Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A friend passes away in a far off land

We had many foreign students studying in various departments during my days at the Film Institute (1968-71). They were mostly from Afghanistan, Africa, Singapore and from neighbouring countries  Nepal, Bhutan, Ceylon etc.Each course had quota for two Foreign students and were mostly filled up. In our Cinematography class were Prem Kumar Upadhyaya from Nepal and Naapo Gbande from Ghana. Since Prem knew Hindi very well, we never felt he was a foreigner. Naapo was the most silent one who always spoke in a soft voice.Though he was much older than many of us, he looked young , tall and trim with a thin figure.  Away from home he was a little bit homesick and  always had a worried look. In due course we all became friends and he became happy and concentrated in his studies.

As a model in Lighting exercise 
We used to have Lighting exercises in our Still Photography classes and we ourselves used to stand in as Model for each others practicals. Also we worked as a three member unit for our cinematography exercises etc.  Remember the photo, I published many years back in this Blog which was the main reason for me to write this Blog on my Institute days. The person pushing the dolly is Naapo Gbande and I am there holding the reflector while Jaya Bhaduri faces the camera handled by Mr.Edwards.
Camera Practicals - Naapo pushing the Dolly
During the strike at the Film  Institute, all foreign students supported me and stood by me at all times. In fact Naapo and David Ankora ( Sound Engineering) were always beside me to protect me from any intended attack by the Acting students.
David, me and Naapo
 When it was time to leave the Institute a whole lot of my foreign friends turned up at the railway station to see me off. Almost half of my friends in the photograph are from far off lands.
Send off at Poona Railway station
We parted ways....immersed in our life and work we could not communicate with them later on. Meanwhile my batch mates Ramlal Agarwal and Debu Deodhar passed away  some years back. Last month in the International Dilm Festival of Kerala held at Thiruvananthapuram there were some films from Ghana. I wanted to meet those film makers to inquire about my old friends Naapo and  David. But somehow I missed meeting them. I thought of using the Internet to start searching for Naapo and I came to know of the sad news that he passed away on October 17 th 2015.

Naapo in Ghana
Given below is an  obituary written by Kouame Koulibaly :
A great cinematographer is gone

The film industry in Ghana lost one of its extremely brilliant cinematographers when Mr Naapo Gbande  died on October 17, 2015  at the 37 Military Hospital in Accra. He was 76.
Mr Gbande worked for several years with the defunct Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC) where he shot numerous newsreels, documentaries and feature films.
He later moved on to the National Film and Television  Institute (NAFTI) as a lecturer and many of the current professional cinematographers in this country passed through his hands.
The soft-spoken Mr Gbande worked as the cinematographer on several projects with veteran film director, Mr Kwaw Ansah, who described him as an extremely creative and diligent collaborator.
“I worked with him on Harvest At 17, Love Brewed In The African Pot, Heritage Africa and several television commercials.
“He always tried to get images that truly complemented the essence of whatever was being shot. His work brought true meaning  to the functions of a DOP  on a film set,” Mr Ansah said.
A native of Kpandai in the Northern Region, Mr Gbande realised early in life that photography  was his calling and he diligently pursued it throughout his working life. Mr Gbande was trained in film photography at the Film and Television Institute of India at Pune in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
Experienced lighting technician, Mr Tetteh ‘Wrally’ Apain,  worked with Mr Gbande on numerous productions and they remained close friends.
“I enjoyed being on a set with him because he always knew what he was about. He truly understood what photography was about and every lighting technician cherished his presence during productions,” Mr Apain said about his late friend.
Apart from his teaching and practical work, Mr  Gbande was also a facilitator at several cinema workshops  in this country and abroad and he published practical guides on lighting and camera movement.
The  late cinematographer will be buried on Saturday, November 14, 2015 at the Madina Cemetery in Accra.  He will be sorely missed by the film making fraternity.  
Adieu my friend, though we couldn't meet afterwards your memory will always linger in our minds forever. Rest In Peace

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Homage to Cinematographer Ashok Kumar, ISC

It was the most crowded day of the year at Thekkinkadu Maidanam at Thrissur, for it was the final day of the famous Thrissur Pooram Festival, in 1976.  People from all over Kerala had thronged there to watch the visually spectacular Kudamattom ( Changing of the colourful umbrellas ) and the massive  parade of caparisoned elephants, hear the chenda melam and the final blasts of spectacular fireworks. My self and renowned Director Ramu Kariat  with crew were looking for a vantage point in the ground for placing the camera and artistes to shoot a few sequences for our Malayalam film DWEEPU. While passing by,  we luckily came across another pair of Director and Cinematographer who were also there to shoot the Pooram festival. Director J.D. Thottan and Cinematographer Ashok Kumar were there for the shoot of  their film NURAYUM PATHAYUM. There is a saying in Malayalam " Poorapparambil kandu muttiya pole" (like  meeting in the crowded Pooram Grounds). It was not such a  meeting either. as Director J.D. Thottan and Poet Vayalar Rama Varma had lived for some time below the flat where John Abraham and I were staying during the shooting of our film VIDYARTHIKALE ITHILE ITHILE.

Myself, Ramu Kariat, Krishnan Munnad (AD), Ashok Kumar, J.D.Thottan

I had seen  John Sankaramangalam's  JANMABHOOMI ( cinematography by Ashok Kumar), while I was a student at the Film Institute of India, Poona in 1969.  Later on Director P.N.Menon came to the Institute with his film KUTTIYEDATHI, also cinematography by Ashok Kumar.  Afterwards, when I started working at Madras I had often been to the sets of Director P.N.Menon and had watched Ashok working there. Once I went to Kollam Neela Hotel with Director N.N. Pisharoady for obtaining the dates of  Rani Chandra for our film RAGGING. At the time the  shooting of  Director P.N.Menon's film CHEMBARATHY was going on at the hotel and I found Ashok working  and spent some time there.

At Madras, Director P.N.Menon asked me to shoot in place of Ashok for a day,  a few scenes of Surasu for the film DARSANAM. After the shoot I was requested to shoot the title cards at their office. When I went there, there were only blank cards but P.N.Menon came there with some charcoal sticks and wrote the cards so fast, before I fixed one and photographed it, the next one was ready!

P.N.Menon played a great part in molding the cinematography of Ashok. He never gave time or enough lights and forced  Ashok  to improvise all the time and do experiments. He could learn how to use minimum lights and create great naturalistic lighting effect. Being a painter P.N.Menon  planned his shots with light and shade and gave complete freedom for Ashok to experiment with cinematographic techniques.That mentoring by Director P.N.Menon made a lot of difference to Ashok' style of cinematography in his later career.

After his film MULLUM MALARUM, Director J.Mahendran was looking for a cinematographer for his film UDHIRIPPOOKKAL. He asked me to work in that film, but unfortunately I was doing Director Bharathan's film  and the dates were overlapping and  I expressed my inability to him. Then he asked me to suggest a suitable cinematographer from the Malayalam film industry and the first name that came to my mind was Ashok Kumar. Thus started a very creative and successful collaboration  between Director J.Mahendran and Ashok Kumar, which resulted in some of the great films of Tamil Industry.

His later Tamil films were more commercial by nature and his style changed into glamour photography  as seen in films like Jeans where he had exquisitely captured the beauty of Aishwarya Roy like never before. 

He was also in the forefront in promoting women cinematographers by taking B.R.Vijayalakshmi and Suhasini under his wing. Also many people are of the impression that he passed out from Poona Film Institute, but he had done his DFT ( Diploma in Film Technology ) from the Madras ( Adayar) Institute.

During the shooting of Director Sasi Kumar's RANDU LOKAM due to the non availability of enough dates from the actors, we planned to have a second unit to shoot simultaneously for a few days. I requested Ashok and he gladly accepted and worked alongside  me. Also when I was unable to complete Director P.N. Menon's Tamil film DEVATHAI, halfway through Ashok joined and completed the film and both our names can be found together in the credit titles.

After the 70 MM film PADAYOTTAM Director Jijo was looking for some more advanced technology and I suggested him to go for 3D and gave him some books on it. Armed with that , he went to U.S. and returned back with some test films which were projected at Udaya Studios Alleppey. Ashok who was there at the time shooting Director Fazil's film  watched it too and offered his time, unconditionally, and thus got into India's First 3D film. I was invited  to the sets of MY DEAR KUTTICHATTHAN by Director Jijo and watched the shooting for a day at the NAVODAYA Studios.

Although he concentrated more on Tamil Films he found time to come to Thiruvananthapuram  for the Inauguration of Indian Society of Cinematographers by Master Cinematographer Subrata Mitra and became a Founder Member of ISC

Though he passed away physically his contribution to Indian Cinema will stand as testimony of his Cinematographic  Art forever.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ganesh Chaturthi at Poona - 1968

Now that Ganesh Chaturthi is being celebrated with all pomp and grandeur all over India, in those days it was celebrated only  inside homes at  Southern parts of  India. It was much a low key celebration confined to the temples and homes. In my childhood the clay Ganesha idols were individually hand crafted by the potter. I too used make my own Ganesha idol with clay for worshiping at home. Later on came the ready made moulds on which clay was applied and the idol was ready in minutes. Then it grew bigger and bigger with plaster of Paris idols, chemical dyes etc..   I had first experienced a big Ganesh Chaturthi procession, with huge crowds dancing with the drum beats and celebration  in 1968 at Poona. It  was also my first time  living in Northern  India. At that time I was a student of First year Diploma  course in Motion Picture Photography at the Film Institute. There were quite a few festivals like Naag Panchami, Holi, Ganesh Chaturthi etc which were widely celebrated.

Along with a few of  my classmates I  went to watch the Ganesh Chaturthi celebration and also to take some photos.R.S.Agarwal and Debu Deodhar were  from Poona and were our local guides and took us around to various places.

One of the Floats
Debu found a float from his area in the procession and took me also for a short ride in the celebrations and also posed with his friends for a photo. It was really a memorable experience, which rush to my mind when seeing vehicles carrying Ganesha idols pass by in front of my house, at Thiruvananthapuram !

With  Debu Deodhar on my Right

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Which is India's First 70mm Film ?

 Which is India's First 70mm Film ?

Usually the answer given to the above question  is SHOLAY,  released in 1975.

 Because it was a highly successful Box Office hit, every one thought it must be so. But the fact is  Pachhi’s 'AROUND THE WORLD' (1967/ Technicolor) was the first Indian film to be actually released in the 70mm widescreen format, and also the first with a magnetic, six-track stereophonic soundtrack. Just watch the opening credit sequence and the answer is crystal clear!

From the Opening Titles
Since actual 70mm (or 65mm) cameras and film were very expensive at the time, both 'Around the World' and ‘Sholay’ were shot on traditional 35mm film and the  Academy 1.37:1 ratio picture was subsequently blown up, cropped and matted to a 1: 2.21 ratio 70mm  frame.  Later films like "Padayottam,"‘The Burning Train,’ ‘Shaan’ and subsequent ‘70mm films’ were shot in CinemaScope, which has almost the same ‘aspect ratio of 1:2.35  and hence  there was negligible loss of image on the sides.

The original Academy aperture and the 70 mm Blow up area

A Frame from Padayottam
In the case of both 'Around the World' and 'Sholay' exactly four 70mm prints were released in the first instance: two were allotted to the Bombay-Maharashtra territory, and one each to Delhi and U.P. And yet both films were screened in 70mm at two cinema halls in Delhi ('Around The World' at Odeon and Liberty and 'Sholay' at Plaza and Liberty). This was achieved by shuttling the 70mm print allotted to Delhi between the two halls. T he Malayalam 70 mm film PADAYOTTAM also had only Four 70mm prints taken and was released in Trivandrum, Ernakulam, Trichur and Calicut centres.

Over the decades 'Sholay' has acquired such a dedicated fan following that fans insist that it was India's first film in 70mm and six-track stereophonic sound, even though the film's makers have never made any such claim.Now that we are celebrating the Centenary of Indian Cinema we should correct such errors which may pass down in to the History of Cinema.

Question  No: 2

 Which is India's First CinemaScope Film ?

The most common  answer will be ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’ (Hindi-Urdu, 1959) (Hindi -1959) B & W, CinemaScope film   which was done in technical collaboration with 20th Century Fox. 

In a way the answer is correct. But  CinemaScope is the Registered  Trade Mark  of 20 th Century Fox  International Corporation and Royalty had to be paid for the use of the name "CinemaScope" in the publicity material.
Licence from 20 th Century Fox
In order to overcome that various countries developed their own widescreen systems such as Hypergoner, Superscope, Technirama, Superscope 235, Techniscope, Arriscope, SovScope, etc. all employing 2X Anamorphic processes.

The bilingual Indo-Soviet film Pardesi (Hindi-Urdu/ Russian/ dirs: Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Vasili M. Pronim) was released in 1957. The film is called ‘Khozhdenie za tri morya’ in Russian and its subtitled English version is known as ‘Journey Beyond Three Seas.’ India’s first wide-screen film was in SovColor. However, even though it starred Nargis, the most successful heroine of the time, this biopic about Afanasi, a 15th century Russian explorer in India, did not get a release beyond  a few left-leaning art house cinemas. It was shot using the SovScope Anamorphic processes which was quite similar to CinemaScope. Its Censor Certificate states ‘Colour, Scope’ and gives the name of its filmmakers as ‘Meera Movies’ and ‘Son[?]a Sansar International'. Some songs in colour as well as in Black and White is available for viewing in YouTube. Can this film be considered as India’s first wide-screen ( Scope)  film ?

While viewing Pardesi I was struck by the uncanny resemblance to the lighting style employed in a dance sequence, to that of Kaagaz Ke Phool which came two years later!

Pardesi 1957

Kaagaz Ke Phool 1959
 Both the Cinematographers   thought alike!
 It is time for our historians to rethink and rewrite the History of Indian Cinema in this Centenary  Year with more and more research.

For More details  Click HERE for  Indiapedia article  - CinemaScope films in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Vidyarthikaley Ithile Ithile - Final Part

The duration of the shooting extended to  nearly a year  in several schedules due to John's vagaries and Producer's financial conditions. Inspite of that Producer Minnal had immense faith in John and had roped in some of the popular artistes such as, character actor S.V. Ranga Rao, comedienne Manorama and M.R.R Vasu from the Tamil Industry  to act in his film. Manorama even had sung a Malayalam song " Chinchilam chiluchilam" with Adoor Bhasi for the first and only time in this film, under the baton of M.B.Sreenivasan.

We  were fortunate to have M.B Srinivasan as our Music Director. In those days the Institute graduates were looked upon with contempt and suspicion by the veterans of the film world. But MBS was different, he immediately took a liking for us and soon became our friend, philosopher and guide. Along with John Abraham and Script Writer M.Azad , I used to attend the song composing sessions and rehearsals at his Cenatoph Road residence at Chennai, which was enhanced by warmth and hospitality of Zahida Deedi, his Kashmiri Wife. 

It was at MBS's residence that , I met Yesudas for the first time. In those days the singers learned the songs and had the rehearsals at the residence of the Music Directors before going to the Recording theatres. They have to be well prepared as recordings are done with full orchestra and in one full take and any mistake means that the whole take had to be once again taken in full! Unlike the present cut and paste era, in those days every sound was recorded live, in the studio. During the rehearsals the musicians, singers and other assembled at one place and practiced to perfection. 

During the rehearsals I listened to MBS singing the song “ Nalanda…. Thakshasila …” written by Vayalar Rama Varma. Later on, I heard the recorded song sung by Yesudas. But in spite of the great voice somehow I felt that the song sung by MBS even with poor Malayalam pronunciation and voice quality was superior and Yesudas could never match the feelings and emotional quality of the song. This I am not saying to belittle Yesudas as a singer. Any Director who sits during song composing sessions will agree with me. When it comes from the Music Director the impact is direct and never a second hand product. It comes from deep inside the Music Director's soul itself as he had been living with the song for many days. A singer could never match the emotional feel of the song as sung by the music director as at the maximum he can only imitate the Music Director. There lies the difference between the original and a copy.

There was one more song "Velichame Nayichaalum" sung by S.Jankai which is still very popular even today.

John had a great sense of Music and sings fairly well and in spite of his eccentricities was much liked by MBS. He treated him like a younger brother and advised him against excessive drinking. John had the freedom to knock at his door at any hour of the day or night and MBS was always willing to play host to him. It was this relationship that was instrumental for John to cast MBS as the eccentric professor in "Agraharathil Kazhuthai", a Tamil Film, produced by John's sister and Charly John.

MBS always stood for the working class and fought for their genuine and reasonable rights and welfare. With the late Nemai Ghosh in the Sixties he established the early Trade Unions for the Film Industry at Chennai. He made me to become a Member of the Cine Technician’s Guild  the first Trade union for Cine workers in South India.

Another escapade by John 

One day I received a call from K.G. George  frantically asking for John’s whereabouts, and he told me to find John immediately and keep him in some safe place as John’s life is in danger .  I asked him the reason for it. It so happened that a drunk John went to meet George who was working as Assistant to Ramu Kariat for the film MAYA. George was supposed to be at the Jayamaruthi pictures  office which was a part of the residence of the Producer T.E.Vasudevan. When  John went there George was not there and the doors were closed. The house had two gates, the larger one was permanently locked and the other smaller one open. John was standing in front of the locked gate and rang the bell. No one opened the door, but he could see some movement behind the window and sensed that there are indeed people inside the house. Actually what happened was, there were only womenfolk inside and seeing  John’s shabby dress and beard mistook him for a beggar and did not open the door.

Since whoever was inside were not deliberately opening the door, John banged at the gate and made a big noise. Those inside were frightened by this sudden development. Finding no one coming out of the house,  he jumped over the gate, reached the main door and started banging it repeatedly. In fear of their life the inmates called their near and dear for help. The news spread like wildfire in the film industry as Producer T.E.Vasudevan of Jayamaruthi pictures  was one of the most respected  people in Madras. It was atrocious that someone created trouble when only women folk were there, and it was decided that whoever responsible was to be given a severe beating. Harry Pothen’s drivers, Padmini’s brother Aniyan, Sobhana Parameswaran Nair, Manikandan Nair  and a whole lot of people were in search of the culprit John. They were looking for him in every possible place at Madras.

It was then George telephoned and told me that any moment they will catch hold of John and beat him up. I then contacted our Producer Minnal and together searched and found John in one of his regular arrack den. We told him a lie that his brother at Kumbakonam wants him to come there on some urgent matter. John was taken to Egmore Railway station and was put in a second class compartment (those were the days of First, Second and third classes) and waited till the train left. On seeing the shabbily dressed John sitting in the second class compartment, a gentleman passenger  seated nearby was staring at him with suspicion. Sensing that, John immediately pulled out his ticket from his pocket, showed it to him and said “Look, I have got a second class ticket”. The man hung his head in  shame as he had thought John was some vagrant travelling without ticket !

John returned months later well dressed with his shirt tucked in and with a clean shaved face and a nice moustache. He had transformed himself into an entirely new person, totally unrecognizable!

Our Producer Minnal had entrusted the safeguarding of John to me and always handed over the money for our daily expenses to me and not to John.  John was left penniless so that he will not go after liquor. From the money I had, I paid for all   John’s needs like food, beedi and other expenses but liquor was the forbidden item.. I was always with him to see that he doesn’t get access to country liquor sold under the Kodambakkam bridge. Even if he begs, I will not give him money for drinks but once in a while,  I’ll give  him a rupee for a ganja smoke. When he is high on ganja he is a very different personality altogether, very docile and soft mannered and becomes creative singing songs and composing poems. I found that only liquor makes him violent and boisterous bringing out his Satanic nature.

Once we were invited for a party at Ramu Kariat’s place at Ashok Nagar attended by celebrities like Vayalar, Kannadasan, Harry Pothen, Sobhana Parameswaran Nair, K.G. George and others. In those days the last bus from Ashok Pillar left at 8 P.M. and the only other mode of public transport was cycle rickshaw.  After the party was over it was my duty to take John back to our flat at Mahalingapuram  and it was past  1 AM.  I engaged a cycle rickshaw for our journey back and managed to get the fully drunk John board the vehicle. While we were travelling on the deserted Kodambakkam High Road John burst into singing loudly some old song. Once in a while he will put his leg on the shoulder of the rickshaw driver. I had to pacify the driver and take off John’s legs from his shoulder. Fortunately there was no police patrol at that time, otherwise we both would have ended up in the lock up.
In spite of his wayward life and addiction to alcohol John  had a great number of friends and admirers amongst the cream of intelligentsia of Madras. Apart from the film industry  he had contacts with people like literary critic M. Govindan,  Danseuse Chandralekha, Tamil writer Jayakanthan, Painter K.C.S. Panikkar, Theatre group Madras players etc. He had the extraordinary capacity to mingle with any class or type  of people. Once while the editing was going on at the New Era Lab  suddenly he was missing. He was later found to be among  the mourners dancing in the funeral procession that passed by the Lab. Even though I had never seen him reading any book, mention the name of any book and he will quote or say something about it.

Our shooting  unit  entirely consisted of Film Institute Graduates - Director John Abraham, Scriptwriter M.Azad, Editor Ravi  and Sound Recordist Devadas. At that time Devadas was working in the Chitraleka Film Co-operative in Trivandrum and he used to come and join us with the Nagra Recorder as at that time many Sound recordists at Madras were reluctant to use a portable recorder.

John was open to new ideas and planned one sequence of stop motion animation of Adoor Bhasi's character riding without a bike being chased by Dracula in a nightmare sequence.It took one full day to shoot with my friend Kasturi Murthy hand cranking one frame at a time using the Mitchell camera and Adoor Bhasi moving a little at time holding the position of riding an imaginary motorbike.

One of those days we shot a small sequence  on the sets of a studio where  popular Tamil Director A.P.Nagarajan was shooting a Devotional film, where our child artiste solicit donation to help a noble cause.
 Below are the two frames from the original camera  negative  taken when the camera was test run after the film from  loaded magazine was threaded in the camera. I found this piece from the NG negative cuttings in the editing room and it is the only surviving " working still of my First feature film!
Two frames from the Camera negative

A discussion :  John in centre and myself on the right

 The story was an adaptation of a French film by Azad and John was not happy about introducing the  so called " Commercial elements" in his film. He often used to say that it was not his kind of film and ultimately decided to include and "Alienation sequence" in the film. 

In a Ganja smoker's den John, Azad. Deavadas, Editor Ravi and myself discussed about the film we were making and denounced the film saying that it doesn't represent our true intentions and likings and not the kind of film we, as responsible film makers should have attempted to make. Although we actually shot the scene, it  was ultimately edited out of the film for obvious reasons.

Finally a year after the film  started, it finally made it to the theatres in Kerala 1973, but for a lukewarm reception.