Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ravi Menon - A Memory

It is with great sorrow that I came to know of the death of my dear friend and Batchmate from the Acting Course (1968-69) Ravi Menon. He died today ( 24 th November,2007) at Peruthalmanna, Kerala. He was 57.

He was one of the few Malayali actors who passed out from the Institute. He was always jovial and in high spirits and remained a chronic bachelor! I was the cinematographer for his debut film NIRMALYAM ( Malayalam -1973, Director : M.T.Vasudevan Nair). The film won the National Award for the Best Feature Film. He had also acted inthe Hindi film 'DUVIDHA' (1973), directed by Mani Kaul. I was also associated with him in another Malayalam film Directed by G.S. Panikker ( 1967-70 Batch) AEKAKINI (1978) and a few other films. The last film we worked together was in the Malayalam film "VARNAKKAZHCHAGAL" (2000)

A few days back a TV channel wanted to do a programme on the film "NIRMALYAM" and the Producer was telling me that though not keeping well, Ravi had agreed to participate in it. While looking towards a reunion of Institute friends, the cruel hands of fate intervened to snatch him away for ever.

As a homage I am putting the photograph of him, from the Film "NIRMALYAM" and Pray for the Peace of his Soul.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Puzzle Solved

I scanned the photo and made Blow up of the portions. Yes, I was there with the reflector. The girl with the umbrella is a very familiar face to our film goers - Jaya Bhaduri ( Bachchan), the man looking through the view finder of the Blimped Arri Camera is Mr. Edwards and finally the one pushing the trolly is Naapo Gbande!

Keep reading for more surprises and interesting information !

An Old Photograph

I found this photograph in my collection which was taken in 1968-69. You can see the Wisdom Tree in the background and the Studio Number One behind it. On the left is the Principal's Office and on the right is the class room theatre. I could recognize myself holding the reflector. But who are the others?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Photography Course

Our Professor was Mr.C.V. Gopal and Asst Professor was Mr. Jaiswani. The Lecturers were M/s.G.B.Kulkarni, J.R.Edwards, K.P.Rajagopalan Nair and K. Ramanathan. Prof.Gopal and Mr. Jaiswani took mostly theory classes and M/s. Kulkarni and Edwards were in charge of Practicals. Nair Saab was taking classes in Special effects from second year onwards and Mr. Ramanathan was also taking charge of the practicals from the second year.

Kulkarni Saab was teaching us lighting, composition, exposure etc in the still photography studio while Mr.Edwards was dealing with the developing and printing in the dark room. We were working with Black and white images only handling various cameras like Peco Monorail, Speed graphic, Linhof Technica etc. It was quite thrilling to try out various techniques on the camera, developing and printing done by ourselves to see the results.

Kulkarni Saab was an expert in repairing cameras and lenses and most of his free time you can find him fumbling with some lens or cameras. My friend K. Ramachandra Murthy who is mechanically minded used to observe him and became his main disciple in camera repairs. After retirement Kulkarni Saab settled in Chennai and started a Camera service centre and we both used to visit him often and some times Murthy will also join with him on the job. Kulkarni Saab was an excellent teacher as well as a great human being.

Professor Gopal had great sense of humour and even the most difficult things he will explain very lucidly and thoroughly. As a principled man he always stood for his students. Mr. Edwards though had a rough exterior was really soft inside. About Nair Saab and others I'll write when I come to the second year.

We were lucky to have such good teachers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Classmates - 1968-71 Batch

We were 12 students in the 1968 - 71 Batch out of which two were Foreign students.

Ramlal Agarwal, K.Ramachandra Murthy, K.Ramachandra Babu, Shankar Dinkar Deodhar, Krishna Kumar Jaiswal, Venugopal Thakker, Surendra Sahu, Anil Dhanda, Sushil Kanwal Jolly,
Harish Gupta, Naapo Gbande ( Ghana) and Prem Kumar Upadhyay ( Nepal)

The photographs shown were taken as part of our first year practical classes and lighting exercises and shows how we appeared in 1968-89 period.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

First Year - First Semester

In those days, there was only limited hostel accommodation, so I had to find some place outside sharing room with college students from Assam. The initiation ritual of “Ragging” the new comers was in full swing and since I was not staying in the hostel, I managed to elude the seniors. Of course one day the caught with me along with a few other juniors and asked us to strip to our underwear and then to go and touch the feet of a person standing near the office. We all obeyed the orders and proceeded towards him. But on seeing us coming towards him he started walking away. But we chased him and managed to touch his feet. Later on I came to know that he was the Production Manager Page ( pronounced as Pagey)

In the First year we had a Three –month orientation class where all the students except the acting students had a common curriculum including Film Appreciation, Direction, Editing, Sound Recording, Cinematography, Art Direction, History and Culture etc.

Prof. Satish Bahadur’s classes on Film Appreciation were very much liked by all students. His way of teaching was very informal. He appeared to me like the actor Omar Sharief in Dr. Zhivago! With hand rolled cigarettes, he used to show us films and explained the finer points of Cinematic art. He taught us how to read films.

Occasionally we used to have Guest lecturers giving us classes in various subjects, and one such person I remember was Mr.Achreker the Art Director of many of Raj Kapoor’s films. He told us that once an elephant refused to walk in to the set, even though they offered various goodies to it. Finally he found out the reason that below the carpet there was a tank, which was covered with wooden planks. The elephant sensed it and refused to walk on it, for fear of falling into the pit!

He told us another interesting incident. For another film they filled the tank with water for a sequence in a pond, the hero and the leading lady got in to the water and both were standing quite close to each other in waist deep water. Suddenly the lady’s face turned red and she slapped the hero! The poor hero was wondering what he had done to get slapped. Actually it was a rat from the drainage which got inside her dress and created havoc. She thought it was the hero’s hand which did this underwater mischief. Only when the rat wiggled out and swam for safety did she realize her misunderstanding.

Mr.Achreker also explained us how he erected sets in forced Perspective for Shree 420 and Awara which were really magnificent even today. The Orientation sessions familiarized us with all aspects of Film making.

A few of us who had not studied Hindi as a Subject at school were required to learn Hindi at special classes conducted in the evenings. A part time tutor was appointed for the same but the problem was he did not know English. So we could not communicate with him and then he started teaching us Urdu! Not many of us were interested in attending these useless classes, and abstained. If there are no students to teach, then he won’t get his pay. So he requested us to just sign our attendance and go off as we please.

We had a a hilarious start to our class whenever our Vice Principal Mr.Mushir Ahmed used take our Roll Call. He always called out our full names with expanded initials in a serious tone and sing song tune. The moment he starts taking the attendance the whole class will burst out with laughter, but unmindful of it he always continued it in one breath:

1. Shanker Dinkar Deodhar
2. Ramlal Saligram Agarwal
3. Kasturi Ramchandra Murthy
4. Kunjan Ramchandra Babu
5. Venugopal Khimji Thakkar
6. Krishna Kumar Jaiswal
7. Surendra Kumar Sahu
8. Anil Kumar Dhanda
9. Sushil Kanwal Jolly
10. Harish Kumar Gupta
11. Prem Kumar Upadhyay
12. Naapo Gbande.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Photo

Here is my first Published Photograph, which I had with me for the interview! It was published in the Tamil Weekly Magazine "KALKI"

Paintings that mattered

These are some of the Poster color Paintings done by me during 1967-68 which I took with me for the Interview at the Film Institute. They were copies of popular calender pictures by Painter Photographer J.P.Singhal

I also took two oil paintings, portraits of K.Kamaraj and C.N.Annadurai, both former Chief Ministers of Tamilnadu. Unfortunately I have Black and white photographs only which is given below.

C.N.Annadurai ( Anna)


Both the paintings were done based on Black and White pictures and I was asked about my choice of colours and their use during the selection interview.

The painting of K.Kamaraj bears the autograph of the great leader himself, which you can see on the lower right hand corner !

Sunday, November 18, 2007

How I joined the Film Institute

I studied in the Film Institute of India at Poona ( now Film and TV Institute of India , Pune ) during 1968 - 1971, in Motion Picture Photography.

After my B.Sc graduation in Chemistry from Loyola College, Madras I was not sure of which course to study further. So I was applying for various courses and jobs like Paper Technology, Chartered accountancy, Naval pilot etc. But I could not land up anywhere. I as a chemistry graduate familiar with photographic chemicals knew film developing and contact printing and had set up a dark room in my house. I used to take photographs with a box camera, develop the negatives and make contact prints. Some times I would borrow a folding camera with faster shutter speed and aperture settings from a photographer friend and take photographs with it. Once I took a photograph of my brother jumping from a wall from a low angle which turned out, as if he was jumping from a coconut tree. I sent it to a Weekly Tamil magazine "Kalki" and was published. That was my first published Photograph.

I was also interested in drawing and painting. During the idle days at home I bought some poster colours and copied some popular calender pictures for practice. I also tried my hand in oil painting too. Once I seriously thought of joining Santiniketan and obtained application forms for admission to Painting course. When I found that it was a Five Year course, I decided to drop the idea. Then it happened that I came across an advertisement for admission to the Film Institute of India. I used to see Hollywood films while at college and liked films like Lawrence of Arabia, Dr.Zhivago, Ryan's Daughter, Cleopatra etc which were well known for excellent cinematography as well as interesting narrations. Apart from that I did not have much interest in films. I thought why not try this new course even though I have not heard any thing about the Film Institute before seeing the advertisement.

I applied for admission for the Three year Diploma Motion Picture Photography, D.C.(M.P.P) and the written entrance examination was conducted at Adarsh Vidyalaya, Madras, which was the centre for all South Indian States. I happened to make friends with a few candidates appearing for the examinations and exchanged addresses. I remember one person in particular who knew a lot about international cinema and had answered all questions correctly while my knowledge was restricted to only Hollywood Cinema! That was his first visit to Madras and didn't know his way back to Central Station and I having studied there told him the directions and the bus numbers to Central Station. His name is K.G.George who became my best friend and my Director for several acclaimed Malayalam films like Swapnadanam, Kolangal, Yavanika, Adaminte Variyellu etc.

When the results of the entrance examination came I found that I had passed the test and was called for a personal interview at Poona. Knowing that my father will not send me to such a far off place just for an interview,I told a lie that I have already got selected for admission to the Institute. Since I had never traveled to northern India before that, I contacted some of the candidates who said that they will meet me at the Poona railway station. So I stated from my home town to Madras with my bags and baggage along with my father who came to see me off. On the way the taxi car broke down and we had to take a bus to Madras. At the station I was told that the Compartment in which I had reserved a ticket was cancelled! But somehow they provided me alternative accommodation. The Omens are not good, I thought.

I reached Poona safely and my friends were there to receive me and I stayed with them. The next day I went to the Institute for the Interview and I had the shock of my life. There were nearly 150 candidates for the 10 seats and most of them were carrying bundle of albums of photographs. Many of them were sons of Photographers or photo studio owners etc. Some of them were even carrying sophisticated cameras too. What chance I had against such people. I only knew a few things about photography and all I had with me was the only published photo of my brother. Of course I had a few water colour and two oil paintings done by me too. My worry was what to tell my parents if I fail to get admission at the Institute. With what face I will return home since I told everyone in my place that I have already secured admission. I decided to go to my cousin's place in Gujarat and try for a job there if I fail in the Interview.

My turn for the interview came and I was called in. Principal Jagat Murari, Vice Principal Mushir Ahmed, Professor of Cinematography C.V.Gopal, Cinematographer R.D.Mathur and another person were there. It so happened that a photograph was taken while I was being interviewed and it was published in the next year's Brochure! (See Photo above) I was afraid that they will ask me some complicated questions about cameras, lenses, optics etc. They saw me carrying some rolls of paper and asked me what it was. They were my paintings and they asked me questions about the use of colours and composition etc. In the meantime I was asked about my experience in photography and I showed them the only Photo.

The interview was over before noon and the results will be put up only by evening. I was tense and unsure of the results. So to while away the time along with other friends I went to see a film "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and after the show had Masal Dosa and coffee at the Indian coffee House. It was dark and raining when we reached back at the Institute around 7 P.M. We entered the room where the results are displayed and switched on the lights. It was a great surprise that my name was second on the List of selected candidates. That was a turning point in my life. Finally I got admitted in th Film Institute of India, in spite of the ill omens when I started from home!. Unfortunately none of my friends except K.G.George could secure admission that year.