End of an era: K.Balachander (1930-2014)

Indian Cinema lost one of its greatest contributors on December 23rd 2014, K.Balanchander or KB sir as he is fondly known to many. The recipient of the Dada Saheb Phalke award, his career spanned for over 45 years. Besides directing over 100 films, he has also donned the role as writer, producer and even an actor. Each of his films were ahead of its times with radical offbeat themes and with strong women characters. The same was true with the many serials that he had directed and produced for the small screen. He is known for launching and mentoring several top actors and technicians in Indian Cinema including Kamal Hassan, Rajnikanth and Sri Devi.

Here is what the national newspaper The Hindu  has to say about this great man.

http://http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/he-took-tamil-cinema-beyond-herocentric-creations/article6719996.ece?homepage=true&theme=true

As our small tribute to KB sir we would like to share a lobby card from our collection. It is from the film Manadhil Uridhi Vendum (1987). The film revolves around the strong willed female protagonist Nandhini (played by Suhasini) who over comes many hurdles  and finally dedicates her life to her profession as a nurse.

The lobby card in itself is unique with the working still from the shoot as its image. We get to see the crew and the man himself directing the female lead Suhasini in this picture.

manadhi-urudhi-vendumTCRC

 

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.

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.”

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!