Sunday, June 26, 2011

Farewell Party

Hailing from different parts of India as well the world, being together in the Institute for three years, sharing experiences we have developed bonds of unbreakable friendships that lasts till today. This uniqueness I have not seen nowhere else except the FTII-ians. Even I myself do not keep in touch with my college-mates from Loyola, Madras except one who stumbled upon me in Facebook after a gap of more than 40 years! The togetherness we were enjoying at the Institute was nearing an end and soon we will walk out of its hallowed gates to seek our fortunes in the Film Industry.

Myself and Murthy had to return to Poona for a few days from our shooting at Madras to appear for our Viva Voce examinations. Our old friends were back again together and we were all happy to meet each other after a short gap. When the Viva was over it was time to bid Adieu to our friends and the Institute.

We all organized a grand Get Farewell party and had a pleasant evening at a hotel in Deccan Gymkhana. Here are the memories from that night :

After dinner Group Photo

(From L to R - K.Ramachandra Murthy, Sushil K Jolly, Harish Gupta,
K. Ramachandra Babu, Prem Kumar Upadhyay, Naapo Gbande, Ramlal Agarwal, Venugopal Thakker, K. K.Jaiswal, Anil Dhanda, S D Deodhar and Surendra Sahu)

To see us off back to Madras not only our whole batch but also friends from other departments and also friendly foreign students turned up at the Poona Railway station.

At Poona Railway Station

Thursday, June 16, 2011


After our classes were over at the Institute my self and Kasturi R Murthy traveled by train to Madras to take up our first feature film assignment. Since Murthy had some relatives at Madras, he preferred staying with them. I joined John and Azad at their office at 49, Wallajah Road and was accommodated there for the time being. We did not have a separate room for ourselves and spent the day amongst the office staff and at night, we all slept in the settee and carpet in Producer Minnal's air conditioned cabin. In the hot and humid climate of Madras the air-conditioning was really a luxury. There was a nearby "Nair's Mess" at Triplicane which provided tasty Kerala type meals at very low prices. It was a small place and was always crowded and you have to wait for some time to manage a seat. The food and accommodation was quite comfortable.

As I was a novice in the Madras film Industry I had to learn m
any things about the procedures and working methods there. At the Institute you had all the equipments at your disposal and all you have to do is to write the list in the register and take them for the shooting. But here the equipments had to be hired from rental companies. Since Azad had worked in a few P.N.Menon films, he took me to Sujatha Movietone Unit, whom he said charge reasonably and had good workers. The camera we wanted was Arri IIC with option to use blimp as John wanted to use location sound recording. But the compact and portable Nagra recorder was not available at Madras as it was not considered a "Professional" equipment by the sound recordists there. Because of its small size and 1/4 inch tape they thought that it will create sync problems in lengthy shots. P.Devadas an alumni of the Institute who was at that time was with Chitralekha Film Co-operative Studio founded by Adoor Gopalakrishnan was contacted and he joined us with his Nagra equipment to do the sound recording.

We had planned to do our shooting in real houses instead of the usual practice of using studio sets using the household power supply. But to match the indoor light with the bright sunny out door light required the use of more powerful lights, such as 5KW or 10 KW. We could not use them as they would consume more power and the house connection will not
take up such heavy electrical load. Generators were rare and very expensive too; hence locations with 3 phase power supply were only selected if additional lighting is required. Apart from the usual Junior and Baby lights I asked for Colortron (USA) lights which I have used at the Institute and are known to give much brighter light out put. To my surprise I was given a Bombay made light which had a sealed beam spot light whose intensity can be varied step by step using a transformer and they called it "Colortran" light! Since it always produced a hot spot I asked for a few white boards to be made for bouncing the lights.

First Day of the Shooting

Having been brought up in Tamil Nadu, I haven't seen many Malayalam films. I have seen a few of them while we went to Kerala on summer holidays to my parent's place. I had seen Ramu Kariat's CHEMMEEN at Madras and P.N.Menon's KUTIYEDATHI ( Starring Jayabharathi ) and few other Malayalam films at the Institute. In fact I have never even witnessed the shooting of a Malayalam film either before I ventured into the film industry as Cameraman.

We were using ORWO Black and white negative film as Kodak film was much expensive and also hard to get and required and import licence. Since ORWO film was manufactured in Communist East Germany and was imported against Rupee payment it was freely available and cheaper than Kodak film. ORWO negative was available in two speeds, ORWO NP55 which was 64 ASA and ORWO NP27 which was 400 ASA but rated as 320 ASA.I used the faster NP 27 stock for indoor filming and the slower NP 55 for the out doors. Since we had white walls all around I did the lighting by bouncing a few units on the ceiling, the walls and on the white boards to get a soft day light effect.

I started the first day of my cinematographic career by taking a close up shot of Malayalam Actress Jayabharathi at a small house in CIT colony in T.Nagar. The scene we had to shoot was her interaction in the role of a school teacher with a few children, who were playing their role of her students. After the day’s shooting was over Jayabharathi called the Producer aside and expressed doubts whether some image will be recorded on the film as this novice cameraman had not put any light on my face. Instead he had focused the lights everywhere on the walls, ceiling, boards etc except my face. Having been used to the hot direct spot lights hitting her face in studio floors, it was but natural for her to think like that. Also I was very young (hardly 23 years old) thin and still not out of the Institute and an inexperienced hand. Having heard this doubtful remark from the Leading lady the Producer also started worrying about the results.

The next day I got a call from the Vijaya- Vauhini Laboratories asking me to meet the Laboratory Chief Mr. Sen Gupta. The reason was they were getting only blank film when they processed the test negative. In those days a 5 ft Test shot close up of a face is taken either in the beginning or at the end of the roll which will be processed first and after checking the density the duration of the processing is adjusted accordingly. Under exposed negatives will be brought up to required density by processing for more duration and over exposed ones for lesser time to obtain a uniform density final negative. Usually the density of the negative image is visually checked by experienced personnel and may vary from person to person. Also there will be a variation of the skin tone of the actor in the close up. In order to overcome this I took a Test shot of 18% grey card (considered to be equivalent average skin tone) and asked them to develop it and measure the density in the Densitometer and keep it as standard for the processing. It was the grey card that they found instead of the close up and that created the confusion.

The Laboratory Chief Mr. Sen Gupta agreed to my contention but requested me to have the face close up as test since the Lab technicians over the years are used to that practice. Finally when the rushes were printed and projected in the Lab theatre all anxieties vanished and the producer and the Director were fully satisfied with the results.

Madhu who had by then been well known all over India for his role in CHEMMEEN was the leading actor in our film. On his first day in our set, unfamiliar with the formalities existing in Malayalam film industry I addressed him as "Mr.Madhu". He turned and gave a piercing look at me, a thin young man of only 23 years for calling a top hero like him in this manner. I noticed it and continued " Please come and stand in position for the lighting". He understood the nature of the Institute bred people as he himself was the product of National School of Drama and willingly came and stood in his mark for me to adjust the lighting. Later on I found everybody else on the sets were addressing him as "Madhu Sir" and I too followed it!

A still from the film

We continued our shooting in that house location and also in the streets of Madras for a few days. We shifted to a flat at Mahalingapuram which functioned as our production office as well as our residence and guest house. In the meantime the dates of our Viva Voce examination at Poona were intimated to us. So, during a break in the schedule myself and Murthy left for Poona.

Friday, June 3, 2011

John Abraham plans his first Feature film

When the strike at the Institute got extended for a long time, our parents were instructed by the authorities to take us back home, to cool our tempers. While at home I was informed that John Abraham is planning to direct a Malayalam film based on a script by M. Azad and both of them were at Madras. So I went there and met them. They had in mind to have S. Ramachandra as the Cinematographer for the film as he was a close friend and room mate of Azad. They have offered me an opportunity to work as an assistant cameraman in that film. Since I have still not completed the course and was looking for an opening to enter the film industry, I readily agreed to their proposal so that I can get familiar with the working methods in Malayalam films.

Azad and John in serious discussion

In a jovial mood

The producer was Mr. Minnal, who was running an AD Agency called Mars Advertising Company located at 49, Wallajah Road, Triplicane. The Malayalam film titled "VIDYARTHIKALE ITHILE ITHILE" was to be produced under the banner Mehboob Movies. At that time both John and Azad were staying there in the office itself and were working on the script as the dates of the shooting schedule have not yet been fixed.

After my return to the Institute the strike prolonged for some more time and finally ended as the Government had agreed to constitute an enquiry commission. Our courses were nearing completion and I was wondering about the future, whether to try my luck in the Bombay film industry or in the Madras film field. In those days Film Institute graduates had a tough time finding work as they were thought to have only bookish knowledge and no practical experience. They had to struggle for some years assisting the veterans in the industry before they get a break. Though I was offered a job at the Hindustan Thompson AD agency, I declined because the work involved was only making sample films in 16mm for clients to view and I was more interested in doing feature films.

I was thinking of going down south at Madras which was a much familiar city to me as I had done my graduation from Loyola College there. Also there was no language problem too as I had my schooling in Tamil medium. Then I received a letter from John and Azad saying that they have decided to give me a break in the film as the principal cinematographer! It came as a great surprise as I was offered this film directly without working as an assistant to anybody at any capacity in the film industry and that too before the completion of my final examinations. I was really lucky indeed to have got such an easy entry in films ! I asked my old room mate and batch mate Kasturi Ramachandra Murthy, who was also keen on going to Madras to work as my assistant in the film and he readily agreed to my proposal and joined me.

Letter from John

After a few days I received the official letter from the producer confirming that the shooting is scheduled from 5 th June 1971 on wards and I was expected to be in Madras on the 1st of June to attend the pre-production work.

Producer's Letter

My Practical Examinations and Viva Voce were not over when I started my career as a Cinematographer in the film industry. After shooting the first schedule of the film, myself and Murthy returned to Poona finish our exams!