Thanga Padhakkam : From stage to celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

Like all top artistes of his era, Sivaji Ganesan, inarguably the finest actor Tamil cinema has seen, came from a stage background. Bitten by the acting bug at an early age, Sivaji Ganesan joined Yadartham Ponnuswamy Pillai’s Madurai Sri Bala Gana Sabha, a well known Boys Company of the times. It marked the beginning of a long and cherished association with Tamil theatre, which he successfully managed to sustain even after he became a top star. That he continued to remain passionate about stage is illustrated by the fact that even at the height of his career, he continued to act in stage plays, with film shootings many a time scheduled to accommodate his stage commitments.

Starting off with the Streepart (Female role) at the Sri Bala Gana Sabha, Sivaji Ganesan’s repertoire expanded to a wide range of roles, all of which stood him in good stead when he made his foray into films. In his autobiography “Enathu Suyasarithai”, he poignantly recalls the struggles associated with life in a Boys Company, where they would often be confronted by poverty and other tough circumstances.

Parasakthi (1952) propelled him to stardom, after which there was no looking back for him as a film star. His passion for stage was however undiminished and he performed for troupes such as S.V.Sahasranamam’s Seva Stage. He started Sivaji Nataka Mandram in the mid-1950s to continue his passion for stage and also to provide opportunities to many actors who were trying to make it big in films and were languishing for roles. Managing the troupe was S.A.Kannan, a stage actor who was part of the Sakthi Nadaga Sabha that had just then wound up. Sivaji Nataka Manram over the course of the next couple of decades went on to produce several hits on stage which would also replicate the success on celluloid when they were remade. Famous plays included Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Vietnam Veedu, Needhiyin Nizhal, Pagal Nila, Kaalam Kanda Kavignan and Thanga Padhakkam, the subject of this piece. In his autobiography, Sivaji Ganesan says that the play, written by J.Mahendran (later of Mullum Malarum fame) was originally being staged by Senthamarai. He watched the play at the Raja Annamalai Mandram and highly impressed by it, asked Senthamarai for the rights to stage it under the Sivaji Nataka Mandram banner and also make it into a movie. Senthamarai agreed and Sivaji Nataka Mandram inaugurated the play in 1972.

The play, which revolved around an upright police officer, Superintendent of Police (S.P) Chowdhry was directed by S.A.Kannan and had Sivaji Ganesan playing the main role. Others in the cast were Sivakami (who played his wife, the role played by K.R.Vijaya in the film) and Rajapandian, who donned the role of his son Jagannathan (Srikanth playing the role in the film). The Kalki magazine review of the play makes special mention of a sequence where Sivaji Ganesan sings and dances merrily in the birthday party of his son, hailing it as a novel attempt. Reviewing Sivaji Ganesan’s performance, it says that calling his acting a majestic portrayal would be akin to saying sugar is sweet!

The play was made into a movie in 1974. P.Madhavan, who directed many hits (including some with Sivaji Ganesan) directed this movie, which was produced by Sivaji Ganesan’s daughter Shanti Narayanswamy for Sivaji Productions. The movie was a great success. The characterisation of the Superintendent of Police became a sort of a benchmark, with many a later movie referring to Chowdhry when mentioning a honest and upright officer! Below are the images of the LP from this film pulled out from our archive.

Thangapadakkam-1 WATERMARK Thangapadakkam-1A WATERMARK

Sabapathy: From stage to celluloid

By Karthik Bhatt

The next in our series from ‘stage to celluloid’ we discuss one of Tamil cinema’s earliest full length comedies, Sabapathy.

The film, which was released in 1941 was produced by A.V.Meiyappa Chettiar and directed by A.T.Krishnaswamy. The plot was based on Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar’s play by the same name.

In his autobiography Naadaga Medai Ninaivugal, Sambandha Mudaliar says that Sabapathy was the first farce that he wrote. The story, which revolved around a young, rich (and not so intelligent) zamindar and his foolish servant (both named Sabapathy) was first written in 1906. Sambandha Mudaliar writes that the inspiration for the servant was derived from observing the man Fridays of a few friends. In particular, he credits Narasimhan, the personal assistant of his close friend V.V.Srinivasa Iyengar, the noted lawyer for having served as the base to building the character! He also acknowledges the influence of Handy Andy, the famous book written by Samuel Lover where the character could do nothing right.

The story was written in eight parts, each of which was capable of being staged as a separate stage play. Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar himself played the role of the zamindar, while many of his troupe members donned the role of the servant. So popular was the play that it continued to be staged even after the movie had released and had become a huge success. Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar writes of an interesting incident in 1944, where he, aged 71 years at that time had to appear in the role of zamindar for a scene during a staging to raise funds for the Thondaimandala Thuluva Vellalar School on Mint Street.

The movie had T.R.Ramachandran and Kali N.Ratnam (both of them from stage backgrounds) playing the roles of the zamindar and the servant respectively. Having zeroed in on the choice of T.R.Ramachandran to play the role of zamindar, A.V.Meiyappa Chettiar brought him to Sambandha Mudaliar for his approval, which was given after a brief test of his capability to do justice to the role. Kali N.Ratnam was a well-known actor and vaadhyar who served with the Madurai Original Boys Company, earning the prefix of Kali thanks to his portrayal of the Goddess in a play about Kannagi. Amongst those who trained under him were P.U.Chinnappa and M.G.Ramachandran. The female lead was played by R.Padma (a Lux soap model!) while C.T.Rajakantham was paired opposite Kali N.Ratnam. The Kali N.Ratnam-Rajakantham partnership was a successful one and featured in several movies. C.T.Rajakantham was alive until the 1990s and even acted in the popular Marmadesam (Vidaadha Karuppu) serial.

The movie is a delight to watch even a good seven decades after its release thanks to the simple comedy and great characterisation of the actors.

Randor Guy’s article on the movie can be accessed here

Here is a popular 9 minute segment from the film.

Short film screening by Indiearth in association with TCRC

short film screening

The next screening of short films by Indiearth in association with TCRC is happening at Ashvita Bistro,Chennai on the 28th of january 2015. Post screening, we will have a discussion on various styles and techniques involved in short film making with the filmmakers – Madhavan Palanisamy, Arun Mritunjay, Sanjeev Kumar, Madhan Kodees and Vydianathan Ramaswami who would be attending the screening.

ENTRY FREE!

SMS ” Short film ” with your name and email id to 9791088189.

The Short films to be screened are as follows:

1. FlashBack
Filmmaker: SNS Sastry
Duration: 21 min
Language: English
Year: 1974
Genre: Art

The film is a survey of the documentary film movement in India . We hear views of Films Division filmmakers S. Sukhdev and S N S Sastry before the Emergency and close to the end of their lives talking about documentary.

2. Gaarud The Spell
Filmmaker: Umesh Kulkarni
Duration: 13 min
Language: Marathi, Hindi (English Subtitles)
Year: 2008
Genre: Drama

The Spell gives us, in the form of a long tracking shot, a fascinating insight into what happens behind the doors of a block of tenements near the station in a small Indian town inhabited by people of differing backgrounds but all on the seamy side of life. Very briefly, we share their very personal lives. The camera takes us to the kitchens, the living rooms and even the toilets and the bedrooms of the inhabitants. The film won two national awards, one for best cinematography, and the other for best sound design. It received the best film award, the Golden Conch at MIFF, 2010.The film was also awarded the PATTON award for Best Indian Film at the 7th Kalpanirjhar International Short Fiction Film Festival, Kolkata.’Gaarud’ has been screened at more than 25 international film festivals, including the prestigious Rotterdam, and Vila de condo.

3. A Dream called……..America
Filmmaker: Anoop Sathyan
Duration: 26 min
Language: Hindi, English
Year: 2012
Genre: Short, Documentary

‘A Dream called America’ is a documentary made on Shahbaz, a 15 year old boy from Gujarat, India. He is the third among the five children of his father Aftab who makes a living by repairing cycles on a footpath. Shahbaz had studied in the US for a year on a scholarship, where he was hosted by an American couple. The one year he spent in US changed his attitude as he experienced a very comfortable and carefree life than his real home. After reaching India, he badly wants to go back and settle in US, leaving his parents in a dilemma.

Trailer & info: http://www.anoopsathyan.com/

Awards
– Best student film, Mumbai International Film Festival, India 2012
– Best documentary film, 4th International Children Film Festival – Lucknow, India 2012
– Silver award for Best student documentary, Indian Documentary Producers’ Association(IDPA) 2011
– Silver Owl for best documentary, CUT.IN Film Festival, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai 2011

Official Selection
– Jeevika: Asia Livelihood Documentary Festival 2011 – NewDelhi, India
– Open St. Petersburg Student Film Festival ‘Beginning’ 2011 – Russia
– CHAGRIN Documentary Film Fest 2011 – USA
– OAXACA International Film Fest 2011 – Mexico
– Mumbai International Film Festival 2012 – India
– Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Fest 2012 – Qatar
– Globians DOC FEST 2012 – Germany

4. Hangover
Filmmaker: Vydianathan Ramaswami
Duration: 4 min
Language: English, Tamil (English subtitles)
Year: 2005
Genre: Current Affairs

This short film deals with the flip side of college festivals in terms of excess inflow of sponsorship revenue leaving behind a trail of unwarranted usage of plastic and other environmentally hazardous waste.

5. Karma Vinai
Filmmaker: Madhan Kodees
Duration: 12 min
Language: Tamil (English subs)
Year: 2014
Genre: Social Message

Two drunk friends meet a couple while passing through a bus stop at mid night. they drop them at bus stand, driver doesn’t care who are they as he was busy drinking while driving. when he sees both when they get down he gets disturbed.

http://www.indiearth.com/ViewTrailer.aspx?TrailerID=b10fd7dc-3d4a-40a9-9dbf-e1f5fae447f9

6. At the End of 20th Week
Filmmaker: Sanjeev Kumar Choragudi
Duration: 3 min
Language: English
Year: 2014
Genre: Social Message

‘At the End of 20th Week’ is a short film aimed at social awareness about Abortions and Female Infanticide. It portrays the pain of unborn female children. Our intention was not to get applauded or acclaimed by critics. Our intention was to take the veil of discrimination off the faces of people those who prefer sons over a daughters and who doesn’t accept life as a gift but choose to end it because it took a female form.

A beautiful young girl who is peacefully enjoying the warmth and love from an unknown person gets tortured by also another unknown person in different ways. The girl cannot escape the wrath and stays there suffering. The bed which she assumed as a safe place suddenly turns into an Inferno. The person who shared the love and warmth is no more protecting her. She dies in the end and then we identify that it’s not just another girl but she is the representation of a female fetus. And all the different methods are nothing but methods of Abortion. In the end the young girl being pulled out of the bed symbolizes the delivery method of taking a baby out of the womb. She is killed and then we see the statement “Hell begins for women in India ‘At the End of 20th Week’” It is at the end of 20th week one can identify the gender of the foetus. In most of the cases it can be easily identified at the end of 13th week which on the other hand depends on the position of the fetus. Hence the title was decided as 20th week because irrespective of the position of foetus.

7. River Drowning Horses
Filmmaker: Madhavan Palanisamy
Duration: 3 min
Language: English
Year: 2013
Genre: Art

This film blends elements of fashion and theatre to narrate a complex-relationship situation.


Indie Film Screenings by Indiearth in association with TCRC in Chennai

Indiearth

 

Indiearth and TCRC brings an Evening of Short Films:
A collection of freshly picked award winning films from the Films Division that speak of the various interesting nuances of short film making and documentary cinema; generating profound interest in captive audiences who are either new or seasoned non-mainstream film buffs.

Also included are 2 latest shorts by upcoming filmmakers of today. The screening will be followed up by a discussion led by IndiEarth on “Why short films and documentaries are important; to be made and screened to audiences”.

THROUGH A LENS STARKLY
Kuldeep Sinha
Genre: Arts, Cinema
Year: 1992
Duration: 33 minutes
Language: English

During the 100 years of cinema in India, the documentary films have acheived a tremendous growth and Film Division has played a major role in the movement of documentary films in India. The film details the systematic growth of documentary filmmaking.

YES WE MAKE THEM SHORT
Baba Mazgavkar
Genre: Mass Communication Media, Cinema
Year: 1990
Duration: 13 minutes
Language: English

A film emphasising the importance of short films which generallyare not seen by the general audience. Short films can also beinterestingly made. It is through short films that cinema has undergone various innovations and experiments.

INDIA THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Siddharth Kak
Genre: Arts, Cinema
Year: 1990
Duration: 33 minutes
Language: English

Here is a history of the Indian documentary film – from thecoming of cinema to India at the turn of the century to its present development. Excerpts of numerous documentaries areincluded. This is was the opening film at the Bombay International Film Festival

ALFIYA
Satyarth Shaurya Singh
Genre: Shorts, Social Awareness
Year: 2014
Duration: 15 minutes
Language: English, Hindi (English Subtitles)

This is a film that explores a single day in the life of it’s protagonist, Alfiya. The film follows an indefinite progression: an oscillation between the social world and the inner life. Alfiya, a young girl in her twenties, grapples with blurred lines of perception which as likely stem from a ‘ delusional disorder’, or a phobia, to an unshakable dream state.

SILENT NIGHT
Rajdip Ray
Genre: Short, Social Awareness
Year: 2014
Duration: 3 minutes
Language: English

Christmas is the season of joy and giving. But amidst all the happiness and brightly coloured lights are the hidden pangs faced by more than 11 million street children in the largest democracy of the world. Silent Night takes the viewer on a trip around the streets of Calcutta, with one such child, on Christmas eve.

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.

Happy birthday Mr.P.C.Sreeram

pc sir

The Cinema Resource Centre would like to wish one of India’s finest cinematographers, Mr. P.C.Sreeram a very Happy Birthday. Here are some of songs that he has picturised over the years.

Sir Richard Attenborough on working with Satyajit Ray in “Shatranj Ke Khilari”: Old DD Bangla interview

Today is master filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s 92nd birthday and Google’s paid a lovely tribute through a doodle based on his film “Pather Panchali.” For those who missed it, here’s what the doodle is all about:

Google doodle on the occasion of Satyajit Ray’s 92nd birthday (2nd May 2013).

We at TCRC also chanced upon a YouTube video of an old show on DD Bangla where Sir Richard Attenborough, director of “Gandhi,” talks about the experience of working with Ray on “Shatranj Ke Khilari.” The film, released in 1977, was based on Munshi Premchand’s short story of the same name and was narrated by  Amitabh Bachchan. The cast included actors such as Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey, Shabana Azmi, Farida Jalal, Amjad Khan, Richard Attenborough, Victor Banerjee, Farooq Shaikh and Tom Alter. Do look out for Sir Attenborough’s views on cinema as an art form and Ray’s soundbites!

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!

The story of Fatma Begum, India’s first woman film director

While pulling out playback singer Shamshad Begum’s version of Katiya Karoon, we at TCRC realised that she was one of the earliest female playback singers in the Hindi film industry. This set us off on a search for India’s first woman film director and led us to this interesting piece on Fatma Begum, written by Rohit Vats for IBN Live as a part of their “100 years of Indian cinema” series. Here’s an excerpt from that piece (click here to read the entire story):

Born in an Urdu speaking family, Fatma Begum was related to Nawab Sidi Ibrahim Muhammad Yakut Khan III. She was the mother of Zubeida, Sultana and Shehzadi, who were popular actors of the silent era. She started working in films in 1922 after getting trained in plays. Fatma worked with filmmakers like Ardeshir Irani and Nanubhai Desai before founding her own production company Fatma Films which was later rechristened as Victoria-Fatma Films. ‘Bulbul-E-Paristan’ that released in 1926, became the first Indian film to be directed by a female director. However, acting remained on her wish list and she continued to act till late 1930s.”

Ardeshir Irani, who Fatma worked with as an actor, incidentally is the father of Indian talkie films, having made both “Alam Ara” (in Hindi) and “Kalidas” (in Tamil, with songs in Telugu).

We also tried to find an image of Fatma Begum on the web. While we did come across few images, we couldn’t confirm the veracity of any of them. The Whistling Woods (a film school in Mumbai) blog, for instance,  features this picture:

Fatma Begum, India’s first woman film director.

Cineplot Enyclopedia, on the other hand, features this image:

Fatma Begum, India’s first woman film director.

Clearly different people, don’t you think? It is interesting (and worrisome) to note that the internet doesn’t  have a single undisputed image of the first woman director in one of the world’s largest film industries. On days like these, we at TCRC find renewed vigour in our attempt to archive cinema-related artifacts. Have you found other such examples with respect to information about the early days of cinema? Do share them with us by writing to tcrc.india[at]gmail[dot]com.

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.”