Le Bharathi and S. Aswathaman of Panjharaksha Media have set up a full-fledged post-production centre with hopes of putting Coimbatore back on the cinema map. Subha J. Rao reports

A music video brought Le Bharathi and S. Aswathaman together three years ago. Bharathi, who made and edited short films and documentaries, was shooting a music video for Carmel Garden MHSS and was looking for someone who would do justice to the Western notes he had in mind. He found Aswathaman, a student of engineering. The result was Carmel Bon Voyage, a huge hit among alumni and students of the school. During the making of the album and the months after that, the two bonded. The reluctant engineer and the boy who worked as everything from an office boy to a collection executive decided to pursue their common love — music and movies.

Bharathi lost his father early in life, and he and his elder brother had to support the family. He studied till Class 12 at the Ramanathapuram Government Boys HSS and moved to Chennai to work. He joined Pentasoft. His job required him to convince people to join the courses the company offered.

In the process, he fell in love with editing and filmmaking. “It was a wonderful opportunity. I was constantly learning at work,” he recalls. But, Bharathi eventually returned to Coimbatore and took up other jobs so that there would be food at home. It was also to ensure no one questioned his passion for visual media, he says.

In the meanwhile, Aswath joined a software major as trainee. Midway, he realised how deeply unhappy he was. He was happy when he sang in orchestras. “I quit. My father was furious. But, amma was a huge pillar of support. I convinced appa that my happiness did not lie in engineering.”

Bharathi, who thought Carmel Bon Voyage would be his swansong, had decided to join his brother at a lathe workshop. Its success changed everything. Bharathi, who was already into editing and sound recording at home, decided to go professional. When he met Aswath, a new business idea was born. In 2011, they decided to start a post production company in Coimbatore, because the city did not have a full-fledged facility that offered editing, rerecording, dubbing and finishing.

Aswath’s father agreed to construct an office for them on the first floor of their house near R.S. Puram, and the friends named their company Panjharaksha Media, hoping that even if all else failed, the five elements would not give up on them.

For a year, they went about meeting prospective clients and explaining their work. They invested their savings — Aswath had saved up about Rs. 50,000 from his music shows and Bharathi chipped in with earnings from his freelance assignments. They decided to pay a rent to Aswath’s father for the office space. “We did not want to take this lightly. We felt we would be more responsible this way.”

The friends have split the work between them. Aswath takes care of the music, dubbing and re-recording while Bharathi handles special effects, editing and, occasionally, doubles up as cinematographer too.

The first year, they worked tirelessly, soliciting business and establishing a name for themselves. By the second year, they had broken even. “We never really looked at it as hard work. It was just that we got to do something we loved, all the time,” says Aswath. Now, they have an assistant Karthik, also an engineer, who takes care of visual effects, animation and graphics.

The first project of Panjharaksha was a short film, Kaadhal Needhaane, shot by Bharathi using an iPhone. The film was made on a budget of Rs. 3,500. “We launched it and donated the proceeds to charity. We were pleasantly surprised by the reception to the film and how generous people were,” says Aswath, the more talkative of the two.

Bharathi says their dream took shape due to the efforts of many. He especially remembers Premjith, the MD of the BPO where he once worked. “He gave me a job, and taught me about all the software I would ever need.”

Today, Panjharaksha is a popular haunt for students making short films; they have worked on more than 100 such works. Aswath says that he sees himself in all the engineering students making films. “It’s their escape,” he says.

To make life easier for these students, they even offer a student package where they charge Rs. 1,000 for every minute of the final cut of a short film. This includes editing, sound mixing, colour correction and special effects.

Now, they work out of a well put together studio. It has a dubbing console, an editing suite and a re-recording room. These days, they even do dubbing work for Tamil serials such as Nadaswaram and Thaen Nilavu here. Veteran actor Mouli is all praise for them. He dubs here for Nadaswaram, in which he plays the lead. “Before I discovered them, I would have to go to an FM studio and dub, without seeing the visuals. I was initially hesitant about the facilities here, but once I saw their workspace and output, I was delighted. In fact, I would rate their facility better than the ones where I regularly dub in Chennai, he says.

Buoyed by the response to their work, they have also taken up work on other serials shot in the region, such as Bharathi Kannamma, to be telecast on Vendhar TV. “We now have a base of about 100 good dubbing artistes here. We also have put in place a system to provide logistics support to anyone shooting here,” says Bharathi. Panjharaksha also does corporate films and documentaries.

Where do they see Panjharaksha five years from now? “I hope we contribute in some small way to putting Coimbatore back on the cinema map. This used to be the hub of filmmaking once. We wish that glory returns,” says BharathI.

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