Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Meeting of old friends

Today, along with my Director Shashi Paravoor and Art Director Krishnan Kutty, I happened to go to Chitranjali Studios to see the floor for erecting a set for the shooting of a song sequence of our Malayalam film KADAKSHAM. On the floors, a film shooting was in progress, a film about Raja Ravi Varma directed by Lenin Rajendran and Cinematography by Madhu Ambat a good old friend of mine. Acting as Raja Ravi Varma was none other than Cinematographer Santosh Sivan!

From behind the camera he had come before the camera in a new role as performer and I found him really enjoying it, memorising his dialogues like a student preparing for his examinations! He is taking it as a challenge and is working hard. I am sure that he will really leave his imprint in this new field too and wish him all success!

It was also rare meeting of old friends and journalist Pallissery was keen on recording the occassion for posterity, this meeting of three Cinematographers - all FTII graduates.

Santosh, Myself and Madhu Ambat

Santosh as Raja Ravi Varma

In a Romantic Mood!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A rare Group Photograph

Towards the end of the Second year, after a student gathering at the Institute some one hurriedly organized a group photo session, which resulted in a rare photograph containing a large number of students. (1970,1971 and 1972 Batches)

To see the names of the persons, please check the List against the numbers marked on the photograph:

1.A. Swami Nathan, 2.Arun Kumar Nigam, 3. Madhusudhan, 4. Desh Gautam, 5. Balbir Sharma, 7. Page, 8.Mushir Ahmed, 9.Mrs.Mushir Ahmed, 10. Mrs. Jagat Murari, 11 Jagat Murari ,12 B.K. Chaturvedi,13. Sudhartha Basu, 14 Imtiaz Ahmedkan Pathan , 16.A.S.Kanal,17, J P Singhal (SPW), 18. J.K.Patra, 19 Akki Hame Chander, 20 Venugopal K Thakkar, 21 Surendra Sahu, 22 . Kumar Nayak, 23 T.N. Mohan, 25 Baba Majagavankar, 26. J. P. Dikshit, 27 Vinay Shukla, 30. HarishChawla,31. Harish Gupta, 32 S,K.Jolly, 36. M.Azad, 37 Harbhajan Singh, 40. Bhaskar Unni, 42. Amrit Lal Lakhanpal. 44. Manoj Kumar(SRSE), 45, Ramachandra Babu, 47. Deepak Dhar,48. Baburao Tanajee Rokade 49. Raza Murad, 50. Subhash Soin, 51. Anil Jain Satish Aima, 52. K.R.Mohanan, 53. G,R,Menon, 54. Krishna Ragahav, 56. Faisal (Jordan)58 .Surendra Chowdhary, 60. Peer Mohammed, 62 .Venkataswami Naidu Jatla, 64 Kasturi Ramachandra Murthy, 65. Paulose,66. Umesh Bihari Mathur, 69. Shyamal Krishna Ghosh, 71. V.N.Raina ,72. Satish Kumar Gupta(SRSE), 75. Kabir Rawther. 76. S K Srivastav (SRSE)

The list is incomplete - I request my friends to provide me the missing names so that I can complete the list.

I think the picture was taken by none other than K.K.Jaiswal as he is missing from the photo. The light was fading as it was quite late in the evening and some more photos were taken, one of which is given below.

Baba Majgavkar ( standing first from left) Surendra Sahu (centre with glasses)Deepak Dhar (tall person in the back row) are among the few in this smaller group.

I found another photograph , which was slightly out of focus with a slight rearrangement, this time I am sitting down in the front row ( second from left) flanked by K.K.Jaiswal on my right and Baba Majgavkar on my left.

( My thanks to K.K.Jaiswal for filling up some of the missing names)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Film Archives and P.K.Nair

The presence of National Film Archives in the Institute campus itself was a great blessing to the students of Cinema. Many days a number of films new and old arrive there from countries around the world. All the films were screened and assessed about their contents as well as their physical condition before being sent to the storage vaults by none other than P.K.Nair. The students were permitted to attend the archives' screening conducted in the Institute theatres after the class hours. It was a rare opportunity for the students to see such a large number of films from such a variety of film making countries and that too right in their campus. I do not know of any other Institute in the world which had this kind of access to world cinema, at that period.

Sometimes when films arrive in large numbers the screenings will be held early in the mornings and even on holidays too. Nair saab never sat alone in the theatre even at unearthly hours, for there will be always a faithful crowd of students around him to give company. Only it thinned when the films were some very old Indian films from silent era or early sound period.

An interesting thing happened during our time at the Institute. In the height of winter I woke up early in the morning due to the extreme cold and looked out of the window from my hostel room. I saw a large crowd of students in front of the class room waiting for the projectionist to come and open the theatre doors. Later I came to know the real reason for the sudden interest of the students in the screening in spite of the extreme cold climate. The Madras Regional Film Censor Board was wondering what to do with the accumulating collection of censor cuttings from the regional films censored their from their very inception. Finally some one higher there had decided to send this huge collection of tidbits to the Archives! All these bits of objectionable material was joined together and projected for cataloging purposes. Even though the details of screening was kept a secret and the timing was fixed at odd hours, some of the students smelled it and thronged the theatre. They had their eyes full with glimpses of gyrations and exposure of flesh by sexy sirens from the south! Unfortunately I missed the show as I was feeling too lazy to come down from my room because of the cold outside!

An amazing thing was that when some of the cans were opened in the archives, it was found to contain bricks and stones etc instead of film clips. Obviously some body in the censor office returned the cuttings back to the producers for clandestine joining in the films and filled the cans with some weight!

I should also mention about the great support Nair Saab got from the dedicated staff who worked there day and night, especially Kurien, Varghese and Parvathy Nair (a former Editing alumni). Beautiful Parvathy Nair with her elegant demeanor, was the centre of attraction amongst the students. While I was in the final year I had an opportunity to do the cinematography work in a documentary film directed by her. The film was shot in Bombay and I had my maiden travel in the legendary Deccan Queen train.

After the Archives screenings Nair saab used to discuss the viewed films with the students and explained the aesthetics of cinema. It was a kind of informal education which contributed for the development of cinematic sensibility amongst the student community. All the students showed much respect to Nair Saab even many years after leaving the Institute.

I used to meet him often at the International Film Festivals at Chennai or Thiruvananthapuram all of which he very religiously attended. Later on when he built a house and settled there, we used to meet in film functions. Once I happened to be a member of the Film Preview committee of the International Film Festival of Kerala and for a week viewed hundreds of films and selected entries for various categories. Because of his extensive and exhaustive knowledge of Cinema he was much respected by the film makers of Kerala.

When I was the General Secretary of Malayalam Cine Technicians Association ( MACTA) during the Guru Pooja I had the privilege of honouring Nair Saab by conferring the Honourary Membership of MACTA. Though he was just recovering from an accident injury in Pune, he had travelled all the way to Ernakulam to attend the function.

Nair Saab at MACTA Function
Myself making the introduction speech

Monday, August 31, 2009

Film Processing Laboratory and Library

Though we had to study the theoretical aspects of film processing, only after we actually started filming that we understood the intricacies of the chemical process and how it affects the density of the negative etc. Of course the man who was most helpful to me there was Raman Nair (Editing 1966 Batch), the younger brother of Film Archives P.K.Nair. For reasons unknown, after completing the editing course he had been working in the film processing laboratory. Years later we were associated in the Malayalam film "AEKAKINI" directed by G.S.Panikkar.

The Library at the Institute was one of the finest in India with regard to books on Cinema and collection of journals. Many a hours were spent in the library reading the latest issues of Sight and Sound, American Cinematographer etc. It was there that I became deeply attached to the American Cinematographer magazine that for many years I continued reading it to keep up with the latest technologies in Cinematography. After leaving the Institute , I was in Madras working in films. I became a member of the American library where I used to visit often to borrow books on cinema as well as to read the latest issue of AC magazine. The air-conditioned comfort of the library in the scorching summer months at Madras and the proximity of the drive-in-woodlands hotel was an added attraction. Later on when I could afford it I became a subscriber and continued reading it to update on the emerging technologies.

It was a great joy that an interview of mine was published in that great magazine when I did an English film BEYOND THE SOUL Directed by Rajeev Anchal. Please click HERE to read the interview published in September 2002 issue of American Cinematographer Magazine.

The Library at the Institute had played a major part in my film education shared only by the National Film Archives. I think most of the Institute Alumni will definitely agree that the Library and the Film Archives had contributed much to their film education.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Subrata Da's Box Lights

In the studio there was this strange looking wooden box one side of which was covered with translucent tracing paper. We were told that it was the invention of none other than the great master Cinematographer Subrato Mitra himself. It seems that when he was shooting PATHER PANJALI the West Bengal Government helped Satyajit Ray by providing some lights which turned out to be Police search lights ! Subrata Da adapted them for his movie work by bouncing the light on to white boards to soften the harshness of bright search lights. He also devised an inexpensive and ingenious soft light by fixing a number of house hold bulbs in a wooden box and covered one side with translucent tracing paper. Using that light he was able to create very soft and shadowless lighting effects. When he visited the Institute earlier ( around 1967 or so) he got two lights made for demonstration purposes.

Box Lights

We used those lights christened "DUBBA" ( Hindi word for Box) lights during our practicals and found them to be very useful for soft and naturalistic lighting effects. Bala Mahendran ( Balu Mahendra) carried the idea to Madras and got the Box lights made for his films. When he started colour film work he replaced the house hold incandescent bulbs with photo-flood lamps and used them in his films for many years. He even had an assistant appointed only for carrying his personal light to the location and back. Many in Madras thought that Box lights were Balu's invention but the fact is otherwise as seen from the photograph below!

Subrata Mitra with students

Bala Mahendran near window , Naresh Bedi( with beard)

Subrata Da had conducted the workshop at the Institute before I joined there and hence I did not have the opportunity to meet him or to attend his classes for a long time. Years later, I had the honour of meeting him when he came to Thiruvananthapuram to inaugurate the Indian Society of Cinematographers in 1995. He gave an excellent talk during the function and later interacted with the Cinematographers present. As President of the ISC, I shared the stage with him when he was conferred the Honourary Membership by eminent Film Director Shri.Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

Subrata Da, Adoor and Me

Though the Box light was very useful I found that carrying it to location and back is cumbersome. So when I started working in films at Madras, I got 4ft X3 ft wooden frames made on to which I stretched translucent thin plastic sheets ( shower curtain material) and placed them in front of lights to achieve similar soft light effect. In the later years it was replaced by white acrylic sheets, grid cloth etc.

Practicals with Acting students

As part of our training we had combined practicals with acting students who enacted small scenes which we will light up and shoot. Professor Roshan Taneja or Asrani (who was working as Part time lecturer) were there to direct the acting students and to supervise the whole thing.

Myself, Venu, Murthy ( Focus) and Prof. Taneja

Apart from doing small sequences we also did a few song picturisation exercises in which we used to take the sound track of popular Hindi films and the acting students will enact giving lip movements to the songs. This was done with the intention of showcasing the talent of the acting students to the Bombay Film Industry. Below is a still from one of the song sequences starring Jaya Bhaduri and Danny.

Jaya Bhaduri and Danny

Our outdoor exercises were done in the hilly wooded area, called forest near the swimming pool which had different kind of landscape and trees so that a variety of shots can be tried without leaving the campus. The only thing is collecting the equipments from the camera department, loading it on the trolley and pushing it up hill. But the return downward journey is much easier, you just keep a hold on to it so that it won't pick up speed and go too fast and unstoppable!

Special Effects

Shri. Rajagopalan Nair ( K.P.R.Nair) was taking classes in special effects cinematography which to me was a fascinating and exciting subject as you can magically create wonders on the screen by employing a few tricks. But a majority of the students were not much interested in experimenting and learning the special effects process. Myself, Murthy and Jaiswal were keen on knowing more of the subject and used to attend his classes regularly with rapt attention. Though we had one or two hours of classes per week, we were allowed to go to Nair saab's room anytime and fiddle with the equipments there. He used to answer our questions and explained the intricacies of special effects cinematography. His room was full of old and antiquated equipments in various conditions of disrepair.

There was Bell and Howell High speed camera which used to run up to 200 -250 frames with which we tried some high speed shots. We took an old miniature model of a building from the Prabhat days, rigged it with some wires and debris, strategically placed burning rags and recreated a burning building catching fire and collapsing. The things I learned there along with help from the book "The technique of special effects cinematography" by Raymond Fielding was very useful in my career afterwards. In many films I did my own masking shots (double roles), in camera dissolves, glass shots, title effects etc using the reliable Mitchell camera.

Also we had the rare opportunity of using the Front Projection system, the only one of its kind in India. In all other places only Back projection was being used which was giving poor image quality and restricted the lighting to be done from the side s only to avoid it spilling on the screen. As the front projection system with its glass beaded screen and front coated mirror produced excellent results, people from Bombay film industry used to come down for their front projection shots. Nair Saab taught us how to set up the partial mirror and aligning the camera and the projector properly so that the photographed object itself will cover its own shadow, which is a very tricky one. Unfortunately after leaving the Institute, I could not try front projection as that system was not available elsewhere in India. Though I have done many back projection shots, I feel that front projection results were much superior ones!

In his spare time Nair saab can be seen in his room, tinkering with some equipment or other. In those days he was also trying to build a subtitling machine by himself. He later on succeeded in making one such machine which I was told that the National Film Archives utilized for subtitling purposes.

Friday, August 28, 2009

More of the Second Year Classes

While writing about the Second year studies, I went astray as certain happy as well as unhappy incidents happened about which I strongly felt that I should react. In that process the narrative thread had broken, which I hope to later set right by editing the posts.

It was quite an experience to start lighting the sets in the huge indoor studio with it's high catwalks full of different types of lights mounted on it. Prof.Lall Jaiswani and Mr.Ramanathan were in-charge of the practicals and they explained to us how to use those lights according to the needs of the scene. The experienced light boys ( though they were quite old, were called like that ) helped us with expert advice on how to proceed with the placement and lighting of the sets. We were divided into groups of three so that when one person operates the other two pitch in as assistants doing the follow focusing and pushing the dolly. In my group the other two were Ram Agarwal and Kasturi Ramachandra Murty.

S.K.Jolly follow focusing and me on camera

Initially we had no models for our practicals and one or two amongst ourselves had to act out the movements for the lighting exercises. One day I was doing the acting part and I was sitting near a table and the lighting was in progress. All of a sudden a group of school students on a study tour rushed in to watch the film shooting going on! They thought I am some kind of a star as I was performing before the camera and started asking me for autographs! I also obliged them wondering why of all the people they are asking ME for autographs! Then I remembered my schooldays...

I was 8 or 9 years old at that time. From our school we were on an excursion to Mahabalipuram which is a famous tourist spot near Madras. While seeing the monuments we saw some film unit shooting going on. We were told that it was the Tamil film "ALLI PETRA PILLAI" starring S.S.Rajendran. A scene in which a horse drawn cart driven by some actors was being pictured. Some people wearing blue coloured dhoties were resting under the shade of trees. ( In Black and White days pure white was never used in costumes, instead blue or saffron colured clothes were used, which I learnt when I myself became a cinematographer ) Some boys shouted Pulimootai Ramaswamy ( a popular comedian with a big girth) looking at a fat man amongst the blue coloured dhotiwalas and soon they surrounded him with pieces of paper torn from notebooks for autographs. Every one wearing a blue dhoti was considered to be a worthwhile cine actor and were asked for autographs by the eager crowd of students. Puzzled by their sudden popularity the extra actors signed on every scrap of paper presented before them. I too was one of the boys who collected the autographs on pieces of paper from my note book.

As our lighting and camera operating skills improved we had combined exercises with Direction students working out small sequences.

On the sets with Direction students

Monday, July 27, 2009


It seems to be my fate that I should continue to write about great departed souls one after another. Yet another death had happened - Bhaskar Chandavarkar Eminent music director and Sitarist Bhaskar Chandavarkar died on 26 July 2009.

In my Blog of 22, December 2007, I wrote about him.

While at the Institute during 1968-71 period I came in contact with his magnetic personality and handsome looks and friendly behaviour. The above photograph was taken by me for a brochure of his sitar performance.

Later on he had done the Music Direction of K.G.George's debut Malayalam Feature film SWAPNADANAM (1975) for which I was the cinematographer. Though he had composed music for some four songs, they were not used in the film. But he got the Kerala State Award for Best Background Music for his work.

It is unfortunate that I could not meet him afterward.

The strings of the Sitar are silent.
The player had gone away
To make Heavenly Music

May his soul Rest in Peace.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

AFTER THE OSCAR - A few Thoughts

The Oscar award had magically transformed tiny Resul Pookutty into a super mega phenomenon. Everywhere he went he was mobbed by thousands of people from all walks of life. TV Channels and newspapers were vying with each other for interviews and oraganisations are competing with each other to shower him with more awards and gifts. I was the witness for two of the occassions of which one of them was a TV Channel's Film Award night. At the jampacked stadium Resul got the biggest standing ovation and cheers even the so called "Super stars" of the Malayalam film industry could have ever imagined.

Reception at Thiruvananthapuram

Oscar and BAFTA awards

It was a very proud moment for me. I, as a Technician was really moved by the reception he got in Kerala - especially witnessing a fellow technician like Resul who remains on the set in the background as an invisible presence is being treated like a superstar. The spotlight and boquets are always reserved only for those who don the greasepaint. Those poor technicians who mould, make and and embellish them are treated as dirt. There are many Satellite TV Channels giving various Film awards - there are many awards for actors - Best Actor , Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting actress, Villain, Comedian, New comer, Best pair, Overall performance etc but NONE for Sound Recordists!

There was once a move made by some of the TV channels even to stop giving awards to technicians like Cinematographers and Editors etc. Their argument was why waste money on those who are behind the screen and the crowds just are not interested in seeing them! They only come to see the stars, the dances and to hear the songs and nothing else. But, strong opposition from Technician's Unions made them to rethink and some of the technicians managed get in the awards lists. Even when Oscar winner's names are published in the newapapers the technician's names are coveniently left out to save space. The full list never gets published! Sometime back even the Oscar telecast people wanted to trim down the length of the Ceremony but dispensing away with the Technical Awards distribution visuals!

Resul with CAS Award

When Resul got the CAS Award, which is a honour given to the Sound Mixers for the their career achievement in Motion Pictures by The Cinema Audio Society consisting of over 550 Sound Mixers and Associates from the Film and Television Industries. The Society was founded to create a proper channel of communication between the related sound crafts and between those instrumental to the production and distribution of film and television soundtracks. The winner can add “CAS” after their names in the film screen credit. The previous achievers include multiple Oscar winners like Ray Dolby, Robert Altman, Jack Solomon, and Walter Murch etc.

This important news item was conveyed by the Audiographers union to all the Print and TV Media houses, but none of them bothered to publish even a line or mention it in their newscasts! Strangely after the Oscars, the very same people were seen running after Resul for a glimpse of him!

This Oscar Award had changed their mindset. It had opened their eyes and the spot light is turned upon the hard working technicians, the unsung heroes of the film Industry. I hope from the next year onward the TV Channels and others will include an Award for the Sound Recordist too !

Monday, February 23, 2009


It had happened!

Resul had achieved the rare honour of bringing the THIRD OSCAR to India! His acceptance speech at the Oscar ceremony was truly great and bespoke his humility as well as his large heartedness!

All of us from the "BEYOND THE SOUL " team Congratulate him on this rarest of rare achievement!

Ajay ( Editor), R. Babu, Rajeev Anchal (Director) and Oscar Hero Resul

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Meeting an Old Friend - G.S.Panikkar

While I was in Ottapalam recently for the shooting of the film YUGAPURUSHAN, I rang up an old friend from my Institute days, my Senior, G.Sadasiva Panikkar ( G.S.Panikkar – 1970 – Direction Batch ). For the past few years he had been away from Trivandrum as he had settled at Cheruthruthy on the banks of the picturesque Bharathapuzha river, a popular location for many Malayalam films.

He had graciously come down to my hotel along with his son and we spent a few hours together reminiscing about our friends, films of the past and the present trends in the Film Industry.

I was the cinematographer for his maiden venture as Producer and Director of the Black and White Malayalam film AEKAKINI ( 1978) It was a tiny budgeted film made by a bunch of Film Institute graduates – Ravi Menon ( actor) , Suresh Babu and Raman Nair ( Editors), Panikkar and myself.

It was based on a short story by eminent Malayalam writer M.T.Vasudevan Nair. The film was well appreciated and acclaimed when it was released.

Myself and G.S.Panikkar


The countdown has begun for the Oscar Awards and Millions of Indians are hopefully waiting for the final announcement for the sake of Two Indian Nominees A.R.Rahman and Resul Pookutty who are slated to win the coveted Award! Already they have won the BAFATA Awards - the British equivalant of the Oscar for Danny Boyle's film Slumdog Millionaire.

Our prayers and well wishes are for both of them and especially to Resul who is our own boy - an Institutewallah!

Though he was my junior we met for the first time during the filming of the English film "BEYOND THE SOUL" Directed by Rajeev Anchal. It seems that as Resul is also from the Anchal neighbourhood he was picked up for the job. Any how it was our first meeting and instantly we became friends. I was really amazed at his patience and dedication to his craft as he minutely analyzed the various sounds into its components and recorded them effectively. After a long time I was shooting a Sync sound on location film ( far from the confines of the Studio floors!) and it was really nice to know the intricacies of live recording in such a noisy atmosphere of our country. The trolleys, cranes, HMI ballasts, paper frames, gels, generators all create their own levels of noises.

The first thing he did was to order out the catering unit to a far off place. He had an assortment of sound proofing rugs carpets etc to dampen the noises at source. He used various types of mikes placed at strategic places and also had an expert boom man to follow the actors. After the shot was taken it was his turn to call for silence on the sets and to record the ambience sounds both in mono and stereo. Altogether we had a nice time working at Trivandrum for that film.

We still keep in touch with each other through e-mails and I just missed meeting him last month while he was in Trivandrum for a felicitation function as I was away on a location shooting.

Listening Resul's Recordings at "BEYOND THE SOUL" Location !

I, along with Millions of Indians wish him and Rahman
Good Luck at The OSCARS!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year Celebrations 1969

On this New Year Day 2009, the Flash Back of the New Year Celebrations at the Film Institute runs through my mind once again as a fond memory!

It was really a night to remember- 40 years ago in the cool and misty atmosphere of Poona with all the singing and dancing in the auditorium - it was full of fun and joy.Though during my college days there were New Year Celebrations, it was a mild affair as being conducted under the strict supervision of Catholic Priests at the Madras Loyola college.

Amidst revellers boozed up with the local brew Tarra and other intoxicants I was with my friends abstaining from drinks and enjoying the fun taking place on the stage. Nearing Midnight the count down had started and at the count of Zero all lights were switched off and the arrival of the New year was welcomed with loud cheering. There was a big stampede towards the region where the girl students were standing ( they were only 4 or 5 and from Acting) but they were well protected by the Acting Boys who stood as bodyguards. Still a few managed to breakthrough the cordon and hugged and shook hands with some of the girls!

That was New Year Celebrations - Film Institute 1969

Wish You all A Very Happy and Peaceful 2009!