Thursday, November 12, 2015

Email conversations with a cinephile.

MK Raghavendra
Greetings. I have today sent you a dvd copy of my new feature film called 'Haal-e-Kangaal (The Bankrupts)'. I was wondering if you could see the film at your convenience and give an opinion on it.

Dear Mr Ramachandra, 
A still from Haal-e-Kangaal (The Bankrupts)
I watched your film and found it very interesting conceptually. But here are some critical comments:
a) It is a very personal film, I think, about the dreams film students have, the compromises they make and where they finally go. I would say that it is very, very pessimistic. It shows how most lives are actually wasted. 20 years after graduating people are forced to tell lies to those who were once closest to them – to look better than they are. It is also about the end of friendships.
b) Its difficulty is that it is too personal. It is like making a film only for those who have gone through the same experiences. There will be very few who will feel what you feel by watching your film – which should be your purpose.
c)  The reason, I think, that you film remains too personal to be effective with any kind of general audience is the format. A film as a conversation between two people is ok but then too much pressure will be put on the actors – which they should be able to handle.
d) I don’t think your actors are capable of holding the audience’s attention. An outside person will not find them interesting. In a film school and hostel you would have become involved with ordinary people in deep relationships. But such relationships evolve over two to three years. You can’t use ‘ordinary’ people as actors because they have to become interesting to us – hold our attention – from the very first frame. You actors are too ‘average’ as people to do that.
e)  The script is ‘realistic’ in the sense this is the way people actually talk, this is what happens in real life. But cinema cannot be realistic in that way. Cinema must also be expressive. It cannot show such ordinary things like people farting and shitting and expect audiences to be interested. You script would have had to be much sharper, come to the emotional gist and give much more emphasis wherever required. There would have to be exaggerations. 
f)  There is very little art direction. Here again, you seem to be showing people dressing like this and having such a location because that is ‘real’. But this makes the visuals very dull. I am not saying that you should have posh clothes/ location but that the locations/costumes have to express something. You should also develop your characters to make them interesting as characters different from each other and dress very differently. Here it looks like the actors have come to the location wearing whatever they have. Both actors look ordinary and are boring as people.  
g) Trips should have been more interesting – given his professed experiences. (Is he based on the Utpal Dutt character in Ray’s Agantuk?) But he comes across unconvincingly. No person with so many experiences could be so dull. He does not hold our attention even for a moment – which is necessary. If he is lying, Lokesh does not seem disbelieving as he should have.         
h) The story Maternity Leave is a confusing story and, I think, cannot make a good film script. Since so much time is spent relating it, all this time looks badly spent.  
i) To convey what you are trying to say, which is deeply felt, you need to distort, use techniques which are not simply realist. The camera would also need to be used more creatively.
j)The best moment in the film is when Lokesh brushes his teeth and Trips says Anu doesn't like the taste of nicotine. That is very expressive. 

Dear MK Raghavendra
Thank you for taking time off and watching the film and making an effort to write your opinion on it. The sum of your opinion seem to be this:- It has a limited audience because it is a personal film, a pessimistic film, and the format does not work because the actors in the film can not hold attention. The script, camera, characterization and art direction are realistic with out any exaggeration or distortions; and hence dull. Correct me if I am wrong.

Can you throw some light on what do you mean when you say that your actors are too average as people or look ordinary and boring as people? Does it mean they are bad actors, or does it mean their characters are boring and average?

Dear Mr Ramachandra,
1. I think the dialogues and actions are too full of the mundane. Any artistic venture needs to eliminate the mundane. 
A still from Haal E Kangaal (The Bankrupts)
2. This handicaps the actors. Their personal charisma might have contributed / compensated but they are not able to do this.
3. They may not be bad actors by themselves but they do not give arresting performances - necessary, given the fact that nothing except the two occupy screen time.
4. The actor who plays Lokesh sounds/looks better in the youtube clip where he talks abut the film than in the film itself. In the film he could have been more relaxed.
5. When I say that it has a limited audience I mean that it is too private a film. It is unlikely to mean to other people what it obviously means to you.
Dear MK Raghavendra
Thanks again for the clarification. I think I now am beginning to figure out what do you mean by realistic / mundane.

I did see Agunthuk when it was first made. It occurred to me that there could be a bit of similarity when a cinephile friend of mine told me so. The characters in the film are a combination of the characters of a few people, I think, I know.

I also am of the opinion that a film need not necessarily mean the same thing to other people what it means to the director.

I have a blog, which I write occasionally. Can I post this opinion of yours on it?


So, here is it - the other point of view seen from the prism of film realism.

It is a prism that I had kept at an arms distance, when I was making Haal-e-Kangaal.

If you are looking to arrange a screening for your club / college / house / office
please click

Monday, October 26, 2015

“Bankrupts penetrates ones mind and conscience in its own Taka tak way”.

Naveen Sunag is an independent film maker based out of UK. He is a graduate from the VGIK film school in Russia. His views after watching the film The Bankrupts (Haal-e-Kangaal):-
Hemant Mahaur
"The Bankruts ( Haal - e – Kangal), a film made by dear friend, film maker P.N. Ramchandra effectively narrates the intellectual, emotional , ethical, cultural, professional so on and so forth, bankruptcy of the society. 

It is a productive piece that shows the decadence of the present world around us. A world of adjustments, easily jumping to conclusion and passing on judgements on one another.

The jump cuts and the characters of the film going inside their characters, coming out of them at times to narrate the script as another character (This also reminds me of one my own scripts), a technique used in the film goes well with the narration

Needless to say both actors have done good justice to the characters they have played. In all the film engages the audience well and the content of the film makes them sit back and watch till THE END. 
Niraj Sah

“Bankrupts penetrates ones mind and consince with its own Taka tak way”. I am sure Like his earlier films ( SUDDHA AND PUTANI PARTY) this film will fetch Ram accolades at national and international levels. 

Thanks Ram for making such a beautiful film and let me watch it."

If you are looking to arrange a screening for your club / college / house / office
please click

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tulu Cinema - a response

Recently, Chaitra Acharya, asked me a few questions regarding Tulu Cinema, on which she is doing research. Here is the response.

Poster of the Tulu film Suddha (The Cleansing Rites)
 'I do not hold a brief for Tulu movies, except the fact that I originally hail from a Tulu speaking area of Karnataka, I am sympathetic to the cause of Tulu films and my first feature film is in this language. I do believe that more and more films should be supported, made and exhibited in regional languages like Bhojpuri, Awadi, Konkani, Tulu etc.. - films that reflect the unique multiple cultures that these languages represents. 

It is often said that language is inseparable from culture. Destroy a language and you have destroyed its culture. The Tulu people, though living in only two districts of the state of Karnataka in India take pride in their language. Among other things, it is a home to a matrilineal system of family, it is rich in its oral traditions especially the epics, the literacy rate here is almost 100%, it is environmentally rich and traditionally, more than the gods that we know of, it is the humane but benevolent sprits who are being worshiped here. Despite its negotiations with globalization, the distinct nature of the Tuluva culture is still noticeable.

The foot print of the Tulu film Industry, if there is one, is just two Tulu speaking districts.  Although there are sizeable number of Tulu speaking people in Bangalore, Mumbai and even in the Middle East, these centers could at best be a secondary market for the Tulu film Industry.  Since the money invested in a Tulu film would come from its limited local audience, the making costs of such a film too would have to be limited. The budget of many Tulu films work around the subsidy that the Government of Karnataka gives for films made in the state. 

Of late, I have been told that the making cost of a Tulu film has increased and that there are investors who are willing to pump in heavy money, thanks to the monetary success of a few Tulu films. I have my doubts if the limited audience the Industry has would sustain such heavy budgets in the long run, as we see has happened in Bhojpuri films.

I see the development of Tulu films in the following possible paths. Initially, the Tulu films found its support base in Chennai, as the entire Kannada Film Industry was based there. The Tamil films during those days were know for their melodrama, and the Tulu films made by Tuluva migrants involved with filmmaking there, mirrored this.

This continued even when the Kannada film industry gradually sifted to Bangalore, and when Tuluva migrants involved in the Kannada Film Industry in Bangalore started to make Tulu films. There are other set of filmmakers who were the Tuluvas working in the action department in the Mumbai film Industry. They too made Tulu films, mainly to be in touch with their culture. So, the films they made were mainly action oriented.

But the imputes to the Tulu Film Industry, I would like to believe, came from within - from Mangalore and other centers in Coastal Karnataka. Locals took up to making Tulu films, taking this as a semi-profession. They probably has other business or professional interests to look after, but within their own limits they tried to consistently make Tulu films. 

And finally, off late, there are semi professional theater actors who have ventured into film making, taking off from where they left in their highly successful comic stage plays. They have managed to bring in the audience back to the screens, for they have their own loyal following in theater. How long will this trend last, only time would tell.

I do not believe that there is a Tulu way of film making or for that matter a Kannada way of film making or a Hindi way of film making. There could be an Indian way of film making that borrows heavily from Natyashastra, the ancient treatise for performing arts.  Many of the formal devices prescribed in the Natyashastra are found in most Indian films, including Tulu films - insistence on incorporating all the rasas (roughly translated, emotions) and focusing on one, the characterizations, the structure and even the use of music, song and dance etc...

As far as the content goes, with some exceptions, Tulu films have not really reflected upon the socio-economic and environmental developments of the area, over the years. Although there are a few films made based on the Tulu folk lore, bringing Tulu culture into Tulu cinema has normally come to mean that you show Tulu landscapes, traditional practices and rituals.

It is only when Tulu cinema dwells on the issues that the Tulu land is presently dealing with, that there could be a truly Tulu way of film making - issues pertaining to indiscriminate use of natural resources, caste equations, the impact the Industry has had on environment and the displacement it causes, the growing intolerance in an increasingly polarizing world etc..'

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Memories of a Gotala...

Niraj Sah in GOTALA
Nostalgia sucks, but for some strange reason, I have cut one frame of the negative film of an unused take of my diploma film that I had done at the Film and TV Institute of India (FTII) in 1990 and I have preserved it over the years. A diploma film is the final exercise that any student does at FTII.  

My film's name was GOTALA (The Mess) and since it was in black and white, it was 30 minutes in length. The ones who choose color then, had to go only up to 20 minutes.

Again for some strange reason, Mathi Azhagan the cameraman who shot my diploma film had preserved a copy of the script of GOTALA for all these years. Mathi was a faculty in the Cinematography Department at FTII when I was studying. He had just graduated from the State film school in Chennai and he had already shot my song exercise.

In 2009, I had been to the LV Prasad Film Institute to conduct a documentary film workshop. Mathi was a faculty here. I had lunch at his house, after which he carefully opened a file from a cupboard and showed me the contents. It was a copy of my script and shot breakdown of GOTALA. He treated it as something valuable. You can down load the script here.   

I myself see GOTALA, today, with mixed feelings. Believe it or not, the plot goes like this, Lord Krishna comes down to earth to supply some Trishuls (an ancient Indian weapon) to a group of fundamentalists who call themselves 'Pandurangists'. In the process of doing so, he falls in love with a lady and takes her back into the skies. 
A negative still of GOTALA

I wanted a title song recorded for the film, which was supposed to be the anthem of the 'Pandurangist'. I met a few music directors in Pune, but things did not work out. There was a person in Udupi, my home town, with whom I had participated in a theater workshop. He knew singing and accompanied it by playing the harmonium. 

I went to his house situated in a temple premises in a village near Udupi to ask him if he can compose the song. He read the script, looked up with a grim face and sternly said something like this, 'You do know what they did to Salamn Rushdie, don't you? Would you like it if we also do the same thing here? You guys will learn a lesson, if we also do it here."

I was taken aback. He was otherwise very friendly and amicable. But he got offended by this modern version of 'Krishna Leela' or the 'Play of Lord Krishna'. It was a time when the implications of different versions of our epics had not yet taken the overt political tone that it has now taken. It was a year since Ayatollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa calling for the death of Rushdie for his wok 'Satanic Verses'.

Two years later the Babri Masjid mosque at the disputed Ram Janabhoomi (Birth place of Lord Ram) site was demolished in frenzy by right wing groups after a ceremonial procession centered around a chariot carrying the image of Ram went all over India and culminated in Ayodhya, the place of the site.
I came back to Pune, convinced in my mind that there won't be any song in the film. Thanks to my sound recordist Chandidas Mishra's initiative, the night before the shooting, we recorded the song sung and composed by Nirmal Pandey, who also acted in the film. Nirmal's theater stint with BV Karanth helped him do this. 

I completed the film and went back home, since I was the first one in the schedule. Sharmaji was the head of production at that time. When I came back after a few months, he told me that the film will not get a Censor certificate because of its content. I do not remember if he meant that the Institute did not sent it for certification at all; or if it was sent and was rejected. 

Without a Censor certificate, the film was not considered for the National Awards or the International Film Festival of India. It was shown at the initial versions of the Mumbai Short and Documentary Film Festival, of which one of the curators was Amrit Gangar. That was about it, as far as teh film goes.

I had a VHS copy of the film that got fungus infested. After many repairs, my VHS player too stopped working. Ever since I dumped both of them, I have been wanting to go to the Institute and make a digital copy of the film for myself, if nothing else just to see where is it that I had stared. 

The script of GOTALA, as I see it now, is structurally a bit flawed. But as I read it again, it still haunts me. I am not sure that I can make it today into a feature film without aligning it to the conformist ideology of a film like 'Oh My God' 

Really, oh my GOD!

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Indian Cinema - Form and Content

Click here for 'Indian Cinema - Form and Content'

'Indian Cinema - Form and Content' is an essay I had written twenty six years back, while I was studying at the Film and TV Institute of India. This exercise was a part of our course, where we had to write something about Sociology of Indian Cinema. 

Anil Zankar was my supervisor on this one. I remember while in my third year he asked me if he could publish parts of this in a Marathi language book that he was editing on Indian Cinema.  

I found this in the attic of our house in Udupi, my home town. The version uploaded in the one that has been typed, if I remember well, by the tutorial section at the FTII. I have scanned it as I have found it - so it has some typo errors, some spelling errors and the likes.

I am now amused by certain assumptions that I have made, but the essay makes a broad point that Indian films over the years have not come out of the mythological framework  that has been thrust upon them ever since we have seen and known cinema a century ago, both in form and content. Hence, the regressive nature of our mainstream cinema. 

I still stick by this broad point, more so when I see recently released films like 'Bajrang Baijaan' or 'MSG:The Messenger'.

My apologies if you find any errors while reading the pdf file; but as they say in accounting language it is E&OE, meaning Errors and omissions excepted. 

Click below to download it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Chasing an audience...

Cameraman Narayanan Venkataraman watching
a projection in Mumbai
It was clear during the very conception of the film 'Haal-e-Kangaal' (The Bankrupts) that it would be difficult to find a conventional release for it. Despite this, the small crew that the film had, did get enrolled into the making of this film. They found it worth giving their time and effort for the film and I am thankful for them. 

We shot the film in 2013, had a rough cut in 2013 itself. I then met a producer who had once asked me to come to him, if I had an edit in hand. It would be easier to for him to 'pick' the film because half the work was already done. He met me, heard me patiently and told me that he would be needing a minimum of 25 lakhs of rupees to be put into publicity and marketing for any film to have a conventional release, however limited it maybe.

'If I had that kind of money, I would put it into real estate', he added. Very logical. He already had two such small films that he was involved with, as a co-producer - either he had supplied his equipments to the film making team or let them use his post production facilities.

Small films act as fillers between two big films in multiplexes. Many times they are given non-viable slots for exhibition and sometimes I wonder if even the electricity cost of the exhibitor of that particular screening would be covered at all, with such small films. 

It sounded irrational for me to follow that path.

So, I participated in the market section of the Mumbai Film Festival conducted by The Mumbai Academy of Motion Pictures (MAMI) in 2013 where I had about twenty meetings with prospective buyers, distributors etc..  The game was to chase these people during the three to four days the event was held and pitch the film in five-ten minutes, to each of them. Some people did take a liking to the project, asked me to follow up and I when followed up, emails were not replied.

The  'work-in-progress' lab at the International Film Festival in Goa did not select this film. The few existing international post-production grants followed suit; the nerves started getting into me. 

I had shown this film to a few friends, who were fired up after watching the film. Some said, it was too verbal, but it portrayed the reality of the film industry, the subject matter of the film. Others said, it was a bit too long. Some liked one actor's performance, while some others preferred the other actor. Some liked the unsettling structure that was employed in the film, some asked me, 'why?'.

But almost all of them had implied that the film was compelling.

Taking this interactive process to the next level, I showed the rough cut of the film to the second year direction students at the Film and TV Institute of India, thanks to Sandeep Chaterjee, Head of the Department of Direction at the Institute; and to the Manipal School of Communication students who were conducting a Film Festival under the guidance of HS Shubha.

Based on the reaction and feedback that I received, I made certain changes in the film, mainly incorporating certain jump cuts into the structure of the film.

Satisfied, I finalised the sound in March 2015. That's when I gathered the courage to send the film to film festivals. While I was waiting for some of these Film Festivals to respond, it occurred to me that I should arrange some screenings of this completed film, albeit at alternative screening venues.

I had extensively done such screenings in parts of Karnataka with my first feature SUDDHA (The Cleansing Rites) thanks to an exhibition grant provided by The Hubart Bals. The Children's Film Society of India (CFSI), the producers of my second feature 'Putaani Party' (The Kid Gang) have their own exhibition set up where they screen some of their films in association with the Local District Administration and the Theater Exhibitor's association. Yet to gauge audience reactions, I had also screened the film, on my own, in some fifteen alternative venues, again in Karnataka.

So, I thought I should have a whirlwind tour of Karnataka with 'Haal-e-Kangaal' (The Bankrupts) using the same network. 

Off to the first screening schedule...

My active association with Mysore Film Society dates back to the day they screened 'Putaani Party' in October, 2014. Sometime later, in March 2015, V N Laxminarayana a retired lecturer in Mysore and the motivating force behind the Society expressed a desire to screen my new film 'Haal-e-Kangaal' (The Bankrupts). He had heard about this film from my Bangalore based filmmaker friend MS Prakash Babu.

Manu and Muddukrishna from the Society enrolled Abbur Prakash, The Deputy Director at the Department of Information and Public Relations in Mysore, into screening the film in Kalamandira, one of the biggest halls in Mysore. They took aid from the Karnataka Chalachitra Academy. The Academy helps Film Societies in Karnataka to screen movies that are deprived of mainstream theaters.

So, on 13th of August  2015 The Bankrupts (Haal-e-Kangaal) had its premiere in Mysore.

Lakshminarayana lauded the techniques used in the film, opined that there were many extraneous elements that were packed in the film. Later on during dinner time, I asked him if these extraneous elements overshadowed the main concern of the film, he vehemently denied, saying that these were essential to the very nature of the film and to what it proposes to says.

The next day, there was one a show in Bangalore at the Indian Institute of Human Settlement (IIHS). Filmmaker Subasri Krishnan heads the media lab of IIHS. When I wrote to her to ask her if they would want to screen the film at the IIHS, she had instantly agreed. I was pleasantly surprised as I thought they have a history of showing documentaries and not fictional work.

V N Laxminarayana traveled all the way from Mysore to watch the film again in Bangalore!!!

Prakash Babu, whose debut feature 'Atthi Hannu Matthu Kanaja' (Fig Fruits and the Wasps) is making its Film Festival rounds presently, helped arrange a screening at the 'KV Subanna Aapta Mandira' (KV Subanna Intimate Theater) at Bangalore on the 16th of August, through the Film Study Circle run by Samuha Gopinath.

Gopinath is trained in theater, but is now a civil contractor. The theater which he has built above his house, is used to stage plays, hold film screenings and seminars. A small but dedicated group of people came to watch the film, those include people like Girish Kasaravalli, Usha Kattemane, Abaya Simha and Shrikant Prabhu.

While Girish refused to comment on the theme of the film, saying that it would need him a couple of more viewing for him to do so, he did suggest that the limitation of two characters set rigidly in a small one bed room hall house was well handled in the film.

An overnight journey and on the 18th, the film was screened at Manipal, under the aegis of Manipal School of Communication. It was a home coming for the film, as I had showed a rough cut here a year back. The students were particularly interested in knowing about the changes that I had made to the rough cut, after the first Manipal rough cut screening.

Some of them were intrigued as to why the narrative is not straight or why there are jumps in the cuts. It was a pleasure answering them. I have Sunil Bhadri, the faculty member who helped organise the screening, to thank.

Four screenings of 'The Bankrupts' (Haal-e-Kangaal) in eight days in three cities/towns with a combined audience of about 150 to 200 was sure worth the salt. I plan to replicate such small but focused schedules, in other parts of India as well. Anyone who wants to get the film screened, can get in touch with me at sonkfilms at gmail dot com. I would be pleased to reply.

A couple of days back V N Lakshminarayana had emailed me saying that the film needs a wider audience. The internet provides me with that, but I still value screenings that are participated collectively. Well, it just occurred to me that chasing such an audience for such kind of a film is the most difficult part in the process of film making.

If you are looking to arrange a screening for your club / college / house / house / office
please click

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lohit Diary - a documentary film.

Poster for LOHIT DIARY

Duration: 76 Minutes
Year: 2015
Camera: Narayanan Venkataraman
Sound: Sanotsh Kumar
Producers: Films Division, India
Editing, Direction & Executive Producer: Ramchandra PN

Amidst wide spread opium cultivation in the Lohit River valley in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh, North-East India, Basamlu Kisikro engages opium growers into shifting to green tea, Tewa Manpoong supports fellow addicts into rehabilitation and Uncle Moosa spreads the joy of reading amongst children.

Uncle Moosa (right)
Tewa Manpoong (Right)
Basamlu Kisikro


The posters of the film and the stills can be reproduced as it is elsewhere.

If you are looking to arrange a screening for your club / college / house / office
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