Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Light has gone.....

The year 2010 seems to be particularly cruel to Malayalam cinema personalities by snatching away their lives at unexpected moments as described in MT's words – Death is a joker who enters the scene with no regard to the situation. The latest being Master Cinematographer Mankada Ravi Varma who wrapped up his life at the age of 84, at Chennai on November 22, 2010.

Mankada Ravi Varma

It was in 1971 at the home of writer poet M. Govindan in Madras Egmore, along with Director John Abraham that I met Mankada Ravi Varma. M. Govindan was at that time publishing the literary Journal “SAMEEKSHA” and his home was the meeting place of many writers and artists. Graduates from the Film Institutes were looked upon as only “Theoretical people” and they were considered unfit when it comes to practical things like shooting a feature film. So they had to work on the fringes of the film industry as assistants or work in documentaries or seek employment in Films Division. Even though he passed out from the Madras Polytechnic in Motion Picture Photography and Sound Engineering in 1952, he got no break in the film industry and had to be content with being employed by the Films Division. He later resigned the job, bought a 16 mm camera and was doing documentaries for BBC and other foreign news agencies.

P.A. Azeez who became the very first Direction graduate from the Poona Film Institute ever to make a feature film “ AVAL” ( Malayalam ) in 1967, gave Mankada his first break as an independent cinematographer. Incidentally Santha Devi who passed away two days back had also acted in that film in which Madhu and Usha Nandhini played the leading roles. Then came the path breaking film “ OLAVUM THEERAVUM” (1969) scripted by M.T. Vasudevan Nair and directed by P.N. Menon in which Mankada broke the shackles and released the camera from the confines of the four walls of the studio floors and brought it to the wide outdoors and real interiors.

He says about his experience thus: "We exploited the available light. The framing and composition of the film were totally different from other feature films. I tried to accommodate all the tones that were available in black-and-white, and shot the film. As I had shot documentaries in very adverse conditions, I decided to make use of all those experiences in a feature film. Usually in poor light, a cinematographer stops shooting. What I did was use it to my advantage."

In 1971 at Madras another Film Institute venture VIDYARTHIKALEY ITHILEY ITHILEY was going on with the crew consisting of John Abraham ( Director), M. Azad ( Script writer), Ravi (Editor), Devadas ( Sound Engineer) and myself as Cinematographer – all from the Poona Film Institute. At Madras in those days, there were no Nagra Recorders in use as the Recordists had no trust in such a small portable tape recorder and preferred big machines running 35 mm magnetic tapes. Since we were shooting our film in Sync sound, Devadas used to bring Nagra from Chitralekha Film Co-operative, Trivandrum. At that time the work of Adoor's film SWAYAMVARAM was also progressing in Trivandrum.

Ravi Varma and Adoor

Starting from SWAYAMVARAM till NIZHALKUTHU, Adoor and Ravi Varma pair had collaborated in more films than Bergman and Sven Nykvist, or Satyajith Ray and Subrato Mitra, David Lean and Freddie Young Director-Cinematographer combination.

While Raja Ravi Varma used paints and brushes, Mankada Ravi Varma used to paint with light to create his visuals. He excelled in his Black & White films by judiciously mixing shadows and light, highlighting the faces of characters to focus on their emotions. His transition to the colour era was very smooth without compromises as seen in the internationally acclaimed film ELIPATHAYAM.

He always found time to interact with his juniors who seek his guidance and clear their doubts in cinematography. He gladly came over to Thiruvanthapuram to establish our Indian Society of Cinematographers and also became a Founder Member of ISC.

A light had gone from the World Cinematography , but I am sure that from the high heaven he will guide us with his leading light!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Judging a Fancy dress competition

Judging a Fancy Dress Competition is not an easy job as you might think especially if the participants are Kindergarten children. I took up the task when I was persuaded by my friend Indrabalan to be the Judge for the competition for Bodhi School run by his friend Jayan Krishnan at Palkulangara, Thiruvananthapuram. Only when I reached there and saw the tiny tots I was wondering how am I going to select the winner without hurting the feelings of other children. Fortunately I was told that that I only need to grade their overall performance and apart from the top three winners others will also be rewarded with certificates.

Children waiting for their turn

Bodhi School was established by Jayan Krishnan last year with the motive to provide ample opportunities for overall development of children in the most amicable way by keeping student teacher ratio at 10:1. In the clean atmosphere of the school I found the children to be very happy, bright and cheerful.

One of the cute contestants

It was really a fun event and the children enjoyed their make believe costumes and I had a nice time interacting with the kids. I wish the school all success.

For more photographs of the event, please Click HERE

Santha Devi

One more loss to the Malayalam Film Industry in 2010. Santha Devi, National Award winning Malayalam Actress of yesteryear passed away uncared on 20th November 2010 at Kozhikode. Her last days were full of misery and pain and for sometime she was in the care of an old age home.

Santha Devi at Old Age Home

Her son Sathyajith was an award winning child artiste in M.T. and P.N.Menon's film "Kuttiyedathi". Sathyajith acted in my first film 'VIDYARTHIKALEY ITHILE ITHILE' (1971) directed by John Abraham and Santha Devi who had accompanied him had also acted in that film. At times her husband Kozhikode Abdul Khadar used to come to Madras where most of the shooting was done. In those days we had a flat at Madras Mahalingapuram, as our office cum residence where John, Script writer M. Azad, Sound Engineer Devadas and myself used to stay during the shooting. Santha Devi's family were also accommodated in one of the rooms, when they came to Madras for the shooting.

She had acted in many of my films and in most of the films which had Kozhikode as their location. Finally time took its toll and the roles became lesser and lesser and the tragic death of Sathyajith also affected her much. As usual on her death a lot of "honour" was given by the Government and Film Industry organizations but while living no one bothered to help her in her time of need.

May her Soul Rest in Peace at last.