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.