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.