Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Razor encounters over the years

As a child I watched in wonder my grand father stropping a straight razor on a belt like leather piece at my ancestral home  Sakaramangalam, Thamallackal in Kerala. He would then apply some water and the a coat of soap and deftly hold the razor in his hands and   shave  his daily growth on his chin. He did not keep a mustache and the whole daily ritual was performed on the verandah remains well etched in my mind.. These are the earliest memories of my grand father who was an ayurvedic vaidyar.
Straight Razor blade
Later on I had watched the barber using it deftly on lathered faces of men  whenever I go for a hair cut in the hair cutting Saloon at Maduranthakam where  we had settled. Before hair cutting the barber used to spray water from a green bottle fitted with a metal pump on to the thick growth of hair on my head. It was really a blissful experience as some  the water mist cooled by the swinging overhead  punkah falls on your face. Those were the days without electricity and the punkah was the only means of circulating air and served like a fan. It was a rectangular piece of fabric fixed on a framework and hung on the ceiling. It was swung back and forth to make the air move which was by means pulling it back and forth. There was an arrangement of rope and pulleys which ended outside the shop where sat a boy , the barber's son pulling the rope up and down rhythmically and often nodding in to sleep. The spray and the punkah were the star attraction which made my monthly visit to the Barber shop joyful even though I didn't like the way he cuts my hair, which was a crew cut ( as in the military armed forces)
Punkah Wallah
During my adolescent years I keenly watched my uncles and other relatives deftly working up lather  from a round white soap with a brush and applying it on their face. One of my uncles used one blade for one year, sharpening it on a curved glass sharpener. Another cousin  will shave without using a razor, just holding the blade in his fingers.

By the time I started shaving the stainless steel razors consisted of three parts, you just put the blade on the top part then the bottom one and screw the handle.
Three Part Safety Razor     
The blade easily available at that time was  Ashoka Stainless steel which was a good one, Made in India and affordable though 7O'Clock was an expensive imported alternative, I remember buying a foreign NACET blade when the Burmese Refugees arrived and sold foreign goods on the roadside near Madras Park Railway station. later on it became Burmah Bazaar.Other blades like Gillette, Wilkinson, Topaz etc made their presence in the Indian Market. Some of the blades are so poor in quality they were only used for sharpening pencils etc. Bharat blade was much preferred in the Film editing rooms for scraping and joining film rolls.

Varieties of Blades
Meanwhile developments took place in razor design and a single piece twist and open  model came out in Stainless steel and Gold plated varieties. It was much easier and soon I acquired a Gillette Gold model.

In 1971 Gillette introduced Tarc II Twin blade shaving system which had a fixed  Twin blade that gave a smooth shave. Later by 1977 they introduced the Altra/Contour system, the first twin-blade shaving cartridge with a pivoting head, which allows the blades to  follow the contours of the face for a closer shave. I bought one Altra Razor in  the U.S, in 1978,  where I went  for the filming of Malayalam  film Ezham Kadalin Akkare ( Ore Vaanam Ore Bhoomi - Tamil Version ),

I am still using it even though 37 years had passed in spite of the fact that several triple, four or even five bladed cartridges were introduced, I still use Gillette Vector blades with my old sturdy Altra Razor. The heaviness of the handle and well balanced grip ensures a smooth shave.
Gillette razors over the years     
And finally here is my old faithful Altra Razor with GilletteVector Blade...

Sunday, April 12, 2015

John Abraham and Jayakanthan

It may sound very interesting if eccentric film maker   John Abraham  were to make a movie based on a script by an equally unorthodox writer like Jayakanthan. In my opinion it would have been an extraordinary Tamil film  it  had happened....... it almost  had happened and here is the unknown story...

Jayakanthan had written a Tamil short story "Agni Pravesam" in which a  girl who was offered a lift in a car on her way back from college by a young man, gets seduced. He drops her near her home and when her anxious mother learns the truth, instead of raising hell, she takes her to the bath room and pours a pot of water saying this is not water, but fire that will purify you, as you were not polluted in spirit. When the story was published there were lot of criticism and protests against JK. In order to silence his critics he wrote a novel extending the short story, in which the mother will scold her daughter and all neighbourhood learns about her and  the consequent  suffering she had to undergo in her life. It was titled " Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal" which  later came out 

 as a film Directed by A.Bhimsingh which got Lakshmi the National Award for the Best Actress in 1976.

While John was doing  his debut Malayalam film "Vidyarthikale Ithile Ithile " in 1971, he was fascinated by the short story "Agni Pravesam" and the Novel " Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal". Our producer Minnal was a friend of Jayakanthan and John had a few meetings with JK and I had been with him during those discussions. John had a brilliant concept which was to film the short story as it is and when the mother pours water over the head of her daughter Ganga and says that you are purified, the screen goes dark and in the sound track cat calls and voices of  noisy protest is heard. Then on the screen the writer Jayakanthan himself appears and pacifies the audience...O.K. you want the mother to raise hell... see what happens...

The mother creates a big hue and cry, every one around comes to know of her daughter's downfall and her life becomes miserable as written in the novel " Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal

Unfortunately the project could not take place. But another great film maker A. Bhimsingh  in his own way made a National award winning film based on the same subject.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

SWAPNADANAM - A Journey in Dream with K.G.George

K.G. George was my Batch mate from the Film Institute of India, Poona. In fact we first met each other at Madras where we both wrote our entrance exam conducted at the Punjab Association Adarsh Vidyalaya , Peter's Road on 12-5-1968. There were three papers General Knowledge, English Composition and Science of 2 hours duration each. During the interval I found this young man very knowledgeable about world cinema and when I talked with him, I found that he had earlier attended the Film Appreciation Course at Poona. It was George's first visit to Madras and after the exams,  I told him which bus to take from Safire theatre stop to reach the Central Station.

Our friendship continued and when  I started my first feature film VIDYARTHIKALE ITHILE ITHILE under the Direction of John Abraham, he used to be with our unit and later on joined with Director Ramu Kariat. When the opportunity came for him to direct an independent feature film, P.A.Latheef who was the Production Manager took an office at Thayar Sahib street behind the Wellingdon Theatre, Mount Road.  Editor Ravi, John, Latheef, George, myself and others used gather there for script discussion. Though the original script was written by Pamman based on a story by Psycho Muhammad, George rewrote it several times. As part of research, we visited Kilpauk Mental Hospital and spoke to some of the Doctors regarding the special kind of mental condition called "FUGUE" . The script work took a long time and different versions were written by George until he was fully satisfied with the result.

Our team consisting of Producer Mohammed Bappu, George, Editor Ravi, Latheef and myself  went to Kollam to meet NANA Film magazine's Proprietor Krishnaswamy Reddiar.  At that time in KUNGUMAM magazine Uroob and Kadavanadu Kuttikrishnan were also present during the script reading session. After hearing the subject, they suggested that the film be titled SWAPNADANAM instead of  the intended title PALAYANAM.

Switching on the Camera
The main location was Thiruvananthapuram Medical college, a few houses, Kovalam beach  etc. George, Latheef, Editor Ravi, myself and few others were accommodated in the M.L.A's Hostel at Palayam. It may have  been the only time that a Film Unit had stayed there. It was possible because the Producer had  connections  with some of the Ministers. For the lead character Gopi enacted by Dr. Mohan Das we required  a scooter as set property in a number of scenes. Latheef told us that  he knows a cinema crazed youngster who has a scooter and we can use it for the shoot free of cost. He came to the set every day with the scooter and soon became part of the unit.Soon he  made friends with Soman and Rani Chandra by bringing home made Kanji and Chutney etc. He picked up the rudiments of film making by observation and soon   directed a film called THANAL and won the Best Director Award from the Kerala Government. It was Rajeev Nath.

Rajeev Nath, N.L. Balakrishnan and myself

Since Rajeev Nath, myself and Still Photographer N.L.Balakrishnan were sporting stylish French beard, we had a photo taken together. Though Rajeev Nath wanted me to work in his debut film THANAL, I could not accept it as I had committed myself for another film on the same dates. After many years we happened to come together for Rajeev Nath's PAKAL NAKSHATHRANGAL in 2008, resulting in the photo given below:

Read the full story in Malayalam FLASH MOVIES magazine article given below : 

We had many hallucination scenes in the film and George had some strange imagery in his mind and I had to visually translate it without any help from the special effects department. One long sequence towards the climax we planned to shoot at night in Vettukadu Beach. By the time we reached there were thousands of people and when the artistes arrived they were mobbed and could not get down from the car and they returned back. But our Production Manager Latheef calmed the crowd with his friendly talk and cleared an area for our shoot. Then the artistes arrived  and the shooting stated the crowd was quietly sitting and watched the show. Since we were delayed we had to extend the shoot till the sun rose in the morning and some how we managed to finish  all the scheduled shots.

On Location
Another Hallucination scene was to be shot in the Dissection hall where the cadavers were arranged on the row of tables and the female lead Rani Chandra  had to lie on the steel table.When told about that she started crying and refused to lie on the table along with the dead bodies preserved with formalin. In order to give her courage and to prove that nothing will happen if you lie down on the table, I climbed up and posed like a dead body, saying that one day we are all going to end up like this. N.L.Balakrishnan clicked a photo of it. Encouraged by my action  finally Rani Chandra took her position on the table for the shot to be taken.

In Mathrubhumi Weekly, N.L.Balakrishnan' column "Behind the Photo"  the incident and the picture were published:
Mathrubhumi Article

Another Hallucination scene was to be shot at night in the Mortuary of the General Hospital, rows and rows of dead bodies were arranged including a fresh one of  a recently hanged criminal killer. Many from the unit were afraid to enter the hall and stayed out. It  was midnight when we finished lighting up an extreme long shot of the big hall and the camera was placed at the exit door. All unit members were standing behind the entrance door. I went inside the hall to check the final light readings with my exposure meter. The whole place looked eerie  with darkness,  with patches of light highlighting the dead bodies. I was the lone person walking among them, suddenly I felt some one tugging at exposure meter's cord. My heart stopped for a moment and when I turned back, I found that the cord had somehow got entangled with the outstretched hand of a corpse. It was indeed a most frightening experience.

Mallika, Rani Chandra, myself and Dr.Mohan Das
Our main location was a house belonging to the son in law of  Minister Ilangath, which had spacious exteriors and large living room etc but the bed room  was not big enough for our purpose. So we decided to erect a set at Merryland Studios. To keep it realistic I  asked the Art Director to build it with a full ceiling  so that I won't be tempted to light up the scenes by using  catwalk mounted lights. I lit the scenes from the ground as if  I was shooting in a real location instead of a set. In the film it matched so well that the bed room set appeared to be a part of the house itself .

At our Madras office an eccentric young man used to pester Latheef for a role in the film. We had some shooting  at Madras in a Private Mental Hospital at Neelankarai run by Dr. Dhairiyam. Latheef thought that we can use him as one of the patients in the back ground and asked him to come for the shooting on a particular day. But  somehow the shooting was postponed. Without knowing that this man went to the hospital and wanted to join the shooting, but they told there was no film unit in their campus. But he created a lot of fuss and tried to get in forcibly but was subdued by the warders and put in a cell. By evening it had a calming effect and he begged them to release him showing them his bus ticket etc. He straightaway came to our office and started abusing Latheef, who then pacified him and later on gave him a role as one of the inmates.

 Dr. Mohan Das was basically not an actor  but he suited the role admirably. George had the marathon task of enacting each action during rehearsals, several times so that at least he can get 50%  result from Mohan Das. Ultimately when the time came for the State Film Awards,  Dr.Mohan Das was declared as the Best Actor. He also served as member of the the Award Jury too in later years!

Another location was the hill station of Yercaud, near Salem and during the shooting the relationship between Dr.Mohan Das and Rani Chandra became stronger and stronger. It was so deep that  when she died tragically  in an air crash, he was one of the few persons to come  from Kerala  to Madras for attending the funeral ceremonies. My reminiscences about Rani Chandra in my earlier BLOG Entry  can be found HERE

Although a few songs were recorded  for the film by Bhaskar Chandavarkar, who was the Head of the Department of Music at The Film Institute, Poona, it was never used in the film. He also did the back ground score for the film.
Bhaskar Chandavarkar

The film when released was well appreciated and won several Awards in the State and National levels.

K.G.George had written about the film in his Memoirs - FLASH BACK: ENTEYUM CINEMAYUEYUM , Published by D.C.books, Kottayam.

Also, Mathrubhumi Books had brought out the Full Script and Memoirs of the Producer Muhammed Bappu in the book  - SWAPNADANAM : JEEVITHAVUM CINEMAYUM

 After many years the SWAPNADANAM team got an opportunity to  meet  during a marriage function where Kabeer Raother whose Hindi film LUBNA was produced by Muhammed Bappu and Jitin Shyam, Music Director of THANAL, were reunited with K.G.George and me.

(From L to R) Muhammed Bappu, myself, K.G.George, Kabeer Raother, Jitin Shyam

Finally,  a few lines from MY POEMS :

SWAPNADANAM -  A Journey in Dream

( To K.G.George.)

He had a million hallucinations
To be forever transfixed on celluloid.
The path was long and arduous,
I was a fellow traveler
On this psychedelic journey.

We built dreams upon dreams
On an invisible foundation.
In that mad house
Strangers herded together
Shot each other.
Fools fell in love with fairytale princesses.
Some had nightmares even when awake, and ran off to distant places.
Others followed us blindly
Without knowing their destination,
My friend led the way in the darkness
His polestar was called “Fellini”.
At last the long night seemed to end.

The new Cinema
Hangs frozen on the horizon
Like a Truffaut ending.

The weary world watches hopefully
For the slightest upward movement
To pronounce a new Dawn.

In that twilight
Before us lies the endless road in to the sky
And we march on ………


Film Data:

Banner: K.R.Films International
Producer : Muhammed BappuDirector: K.G.George
Cinematography: Ramachandra Babu
Story: Psycho Muhammed
Screenplay: K.G.George, Pamman
Music : Bhaskar Chandavarkar
Editing : Ravi
Production Manager: P.A.Latheef
Art: Sundaram
Sound : Devadas
Stills: N.L.Balakrishnan
Make up: P.N.Mani
Actors: Dr.Mohan Das, M.G.Soman, P.K.Venukuttan Nair, P.K.Abrahaam, Issac Thomas, Rani Chandra, Sonia, Mallika, T.R.Omana, Prema, Azzez, Anandavally

Release date: 12 March 1976
 Please go to  Malayalam Movie Data Base Page Here to listen to songs not included in  the film

Sunday, July 28, 2013

NIRMALYAM - A Land Mark in Malayalam Cinema

I was taken aback when I was asked by M.T. Vasudevan Nair  the renowned Malayalam Writer, to be the cinematographer of his  Directorial debut film NIRMALYAM. His screen play was based on his own short story “Pallivalum Kaal Chilambum”. At that time MT was a sought after Script writer  in the Malayalam film Industry and I was just an up coming cinematographer. He could have obtained the services of any one of the top cameramen of that day for his film. But he didn't opt for it. MT himself told me later that he did not want any top people in his film as sometimes the credit for the success of film may get attributed to them. Also he wanted the film to be done in his own way, whether correct or not without any kind of interference. At the same time he was open to creative suggestions for the betterment of the film.

Sukumaran, Ravi Menon and Sumithra

I had first met M.T. while a student at the Poona Film Institute in 1970, and
he had come there as visiting Professor to take Screenplay classes. After that meeting I had met him once or twice at Madras and I have done only three films before I was contacted to do Nirmalyam. My senior friend at the Institute M. Azad was the associate Director and my batch mate again from the Institute Ravi Menon was doing a prominent role and P.J Antony with whom I have done Ragging ( he had written the lyrics and also acted in it) was doing the lead role. So I was quite comfortable in doing the film with people previously known to me. Being the youngest member in the unit, M.T. used to address me as “Thampi” meaning younger brother in Tamil. He always treated me as his younger brother and the relationship continues till now.

The shooting location was in a small village near Edappal called Mukkola (Mukuthala) and there were no lodges or hotels capable of  accommodating all the unit members. Actor Sukumaran's uncle Edappal Kuttan made arrangements in his relative's houses for Kaviyoor Ponnamma, Sumitra etc to stay. There was a rice mill in Edappal where a building with two rooms and a hall was available. We were able to get that building for ourselves. MT took one room, P.J.Antony the other and the Hall was for the rest of us. Ravi Menon, Azad and myself slept there on grass mats spread on the floor. Sukumaran was acting in his debut film and though his house was nearby in Edappal, he also joined us to become more familiar with film making methods. Since we were shooting mainly in and around the temples we had to be satisfied with only vegetarian food. At night after the shoot we will sit around Antony Asan as he had bottles of different varieties of fish pickles with him as accompaniment to his drinks, and he will offer us some of the tasty fish pickles which to an extent fulfilled our craving for non vegetarian fare.

P.J.Antony as Velichappad

When P.J.Antony Asan came to the location he didn't have much idea about the Velichappad ( Oracle) character. So he requested M.T. to get the services of the local Velichappad, gave him Guru Dhakshina and learnt from him the steps and mannerism of temple performances. He observed him minutely and succeeded in  bringing alive on screen the Velichappad, as M.T. had envisioned. During the climax shooting for a whole day he performed as if in a trance even though his feet was bleeding with the painful hitting of heavy bronze anklets.The next day he could not even walk, but still when the shot of Velichappad walking home after bathing was being taken, he walked proudly with a smile acknowledging the villagers' reverence. Such was his dedication to the art of acting, it is no wonder that he got the National Award as Best Actor. He truly deserves it and I had never come across  such a true actor  any time in my career so far. 

With Camera assistant Venkitaraj (R)

In those days we could not afford to have generators for our power supply and had to depend on the State Electricity Board outlets for our lighting needs. We have to apply in advance for Temporary 3 phase connections with separate meters in all the locations where power supply is needed. Fortunately we required the use of lights  in two locations only, the Temple and the Velichappad's house which were adjacent to each other. We managed with one connection for both the locations. But the power situation in those days was worse in Malabar area and the voltage was very low at night, around 100 – 120 volts only. Hence most of our night shooting was done after 9 PM only when people switch off the lights and go to sleep. Then the power consumption load goes down and the voltage rises to a usable level of around 200 volts. That made our night shoots extending  till the wee hours! For daytime shooting we used reflectors which we got fabricated at Calicut in Balan K Nair's workshop, since we did not have the luxury of having a full out-door unit from Madras  at our disposal.

Shooting at the Bharathapuzha, myself on camera, M.T.(with dark glasses) and Devadas (Sound Engineer) sitting on the sands

Most of the locations were situated within a radius of few kilometres from our main location.The steps of Thirumittakode temple on the Bharathapuzha riverside was the location  for the  song " Thinthinathano " where the Unni Namboothiri departs the village as his beloved Ammini, looks on with teary eyes. It was an overcast day, dull and dark,  a suitable mood for a sad situation. The sun was setting, the light was low  and we had many more shots to be taken. When there was not sufficient light to shoot with normal film, I loaded my camera with higher speed ORWO NP7 film ( 400 ASA ) and went on shooting. When the light was really low, some one tapped me on the shoulder and when I looked back it was Samiyettan ( S.Konnanatt) the Art Director. He asked me whether I will get any image in such a poor light. I took out my meter, checked the light  and told him, " Why not? I have enough light to take a few more shots". He exclaimed that even an expert cinematographer like Vincent master will not shoot in this light. I told him "I am confident about my exposure, I'll show you the rush print" When he saw the rushes afterwards, he really appreciated my work. Only much later I came to know that he originally started his career as camera assistant to Vincent Master!

Sumitra and Ravi Menon

Another location we needed was a natural cave where the characters Unni Namboothiri and Ammini take refuge when it suddenly rains. We were lucky to have found a large cave  in a nearby hillock and  when we started shooting the scene it was a bright sunny day with clear skies and I was in a dilemma whether to start shooting the scene or not because it was supposed to rain in the end. Since we had hired a Fire engine for the afternoon ( they charge per hour) we could not  afford to waste our time. Any how we decided to start shooting the scene and, fortunately as the shoot progressed the weather Gods pitied us and filled the clear blue sky with clouds and  the atmosphere got totally changed. It was really like a rainy day and with the help of the fire engine we made it very realistic.

Our main location, the Temple was really in a neglected state with out any puja or rituals being done  for a long time.  We came to know that a few people thought that a non Hindu, Christian P.J Antony should not enter the temple.  M.T. planned to finish all the exterior scenes including the climax and kept the temple interior scenes involving P.J Antony  at the end of the schedule. In case any strong objection arises  at that time, we can safely  complete the film by erecting a matching set of the interior portion. After finishing all the other scenes we had to shoot the scenes of P.J. Antony inside the temple, and as usual we started doing the lighting after 9 PM and there were only few onlookers to watch the shooting. We had a stand in dressed as Veichappad  whom we said will be entering the temple instead of P.J.Antony to dupe the curious onlookers. We took a long shot of him entering the temple and didn't permit any one inside saying that they will come in camera's field of view as we were going to take a full view of the temple interior.

Once the doors were secured, through a back entrance P.J Antony  was let in and all his scenes were taken  before sunrise. Later on after the film was released M.T. was charged with a case for polluting the temple and he had to pay for the purification ceremonies.

Towards the end of the shooting schedule  M.T. ran out of money and we still had to shoot the climax and other scenes. M.T  describes the scenario:

I specially recall the tension I went through one particular day.We had arranged to shoot the festival sequence from next morning on wards. Groups of"Pootham", "Thira" and drummers were fixed. The village girls would be ready with "Thalappoli". I n the evening the camera crew said they have only hundred feet in the magazine. The film stock has not come from Madras. Then I checked with the cashier," How much money do you have?". He said "five". I was worried " You mean you have only five hundreds left??" He said "No , only five rupees left".

I discussed the severity of the situation with a few trusted friends. Somebody suggested to call off the next day's work. I was reluctant. i had a feeling that somehow the problem would be solved. I immediately sent a messenger to Shoranur, where I knew Mr.Vincent was shooting a film, to lend me some film. By midnight a person came back with thousand feet of film. That was enough to see us through till afternoon when the Madras stock was expected to arrive. Now the problem of money was still to be solved. We started work in the morning. It was difficult to raise funds from the locality as i had already tapped three well-to-do houses. But when I started work I cleanly forgot the money problem. I avoided the cashier's anxious looks. Before lunch break two familiar faces from Calicut appeared on the scene. They were my good friends, businessmen. they ere on their way to Cochin for auctioning rosewood. I cornered them and asked them whether they would lend me some money. Between them they parted with ten thousand rupees.I said I required only five , as I was expecting funds the next day. One of them said"suppose it is delayed? You keep the ten and we will settle the accounts later"

As soon as he got the funds shooting was interrupted to make arrangements for the festival scene on a war footing. We had arranged for a second camera to be handled by my friend Kasturi R Murthy so that we can cover the action in two angles. By next day morning,  every thing was in place and till dusk it was all hectic and frenzied shooting activity.

Desamangalam Mana was the location for a day's shoot for the scene involving the rich Land lord Namboodiri and we moved to Shoranur early in the morning. The actor to play that role, Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair arrived at the Rest House in a car in an inebriated condition. He could not even stand let alone act. On seeing him in this condition M.T. was in a fix. How to find a person with a majestic Namboodiri look in the last minute to replace him. It was Sankaradi who  found a solution by making him to consume some curd and have  a cold bath. In the meantime we shot some interior scenes involving P.J.Antony and Sankaradi. By noon Kottarakkara was in a position to act and it was the timely intervention of Sankaradi which made it possible. The same night we did the dance sequence at Kalamandalam Auditorium and finished Kottarakkara's work without any further incidents.

Except for the Sreekovil ( Sanctum sanctorum) portion all other scenes were completed in one schedule. The original Sreekovil was a very cramped place and customs prevented us  from entering inside it to  place camera, lights etc.  Also  there was no proper idol. So we erected a set of the Sreekovil in Calicut where the  shots involving the idols were taken in another schedule. During the shooting at Calicut, I stayed at  M.T's home "SITHARA". His wife Prameela Chechi and daughter Sithara considered  me as one of their family members.

With M.T's daughter Sithara

There was full co-operation from the villagers and they always were there to help us with properties for the scenes and also acting in minor and crowd scenes. In fact they got so attached to the unit, many children were in tears when it was time for us to depart after the shooting was over. 

There were some funny interludes during the shooting - We were fed up with eating  only vegetarian food  day after day. So one day M.T. took us along with him for dinner at the invitation of his friend at Ponnani. It was a sumptuous feast with all kinds of fish, prawns, crab and chicken. Everyone  ate to their heart's content. The result most of us got our stomachs upset and had to rush to the bathroom during the shooting. Since we didn't have toilet facilities near the location we had to take the car and go our place of stay and come back. For our absence we have to invent some other reason - in my case I told the light has become dull and we will have to wait for some time for the clouds to clear, and hurriedly took off in the car!

After the shooting at Calicut I received a letter from Sukumaran, thanking me and saying :

"As a novice in the field I would like to take this opportunity to express my heart felt thankfulness and gratitude for your well timed suggestions and sincere advices during our outdoor work. I expect the same amount of sympathy and consideration in future also......."

Sukumaran"s letter
Though many actors made their debut film with me except Sukumaran, none other bothered to express their gratitude to me. That was the unique quality of Sukumaran, the man!
The post production work was done at Madras and  a house was rented and M.T., Sukumaran, Azad, assistant directors, all slept on  grass mats spread on the floor.  Some times Editor Ravi, John Abraham, K.G.George and others visited  to give us company. Food was mostly cooked there and we had a nice time of staying together like a family. Never again I have worked for such a film from beginning to end in such a manner. That was a very memorable experience in my film career as such!

Though the film won the Best Film Award at The National and State level,Best Actor etc, I did not get any such recognition for my work as Cinematographer. But later on when I was given the Kerala State Award for Excellence in Colour Cinematography for the Film DWEEPU, M.T. sent me a short note: 

 " My dear Thampi,

I did not congratulate you formally for the Award. I thought that was unnecessary. What is there to talk about something coming in which was long overdue? "

M.T's Note
That note from M.T was worth more than a National Award to me, because it came from the heart of the creator of our film.
The film ultimately won several other laurels and is still being discussed about even after 40 years, "whether any film with a theme like this can be made now in our country at this period of religious fanaticism  "

Film Data:

Banner: Novel Films
Producer : M.T.Vasudevan Nair
Director: M.T. Vasudevan Nair
Cinematography: Ramachandra Babu
Editing: Ravi
Screenplay: M.T.Vasudevan Nair
Lyrics: Swathi Thirunal, Idassery
Music: Raghavan Master (Songs)
Background Music: M.B.Sreenivasan
Choreography : P.S.Gopalakrishnan
Cast: Vincent, P.J.Antony, Sankaradi, Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, Ravi Menon, Sukumaran,  S.P.Pillai, Kuthiravattom Pappu, Nilambur Balan,  Kunhandi, Surasu, Sumithra, Kaviyoor Ponnamma, Vijayalakshmi Balan, Santha Devi

Release date: 23-11-1973

Please go to  Malayalam Movie Data Base Page Here to listen to songs from the film

Friday, July 19, 2013

RAGGING - My Second Malayalam Film

Director N.N. Pisharady who directed "NINAMANIJA KALPADUKAL"  in which Actor  Madhu  did his debut in Malayalam films gave me the opportunity to  work in his film "RAGGING". Actor P.J.Antony  wrote the lyrics for the film and the Music composed by M.K.Arjunan. It was produced under the banner Hari Sree Productions by Issac Thomas , Advocate from N. Paravur. Vasudevan Nair (whom we used to address as Vasu annan) the elder brother of Producer Shobana Parameswaran Nair was the Production Manager.

Asst Director Baby, Vasu Annan, N.N. Pisharady and me
Vasu annan was a chronic bachelor and his house at No.7, Gokulam Colony was a refuge for those aspiring to enter the film industry and other fields. There were some permanent residents  like Aslam who was employed in Railways. But others came in  and stayed for some time and left when they found jobs and places to stay. Vasu annan was very generous to everyone by giving food and accommodation for the needy and supported them to find their way in to the film industry at Kodambakkam. I too enjoyed his hospitality for a few days before I found some other lodging place. Some of the inmates I remember were Kalliyoor Sasi and singer Chirayinkil Soman. M.T.Vasudevan Nair also addressed him as Vasu annan" and  was very close to him and entrusted the Madras part of the production work of NIRMALYAM to him. On his last day Vasu annan  dropped M.T. in his car at Palm Grove Hotel, came back to his house, had a heart attack and died the same night.

N.N. Pisharady and me
The Producer Issac Thomas and Director  N.N. Pisharady wanted to cast newcomers in the film as they felt that to act as college students the actors should be really young. A group of  youngsters were selected and Jameela Malik a batch mate of mine from the Film Institute was assigned  the female lead role. The shooting started at Kalamassery Rajagiri College, near Alwaye. This was the first time I am doing a location shooting in the State of Kerala as my first film was entirely shot in Madras. After a few days of shooting we found that some of the boys were not capable of emoting and we had to look for  regular actors to play the lead roles.We retained Jameela and Balan Nair a new comer with a rough look to play a negative character. For others we cast popular actors Vincent and Sudheer and local theatre artists. Below is a photo taken with the Still Photographer Pappachan ( Noble Pictures, Meenangady) and Balan Nair who still keep in touch with me.

Stills Noble Pappachan and Actor Balan Nair
To play the love interest of Sudheer we decided upon Rani Chandra who at the time was shooting for P.N.Menon.s film CHEMPARATHI. My self N.N.Pisharady and Aluva Thampy went to Kollam to contact Sudheer and Rani Chandra and get their dates for our film. That was my first meeting and she was a simple and friendly person. Though she was selected as Miss Kerala, I found her to be a typical Malayalee girl with curly hair and tanned skin with an out going nature. At Neela Hotel Bamboo bar we also had an eventful meeting with veteran Malayalam writer Kakkanadan too along with S.K.Nair playing host.
Rani Chandra
The Producer Issac Thomas played the role of  the Jesuit Principal of the college with ease and he later on acted in the film SWAPNADANAM as a Psychiatrist.

Producer Issac Thomas (sitting)
In the initial stages we had some problem in obtaining permission to shoot in  the college locations so we went to Mysore to do the shooting. The added attraction was the Film Subsidy of Rs.50,000 given by the Karnataka Government.We were travelling at night in car through the forest area and suddenly a lone tusker appeared blocking our road. On seeing it I was excited and shouted " Elephant"  P.J. Antony who was with us in the card scolded me for making noise as it was an wild elephant. We remained in the car with tension  till it moved away after a few minutes.

After doing some shooting we found Mysore also not suitable and returned to Alwaye where the film was shot.

Through the Mitchell Camera's Viewfinder
Director N.N. Pisharady was a pleasant man to work with, cool tempered and widely read person. He really wanted to make an interesting film. The censors chopped the film badly and the film failed at the box office as a result.For instance there was a comic character called Prof. Iyer in the film and most of his comedy dialogues were cut by a Brahmin censor board member who objected it on caste grounds.

Present New Generation film makers are credited with the trend in giving the film with English Titles. But way back in 1973, Director N.N. Pisharady had given his film the title  - "RAGGING" 

Film Data:

Banner: Hari Sree Productions
Producer : Issac Thomas
Director: N.N. Pisharady 
Cinematography: Ramachandra Babu
Editing: G.Venkitaraman
Screenplay: N.N. Pisharady 
Lyrics: P.J.Antony, Issac Thomas
Music: M.K. Arjunan
Cast: Vincent, Sudheer, P.J.Antony, Sankaradi, Balan Nair, Jameela Malik, Rani Chandra
Release date: 22-2-1973

Please go to  Malayalam Movie Data Base Page Here to listen to songs from the film

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Now that 100 Years of Indian Cinema is being celebrated , as part of it I who have completed more than 100 Malayalam Films will be writing about some of the films I have worked as Cinematographer.

I'll  start with my first feature film VIDYARTHILKALE ITHILE ITHILE Directed by John Abraham. The year, 1971. I was studying in the Final year of Diploma in  Motion Picture Photography Course at the Film Institute of India , Poona. There was a student strike going on, and when it 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 roommate 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

After our classes were over at the Institute myself and Kasturi R Murthy travelled 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 many things about the procedures and working methods there. At the Institute you had all the equipment 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 equipment had to be hired from rental companies. Since Azad had worked in a few P.N.Menon’s 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 output. 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 outdoors. 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!

We continued our shooting in that C.I.T Nagar  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 floor below us were Director J.D.Thottan’s Office  and Vayalar used to stay there.

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.

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.

Meeting with Bala Mahendran

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, bra's 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 someone 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 !

My Practical Examinations and Viva Voce were not over when I started my career as a Cinematographer in the film industry. In the meantime the dates of our Viva Voce examination at Poona were intimated to us.  Entrusting the two days of song shooting to Bala, myself and Murthy left for  Poona and  finished our exams! We bid farewell to all our dear friends at a party held at a hotel Deccan Gymkhana. Many of them came to see us off at the Railway station.

 After a long train journey from Poona, Kasturi Murthy and I returned to our flat at Madras Mahalingapuram and were getting ready for a refreshing bath. I was standing on the balcony and some one beckoned me from the road, who claimed to be a policeman. Since he was not in uniform, I signed him to come up to my flat and explain what he wants. The man came up and showed his identity card and said that our Director John Abraham had been arrested for being drunk and is being held in the lock up at the Nungambakkam police station. ( those were the days when Prohibition was in force in Tamil Nadu). Suddenly he noticed two empty XXX Rum bottles lying near our baggage and started questioning us about it. We convinced  him that we had just arrived from Poona and those bottles were filled with water for use during  our long  train journey and as proof we showed him our train tickets too. In those days when packaged drinking water was not in vogue, empty glass bottles were used by most of the passengers to fill up water from wayside stations.

The policeman then told us arrange for bail to get John released from the Police station. I immediately telephoned our producer Mr.Minnal and informed him and soon he went to the station and  obtained bail for John and they both arrived at our flat. Then John explained to us how it all happened.

Producer Minnal 

Under the Kodambakkam railway over bridge there were a few illicit country liquor dens catering to die hard addicts during Prohibition days. That afternoon John went there to have a few drinks and was returning back to our flat. In 1971, Mahalingapuram  was a vast open space littered with a few building here and there. That day even at noon it was a really deserted place except for a young girl walking ahead of John. He  was shabbily dressed  with  unkempt long hair, beard and mustache and was walking with faltering steps. His very appearance created fear in the girl's mind and  she started walking faster. On seeing this, just for fun John also increased his pace a little more. As she increased her speed of walking , John also increased his speed. This continued for some time till the girl started to run and just like that, John also ran after her. She ran into a slum adjoining the railway tracks and shouted for help and people started coming out of the huts. Meanwhile someone telephoned the police and in a few minutes police came and arrested him before he was beaten up. Thus a small innocent act for fun ended in John being put behind the bars in police lock up.

The next day  he was produced in the Saidapet Magistrate's court and one by one  cases were being heard and disposed off quickly  as most of them were Prohibition cases. It went on  like this:

Magistrate:  What is your name ?

Accused :   Kuppusami 

Magistrate:  Did you drink?

Accused : Yes Sir.

Magistrate:  What's your Job ?

Accused : Carpenter

Magistrate: Fined Rs.5..

The next person comes...

Magistrate:  What is your name ?

Accused :    Muthu

Magistrate:  Did you drink? 

Accused :    Yes Sir.

Magistrate:  What's your Job ?

Accused :     Rickshaw puller..

 Magistrate: Fined Rs.5..

Now it was the turn of John

Magistrate:  What is your name ?
John :  I am, John Abraham
Magistrate:  Did you drink?
John :  Yes
Magistrate:  What's your Job ?
John :  I am a FILM DIRECTOR !
Magistrate:  Twenty Five Rupees !

Afterwards the Producer was jokingly lamenting that had John told the Magistrate that he was employed in some petty  other job, he would have saved Twenty Rupees!

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 "VelichameNayichaalum" 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 mustache. 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 original 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 ultimately made it to the theatres in Kerala 1972, but for a lukewarm reception.

Film Data:   

Banner: Mehboob Movies
Producer : Minnal
Director: John Abraham
Cinematography: Ramachandra Babu
Editing: Ravi
Screenplay: M. Azad
Lyrics: Vayalar
Music: M.B.Sreenivasan
Cast: Madhu, Adoor Bhasi, Paravur Bharathan, T.K.Balachandran, Sp.Pillai, S.V.Ranga Rao, M.R.R.Vasu, Jayabharathi, Manorama, Santha Devi,  Master Sathyajith, Master Vijaya Kumar
Release date: 19-5-1972