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Sometime in February 2019, I got a call from my long-time friend, a filmmaker, enriched with the knowledge of parallel cinema of India - a close associate of Arunmmozhi, associate director of the Aval Appadithan, a Tamil Cinema which pioneered the birth of modern Tamil cinema, directed by Ruthrayaiah - Nandhi Chella Durai, informing to work as an associate director of his short film Kanchanai, an eponymous title, based on the short story (Kanchanai) written by legendary Tamil Writer Pudumai Pithan. It surprised me a lot - as I have not even attempted any film making venture except being a cinephile, who attempted some research work in Tamil Cinema - for his assessment on me to carry out the task of associating him in film making, as he is the director.

kanchanaiBefore going into the shoot, we, along with Saravanan - the cameraman from Bollywood, a native of our place Thanjavur, came for a vacation - made story discussions. Though the director already made the script, scenes, dialogues, set properties, etc., as he was a professional sometimes ago at Kollywood, we again discussed on the relevance of Kanchanai for our times Netflix, Youtube, Amazon Prime, etc., since the story was written some 70 years back. In fact, the story itself has elements of being shot as a modern-day cinema, we realized during the discussion, due to the exemplary creativity of Puthumai Pithan. I was making notes on the changes suggested on the script, and it ended up in a revised, improved script. It went for two days, along with our zigzag travel from Kanchnai to Hollywood, Bollywood, Parallel Cinema, Ilayaraja, Alfonso Cuaron, Kurosawa, Narmatha Joshi, etc., to complete the discussions.

We made visits to various locations in Thanjavur from a very modern bungalow to some old castles of Marathas and found one old mansion of a Maratha, then Government Employee of British Raj, found welcoming us for the shooting. I recollected what filmmaker Balu Mahendra said, after finding an old, dilapidated house, welcoming him for his last cinema Thalaimuraikal.

Arunmozhi brought the artists from his acting academy for the (only) three major characters. They were really the best choices for the characters; especially the one for the writer (a young Puthumai Pithan himself) was the best. The one artist brought for the character of Kanchanai, with mystic appearance, could be the God given an opportunity for the director, as per the director’s own words.

Shooting on the sets was really a very serious business unlike watching cinemas comfortably in AC cinema halls and writing critical reviews, as I usually do, in print and online media. It was really painful, in getting the work done along with all the set properties before the camera rolls on. Oh, My God. Though we have designated managers and workforce, getting coordinating them, to get what was required for the shot, is a managerial kind of work. Our Producer Muthamizh Virumbi, was on the sets most of the times.

Lighting, hue, silhouette, fade in, fade out, jump cut, close up, mid-shot, start, action, camera, etc., were some of the terminologies, I uttered during the little time I slept on those shooting days. I could imagine the mammoth work involved in making a feature film apart from spending a huge amount of money. After all that, I realized what Kurosawa said, shot materials (footage) are only raw materials for the film I am going to make. Really, those shot materials will never constitute the Kanchanai, only the editing makes it so.

The director Chella Durai, my teacher with respect to film making, made me in tears, when I watched my name during the screening of Kanchanai, at Thiyagarajar College, Madurai, last week. I (We) enjoyed in making the film Kanchanai, but breathed cinema always.

- M Joseph


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