George Jacob – executive producer, director, cinematographer and script writer – has a flash-back to his three years at film school and as a director of cinematography in the Indian film industry followed by productions for the Indian Space Research Organisation. It is an experience that has influenced and added value to his productions of corporate business marketing videos and other non-fiction productions.
The camera came in four boxes and weighed around 25 kilos! It was the Mitchell Studio camera. When I say studio, I mean for a proper film studio where feature films were shot. The camera body was in one box, while the mini-bomb like thing they called the camera motor, in another solid wooden box. That must have been around 12 kilos. Then there was the side viewfinder that we had to attach to the left side of the camera. Finally the thousand foot magazine that held the film roll. It would run approximately 11 minutes at 24 frames per second. Once assembled it took two to shift it.
That was my introduction to 35mm cameras at the film school and to the world of cinema and dreams – literally. It was also an introduction to a world of dreamers, artistes, geniuses, sweet talkers, wanderers, charlatans, and a lifestyle that one could describe as bohemian. Bohemia for me was in Chennai, India. They called it Kodambakkam.
Our institute, The Institute of Film Technology, was one of the several institutes in a large sprawling campus called the CPT campus in Chennai, India. CPT stood for Central Institutes of Technology. It was at the edge of the city (which was then called Madras) and beyond there was only open land, a bit soft and swampy I suspect.
A few kilometers down the east coast in that southerly direction lay an artists’ colony that was beginning draw attention. Cholamandal it was called, by the sea, on the white sands. They were simple shacks and huts built of local wood and thatched with woven palm leaves. It could not get any simpler. It was also the time when we began to see western hippies appear, wanderers of sorts, many with beatific expressions, frugal and happy. They were fueled by what came to be known as Flower power.
About 60 kilometers further down the road was Mahabalipuram, an ancient seaport from the days of Ptolemy and later to be the seaport of the Pallavan Dynasty. It had sanctuaries and temples carved out of rock. It still stands, rock solid.
Our institute had a beautiful Cinemascope theatre which could accommodate around 200, if I remember correctly. Part of the daily curriculum included watching a feature film. It was the greatest luxury one could ever dream of… watching at least one movie everyday!
On some days after supper in the hostel mess (popular term for lunchroom) we would screen one more film, that is if the faculty or students managed to get a print for the night from a distributor. Film distributors were happy to loan us a print. After all we were the future of the only known entertainment sector in that region, cinema. Television was not even a rumour and the word video didn’t exist.
Next to us was the Catering Institute. We had an understanding of sorts. They would feed us with wonderful dishes they cooked as part of their curriculum and we would invite them to watch the movie with us. Life was better than what the other students had to undergo. Imagine the students at the leather institute and the printing institute, what smells they might have had to endure! (To be continued…..)