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.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

D.Gautaman , Genius away from the limelight

When I joined the Film Institute, Poona in 1968  one of the Diploma Films from the earlier batch which impressed me most was " A Love Tale" which was Directed by D.Gautaman. The way a car accident sequence's  shots were edited was a real eye opener of how shots can be taken and used to create an impact much like the famous shower scene in PSYCHO directed by  Alfred  Hitchcock. The film went on to win many awards Nationally and Internationally. His  student Documentary " The Builders" also won a few awards.

D. Gautaman, as student at Film Institute

 A brilliant student, Gautaman passed out from the Film Institute with Gold Medal along with Prem Sagar ( Motion Picture Photography) and Navin Nischol (Acting)  who both became stars in their respective fields.

At the Convocation -  Front row, extreme right is Gautaman and next to him is Prem Sagar

I was sure that Gautaman will definitely  become a great feature film maker in the Indian Film scenario. For some time he had worked in the Institute as part time lecturer and had also directed a Diploma film "A View from the Fort" in which Radha Saluja did the lead role and I think cienematography was done by Bala Mahendran. It was during his sojourn at the Institute I had the the opportunity to get acquainted with him.He was quiet by nature, with an unassuming personality.It was he who proclaimed that John Abraham was a Genius, says his friend and alumni Kabeer Rowther.

Gautaman later on joined Shri Ramu Kariat to assist him in the Malayalam Feature film ABHAYAM. It ws he who recommended Bala Mahendran as a talented Cinematographer to Director Ramu Kariat  and brought him to Madras from Ceylon. In those days except for Acting students in Bombay few of the Institute Graduates could get a break in the film industry. He found it hard to face  life's insecurities at the Film Industry and sought security of Government job at the Films Division. I was told that he was selected for the job of Producer by none other than the great V. Shantaram. He was much impressed when during the interview Gautaman recollected from memory a long list of films directed by Shantaram !

For Films Division he had produced many Nationally and Internationally award winning Documentaries and rose up to the top as the Chief Producer and retired. Though he ws a native of Kerala, he settled with his family in Bangalore. After retirement  he became a Member of  Advisory Committee of U.P.S.C. While on duty in Delhi for conducting an interview he had  massive heart attack and passed away on 18 th February 2013.

He was 73, and  is survived by his wife Saramma and son Soumendhu.

It was a great loss to the Film Industry that he did not attempt to make any Feature film though he was one of the most talented Directors of our time. But Films Division becme the winner by having him at its helm and Documentaries became his forte. Film Industry's loss became Films Division's gain!

Unfortunately his passing way was not given its due importance in the media since  he chose to  work away from the limelight. All I could find only was a  small obituary note in Mathrubhumi Malayalam Newspaper.

He really deserves much more recognition than this. I do hope that his friends and well wishers would  come out with their memoirs and fill the void. I was told that even  on the night before his death he was talking of his time at the  Film Institute  and reminiscing about his fellow alumni who made it into the film industry.

My heartfelt condolences to his bereaving family.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Vidyarthikale Ithile Ithile Part 3 - Arrival of Bala Mahendran at Madras

One day while walking towards our Producer Minnal's office at Wallajah Road, Triplicane, a tall lean man approached me. When he came near I recognized him, it was Bala Mahendran with out his French beard. I had known him at the Institute as he was my senior by one year and was also  the batch mate of John Abraham and Azad. During the Institute days he had a different look with  receding hair and a French beard  and had not started wearing his trade mark cap. He was mostly  found in the company of foreign students since he was a native  of Ceylon. Even though most of the time he spoke in English, since his name was Bala Mahendran I guessed that he must be knowing Tamil and I used to speak to him in Tamil when ever I met  him on a few  occasions. He was a reclusive person and had only a few friends mostly foreigners and some South Indians at the Institute. His peers at the Institute told me that he was such a romantic person that even when he visited Budhawar Peth Red light  area he used to take flowers, kaajal, bras etc as gifts to his regular  girls there.

Bala Mahendran

A tired looking Balu was extremely  happy to see me at Wallajah Road and narrated his sad condition.  D. Gautaman, his senior at the Institute in  Direction  who was working as assistant to Director Ramu Kariat had recommended Bala Mahendran for his next colour film NELLU. Hoping that the film will start soon, Bala arrived in Madras and was staying with some distant relatives. The start of the film got delayed and with no income, his relatives were about to show him the door. He was on the look out for alternate accommodation and  had no money as Ramu Kariat had gone to Kerala for the shooting of another film. He also didn't have much friends at Madras and was roaming around. It was then he happened to see me on Wallajah road.  On learning about his pathetic condition, I offered to take him up with me for staying in our producer's flat at Mahalingapuram. At that time there was a break in our shooting schedule and all others like John, Azad etc  had left for their native places and I was living there alone and it was easy to accommodate him there.

My producer Minnal on his way to his office used to come there and   give me  money  for the day's food expenses and I used that amount to feed both of us. After a few days I had to go home for Deepavali  and Bala could not be left there as  he was not in a position to meet his daily expenses in my absence. So I decided to take him along  with me to my  home at  Maduranthakam which was 50 miles away from Madras. There he stayed for a few days with my family and then we returned to Madras together. Soon  Ramu Kariat returned from his Kerala location shooting and Bala managed to get some money and found alternate accommodation, but he still remained unemployed.

In the mean time myself and Kasturi Kurthy  had to go Poona for my Viva Voce  examinations. But a few days of the busy actress Jaya Bharathi was available and all of a sudden the shooting of a song sequence was planned on the same dates. So I had to find an alternate cameraman to do the  work  in my absence. Since Bala was from the Institute and  batch mate of John and Azad, I suggested to let Bala do the work.  John preferred some one from the Institute and he accepted Bala. Thus Bala started his career in feature films  by cranking the camera under the direction of  John Abraham for a song picturisation sequence in the film VIDYARTHIKALE ITHILE ITHILE.

The film Nellu took still longer to materialize and Bala used to visit us often as we were all from the Poona Film Institute. K.G.George who had joined Ramu Kariat also was part of our group.  In the meantime Director P.N.Menon was on the lookout for a cameraman for his B&W Malayalam film " PANIMUDAKKU " ( Strike). Bala got the break to work as an independent cameraman for a feature film.The film was to be shot in a place called Puthukkad near Trichur, Kerala. At that time Bala didn't have  an exposure meter the essential tool for any cameraman. He didn't have the money to buy one either and even if he had, he need to place an order with the Xaca company at Mount road and it will take weeks to arrive from Bombay.

Since I wasn't shooting at that time, I lent him my own exposure meter and also sent my friend Kasturi Murthy who was working with me to be his assistant for the film. After the shooting started, from the money  I obtained from the producers of that film I purchased a new Sekonic exposure meter and sent it over to Bala's location.  Kasturi Murthy later kept on associated with him for  many of Bala's films.

The film NELLU  still needed more time  to materialize, but soon  Ramu Kariat started a B&W film MAYA and gave Bala the opportunity to work with him. Ramu Kariat was the main  reason behind Bala coming to India from Ceylon.  Meanwhile he had changed his name into Balu Mahendra and is now known only by that name.

In spite of having done this much for him he had  never  shown the courtesy of inviting me inside his  home on the two or three occasions that I visited his residence at  Madras. He always met me at the gate and saw me off, never letting me in. Strange!

May be he was too much  protective or possessive   about his family !