are about to enact. Then I retreat and become a spectator. I get ideas as I see them acting out the given situation. I just shape it with gentle suggestions. It is like watching the movie while making it. I have a feeling that without my actors actively and freely engaged in the making, I can’t make a film properly

What are the release plan for Sexy Durga, or is it too early to talk about it? You and your team behind Kazhcha Film Forum took independent cinema to the masses with the concept of Cinema Vandi. You think Sexy Durga will also soon travel in the Cinema Vandi?

Sexy Durga is travelling all around the world now. It has just started leaving its footprints. Let it travel and come back. We will talk about the Indian release only after the censor board approves it without much harm. I want to release ‘my’ film, not the censor board’s film.

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Cinema Vandi at a venue at Kottayam, Kerala. PC: Kazhcha Film Forum FB page

What is your take on independent cinema in India?

Indian independent cinema is establishing its presence very fast. The world has started recognizing it. As more and more people started thinking about this alternative space, more and more films will start coming out  soon. I hope that we have a bright future.

Thank you for talking with TCRC. Before we sign off please let us know your opinion about the importance of preserving and archiving cinema heritage.

Cinema is history. It has importance not only in terms of art or commercial product. It has cultural importance also. It is very important to preserve our pathways to see how long we travelled and how difficult it was. It is very important that one look back to where  one came from. Thank you

Screening of Ozhivudivasathe Kali (An Off- Day Game)

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The Cinema Resource Centre in Association with Ashvita events is excited to release the critically acclaimed film Ozhivudivasathe Kali (with english subtitles) At Escape Cinemas, Chennai on July 8th, Friday.

The film revolves around a public holiday where five friends meet in a resort deep in the jungles to spend a day drinking and merrymaking. They come from different backgrounds and professions, but they have only one aim – to enjoy life for one day and forget the everyday hassles. But, during the course of the day, the animal instincts within them come to the fore. To resolve the crisis and to end the boredom,they decide to play a game – a game played when they were kids. What happens when an innocent game for children is played by drunk adults?

The film was made in an unconventional way. Says director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan :

“The movie “Ozhivudivasathe Kali” (An off-Day Game) is based on a short story. I have not developed the story into a written screenplay or shooting script. The film is not the story; but it is my reading experience of the story. Making of this film was very interesting
because of the total absence of a written screenplay. Almost all the artistes in the film are new faces. Almost all the dialogues which you hear in the film are spoken by the artistes themselves without any specific written instructions from my part. I was just telling them
the situation, the history of each character and the politics behind the scene. The moment
we switch on the camera, the artistes turned into characters and started uttering their own
dialogues. The decision to go without script helped me to attain a raw and real looking movie”

Don’t miss this film this weekend. Book your tickets here: http://bit.ly/29kAjci

Watch the trailer of the film:

 

 

 

Celebrating Balu Mahendra

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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.

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.