‘Koogai’ to ‘Balu Mahendra Noolagam’: Where Chennai’s cinephiles get together to read

Koogai Library

Koogai Library   | Photo Credit: R_RAVINDRAN

Explore three hidden spaces in the city where assistant directors/technicians can just walk in and skim through chapters of world cinema

Cinema and literature are distinct in nature and yet share an intimate relationship with one another. What is great cinema but a confluence of these two art forms? Reading literature is as much of importance as ‘watching’ the works of master filmmakers. But how often do we come across mainstream filmmakers insisting on literature? Are there enough spaces in the city where assistant directors/technicians can just walk in and skim through the chapters of world cinema? We find out.

A collection of books at Pure Cinema

A collection of books at Pure Cinema   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For the love of cinema

Step into Pure Cinema Book Shop in Vadapalani, and you are in for a pleasant surprise. A huge portrait of master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, holding his camera, greets us. For the uninitiated, Pure Cinema is probably the only dedicated ‘cinema’ bookshop-cum-library in the city. The bookshop is themed around cinema; walls decorated with movie posters, doors embellished with photographs of trailblazing filmmakers, ceilings pasted with records of vintage movies (Mera Naam Joker to Annakili), and interiors designed with hanging cassettes of classics. If you are familiar with Thamizh Studio, an alternative film society movement started in 2007, then you must be aware of its proprietor Arun Mo, a writer and film activist. Arun has been leading a silent revolution with Thamizh Studio, an umbrella term to describe the various initiatives — Pure Cinema (library-bookshop), Padachurul (a Tamil cinema journal) and Pesamozhi (an online journal) to name a few.

“I wanted to create a space for film discourses to happen. The idea was to create an infrastructure for a movement, to extend the dialogue and provide a platform for people who are passionate about cinema,” says Arun Mo, about what prompted him to set up Thamizh Studio. Over 150-200 technicians and upcoming directors throng the library on an average, since the space is free of cost for any cinema aspirant. Arun has become a guiding star for assistants who otherwise cannot afford these books. Mani Durai, an aspiring assistant director and a regular at Pure Cinema, says that the space is a blessing in disguise, “Arun anna recommends books for aspirants like me. Right now, he has asked us to read fiction. In the evening, we will have a discussion on that particular book or cinema,” he says. “Assistants who are under Vetri Maaran, Balaji Sakthivel, Pa Ranjith and Lenin Balaji show interest in reading cinema, unlike the ones who work under mainstream directors,” adds Arun. Pure Cinema, which has a space for reading, is not open for public consumption and is currently limited to industry folks. Assistants and the public are invited to take part in movie screenings and discussions.

Pure Cinema is located at Sivan Koil Street, Vadapalani. Phone: 9840644916

Balu Mahendra Library was started to document important books and movies

Balu Mahendra Library was started to document important books and movies   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

An ode to the auteur

Balu Mahendra can be considered the only filmmaker to have let the parallel movement creep into mainstream Tamil narrative; he was against populist cinema. A self-declared disciple of the auteur, dialogue writer-novelist Ajayan Bala was contemplating the idea of creating a catalogue of sorts, documenting important books and movies, in the name of the late filmmaker. That is how Balu Mahendra Noolagam came into existence as a film society movement. “He [Mahendra] has written the preface for some of my books and was insistent on reading literature. Which is why this noolagam was launched amidst the presence of Sathyaraj, Vetri Maaran and Raam,” says Ajayan Bala. This small library, situated on the first floor of a nondescript apartment in Saligramam, might come across as dingy. Glance at the collection of books, whose names range from Akira Kurosawa, Che Guevara to Perumal Murugan, and you are bound to change your opinion about the place. All the funding is taken care of by Ajayan, who admits that he faces financial crunches at times, “I shell out close to ₹15,000 a month, with no major support or investment from anyone. The membership cost too is not more than ₹500,” he adds. The place registers an average footfall of over 150 per week — all of them are mostly up-and-coming directors and movie buffs. With whatever little money he has, Ajayan has been conducting multiple workshops for acting, screenplay and direction, in addition to hosting what is called as a ‘reading marathon’. “The rule is simple: you need to spend an entire day reading books. By the end of the day, you will be asked to interpret whatever book(s) you have chosen,” he explains. It is through this marathon that a reader recently got a golden ticket to join as director Vasantha Balan’s assistant. “We had invited Vasantha Balan to kick off the marathon. He was bowled over by the person’s understanding of the book and took him under his wing. It was a Murakami book,” says Ajayan.

Balu Mahendra Noolagam is located at Thilagar Street, Saligramam. Phone: 9884060274

Other notable places
  • Discovery Book Palace in KK Nagar and Panuval Book Store in Thiruvanmiyur are two other places in the city where movie screenings and film-related events are held on a monthly basis.

Calling of the owl

Director Pa Ranjith has ushered in a new movement in Tamil cinema. With four completely different movies sharing a common purpose, Ranjith has positioned himself as the voice of the oppressed. The director has been the flag-bearer of a political change and has since been at the helm of several ground-breaking initiatives under his banner, Neelam Productions. One such being Koogai Thiraipada Iyakkam, an exclusive cinema library, which was launched last year with a singular notion of bridging the gap between literature and cinema. “When I was trying to be an assistant, directors would name some books and ask me whether I read them. In those days, we had very less knowledge about the books and availability was a major issue. After Koogai, a lot of assistant directors are regularly visiting the library,” says assistant director Kavin Antony. Kavin has been managing the space along with writer Murugan Manthiram. Since its launch, Koogai (owl) has become a training ground for not just assistant directors, but anyone who is remotely associated with cinema. Apart from educating assistant directors the importance of literature, the library also holds film screenings, followed by a discussion with the members.

Koogai Thiraipada Iyakkam is located at Prakasam Road, Valasaravakkam. Phone: 9710505502

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 5:45:56 AM |

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