They love their history. From digitising to colour grading, these movie enthusiasts step in to restore and revive our celluloid past
CHENNAI and cinema are inseparable. In fact, the Tamil film industry is often nostalgic about its early years. Right from re-releasing old classics like Karnan, to archiving old records, digitising LPs and sound tracks, these production houses,
cinema enthusiasts and researchers are working towards reviving cinema across the board.
— Mrinalini Sundar
The poster hunter
Founder of The Cinema Resource Centre (TCRC), Sruti Harihara Subramanian is busy juggling her documentary based on the artiste Krishen Khanna and her theatre performances. After participating in a folk art festival near Kanchipuram, she travelled to Delhi to film her still untitled documentary, and is currently attending the Suriya Theatre Festival in Kerala. With some modelling thrown in, the 31-year-old also pursues restoration of old posters, song books, LP records, rare pictures of landmark films, etc. “I didn’t grow up watching films because mine was not a regular theatre-going family. But I like movies. I used to collect cinema tickets, and cut out A R Rahman’s and Mani Ratnam’s interviews,” she says, explaining that when a huge production house was shutting down she saw a garbage bin full of old posters and other materials, that she promptly picked up. With approximately 5,000 posters, 7,000 lobby cards and several other memorabilia, Subramanian’s Abhiramapuram office makes you nostalgic, and she does not dismiss plans of opening a museum either. “We also want to have curated events, shows, movie screenings and dedications. Perhaps, even a cinema cafe,” she says. With the team digitising the posters and converting many of them into high-resolution soft copies, Subramanian feels that, “we need to make more space for our posters and create design catalogues for them.” On how she procures her material, she says, “We used to have rag pickers come and drop off posters. I also had a family that donated the Deepavali Malar series, when they were shifting their house.” According to her, the oldest song book in her collection would date back to 1930. Her favourite piece of trivia? “I recently added the album of Aval Appadithaan to my collection. The movie had Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan and Supriya in lead roles, and because it is a movie ahead of its time, people believe K Balachandar made it. But it was actually Rudhraiya who did,” she confides. Her rare collection also features a sweet box that belonged to the Raj Kapoor movie Mera Naam Joker. The box has the name of the movie written on it in English, Hindi and Russian. With a newfound interest in collecting music launch invites too, Subramanian admits it is a huge trend these days.
Old is gold
Everyone — from popular directors like Rakesh Roshan and Mahesh Bhatt, to city-based actors and directors — has worked with L V Prasad Groups, one of the oldest production houses in the city. The group has restored several old films like Milan (1965) and Khilona (1970) in Bollywood and The Red Shoes and The Three Stooges from Hollywood. To put it in numbers, they have restored 22 Academy Award winning films, 16 Golden Globe winners and more than 32 films nominated for these awards. They have also digitised most of their films, like Sharada (1957, starring Raj Kapoor and Meena Kumari) and Ek Duuje ke Liye (1981). “We are preserving most of our old equipment, which forms part of a film’s post production and projection process. These include animation stands, optical machines, sound recording and conversion systems, film projectors, film cameras, editing systems, colour analysers, printing machines and anything else we feel would be crucial in the learning process for future generations,” says Mohan Krishnan, who handles the corporate communications for the group, adding that they plan to open a museum in the future.
The production house also stores old costumes from movies like Khilona and Daadi Maa from the 70s, that have been preserved in good condition. “We now plan to engage the services of professionals to clean and restore them, and in the meantime, we are also figuring out the best ways to preserve them for the future,” he continues. After Tamil movies like Karnan (1964), Paasamalar (1961) and Aayirathil Oruvan (1965) were re-released successfully, the group is confident that restored cinema will be well received by the audience. As for colour correction of films, Krishnan says they only colour grade films, and don’t make any changes to black and white films.
For the record
If you want a copy of the original version of Carnatic singer M S Subbulakshmi’s Senthamizh Naadenum, Sundar R at the Roja Muthiah Library in Taramani, might be able to help. Besides storing DVDs and CDs of films, the research library, started in 1994, has old movie posters, books, LPs, EPs and records. “We have film reviews and about 3,000 song books in our collection,” Sundar begins, adding that the library also has an unconventional sound convertor. “Gramophone players generally have a stylus that comes in contact with the record, runs through the grooves and produces sound. We have a machine that copies the grooves, stitches the images together and converts it into an audio file,” he shares, explaining that they also convert audio from spools. So where does he procure these records from? “A lot of our records come from the Record Collectors Society — where people donate their old records — and private collectors,” he replies. Besides film music, the research library stocks theatre dialogues, movie dialogues and Hindustani music. But Sundar, 46, admits that very few from the film fraternity visit. “The last I know, we had someone from Vasantha Balan’s team come to read books for his upcoming film Kaaviya Thalaivan. We also digitise old books. We’ve done 15 million pages so far and there are many takers for them,” Sundar concludes.
This production house has come out with more than 176 movies, including blockbusters like Rajinikanth’s Murattu Kalai and Ajith Kumar’s Tirupathi, in the past 60 years. Having witnessed the legendary actor Sivaji Ganesan deliver his first dialogues in 1952, AVM Productions is now run by third generation entrepreneurs Aruna and Aparna Guhan. With their office plastered with at least 20 posters of AVM’s productions, they are currently concentrating on television shows like Manathil Urudhi Vendum. Aruna shares that besides posters, they also maintain a photo bank that has a minimum of five pictures from each film they’ve produced. “In some cases, like the film Sivaji, I have no idea how many pictures there are,” she says. Ask them about their oldest and rarest collection and Aruna quickly reveals it’s Sri Valli (1945). However, her favourite is Anbe Vaa (1966), with M G Ramachandran and Saroja Devi — which finds pride of place in her room. “I love that movie. I also have a poster of Ejamaan (1993, starring Rajinikanth and Meena) in my room,” she says. Most of the posters are scanned, digitised and framed by her team. Aruna and Aparna make it a point to share at least one poster or picture on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. “We get brilliant responses,” she says. Look out as it could be a picture of actor Sivaji or a still from the Rajini-starrer, Sivaji, up next.
Back in time
History repeats itself — this is a concept the Tamil film industry swears by. The past few years have seen the release of movies based on real life events from the past (think Vaagai Sooda Vaa, Madrasapatinam, Aravaan and most recently, Ramanujan). A history enthusiast, Vasanthabalan (who gave us Aravaan and Angadi Theru) tells us about his upcoming period drama, Kaaviya Thalaivan. “Aravaan was a story from the 18th century and was very difficult because we did not get enough material. Kaaviya Thalaivan is set in the 20th century and takes a look at the life of theatre artistes and what theatres was like back then,” he shares. According to Vasanthabalan, 42, there are several subjects that are yet to be explored. “For example, how the Madurai temple was built, the story of Kannagi, and the Chola and Pandyan wars, would be a visual treat. But for all of this, we need money. Which is why even Kamal Haasan is taking time with Marudhanayagam (started in October 1997),” he says, adding, “We have enough material to make movies for the next 2,000 years.” Meanwhile, another period film to look forward to is Ilami by director Julian Prakash, starring actor Kishore, who brushed up on horse riding in preparation. Set in the 18th century, it revolves around jallikattu (our local bullfight).
The songs of the Telugu Shankarabharanam were a big hit even in Tamil Nadu. Now, producer Rathnam has decided to introduce the movie to the Tamil audience. “We will be dubbing the movie, digitising it and presenting it,” says the producer, who watched the original back in 1980. “It has such a positive impact and is so meaningful. We had a special screening for directors and it received a standing ovation,” says Rathnam. The movie has been digitised in Prasad Labs and has been re-recorded, because the original material was completely destroyed. The makers have roped in singers like SP Balasubrahmanyam, Vani Jayaram and S Janaki for the songs. Shankarabharanam will release post Diwali.
Nagesh on screen
Soundarya Rajinikanth’s Kochadaiyaan was a treat for fans of the late actor Nagesh, as he made a brief appearance in the film as an animated character. His grandson Gajesh will be making his acting debut soon. ‘‘The director planned to create an animated song featuring my granddad and father Anand, dancing with me,” he says, adding, “but it is a tradition with us that family members won’t act together till someone’s third film.” The newcomer does admit that the best moment of his life was watching his granddad come back to the screen and act with “Rajini uncle’’ in Kochadaiyaan .
Brick in the wall
Historian Mohan Raman points out that some of our famous theatres like Pilot and Casino have been abandoned. The Goethe Institut is conducting a photography exhibition by Sabina Haubitz and Stefanie Zoche, who specialise in photographing movie theatres between the 1930s and 1970s. And to put the spotlight on the dying tradition of street art, they are conducting a workshop that will see German artists paint the walls of corporation schools and cinema theatres like SPI Cinemas. According to Georg Zolchow, the curator of the project, ‘‘street art is urban communication.’’