Deepak Bhojraj, you have seen his posters

The film 12B (2001), directed by the late Jeeva, has two endings, and one gets the sense that the career of Deepak Bhojraj, the man who edited the trendsetting trailer of the film, could have gone either way. He could have easily been a farmer, but decided to be a designer of posters and trailers. He has now taken up the job of creative head for actor Karthi’s next.

His office is centrally located in Ooty, just half a kilometre from the town’s nerve centre, Charing Cross. It is drizzling and I am late. An employee from Rising Apple, Bhojraj’s four-man company, ushers me in. I find the man in the drawing room, next to a dark brown, worn-out sofa set. We go inside to the boss’s room and get on it.

“We are doing some posters. One is with Moodar Koodam director Naveen called Alauddinin Arputha Camera. The first look poster was released only two days ago,” he tells me.

Bhojraj is heftily-built and is dressed warmly for the occasion. The temperature is a bit lower than most days at the popular hill station. He has a pepper beard tied into a tuft at the lower chin. During the course of the interview, he frequently uses words like creativity, entertainment and excitement. It is clear these words mean a lot to him.

What else is he working on? “I am discussing with director Vikram Kumar (of 24 fame) on his next Telugu project. He has asked me. But till it gets started, I don’t know when and how. Two more Tamil films are also on the works,” he says. “I did the promos and posters for Na Nuvve, and the film was released last month, but didn’t do well.”

The word film is sprinkled liberally all over our conversation, but never movie or picture. “Then, we are doing Vellai Pookal shot entirely in the US. The brains behind the film are in Amazon and IBM and all these places. It has three producers, but some 25 friends are funding it. It is a crowdfunded project. Vivek is the hero. It’s a murder mystery, a whodunit, with a detective trying to solve a crime,” he says.

Bhojraj is most known for the poster of 24. “I set up this design studio (Rising Apple) in Ooty about eight years ago. Earlier, I had to design posters after they completed the film. But in 24, I heard the narration of the film and did concepts. We did a photo shoot for that and created a poster. We planned that every month, on the 24th, we would release a poster. It was conceived completely by me and we strategised the planning of the promotions. We did seven first-looks. That was never done before. That’s why it worked,” he said.

“The best part about 24 is that Suriya and Vikram Kumar gave me a free hand. Suriya, as producer, went all out to promote the film. That’s why the film stood out from the rest,” he said.

“I did Manam with Vikram Kumar. That was my first film with him. We created quite a buzz with the promotions there (in Andhra Pradesh). There were three generations of actors in the film from Nagarjuna’s family. The film had very big expectations. We had to keep that in mind while promoting the film,” says. “You need to drive the message (of the film) to the people, but this has to be the right message. Whatever you are preparing the audience for, that has to be right.”

Bhojraj has worked closely with Mani Ratnam for Guru (2007) and Yuva (2004), among other films. “Mani Ratnam never tells you what he wants. I think he chooses his team very carefully. He is always open to an idea. We get a chance to challenge ourselves more,” he says.

How did he get a chance to work with Mani Ratnam? “I did the promos for AR Rahman shows. At the time, these shows (the Unity of Light series) were happening in Chennai. After seeing them, Mani sir called me. Then I did Shankar’s Boys and Virumandi for Kamal Haasan. For Virumandi, before the film started, we conceptualised, shot and edited the trailer,” he says.

“Directors like Vikram Kumar and Mani Ratnam give you inputs. But they never tell you what to do. That’s what they pay us for. They have created from scratch. I have to excite the soul who conceived the idea with every poster and trailer that I do. If I convince them, I am sure that the audience are… That  I am in the right direction,” he says.

Bala is another top rung director Bhojraj has worked with. “Directors like Bala…he is very defined. He is sure about what he wants. I worked on (the Atharva-starrer) Pardesi with him. Initially, he was not very open, but changed later. I did the sound mixing and determined the colour, look and feel of the film. I got the background score done. I even trimmed the film. I told Bala to look at what I had done. I had told him that we could go back if he did not like something. He liked it,” Bhojraj says proudly.

“The first cut of Irudhi Suttru (2016) was done in Ooty on this table,” he says tapping his desk. (The editing of the film is credited to Sathish Suriya).

Bhojraj comes from a joint family of Badagas, an indigenous tribe in the Nilgiris, and is the oldest of three brothers. “From school, I was into photography and had this point-and-shoot camera. I was shooting landscapes and portraits. Later, I got an SLR and put together a portfolio,” he says.

“I used to take pictures of my family. In all functions, I used to be the official photographer. People started appreciating me and that is when I realised I had talent. I was never good with academics. So I had to look for an alternative,” he explains.

“I wanted to get into cinematography. I went to Film Institute in Chennai, but they turned me down, saying I needed science schooling. But I was in the accounts group,” he says. “My father said ‘finish your basic degree and then decide what you want to do’. So I finished my college in English Literature at Government Arts College in Coimbatore,” he says.

After passing out, Bhojraj met director PC Sriram. “I asked him to take me. He could not take on assistants as he had too many. He told me to work in the direction department of JS Films, which he runs along with Jayendra. He asked me to be around and learn direction. I worked there for four, four-and-a-half years,” he says.

Bhojraj’s first trailer was for 12B. “I decided to start on my own after that. Jeeva is PC’s colleague and has worked with him. That’s is how I know him. He had made 12B. When I approached him, he said ‘no’. He said ‘only the director and editor can edit the trailer’,” he says.

“‘How will third person do it?” he asked me, and told me to meet him after three weeks…So, I was driving back (from the meeting) and I got an idea. I got all the technicians’ names. I devised a concept. I made the title sequence with all the credits coming on like a bus horn and going back. I did all this by myself. I created the music for it and went and showed it to Jeeva about 3-4 days later. Then he said, now, you do whatever you (want),” he says, with a chuckle.

The trailer for 12B set a new benchmark in Kollywood. “It got to be known as the fastest-edited trailer. Everybody started calling after that. I got big films,” he says.

“I come from an audience’s perspective. You (the director) will be part of a film for over a year…two years. You may not like a lot of things. Stuff which is exciting for you may not be so for me and vice-versa,” he says.

Asked about the controversy over the promo for Pardesi, Bhojraj said it showed Bala explaining to an actor to be aggressive in a scene that involved hitting a person. “The film is set in a tea estate in the pre-Independence era portraying the British as being harsh on estate workers. The hitting scene was in the promo and people thought he was treating actors very badly,” he explains. “There would have be no problem if people had seen it along with the movie.”

Behind Bhojraj there is a collection of painting and posters, all of them in frames neatly displayed. “I have been collecting them for a while,” he said.

Bhojraj thinks of himself as a juggler with many creative hands. He is even involved in a bit of farming. “I have some land in Red Hills (Ooty) near Emerald. I won’t be doing any farming for six months though. I have people looking at it. But, you have to put your mind to it. Otherwise, it will take a different course. We used to cultivate vegetables. It is actually more than a full-time job,” he said.

“For me, what is important is, anything that comes to us that is challenging and exciting and we have not done before, we take it up. As long as it is creative, we do it. There is no self-limiting line,” he said. “I named my firm Rising Apple to indicate imagination, as a falling apple signifies gravity. For me creativity is imagination.”

Until 3-4 years ago, Bhojraj was making ad films. “My production company out of which I did ad films was called Rancouter,” he says.

“I have shot some 45-50 ad films. There is a Pothys ad which is spoken about even till today. The owner of Pothys came up with a four films concept. They wanted one film each for one saree that is worn during a specific occasion like Muhurtham or First Night. I explained to them my time slice concept, but they were not convinced.  The idea cannot be narrated like a story. We discussed the project many times across the table, but they simply could not visualise it,” he said.

He asks me graciously if I want to watch them on his big Apple screen. When I decline, he goes right ahead. “They said finally that if you are so sure, let’s go ahead with it. We shot with 54 cameras and did a half circle. It’s called a time slice. We were the first to do that in India. The technique is similar to some scenes in the Hollywood film, Matrix. The ad film was made just before Boys,” he says.

Bhojraj also shot a film with cricketer Sachin Tendulkar for Shakti Foundation, a Chennai-based NGO, which was demanding ramps in public places for disabled people. “They had approached Mani Ratnam to direct the film. Mani sir said that he would write the script but asked someone else to direct it and suggested my name. I took it up. I was a challenging project. Rahman did the music for the film and Mani Ratnam produced it,” he says.

Bhojraj stopped making ad films 3-4 years ago. “I still get offers. But there is nothing very exciting. It is regular, man, and there is no great idea to take up. In South India and particularly in Chennai, there are no companies making great ad films,” he said.

“We have multiple verticals. Film posters, packaging, branding and brochures are among the things we do,” he said, showing me a brochure for an Italian paper company. “They wanted us to do the creative for the brochure. From concept to execution, we did everything,” he says, asking me to touch and feel the brochure. The texture of the paper is in meticulous detail; one of them has a skin texture and another has a metal feel.  “We are diversified. We do the branding for the educational branch of Chettinad Group,” he said.

“Have you heard of Nilgiris Alive,” he asks suddenly. “We make this merchandise and sell it all over town. I realised that tourists do not have souvenirs to take back with them apart from tea and coffee. This is my own brand. This has nothing to do with film. I am here in Ooty and giving it back to society. We make things relative to Ooty like stuffed versions of animals that are here,” he said.

I asked him to name the directors he admires. “I love every director for a certain ability that they posses. I see the quality of the director from different perspectives. Bala sir draws out the best performance from actors. The way Mani sir approaches a subject is very different. There is a way a film is written and another in the way it is visualised. Shooting off the top of my head, among the younger crop of directors, there are Thiagarajan Kumararaja and Karthik Subbaraj. Directors like them are rocking the scene. They are creating their own genres,” he said.

“A film like Aruvi had me thinking for the next two days. It has an unusual format, but still has entertaining aspects. Sometimes, you look at a film, you are in awe. Sometimes, films are big hits, but without any great direction. Some films flop, but are well-made,” he said.

Is it difficult working out of Ooty? “Right now, we are in the process of setting up a branch in Chennai. My office was in Chennai for 20 years. We had an independent house in Chennai and an office there. I decided to take a break from ad films and direct my feature. I wanted to do something that I love, but have never tried. I was on a break for six months and then I decided to do graphic design,” he said.

Bhojraj had to go through a process of finding his feet before he got into graphic design. “When I first came back to Ooty, I did not know what to do. Then I started learning graphic design by myself in those six months. We slowly set up shop. I was not in a hurry. Talent came slowly. Once we were confident, we began taking up projects,” he says.

“Lots of people still didn’t come to us because we were in Ooty.  But I had done Guru (Hindi) by then, so I thought why can’t I deliver to Chennai when I can deliver to Mumbai. So it doesn’t matter if a person is in Anna Nagar or Aminjikarai (localities in Chennai) because connectivity is like that,” said.

Bhojraj has plans to direct. “I am working on a couple of scripts. I should have gotten into directing long back. I just pushed it, and pushed it and hopefully, it will soon happen. One of them is a love story, and the outline of the film is its USP. So I won’t tell you more. I am collaborating with a writer in Australia. Another is a thriller, but I am not getting any time to sit on it,” he says. “I consult for a quite a few feature films. I even do some fine tuning on scripts,” he says.

Asked about his opinion on New Wave (Independent) Tamil cinema, he says: “I think, we still need to explore a lot. We are still very conservative. Everybody says the audience has to accept the film. Audience expects good entertainment, that’s about it. We are failing to package films in a better way.”

“Some films run for entertainment value. There are a lot of directors who are doing the usual stuff. End of the day, a lot of money is involved and so people want a safety net, which is not there at all. Every Friday determines the fate of the film. Some films we thought were not good, turned out to be fantastic at the box office,” he says.

An edited version of this story was published on The News Minute.

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Mysskin: Bold and on your face

This is a short post I made on Tamil movie director Mysskin’s speech at a short film festival in December 2017 in Ooty. It has not been published elsewhere. As always, your comments are most welcome.

His speech done, Mysskin, with his trademark shades intact, stepped down and mingled with the crowd at Ooty Film Festival held at Assembly Rooms on December 8, 9 and 10, 2017. He had just demonstrated that his oratory skills were at least as good as his ability to turn out hit pictures. He shook hands with familiar faces and fans and made his way to the food counter, where people queued up to take individual snaps with him. He was especially courteous to women unlike many characters in his movies. Mysskin was patient as the whole process took long minutes.

Mysskin’s role in the festival, comprising mostly of short films, had been as a mentor of sorts and the organisers made no bones of the fact that his hand had steadied the ship. Earlier, on December 8, the festival had begun with a Sinhalese film directed by Prasanna Vithanage.

On Saturday, December 9, Mysskin delivered his rousing speech, which held the audience in thrall. The small hall behind Assembly Rooms, where the sessions were held, was jam-packed and the director targeted his speech, titled ‘Meditation in the Art of Film-making’, mostly at the film students gathered there.

Throughout his speech that ran well over 90 minutes, Mysskin seemed brutally honest, often taking pot shots at public figures like Prime Minister Narendra Modi (he may arrest me), superstar Rajinikanth (I can’t hope he understands my movies), and actor Kamal Haasan (my stories are wasted on him).

Mysskin went on to prescribe a number of steps that film students should take to have a successful career in the world of celluloid. From reading great masters like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to watching the seminal classics on film, an image of director mysskin he called upon students to have discipline in the way they work in their chosen field. “The fundamentals of cinematography and framing a shot can be understood by looking at the best black and white photos ever shot,” he said.

Bemoaning the lack of quality in the Tamil short films submitted to the festival, he said there was a wide chasm between home-grown films and those submitted from Iran and Sri Lanka. “It is with a sinking heart that I say that some films submitted to the festival were really poor,” he said. He went on to illustrate how film students could base their films on the acclaimed works of Tamil writers. “Our culture is in no way inferior to that of many countries across the world. There is no reason why the films cannot be as good,” he said.

Mentioning how film students were being increasingly influenced by the works of highly successful directors of tentpole movies like Christopher Nolan, he persuaded students to have a “simple approach to the process of film-making” to begin with. “You really can’t afford to dream that you are going to make the next Interstellar,” Mysskin said.

His speech was freely littered with cuss words and every time he mentioned a word that can’t be reproduced here, there was much cheering from the audience. “This is not Parliament. I can get away with saying unparliamentary words. And, you will all go to sleep if I drone on here on stage. I want you to listen to what I am saying. And, I am obliged to make sure you are not distracted,” he said.

Giving an example from his own experience at the sets of Nandalala, he said he had written 22 scenes for his opening sequence in the film. But he was constrained at the set because someone had failed to get the required permission to shoot the sequence. “Shooting the whole sequence would have taken me at least a day. I thought for a few minutes and then decided to just restrict the whole sequence to just one shot. As a crowd rushes out of a school, I got the boy (who plays a central role in the film) to look into the camera,” he said, explaining how the film-making process can be made both economical and powerful.

“There are just three shots in film-making: Longshot, mid-shot and close-up. If you are wondering about god-shot and mise-en-scene as your begin your film-making process, well, hard luck, you may not complete your film,” he said.

Mysskin began his journey with 2006’s Chithiram Pesuthadi. Many of his films including Anjathe and Onayum Aatukuttiyum went on to achieve considerable commercial success and critical acclaim.

Jackie – Inside the White House

Saw Jackie, the movie on the former First Lady of the US, and want to write my thoughts on it. Natalie Portman portrays Jacqueline Kennedy as a widow, who has the inner reserves to make a difference in the crucial days following the assassination of her husband John F Kennedy.

The lead performance is towering and played with endless compassion by Portman as the camera swoops into many close-ups including the one that begins the movie. She is unlucky to have not won the Oscar this year, seeing as it were that she was up against Emma Stone’s enormously popular performance in La La Land.

The movie essays back and forth as if travelling in Jackie’s memory. The tour of the White House, flawlessly reconstructed with Jackie playing the charming hostess, was broadcast and seen by millions of viewers. This film, along with sYousuf-Karsh-John-and-Jackie-Kennedy-1957-1644x1960imilarly captured moments, form important parts of the movie. Jackie’s conversation with a priest, played by John Hurt before his death, also plays out as a riveting piece of the action, especially when the priest recounts the parable of Jesus and the blind man. The movie is also a throwback to the days when Jackie shared a close bond with Robert F Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), who bitterly complains about the family legacy that had gone wrong with the death of the president.

Jackie is also shown as wandering through the elegant and well-kept rooms of the White House in a daze. She is also shown self-medicating herself along with large swigs of vodka. She is also seen chain smoking through an interview with an unnamed journalist portrayed by Billy Crudup. But the show must go on, and it does.

The Oscar-nominated music by Mica Levi is haunting and provides perfect thrust at many of the movie’s dramatic moments. I thought the movie should have ended better; the ballroom sequence seemed a bit tacky. The movie is directed by Pablo Larrain and written by Noah Oppenheim.

The Outlook 3

As Acham Enbathu Madamaiyada was released, I did a story on Gautham Menon. When I grew tired of superhero movies, I did this article for Outlookindia.com. My take on everybody’s favourite dragon story was published here.

Your comments are invaluable. Please leave them in the space below.

MAMI festival: The First Post reviews

Mumbai is a lovely city. It hit me again when I visited the city recently. This is my third visit to the business hub of India. My first time was with my dad when I was 11. I visited again for the marriage of my friends; one friend was marrying another, and we all joined in for the festivities.

This time, I was in the city to attend the film festival organised by the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI). I was there between October 11 and 19. Most of the time was spent in theatres, including the charming Regal Theatre at Colaba.

I stayed at my friend Abhiney’s house in Chembur East. On most days, I had breakfast and dinner there. It was good Bengali food and I hogged like anything.

Onto the serious business now. I am listing out the reviews of the movies that I did for firstpost.com

The Hungry

A Fantastic Woman

Chavela

I Am Not A Witch

Wajib

Please do leave your comments.

My continuing stint with TNM: From Ilaiyaraaja to Mumbai film festival

filmOn Tuesday, October 24, 2017, IV Sasi died. The obit I wrote for the Malayalam cinema’s box-office king was published in The News Minute (TNM).

I attended the film festival organised by Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image. My article, with short summaries of all the films I saw, is here.  

Most of the articles I wrote for TNM are here. Click through to read them. As many as 12 articles were published between July 7, 2015 and October 25. 2017.

2016 Delhi trip, with students of McGans

 

It was a few minutes past midnight on Christmas day of 2016 that 77 students, all of them third-years at McGans Ooty School of Architecture, took off to the Coimbatore railway station in five minibuses. The temperature was freezing, under 10 degree Celsius. The students were warmly dressed, but still, could not keep their hands off their mobiles. The students were led by four staff — Senthil Maruthavanan, Arun Davis, Sarika Agarwal and my wife, Dhenuka. I was on the first bus.

The idea was to take the students on a study tour of Agra, Delhi and Chandigarh and expose them to the places of architectural importance in these cities and supplement what they had learned in theory. Hopefully, this would fire up their imaginations and shape them along the way to becoming better architects. I was to tag along and record the trip for the college.

Soon enough, we were winding our way to Kothagiri en route to Coimbatore. Luckily, the fog cover was light. The driver was playing gentle music and soon enough the whoops, whistles and catcalls gave way to the steady sounds of breathing made by sleeping students.

We were well ahead of time at the Coimbatore railway station. Thilakar alias Kutty, the representative from Metro Travels, the agency hired by McGans, shepherded us on to the right platform. He was always closeby through the entire trip and his experience was invaluable to the group during many an occasion.

The compartment on Inter-City Express we had booked was a chair car. We seated ourselves comfortably. Once we were out of Coimbatore, we had plenty to treat our eyes to, as green fields and trees rushed by. A shocker came when Thilakar got a text from Railways saying that Grand Trunk Express, which was to take us to Agra, was late by over 12 hours. We were in Chennai mid-day mentally prepared for the wait.

However, when we reached Chennai, we realised that most students were not for using the waiting rooms in the Central station, but wanted to visit their own homes in the city. Finally, a deal was struck, and after a written undertaking, everyone was let off. They were to return an hour before the train was to depart to Agra.

Much to the relief of the staff, the students were on time the next morning. The train, though late,  was seeming to be making good time once we left Chennai behind. The wintery chill gave away to a more warmer climate. Food was bad but edible. We also helped ourselves to biscuits and snacks. The students too seem to be energetic after a good night’s rest.

We reached Agra Cantonment. on the afternoon of December 28, too tired to do any touring. The winter was not intolerable as some of us had feared. Staff and students were able to engage in a bit of shopping.

But we were up early the next morning and visited the Agra Fort. A guide was engaged to enlighten the students. The walled city, built almost entirely of red stone, is a World Heritage Site and was home to the Mughals until the 17th century. It was ensured that the students had more than enough time to tour the Fort and absorb its finer details.

But touring the Taj Mahal was an entirely different story for the sheer splendour of the monument. The first thing noticed was how the crowds gathered at the foot of the structure were dwarfed by its enormity. Despite the huge crowd, a few students were not satisfied by walking around the structure. They snuck inside and took time to come out, obviously awestruck by the inner beauty of the Taj.

We then went to Fatehpur-Sikri, a city founded by Akbar in 1569. It is one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture and has been impeccably preserved. It consists of grand palaces, courtyards, mosques and harems. It was noticed that the local guide spent considerable time explaining Akbar’s relationships with various queens. Many students also took time out to pray at the mosque. Since it was winter, the city was not crowded and we had ample time to take it in the surroundings.

We then hit the National Capital. It was early in the morning when we reached Delhi and had a catch a few winks before heading out. The famous Qutub Minar, one of the tallest minarets in the world, was first on our list. It was maintained well as it is a World Heritage monument.

The Sanskriti Kendra, an extremely well-kept centre, is a tribute to nature with its lotus ponds, ancient trees and shrubs. This was our next stop. The natural surroundings are gently worked into the architecture of the main building, which includes museums and a multi-purpose hall.

TERI University famous for its architecture, which is friendly towards sustainable development, was next on our itinerary. The students were given a tour of the beautiful and green campus and were briefed about its fascinating structure during a session. The varsity located in Vasant Kunj area of New Delhi is recognised globally for its work in energy, environment and sustainable development.

After a productive day, we went back to our hotel to retire for the night. We went to Chandigarh the next morning and reached there in the evening. The students were happy to visit Sector 17 to do a spot of shopping and came back with many souvenirs.

Our first visit the next morning was to Capitol Complex, which was designed by the famous Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. After a tour of the premises, we were ushered into the assembly rooms, where the Punjab and Haryana Houses meet. During the entire tour, we had informed commentary about the campus from a guide.

The Corbusier Museum, which was our next stop, was a fascinating tribute to the genius architect. The intimate relationship he enjoyed with former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was on display in many black and white photographs taken during the time.

The Nek Chand’s Rock Garden was our next stop. It is easy to get lost in this garden and time was too short to take in all its splendour. It is a tribute to the unusual skills and creativity of Nek Chand and the sculpture garden took the master a lifetime to complete.

We returned to the National Capital, where we visited the grand Indian Habitat Centre, and took time to take in a photography exhibition, which was on. The IHC is a premier cultural centre and hosts many superb events happening in the city.

Delhi Haat with its arts and crafts shops and food stalls from all the states in India was our next and last stop for the day. The food was the main attraction as students helped themselves to momos and pani pooris. They were instructed to observe how the various shops were arranged in the limited space in the heart of Delhi.

We reached our hotel as night fell. After a refreshing night’s sleep, we took off to Humayun’s tomb, which is a tribute to the famous Mughal king. The tomb along with its splendorous garden is an early example of Mughal architecture, which reached its zenith with Taj Mahal.

Our next stop was the Lotus Temple, which attracts hundreds of visitors to it every day. People are fascinated by its architecture and the Baha’i faith, which propagates the oneness of God, religions and mankind. Built in 1988, it has been on the must-visit list of tourists to Delhi ever since.  

The next visit was Rashtrapati Bhavan, the seat of the President of India. Located at the western end of Rajpath, the 340-room building is the largest residence of a head of state in the world. It was formerly known as Viceroy’s House.

After a spot of shopping, we rushed to the railway station, only to find that the train was delayed again. Coming back was the most arduous part of the trip as the train took more than 48 hours before chugging into Chennai.

We booked two private buses that brought us back safely to Ooty. It was a deeply satisfying and fulfilling trip for students and staff.