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.


Sami AR said...

Sir, never thought I would get an opportunity to get to know you so close!! Would love to read more!!

Thanks for sharing your experiences!! Do continue writing..


raja said...

hello sir, this is raja from prasad film & tv academy. we have met in the institute along with sunny sir.its wonderful to read a personal, unbiased experience from a great creative person like you. please keep sharing your experience with us.


Naga said...

Hi Ramachandra, this is naga (nagarajan lingam)of 83-86 batch. Your experience sounds almost similar to mine. Just change Loyola to Vivekananda and chemistry to physics.

I also remember the questions asked about some of the paintings i carried with me to the interview. You should give it to Rahat Yusufi for some of the questions he came up with. It went like this:

RF1:Why have you used purple and pink for the buffaloes?
Me:That's how i see them.
RF2:You mean you are colour-blind?
Me:No, there are reds and greens used along with the pinks and purple.
RF3:Well, i dont see pink buffaloes around me. How do you?
Me:Its done with instinct and intuition.
RF4:We give a very formal training here.(He looks around doubtfully at others for approval)How do you think your intuition will help you in such a formal course?
Me:Give it to me. I'll show you.

I had given up hope on my admission to the institute by the time i finished my interview. :)


Anonymous said...

You couldn't have seen 'Ryans Daughter' before joining the institute - if you are referring to David Leans Ryans Daughter, since it is a later release

A reader of your blog

Institutewallah said...

Thanks anonymous for pointing out the error. I always liked the cinematography in David Leans' films by Freddie Young,BSC and Rayan's Daughter somehow got into the list!

Anonymous said...

Though not formally educated in photography, I love the art. If I remember correctly Freddie Young got an academy award for his wok in Ryans Daughter - and what a marvellous work it was!! (John Mills also got an oscar for his role as a supporting actor and two other nominations were there for the movie)

It was not to show my knowledge in films that I pointed out the error, while writing blogs such as yours, blogs which people love to read, one shouldnt get carried away.

All the best to you Mr Babu

Ragesh said...


I was planning to apply for a course in Direction at FTII this year. After reading your article , I was wondering...How important is it to know how to draw/paint to be able to do a course in Direction? Coz' I suck at that & if it's very important, no point trying at all right?

Anonymous said...

Dear sir.....
Thanks for sharing your experiences. But it is personal. May be you want to share something from your life. Appreciated. But, nowadays who want other peoples experience. Also we all are thinking we are only living in the world. . Forget it. . But if you give some lessons about cinematography, camera movements and editing and actors mind frame or psychology and framing mmmmm.......about lenses .....the future generation will kneel down before you.
Because that is the final station..
Thank you sir.