Monday, January 2, 2017

A friend passes away in a far off land

We had many foreign students studying in various departments during my days at the Film Institute (1968-71). They were mostly from Afghanistan, Africa, Singapore and from neighbouring countries  Nepal, Bhutan, Ceylon etc.Each course had quota for two Foreign students and were mostly filled up. In our Cinematography class were Prem Kumar Upadhyaya from Nepal and Naapo Gbande from Ghana. Since Prem knew Hindi very well, we never felt he was a foreigner. Naapo was the most silent one who always spoke in a soft voice.Though he was much older than many of us, he looked young , tall and trim with a thin figure.  Away from home he was a little bit homesick and  always had a worried look. In due course we all became friends and he became happy and concentrated in his studies.

As a model in Lighting exercise

We used to have Lighting exercises in our Still Photography classes and we ourselves used to stand in as Model for each others practicals. Also we worked as a three member unit for our cinematography exercises etc.  Remember the photo, I published many years back in this Blog which was the main reason for me to write this Blog on my Institute days. The person pushing the dolly is Naapo Gbande and I am there holding the reflector while Jaya Bhaduri faces the camera handled by Mr.Edwards.

Camera Practicals - Naapo pushing the Dolly
During the strike at the Film  Institute, all foreign students supported me and stood by me at all times. In fact Naapo and David Ankora ( Sound Engineering) were always beside me to protect me from any intended attack by the Acting students.
David, me and Naapo
When it was time to leave the Institute a whole lot of my foreign friends turned up at the railway station to see me off. Almost half of my friends in the photograph are from far off lands.
Send off at Poona Railway station
We parted ways....immersed in our life and work we could not communicate with them later on. Meanwhile my batch mates Ramlal Agarwal and Debu Deodhar passed away  some years back. Last month in the International Dilm Festival of Kerala held at Thiruvananthapuram there were some films from Ghana. I wanted to meet those film makers to inquire about my old friends Naapo and  David. But somehow I missed meeting them. I thought of using the Internet to start searching for Naapo and I came to know of the sad news that he passed away on October 17 th 2015.
Naapo in Ghana

Given below is an  obituary written by Kouame Koulibaly :

A great cinematographer is gone

The film industry in Ghana lost one of its extremely brilliant cinematographers when Mr Naapo Gbande  died on October 17, 2015  at the 37 Military Hospital in Accra. He was 76.
Mr Gbande worked for several years with the defunct Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC) where he shot numerous newsreels, documentaries and feature films.
He later moved on to the National Film and Television  Institute (NAFTI) as a lecturer and many of the current professional cinematographers in this country passed through his hands.

The soft-spoken Mr Gbande worked as the cinematographer on several projects with veteran film director, Mr Kwaw Ansah, who described him as an extremely creative and diligent collaborator.
“I worked with him on Harvest At 17, Love Brewed In The African Pot, Heritage Africa and several television commercials.
“He always tried to get images that truly complemented the essence of whatever was being shot. His work brought true meaning  to the functions of a DOP  on a film set,” Mr Ansah said.
A native of Kpandai in the Northern Region, Mr Gbande realised early in life that photography  was his calling and he diligently pursued it throughout his working life. Mr Gbande was trained in film photography at the Film and Television Institute of India at Pune in the Indian state of Maharashtra.

Experienced lighting technician, Mr Tetteh ‘Wrally’ Apain,  worked with Mr Gbande on numerous productions and they remained close friends.
“I enjoyed being on a set with him because he always knew what he was about. He truly understood what photography was about and every lighting technician cherished his presence during productions,” Mr Apain said about his late friend.
Apart from his teaching and practical work, Mr  Gbande was also a facilitator at several cinema workshops  in this country and abroad and he published practical guides on lighting and camera movement.
The  late cinematographer will be buried on Saturday, November 14, 2015 at the Madina Cemetery in Accra.  He will be sorely missed by the film making fraternity.  

Adieu my friend, though we couldn't meet afterwards your memory will always linger in our minds forever. Rest In Peace


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