The Madras Film Industry in the 1960s: On the sets of “Thillaanaa Mohanambal” in a French documentary!

Today, we bring to you a clip from “L’inde Fantôme” (Phantom India), a documentary film made by Academy Award-winning French filmmaker Louis Malle. This is an excerpt from “Choses Vues A Madras,” which was the second episode of the documentary. Focusing on the Madras film industry in the late 1960s, the excerpt features footage shot on the sets of the 1968-released, classic Tamil film “Thillaanaa Mohanambal,” starring Sivaji Ganesan, Padmini, Balaiah, Manorama and others. Directed by AP Nagarajan and written by Kothamangalam Subbu, the film and its songs continue to be remembered even today.

What we found most interesting was the commentary in French (you can turn on the English subtitles by clicking on the “Captions” button in the bottom bar on the YouTube video). The commentator, at one point, refers to Sivaji Ganesan as the “Indian Belmondo.” “Belmondo” here is a reference to Jean Paul Belmondo, the French actor who was a prominent face in the New Wave films that were made in France in the 1960s. He continues to be remembered for his portrayal of the character Michel Poiccard in Jean Luc Godard’s extremely influential film “Breathless” (“À bout de souffle” in French). “Breathless” was a path-breaking film that inspired many filmmakers through its brilliant use of the jump cut. So, while the comparison to Belmondo is flattering, it’s important to remember that Sivaji Ganesan had made his mark with “Parasakthi” in 1952, a good eight years before Belmondo broke out with “Breathless” (1960).

Jean Paul Belmondo in "Breathless" | Sivaji Ganesan in "Thillaanaa Mohanambal"

Jean Paul Belmondo in “Breathless”   |    Sivaji Ganesan in “Thillaanaa Mohanambal”

Do watch the clip and let us know about your thoughts on Louis Malle’s commentary and his take on Indian films. You can leave a comment or write to us at tcrc.india[at]gmail[dot]com.

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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.”

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!