RAMNATH N PAI RAIKAR | NT network
Singeetam Srinivasa Rao, screenwriter-director and music composer said that Indian filmmakers are highly capable, but in following their counterparts in other countries they are losing a lot. “When a child wants to sleep it does not need the voice of professional singers like Lata Mangueshkar or P Susheela, but the mother’s rough voice to sing a lullaby,” he said, pointing out that likewise our filmmakers need to become independent in thinking. They should use their talent by following their inherent skills.
Speaking at the ‘In conversation with director’ event at Black Box, Kala Academy, held on the sidelines of the ongoing International Film Festival of India, the 85-year-old filmmaker said that he has come a long way from the days of black and white movies. Rao started his career as an apprentice for the Telugu-Tamil film ‘Mayabazar’ under director K V Reddy during the mid-fifties. He was given neither pay nor credit in the film titles. “I then went on to work with cinematographers like Ravikant Nagaich and Marcus Bartley,” he said, informing that he has progressed from working in optical technology to computer graphics.
“When I directed my first film ‘Neethi Nijayithi’ in 1972, I had seen only Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi films, besides Hollywood movies, and thought that I knew 90 per cent of the art of filmmaking,” said Rao, who has directed cult films like ‘Pushpaka Vimana’(1988) and ‘Apoorva Sagodharargal’/‘Appu Raja’ (1989), maintaining that once he was exposed to Iranian, Japanese and German films during film festivals he accepted that he knew only 40 per cent of the art. “And today, after all these years, I fully understand that I know nothing about film making,” he admitted humbly.
Recalling the days of black and white films, Rao said that actors were very relaxed in those times and could give a number of takes. “However, when colour arrived, actors became tense as colour films were very expensive, and they were not permitted mistakes,” he said, informing that colour resolved on its own, while black and white photography had to be lit. The filmmaker further acknowledged that he loved black and while films as they provided marvelous shades as against present day technology which has brought colours with their wide texture to the click of the finger.
Rao, speaking about ‘Pushpaka Vimana’, the silent film starring Kamal Haasan, said that the film had no dialogues as the screenplay did not require any character to speak. However the film had background sounds. “In fact, I conceived its story in five minutes, when I was having a shower, and then we built upon it with everybody including Kamal Haasan, Tinu Anand, cinematographer, Gowrishankar and others contributing,” he said, fondly remembering that both Satyajit Ray and Raj Kapoor had liked the movie very much.
Discussing ‘Apoorva Sagodharargal’/ ‘Appu Raja’, in which Kamal Hassan played three roles, including that of a dwarf, Rao said that he and Kamal Hassan want to do a documentary on making of the particular film, which is still not happening. “We had worked very hard on the dwarf character and used 8 to 9 techniques to present the same,” he stated, revealing that these techniques included specially made shoes for knees, which allowed them to bend at the front angle, burying of the feet in the ground, a pit made for camera at the ground level, and attaching artificial legs to the actor, among other things.
Rao, who has also successfully tried his hand at animation films (‘Son of Aladdin’ (2003) and ‘Ghatothkach’ (2008)) said that animation is a matter of feeling, and India by nature has got very good potential for animation films, more than live action films. “However we are technically behind other countries in the art of animation as we don’t have our own animation style like say a country like Japan does, and therefore, often follow the American style of animation,” he observed, maintaining that our philosophy of life continuing forever – as against the western philosophy of life ending with death – suits the basics of animation films, which also believe in continuation of life.
“During the making of ‘Ghatothkach’, I wanted a music composer who had a child’s mind, but could not find such a person,” the senior filmmaker said, adding that he finally found that he was the only one around with a child’s mind and hence composed music for the animation film himself. “I am still at a learning stage and feel that I have so much to learn from youngsters, who are presently doing much good work,” he noted, observing that this could perhaps be the only reason why he can still continue to work at such an advanced age.
Speaking about his new projects the octogenarian filmmaker said that he never repeats himself and now intends to make a musical film with no dialogues with everything expressed through music, from the first frame to the last.