Artistes and technicians from the State who are part of the ongoing project, which showcases 1,000 films about India, talk about their discovery of people and places through this project
Bharatbala’s ‘Virtual Bharat’ series map India through 1,000 short films. Part of a five-year-long mammoth project, which began in September last year, are filmmakers, cinematographers, editors, composers, writers, singers and lyricists from Kerala.
Fourteen films have been released so far. Reflecting on his team Bharatbala says, “I found so many talented people from Kerala. Since they have worked on stories from across the country, they have pushed themselves to understand the subject. I have learnt from all of them,” he adds.
MetroPlus caught up with a few of them to learn about their experience of being part of the series.
Sudeep has shot over a dozen films for the project, starting with ‘Thaalam’, which zoomed in on boat races of Kerala. “This film is special because I have directed it as well. It had to be different from umpteen films on the regatta. The focus was on how 150 people from different walks of life find their rhythm and row the Chundanvallam (snake boat),” says Sudeep.
He gushes about an yet-to-be-released work, ‘Wedding In the Hill’ (Muthuvan Kalyanam), directed by another Malayali, Shawn Sebastian. The film has captured wedding rituals of the Muthuvan tribe in Idukki. “For instance, one of their customs involves the bride and the bridesmaids going into hiding in the forest. The groom and his friends have to locate them. We stayed inside the forest to shoot the film. It was thrilling to capture one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country,” he says.
Shooting last year’s Kumbh Mela at Allahabad was another memorable experience. “It was once-in-a-lifetime experience filming the moment when members of the Juna akharas (one of the largest order of sadhus) run towards the river and jump into it for a dip. I took a slow motion shot in 200 frames,” he adds.
Sudeep points out that Bharatbala’s works stand out because of the cinematic element. “He is keen on making them visually appealing with slow motion frames, drone shots and different camera angles.”
Filmmaker-writer Shruthi has scripted and directed two projects for the series, ‘Manu Master’ and ‘Komaram’. While the former traces the journey of classical dancer Manu, who defied stereotypes and broke religious barriers to become an acclaimed guru, ‘Komaram’, which is yet to be released, throws light on the oracles at Kodungallur Bhagavathy Temple.
Shruthi says that she came on board after Bharatbala took notice of her earlier work, ‘Manumalayalam’ (2017), an “audio-visual” feature on Manu master. “‘Komaram’ was the first idea that I put across to him and he was fascinated by the Kodunagallur Bharani Festival,” she says. Shot in a docu-fiction format [by Sudeep], it is presented as the story of a girl who dresses up as an oracle. ‘Manu Master’ has been filmed by Vinayak Gopal, also from Kerala.
“There is a particular style and aesthetics that you associate with Bala sir’s films. They are musical as well. He gave me the freedom to decide the storyline, script and characters. His condition was that it should do justice to the Virtual Bharat concept,” says Shruthi. Sudeep Palanad, her long-term collaborator, has composed music for both the works.
With the editing of 30 films in the series, Christy says each film has been a learning experience as he got to learn about many aspects of India. “I was taken in to do rough cut for ‘Thaalam’ and stayed on. Many projects have been eye-openers, like ‘Manu Master’ and ‘Ramnami’. The encouraging part is that Bala sir is always open to suggestions, even though many of us are newcomers,” says Christy.
The 26-year-old points out that 123-The Happiest Man, the story of Swami Sivananda, the oldest man alive, which had post production during the lockdown, was challenging. Another was ‘Uthenge Hum’, a documentation of India during the total lockdown, with nearly 15 crews capturing the unprecedented situation. “There was chaos as footage came in from across the country. I stayed back in our office in Mumbai itself to complete the work,” he says.
Arun Varghese a.k.a. Varkey
Starting with ‘Thaalam’, the composer-sound designer-arranger has worked in seven projects in the series, the latest being, ‘Ramnami’, a collaboration with Kailash Kher. It narrates the story of a sect in Chattisgarh that inked ‘Ram’ on their bodies as caste barriers prevented them from entering the Ram temple for two centuries. “Ramnami had its challenges and I read Ram Charitmanas to arrive at an idea that musically resonates with the project. Chants were incorporated into the composition. Kailash contributed ideas and lyrics to the song and we worked remotely as the music was done entirely during the lockdown at my studio in Thiruvananthapuram,” he says. ‘Thaalam’ and ‘Svaram’, an unreleased work, are close to his heart, since both gave him immense scope “to experiment” with sound.
“Working with Bala sir is like searching for the exotic and presenting it in the most organic manner. We share a realistic approach to scoring music in films where I do both the sound design and music,” he adds. Among his unreleased project is one on Attukal Pongala directed by Goutham Soorya, a resident of Thiruvananthapuram.
Among those working behind the scenes are several Malayalis based out of Kerala, such as cinematographer Amal Sudhakaran who has shot six films, and Ashish Zachariah, director of three films. Musician Resmi Sateesh has sung in the film, ‘Silambam’, which celebrates the martial art form of Tamil Nadu.