An unemployed man will get prepared for a possible job interview. He waits in a endless queue in entrance of a board that claims, Temporary Vacancies. Bogged down by restlessness and poverty, he cuts the queue taking any individual else’s place, solely to be pushed again to the fag finish of the road. He repeats the identical, when the person takes, moderately, steals a rich particular person’s identification and decides to reside a luxurious life he by no means dreamt of. 

There is comedy but additionally tragedy. 

Thirty-five years in the past, Singeetam Srinivasa Rao dared to dream what no Indian filmmaker may: to make a dialogue-less film in Pushpak (1987) — the primary Indian movie to have come out with none dialogues after the silent period. As most individuals would assume and rightly so, it wasn’t braveness that drove Singeetam. “It was a form of insanity,” he laughs, once we meet on a heat winter morning at his Chennai residence.

“Let’s say you inform a baby to not go nearfire. But the kid would wish to contact and really feel it. That thrill was there in me,” says Singeetam. Pushpak [starring Kamal Haasan and Amala Akkineni] was the hearth. 

Singeetam goes again a good distance in cinema, beginning out as a dialogue author to filmmaker KV Reddy having assisted him within the landmark Telugu film, Mayabazar (1957). He grew up on a gradual weight loss program of American and European cinema which have a wealthy historical past of silent period films.

“That grew to become the bottom for filmmaking for them. Whereas talkies grew to become the bottom for us. We began making mythologies from stage performs. Those weren’t movies however stage performs photographed on the display. From then on, the tradition of stage performs being photographed has been persevering with for a very long time,” laughs Singeetam, including, “Only in Indian cinema is there a title referred to as dialogue author. Nowhere else.”

Singeetam Srinivasa Rao says he couldn’t have made ‘Pushpak’ without Kamal Haasan

Singeetam Srinivasa Rao says he couldn’t have made ‘Pushpak’ with out Kamal Haasan
| Photo Credit:
Johan Sathyadas

Singeetam would typically come throughout individuals asking him why he made Pushpak with out dialogues. “I ask them, ‘why ought to an individual climb the Himalayas and hoist the nationwide flag there? They can comfortably sit at dwelling and have breakfast. Why take the difficulty?’ Because it’s an achievement.”

The decades-long expertise, now locked in his head as reminiscences, tumble out like pearls, when the filmmaker speaks. Singeetam comes from a faculty that believed in sustaining silence, thereby slicing out cacophony on the movie units. It was not a selection, for, they used to shoot in Mitchell digital camera, which got here with sync-sound. 

“Actors would recite their dialogues and the recording was carried out on the set with a growth mic,” he remembers, including, “We would rehearse earlier than going for the take. This is how Mayabazar was shot. There was no idea of dubbing, apart from a couple of patch works.”

A digital camera like Mitchell would have in all probability solved most of their logistical challenges in Pushpak. However, the digital camera was heavy and now not in vogue. It was the daybreak of Arriflex cameras. “When Arriflex got here, film making grew to become simpler. The digital camera is rolling, actors are talking their traces, there’s noise, and individuals are at all times speaking on the units.”

Singeetam shouted silence on Pushpak’s units. “That was the troublesome half,” he chuckles, “With that form of self-discipline present within the movie trade again then, I got here and shouted silence. But no one was silent.” 

For the sake of actual atmosphere sound, the filmmaker determined to shoot the scenes twice. “Let’s say Kamal opens the fridge and sweets fall out of it, we made Kamal do it one other time simply to seize the sound. It is troublesome to recreate this pure sound,” he says.

The nice tragedy

In the garb of a tragicomedy, Pushpak is concerning the crushing ironies that scream at you: faeces wrapped in a scented field; an unemployed youth with empty pockets feels jealous trying at a beggar and the wad of notes he possesses; an ice knife is the chosen weapon in what may very well be a cold-blooded homicide; being a dialogue-less movie, it was launched as Pesum Padam (Talkie Picture) in Tamil.

Of all, the outrageous irony has received to be the romance between Kamal and Amala that blossoms at a memorial service; apparently it even left stalwarts like Satyajit Ray and Raj Kapoor dumbfounded. 

“I’ve seen so many romantic movies and have made so many myself. This is the primary time I’m seeing a love scene round a useless physique, wow,” Kapoor appeared to have remarked, when he as soon as met Singeetam in Bangalore.

Kamal Haasan in the Tamil film ‘Pesum Padam’

Kamal Haasan within the Tamil movie ‘Pesum Padam’
| Photo Credit:
The Hindu Archives

There is a touch of the Marx Brothers in Singeetam’s writing, whereas the performances are closely drawn from Charlie Chaplin, “Definitely there’s an affect [on Chaplin]. Not simply in me however Kamal too. You can not escape that,” he says.

“Chaplin needed to do it in 18 frames within the silent period. It appeared just a little unnatural due to that. We didn’t need it to be a silent movie. The screenplay was labored in such a method that there was no necessity for dialogue. Supposing there was a spot for dialogue, like when the drunkard desires to speak, Kamal stuffs his mouth with a bit of material. That is why the appearing and performances felt actual.”

Pushpak was a end result of so many attention-grabbing concepts that couldn’t make the minimize within the last film. For occasion, Singeetam remembers a private reminiscence of the time a burglar tried to swindle his daughter’s purse after they lived in T Nagar. 

“My spouse had gifted the bag to my daughter. It appeared heavy on the surface. This man put a pole into our room and stole the bag, solely to be dissatisfied. My daughter had put in all of the bus tickets, papers and little stones she had collected within the bag. But that purse remains to be a property for the thief at that time,” laughs Singeetam. 

Singeetam had the visuals and general design in thoughts; rather a lot, nonetheless, got here collectively through the making. Like within the scene between Kamal and PL Narayana (who performs the beggar), it was the latter’s thought to open the sack stuffed with money, in a dramatic method. 

“There are sure issues I don’t consider in writing as a result of life drive received’t be there. If you write every part mechanically, it turns into a stage play. I wished my actors to personal it, solely then there will probably be life drive,” he says, “It was a giant aid to have individuals like Kamal, Amala and Gowrishankar [cinematographer].”

For a dialogue-less film, performances of the lead actors wanted to be pure and remained very important in preserving the viewers engaged, agrees Singeetam. One of the movie’s now-iconic pictures has Kamal and Amala interacting via hand gestures standing on the balcony of their respective suites. 

Normally such pictures of the actors are taken individually, the place they think about the opposite actor being current and appearing. That was not the case in Pushpak. All actors have been current on a regular basis, whether or not they had a scene or not.

“When we have been taking Kamal’s shot on the balcony, Amala was there on the alternative facet doing her a part of the appearing and vice versa. They have been principally appearing and reacting,” he says.

Kamal and Amala in ‘Pushpak’

Kamal and Amala in ‘Pushpak’
| Photo Credit:
The Hindu Archives

Singeetam doesn’t prefer to talk too much about Kamal, the actor. “What extra can I say about his appearing? It’s like saying fish swim rather well.” 

But Amala was really a discover.

He first got here to know of her via a Telugu movie wherein she was requested to recite dialogues in a melodramatic vogue. She will not be that particular person, thought Singeetam.

“She had a candy face and great pores and skin that when gentle fell on her cheeks, it might bounce off. I assumed she was the most effective for a no-dialogue movie. I wished somebody whose face appeared contemporary on display — like Audrey Heburn in Roman Holiday.”

Turns out, Amala is true. She referred to as Singeetam a “riot” in an interview. “Half his sentence can be laughter,” she mentioned and also you now get why.

Singeetam knew it was the efficiency that was going to remain. “I don’t consider in karma. But when so many issues come collectively [for a film like Pushpak], I’m compelled to consider the karma principle,” he says.

Unusual twins 

A younger filmmaker or viewers discovering Pushpak for the primary time may maybe deem it a “daring experiment”. Is that what Singeetam considered it 35 years in the past? “I assumed it was probably the most business movie,” he says, earlier than breaking into fun. 

“What is business? When you have got a star like Kamal, it routinely turns into a business movie; it doesn’t matter whether it is made in Tamil or Telugu. Whereas a Kamalahasan movie like Pushpak runs in all languages. Which is extra business? A Tamil-language Kamal movie or a no-language movie with Kamal?”

It was 1987 when Kamal was at the peak of superstardom. Pushpak was potential solely as a result of a star like him was able to again the director, sharing equal enthusiasm and maybe, insanity too. “Is it potential to make a movie about Hiranyakashipu with out Ranga Rao? Can you make Mayabazar with out Gatotkachan? Amitabh Bachchan is a famous person. But are you able to solid him as Krishna [one can only think of NTR]? Likewise, I couldn’t have made Pushpak or Apoorva Sagodharargal with out Kamalahasan.”

A poster of ‘Pushpak’

A poster of ‘Pushpak’
| Photo Credit:
The Hindu Archives

Among the filmmakers he has labored with, Kamal Haasan deems Singeetam “the youngest”; you can’t assist however agree with him. At 92, Singeetam displays a uncommon ardour for cinema; and a childlike glee when he speaks, not essentially about his films — “The day I speak about myself is the day I will probably be irrelevant.”

His vitality is contagious and he nonetheless brims with concepts; a 3D animated image on the lifetime of Indian biochemist Yellapragada Subbarow is within the works, informs Singeetam. A man who doesn’t romanticise past glories nor believes in trying again, the legendary filmmaker desires to make “the primary graphic film” by combining the concept of graphic novels and utilizing cinema as a medium. 

“What is that this film, you ask? I’ll let you know later. Let it’s a suspense for now,” he chuckles.

Singeetam will not be carried out but. 

Even when a private tragedy struck him — the filmmaker misplaced his spouse, Lakshmi Kalyani, earlier this yr — Singeetam marched ahead albeit slowly.

“It was a 60-year-long marriage,” he says, “My spouse was at all times stuffed with constructive ideas. The first three days have been troublesome after shedding her; I wasn’t myself. On the fourth day, it felt like she was telling me, ‘Singeetam, how lengthy will you mourn for me? Go, work… make films’.”

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