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The Bahraini connection

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Self-taught: Shamdat on location.
Self-taught: Shamdat on location.

PREMA MANMADHAN

Cinematographer S. Shamdat on his stint during the filming of a Bahraini movie.

AMITABH BACHCHAN and Aishwarya Rai are as familiar to Bahrainis as they are to Indians. Both English and Hindi films are usually not censored for show in the 41 cinemas in the small country of about 6,00,000 people. But Bahrain's movie industry is in its infancy, despite the vibrant television sector.Only two films have been made so far in the country, both by the same filmmaker, Bassam Al Thawadi. "The Barrier", made in 1990, was on 16mm and blown up to 35mm. "Visitor", in 2004, was a digital movie, transferred to 35mm.

Full length film

Now, the director is making a full-length Arabic feature film. An Indian, S. Shamdat, is the cinematographer of "A Bahraini Tale" and developing and printing is being done at Prasad Labs, Chennai. Shamdat, a self-taught cameraman, is six films old. He has assisted Ravi K. Chandran, his guru and mentor, in a number of films including "Dil Chahta Hai", "Koi Mil Gaya", and "Yuva". His own repertoire includes Telugu and Malayalam films, apart from prize-winning documentaries and 3D Max Media's "Tantric Genre". Just back from the shoot in Bahrain, he is excited about the project. "It's a period film and a true story. We had many rehearsals before the shots were taken. Working on a Super 35 mm camera was a wonderful experience and the dialogues were recorded live." Emotions come out better when recorded live; also the voice coming from a distance is realistic. A major problem with live recording was the hum of air conditioners. "The story is set in 1967, when there were no air conditioners, traffic lanes or cars. It was before the Gulf boom; long before the oil riches changed the fate of the nation. So we went around the neighbourhood and requested people to switch off the ACs while we were shooting. Happily, they obliged us. Of course we had to get the Ministry's permission. I was surprised that nobody ever came to see the shooting like they do in our country," says Shamdat of his experiences.

One-man army

Bassem Al Thawadi is the only name that matters in Bahrain's film world. He is a one-man cultural army, trying to get people interested in filmmaking. He spearheaded the film society movement in the country and learnt filmmaking in Cairo. In an e-mail interview, Al Thawadi says, "I have always loved cinema. When I was a kid, I used to cry while I watched Charlie Chaplin, fearing he would fall down and hurt himself, doing all those antics."Bahrain's theatre scene, like TV, is robust and the actors in Al Thawadi's film are from theatre or TV. "Women in Bahrain are allowed to do whatever they want ... in this field we have, apart from actors, women as producers, production managers and accountants."Fareed Ramadan, who wrote the story and script of "A Bahraini Tale", reveals that it is a true story. "It is about life in a small family in those days. It shows a part of my own childhood. The language is colloquial, and can be understood in most Arab countries. The film shows how I lost my oldest sister when she was forced to be married, as my father wanted... She killed herself by burning." Fareed teamed up with Bassam earlier for several documentaries. One more Indian in the crew is from New York: Giles Khan is the sound recordist of the Bahraini movie.Shamdat, who enjoyed working on the super 35mm camera, says the crew was like one big family. Al Thawadi is happy with his Indian cinematographer, who was recommended to him by director Shayamaprasad. He could coordinate well with Shamdat, he says. "He has an eye that can build the scene dramatically, is very focused on his work and understands me very well. Some times without even saying a word, he knew what I wanted. I am looking forward to working with him again."

No funding

Al Thawadi laments that there is no Government funding for cinema in Bahrain and there are few producers who want to invest in cinema, though there are many cinema theatres there, showing foreign films. "I produced my film, `The Barrier' (1990), selling everything I had, and I could do my second film only after 14 years," he says. More such technical tie-ups could be in the offing, both Bassam and Shamdat hope while they wait for the movie's premiere in September, in the Gulf countries and in Europe.


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