A young group of enthusiasts at the Ray Institute of film-making and Update Studios focus on making films that will have a social impact. K. Jeshi reports

∝The visuals from the short-film Aruppukottai Thirumeni Murugesan (ATM) roll on a big LED screen at the Update Studios (UDS), an audio, video and sound mixing studio at Venkitapuram, near Saibaba Colony. ATM tracks a diploma graduate from Aruppukottai, who becomes a migrant labourer in Coimbatore. He needs Rs. 10,000 for a medical emergency, and what he does to get it, forms the story. “The film records a day in the life of a migrant worker,” says K. Sivakumar, who set up Ray Film Movement to encourage youngsters to make short films and documentaries on social issues.

ATM is the first short-film production from the house of Ray Institute and Update Studios, a tie-up which brings together creative ideas and technical excellence. While Sivakumar contributes the creative inputs (he has worked with directors such as Balu Mahendra and Ram), Shamir Mohamed of UDS lends the technical edge.

Their first documentary on Kudankulam, Mudivin Aarambam, has reached out to thousands of students across the State. Their upcoming projects include Thaagam, a docudrama on water conservation, and a self-explanatory documentary called TASMAC.

Sivakumar feels making short films on social issues is a good starting point. “We want to identify and promote filmmakers who are socially aware. We focus on the basic grammar of film making and cinematic story-telling.” Besides film-making, they also expose students to editing and dubbing. “There is no doubt that a film is truly born at the editing table. You can create suspense, thrill and drama with the right placement of scenes and shots. In a short film, the main story has to begin in the first five minutes…..we teach them these basics,” says Sivakumar.

Shamir who has done the post-production of over 10 short films in the last three years explains the dubbing process for ATM. It took more than a month, he says. He freezes a frame, where the protagonist speaks fast over the phone, to demonstrate how it took him over an hour to match the voice. “We use Apple’s FCP X (Final Cut Pro) software for video editing. Sound mixing can also be done in FCP. We also have Adobe collection that covers the entire multimedia work including sound mixing, sound effects, editing, web designing, and graphics. Our dubbing room is equipped with a German mic,” he explains.

A young team

Visual Communication students K. Nandakumar and S.V. Rakul are the latest additions to the team. “I made a transition to acting with a cameo in ATM, and also learnt editing, script writing, and direction,” says Nandakumar.

S.V. Rakul is the cinematographer of ATM, Thaagam and TASMAC. He is now writing a script for a short film on tree planting. Discussing cinematography, he says: “While shooting outdoors, one should choose the golden sunshine hour at dusk to make the frames look beautiful. Establish a shot, show the atmosphere, then move on to close up and expressions. With digital cameras we don’t need any heavy equipment, and it works wonders while shooting in public spaces.”

Also in the team is Dr. R. Mohan. He believes that filmmaking helps address the psychological problems of patients. “The emotional freedom widens their knowledge, they learn something new and it gives them focus.”

Mohan is researching for a documentary on the fruit Mul Seetha. “It grows in the tropical areas of North America and as its root, fruit, bark and leaves have healing properties, it is referred to as Maramey Marundhu. It can be used to treat arthritis, blood pressure, infertility and cancer. It is found in Anaikatty too. I am researching on the evolution of the fruit and the herbal secrets it holds and its medicinal use.”

Shamir’s next documentary is called Maida. “Maida can bring hormonal imbalances, especially in children. I am also researching on transgenic foods. It’s shocking to learn about the gene manipulation that is carried out on vegetables (to retain freshness), sweet corn (93 per cent of the world’s consumption comes from the U.S. where they use pesticides strong enough to kills rats), and chicken. The younger generation needs to be aware of these facts and the impact it can have on their health.”

Films that speak

Besides highlighting social issues, they want the films made in their studio to provide solutions too. “In Thaagam, we show images of polluted water bodies and arid lakes. But we end it on a positive note,” he says.

The documentary TASMAC tackles drinking. “It’s the middle class and the lower middle class women who suffer. Earlier, weddings were called off when the prospective groom has drinking habit. Now, drinking is acceptable. We look at addicted teenagers. How does alcohol affect them psychologically? What are the repercussions? Do they steal or engage in petty crimes for money? What happens to their health? What drives the sales at TASMAC? Are Tamil films promoting a drinking culture? We read supervisors being suspended when they don’t meet the sales targets at TASMAC shops. Who are the companies that manufacture spirits?...”

Learn about cinema

They say the doors of the institute are open to anyone who wants to learn about cinema. All they are looking out for is social awareness. They ask the candidates, “Are you a part of society? What is your contribution socially and environmentally?” Sivakumar says, “We want their films to provide the answers.”

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