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Cinema chronicles

Artist V. Jeevananthan's book Thiraiseelai, a compilation of articles on cinema, has won a special mention certificate award at the 58th National Awards announced last week. The recognition has come to a Tamil book after 29 years. The author talks to K. JESHI about his twin passions — art and cinema

PHOTO: S.SIVA SARAVANAN

ART OF THE MATTER V. Jeevananthan

Moochu (breathing), a chapter in artist V. Jeevananthan's book Thiraiseelai chronicles the emotional journey of “Shwaas”, a Marathi film. Acknowledged as a significant turn for Marathi cinema, the award-winning film is a touching tale about a young boy, barely seven or eight, who is diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eye.

Jeeva discusses the aesthetics of the film shot by shot. He draws examples from films that dealt with pain — K. Balachander's “Neerkumizhi”, Hrishikesh Mukherjee's “Anand”, Akira Kurosawa's “Ikiru” (released in 1952), Tom Hank's “Philadelphia”, Revathy's “Phir Milenge” and the black-and-white classic “Nenjil Oor Aalayam” directed by Sridhar — and introduces readers to a bouquet of films in the genre. “It's a straight-from-the-heart conversation with readers about appreciating good films,” says V. Jeevananthan, author of the award-winning book.

Thiraiseelai, published by Thirisakthi, has won a special mention certificate award at the 58th National Awards announced last week. The recognition has come to a Tamil book after 29 years. Author Arandhai Narayanan received the honour for his book Tamil Cinemavin Kadhai in 1982. “It's a happy moment,” he says. “I've got an award for a language that I picked up out of my love for it,” says Jeevananthan.

Legendary films and filmmakers grace the pages of Thiraiseelai. “Pather Panchali” (Satyajit Ray), “The Bicycle Thief” (Vittorio De Sica), “Pyaasa” (Guru Dutt), “Ardh Satya” (Shyam Benegal), “Slumdog Millionaire” (Danny Boyle) and the Malayalam classic “Vadakkunokienthran” (Sreenivasan) have been included.

Written in a chatty style (more like arattai, as Jeeva puts it) the book is a select compilation of his articles published in Rasanai, a monthly Tamil magazine brought out by Marabin Mainthan Muthaiah. It opens up the world of films and attempts to introduce good cinema to the common man. In a field dominated by literary giants such as Ajayan Bala, Theodore Baskaran, Chezian and Yamuna Rajendran, Jeeva calls his writings ‘a collection of essays about films through the eyes of a viewer'.

A Sivaji Ganesan fan, Jeeva has packed information about the veteran's school of acting and his films. He also discusses Orson Welles' “Citizen Kane” Polanski's “The Pianist”, Iranian films, and Quentin Tarantino's “Inglourious Basterds”. “Random thoughts which I observed from my childhood days about cinematography, editing, direction and acting helped me draw comparisons between western films and our films,” he adds.

He lived on the busy Nawab Hakkim Road in Town Hall, Coimbatore, watched films from the lowest 45 paise tharai ticket to balcony, and mingled with different sections of society. His interest in films and art grew simultaneously from his school days as the young Jeeva accompanied his father Velayutham, a cinema banner artist. As charismatic MGR and Sivaji Ganesan stared out of larger-than-life banners, the aspiring artist watched them in awe. “My father was a film lover too. On a pillion, he cycled me to Rainbow and Sreenivasa theatres and we watched English films,” Jeeva fondly recalls. Film historian and writer Theodore Baskaran influenced his love for books, literature and cinema. Tamil writer Kavignar Puviyarasu mentored him on films. “I remember the release of ‘Chomana Dudi' (Choma's drum) a national award-winning Kannada feature film at Sreenivasa Theatre. Film lovers gathered in good numbers and listened to Puviyarasu.”

Two years in Madras for his Masters in Political Science at the Presidency College furthered his interest in films. He enrolled in film societies and film clubs, pored over books on cinema and interacted with intellectuals from the industry.

Rajnikanth's blockbuster film “Moondru Mudichu” marked his first brush with cinema banner art.

“It was the golden period when filmmakers such as Balachander, Bharatiraja and Mahendran ushered in a new wave of films. Banner artists experimented with colours, broke away from conventional styles and unleashed their creativity.”

Film critic

Jeeva who was doing Law also turned a part-time film critic for the magazine Kalki. A film becomes a classic when it touches you deeply, he says. For instance, mention “Pather Panchali” and the film visually unfolds in my memory, he adds.

Though banner art has died a natural death with the introduction of flex boards, Jeeva's banners on labour welfare programmes have made it to Switzerland.

His banners also decorate theatre festivals in Germany. Jeeva heads the Chitrakala Academy, active for over three decades. Every Sunday they gather at Sri Baldevdas Kikani Vidya Mandir School and teach art to aspiring students. Started by senior artists such as Prakash Chandran and Gopalakrishnan, the academy introduced art to Coimbatore through painting exhibitions. “We continue the trend even now,” says the alumnus of Kikani, who joined the academy as a student. “Most of our students are prodigies, who have made it to reputed colleges of fine arts,” he says with visible pride.

Any artistic expression should come from within, the artist says. He does abstract paintings, illustrations for magazines and book wrappers too.

“When I go to colleges and schools I first give a demo by sketching a portrait and then start talking,” Jeeva says. He can sketch a portrait in a matter of 30 minutes. “Art appreciation is happening in a big way now, which is a good sign,” he adds.

Ask him about the title Thiraiseelai, he says, it's inspired from Malayalam filmmaker K.G. George's “Yavanika” (the curtain) released in 1982. Noted for its superior artistic merit, the film explored the backstage drama of a travelling drama troupe and immortalised the detective theme.

“People breathe cinema. I consider it an important media that influences people in a big way. He says: “Cinema is magic.”

FILM DIARY

* He grew up on a diet of films of Aravindan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Satyajit Ray, Govind Nihalani and Shyam Benegal. Also, classics of Fassbinder and films such as "Christ stopped at Eboli" (Italian), "The Marriage of Maria Braun" (German), Werner Herzog's "Nosferatu the Vampire" (German horror film) to name a few
* Jeeva's brother V. Manikandan is a celebrated cinematographer who has to his credit films such as "Om shanthi Om" and "Main Hoon Na", and a number of ad commercials. His son J. Anand, a cinematographer, assisted Nirav Shah in films such as "Madrasapattinam", "Sarvam" and "Tamil Padam", and is now working on "Oodi Vaa"
* In the books category, every year three awards are given. One wins a cash prize and two books win a special mention certificate. Thiraiseelai has been chosen for the special mention from more than 100 books in different languages that competed in the category.

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