G. Aravindan’s Thampu to be screened at Cannes Film Festival

More than four decades after G. Aravindan’s lyrical movie Thampu mesmerised viewers, its restored version will premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival

May 12, 2022 12:29 pm | Updated 02:48 pm IST

A still from ‘Thamp’

A still from ‘Thamp’

A sleepy village on the banks of the Nila in Kerala comes alive with excitement as a travelling circus camps there. The villagers gawk at the artistes, their glittering costumes and acrobatics. After a while, the novelty wears off and they get busy with the rhythm of their lives as the circus leaves three days later.

Thampu, directed by the late auteur G. Aravindan, which tells the story of that village and the circus, gets a red carpet premiere at the Cannes Film Festival (May 17-28). Forty-four years after its lyricism and magic realism first mesmerised viewers, the restored version of the film, rechristened Thamp, is the only Indian film to be screened in the Cannes Classics Section this year. It thus joins the ranks of other Indian classics like Mrinal Sen’s Khandhar, whose restored version was screened at Cannes in 2010.

 A still from ‘Thamp’

 A still from ‘Thamp’

Aravindan was one of the leaders of the parallel film movement in Malayalam cinema. As Ramu Aravindan, the director’s son, observes, though the films were widely watched till the 90s, gradually they went out of circulation. Thamp has been restored by Film Heritage Foundation (FHF), in association with Chennai-based Prasad Corporation, The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, Cineteca di Bologna and L’Immagine Ritrovata.

Transience of relationships

Filmed by Shaji N. Karun in 1978 at Thirunavaya in Kerala, the film had Bharat Gopi, Nedumudi Venu, V.K. Sreeraman and Jalaja acting alongside members of a disbanded circus. Shot in surrealistic black-and-white frames on location in the form of cinéma vérité, it went on to win two Kerala State film awards and three National awards, including the one for best cinematography for Shaji. And now comes Cannes.

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur

Archivist and filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, founder of FHF, says he first saw it as a student at Film and Television Institute of India. “I was awed and inspired by the poetic lyricism of the film, its meditative silences,” he recalls. “Thampu gently explores the transience of human relationships, the alienation of individuals and the rootlessness of the marginalised through the eyes of a group of travelling circus artistes who camp in a village for three days.”

4K restoration

FHF selects classics that are in danger of vanishing into oblivion. Shivendra says, “Aravindan was a filmmaker who did not get the attention and recognition he deserved. I was sad to discover that none of the original camera prints of his films has survived and those that remain are badly damaged. I want to ensure that his films are seen by generations of cinephiles.”

Ramu Aravindan

Ramu Aravindan

He travelled to Kollam just before the pandemic hit India in 2020 and met K. Ravindranathan Nair, who had bankrolled most of Aravindan’s films, to secure permission for a 4K restoration of two of his films. “I felt proud and happy that the restoration was being done and gave them permission to restore two of his films — Kummatty and Thampu,” Ravindranathan says.

“‘Thampu’ explores the transience of human relationships, the alienation of individuals and the rootlessness of the marginalised through the eyes of a group of travelling circus artistes”

For the restoration, Shivendra contacted Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation and reached an understanding that while The Film Foundation worked on Kummatty, the work on Thampu would be done in India. Shivendra sought the help of Davide Pozzi, Director of L’Immagine Ritrovata, to oversee the restoration.

India is the official country of honour at the Cannes Film Market
This year the jury includes Deepika Padukone, alongside Noomi Rapace, Asghar Farhadi, Ladj Ly, Jeff Nichols, and Joachim Trier
Satyajit Ray’s Pratidwandi, restored by NFAI, will be screened at a special event
Thamp will be the ninth Malayalam film to be screened at Cannes. Shaji N. Karun’s directorial debut Piravi, with music by Aravindan, had won the Caméra d’Or — Mention d’honneur at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989

The restoration took all of eight months as the original negatives had been lost. The challenge was in reviving the damaged ‘dupe negative’ and the sound quality of the film, says Shivendra.

A still from ‘Thamp’

A still from ‘Thamp’

“What we had was a dupe negative taken from a 35 mm print preserved at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI). It had to be scanned and cleaned digitally as there were scratches all over the print,” Ramu recalls.

Aesthetic concerns

Shaji and Ramu constantly interacted with the restoration team. “In those days [when filming] we had to transport all the equipment, light and camera from Thiruvananthapuram to Thirunavaya, more than 300 km away. It was only after I reached there that I realised that the lights would be insufficient for the large tent that had been put up. I improvised even while talking to technicians at AVM to improve its quality,” recalls Shaji.

Restoring meant trying to regain the grainy quality of the original print instead of making it look sleek and digitised. “The grading and correction, an artistic and aesthetic decision, were done at the L’Immagine Ritrovata lab. The sound also had to be corrected without altering the original quality of the work,” explains Ramu. Shivendra hopes that screening the film at Cannes will once again bring to light the works of Aravindan. And next up, to be restored, is the auteur’s Esthappan.


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