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.

 

 

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The story of Lena Chettiar, the used-car dealer who turned into a film producer!

We at TCRC are always looking out for interesting trivia about yesteryear film personalities. Also, given that our search analytics told us that people were looking into the TCRC blog for information on one of Tamil cinema’s earliest superstars, actor-singer M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, we thought of putting together a separate post about him. We started looking for information about his 1934-released debut film “Pavalakodi.” But it was one of the producers of “Pavalakodi”, one Mr. Lena Chettiar, who ended up piquing our curiosity.

“Prabhavathi” (Tamil, 1942) was produced under the Krishna Pictures banner promoted by Lena Chettiar. Photo Courtesy: The Hindu.

Writing about the film “Prabhavathi” (Tamil, 1942) in The Hindu’s Blast From The Past column, Randor Guy profiles Lena Chettiar (click here to read the post about “Prabhavathi”):

S. M. Letchumanan Chettiar, popularly known as Lena Chettiar, was a powerful figure in the world of Tamil Cinema. A native of Chettinad, he was a ‘drama contractor’ in his early days, staging plays in various southern parts of the state by hiring freelancing actors and selling tickets for their plays. He also dealt in used cars and was the first man in this part of the world to print and circulate handbills about used cars in Tamil. Most of the Naattukottai Chettiars were wealthy, but did not know English. They found these handbills a novelty and encouraged Lena Chettiar.”

Randor Guy also reports that it was Lena Chettiar who convinced M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar to not venture into production himself and stepped in to produce it for him:

M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s (a top-ranking freelancing stage actor then) play with another stage actress S. D. Subbulakshmi, ‘Pavalakodi’, was a raving hit not only in the Tamil-speaking areas of South India but also in Ceylon. Bhagavathar was seriously planning to enter movies with Pavalakodi and Lena advised him against venturing into production on his own and convinced Bhagavathar to team up with him. With his rich pals, Lena produced Pavalakodi in 1934, which marked Bhagavathar’s film debut and proved to be a major hit.”

Lena Chettiar produced numerous films under various labels and eventually, started promoting the ‘Krishna Pictures’ banner in the early part of the 1940s under which he produced films in Tamil and Telugu for nearly 15 years. The last film that he produced, before the founding of Krishna Pictures, was “Krishnan Thoothu,” which was the Tamil debut of Telugu film star Kannamba. In his post about “Krishnan Thoothu,” Randor Guy mentions Lena again:

 He wielded enormous influence beyond the confines of the movie business in official and political circles. Soon after this film, he promoted his own unit, Krishna Pictures, in T. Nagar. His office on Thanikachalam Chetti Road (named after the noted Justice Party leader O.T. Chetti) was indeed a landmark of that area with its Krishna temple besides the building put up by Lena.”

Producers seldom get mentioned in serious writing about cinema. But in the early days of cinema in India, we at TCRC have noticed that often it was the producers who  moved mountains to fuel innovation and creativity. Lena Chettiar seems to be one such gentleman and we at TCRC are glad to bring back to public memory, stories of such film entrepreneurs.