Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVIII No. 6, July 1-15, 2018

Working together on pet film projects

by R.V. Rajan

A biography that became an autobiography

(Continued from last fortnight)

Page 7

The Krishnaswamys today. (Picture: R. Raja Pandiyan.)

With her proficiency in Hindi, Mohana was helping her husband in producing some of the films in Hindi. So when Babu offered her the key role at Krishnaswamy Associates, she accepted it without hesitation. Babu’s film on Indian history and heritage had already kindled her interest for history and media.

Three months after his return from America, Babu started his working actively with Barnouw. He found there was no film archive in India and writing about cinema was considered as the work of film publicists. In 1963, a few months after his book titled Indian Film was published, Babu visited the Madras University library curious to know whether his book had been acquired. But, the library assistant responded with contempt, “You know, this is the university library. You won’t find fan magazines here”. Yet, his book got excellent reviews in the US, UK, India and Australia. Within months of it being published, A.S. Raman, the then editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India invited Babu to write a column for their magazine. Babu wrote ‘Madras Film Letter’ for about six years till pressure of work at Krishnaswamy Associates, gave him no time for it.

While Babu was waiting for an opportunity to start his pet project, producing a film based on Indian history and culture, a friend from the advertising and marketing world, R. Desikan suggested him to produce advertisement commercials to generate adequate funds to finance his dream project. But Babu was hesitant. “The more I studied the psychology of human communications, the more I hated advertising as a profession. I believed that it mostly aimed at promoting half-truths, exaggerating the values of products and services to unsuspecting consumers. I told Desikan that my commitment was to make a major film on Indian History and that I was unwilling to fritter away my time on selling soaps and shampoos.” However, when it was suggested that he could get into development communication, educating rural folk to improve their standard of living, he accepted the idea. A two-minute film for Parry’s Fertilisers titled A Pathway to Plenty was the first one produced at Krishnaswamy Associates. Babu says, “The social reality of India was such that you had no option but to accept that ‘No man is an island’.” He made several advertising films later.

Though Krishnaswamy Associates was a proprietary firm, Babu’s elder brothers Balu and Ramanan, and Desikan were the other three pillars. While Balu was a gifted cameraman, Ramanan was a brilliant music composer. A 20-minute film on Neyveli Lignite Corporation titled Brown Diamond produced by the team got Babu his first National award in 1968.

In 1973, Krishnaswamy Associates achieved success not only commercially, but also won recognition with national awards and reputation as an upcoming enterprise. But Babu was not at peace for he could not start working on his dream film. When Balu converted his enterprise into a limited company, his brothers thought it was financially risky to produce something like that at company’s cost. Babu was now on cross-roads for every one warned him about the impending financial catastrophe, and urged him to abandon the idea. Mohana was the only person who stood by him like a rock. She told him casually, “After all, I will get a Ph.D in a couple of years and can manage to earn on my own. Don’t bother about financial security. You have to think and make up your mind whether you really want to take this risk or not. Don’t grow up to be an old man stating that you had a great dream which you could never realise.”

Babu decided to take the plunge. He took back the shares from his brothers and decided to go ahead alone with his dream project. He raised a bank loan by pledging his house as security, the only savings he had then. He invited I.K.Gujral, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, whom he held in high esteem, to the first day’s shooting. During the next couple of years he went through all kinds of situations – both expected and unexpected – before realising his dream.

The locations for shooting included the deserts of Rajasthan and the Himalayan peaks shot from Darjeeling. The crew covered nearly 120 locations, travelling more than 60,000 km, across the country. Babu’s business acumen helped him get into a deal with Indian Airlines, for whom he was doing a film, which brought down the travel cost of the crew substantially. Having crossed all the hurdles, when he was ready to launch the film in 1977, he did not anticipate that the name he had chosen for the film, Indus Valley to Indira Gandhi, inspired by an excellent book on German cinema, Caligary to Hitler, would pose a major problem.

By then Indira Gandhi had lost the elections and the Janatha Government was in power. The new government thought Babu’s film was a propaganda film for Indira Gandhi and refused to release the promised government funds for the project. When all his efforts to find a local distributor to release his film failed, Babu suffered a suspected heart attack due to the tremendous stress he was going through. But as a light at the end of the tunnel, the Hollywood major, Warner Brothers, agreed to be the worldwide distributor of the film. Until then, there was no precedence at all for American distributors buying an Indian film. This was soon followed by Doordarshan acquiring the TV rights for telecasting the film in spite of the fact there was no precedent of even Doordarshan acquiring TV rights for any other film. Response to the film, both in India and abroad, was beyond anybody’s expectation. The film was also a huge success commercially and it provided the platform for launching many more projects.

From the time Krishnaswamy Associates was found in 1963, it has produced 325 documentaries, industrial and corporate films, training and motivational films, biopics (Rajaji, Kamaraj, Ramana Maharishi, C. Subramaniam and R. Venkatraman) and historical and journalistic films (a film on the army action in the Golden Temple in Amritsar), A Paradise Lost based on the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, and many more besides two hundred advertising films.

In 1985, Krishnaswamy Associates diversified into producing entertainment TV serials. Over the next three decades, the company produced serials running cumulatively to 370 episodes both in Tamil and Hindi. Luckily for Babu, Doordarshan and Films Division have been in the forefront, supporting many of his projects. For instance, when he wanted to make a Hindi TV serial based on the Tamil twin classics Silappadigaram and Manimekalai, to telecast them nationally, getting permission for such a venture was an uphill task as the Hindi-oriented Government officers thought that there was no Tamil literature worthy to be produced as a Hindi serial. With great difficulty, when he got the approval and commenced shooting, an anti-Brahmin lobby filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court that the contract ought not to have been given to Krishnaswamy Associates, since Doordarshan had not floated a tender for awarding the production. According to Babu, “It was a formidable combination of forces against us, including corrupt officials of Doordarshan, commercial rivals who would descend to any depths for getting the business and the caste lobby that wanted to prevent a Brahmin organisation from violating what they considered a non-Brahmin right over Tamil classics.”

In addition to the legal fight for Upaasana (Hindi title for the films based on Silappadigaram and Manimekalai), there was one more regarding their TV serial Oorarinda Rahasiyam based on a novel by the well-known Tamil writer JK (Jayakanthan), one of Babu’s very close friends, whose theme of communal harmony was based on a Hindu-Muslim love story.

Doordarshan suddenly withdrew the permission to produce the serial after the Babri Masjid demolition because of the controversial nature of the concept. However, Doordarshan agreed to give the time slot for a sponsored programme with a different title. JK who took Doordarshan’s rejection of his story as an affront to his reputation as a writer, not only disagreed to give alternative stories but objected to Babu producing serials by other authors during the time allotted for his story. JK went to court against Balu. A few weeks after court trials and an out-of-court settlement, JK visited Babu’s office and apologised profusely.

The next big project that Krishnaswamy Associate ventured was a three-part film based on the impact of ancient India on Southeast Asia. Babu was already in his seventies and just had a by-pass surgery. The first film was titled A different pilgrimage with a Hindu devotional orientation, the second Indian Imprints was a long and more informative serial and third, Tracking Indian Footmarks, aimed at an international audience who are interested in Asian History.

Babu says, “The filming of these three projects in Southeast Asia, covering Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was indeed the most challenging and most satisfying part of my whole career. It was also Mohana’s most demanding work as a Producer, assuming several responsibilities single-handedly because of the restrictions on my movements due to the surgery”.

While at Surakarta in Indonesia, when the team was preparing to leave the hotel for the day’s shooting, they found the building trembling and everyone had to rush out of the hotel to open space. It was a major earthquake in the region removing all communication channels. The team felt like nomads with no place to go and were cutoff from the rest of the world. It was undoubtedly one of the most nightmarish experiences for Babu and his team.

* * *

The following paragraphs in the last part of the autobiography sums up the essence of this unusual story of a couple. Babu says, “I pursued the goal of using film and TV as instruments to keep people well-informed, build respect for their heritage, remove the superstitious layer of their traditions and learn more about not only the ancient past but of recent history and the great persons who moulded that history.

“To raise resources for making such films, I indulged in making promotional and corporate image building films. I channeled the revenue from all this into making films of the kind that I wished to make. It would have been well-nigh impossible to pursue these goals if my life partner had a different perspective of life. Between Mohana and me, our differences in attitude in subtle ways have become complementary because of our common philosophy, helping each other in our voyage…. This book is a very true, concise record of our joint dreams as we sail in a small raft in the real world”.

*Published by Rupa Publications Pvt. Ltd.


Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay Updated