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Audio Interview – Venkatesh Kumar.G

Venkatesh Kumar.G is a film maker, who primarily makes films, by focussing on ‘social’ issues. Apart from his feature films Unakkul Naan, Lightman, and Neelam, he has also made several short films. He is also involved in the creation and functioning of a new administrative body, which he believes will cater to the needs of small film makers, especially with regard to sorting out challenges with regard to the tedious Censor Certificate and the ‘Film Name Registration Processes’.

A victim of ‘pre-release’ piracy himself, a topic that we deal quite frequently on this blog  – Venkatesh was kind enough to provide me with audio responses to several questions which i had put forward to him over email, questions that involved his own work and also to several issues surrounding the film industry. Thank you, Venkatesh Sir.

Additional Reading :

Questions :

1. There are people who make commercial films, artistic ones and some even neo-realistic ones? But do you set out consciously to make ‘socially’ relavant films in a docu-drama style? Are you comfortable with this sort of presentation or is this just my impression? Do you bring this thought process of ‘social equality’ and ‘sustenance’ etc to actions in your real life?
2. Your pulling together some of the issues of the marginalized in society? Fishermen’s problems, alcoholism, Manual scavenging, Begging etc? As part of being in society, we are all aware and even consciously choose to ignore these issues, sadly. However, while seeing some of your short films, (barring the neurons), i could not get a sense of seeing anything new or to linger in my heart. I really get the feeling that if you wanted to do make a film ( although it is a short and may have budget issues), in depth issue in research was lacking, and there was nothing new . How do you react to this?
3. Bharathi – Jayakanthan – How important are these names in the times that we live in today?
4. Typically, the people who are involved in making art films have sheer contempt for main stream commercial films. ( I am trying to extrapolate this to your belief through a dialogue in one of your films – LightMan, although i am not sure of your own views here). Barring the state of Bengal and to some extent Kerala, the situation remains near same through out the nation. It could have a political logic in both of them being states with leftist rule, but how do you read into this? Your views?
5. How important are short films to an aspiring film maker’s resume these days? Millions of videos are being uploaded each second – so how do you weigh in the ‘visibility’ and ‘revenue earning’ factor for short films? Apart from Youtube, there are solutions like Karthik Subbaraj’s business model. Can you tell us a bit about how you see the situation?
6. You leave lots of space for music in your films. This is a good thought, but sometimes, lack of drama and placing music over it for too long can become over kill. I think the theatre scene in Lightman has a score for over 10 minutes. I really felt that even if you had the music running, the boy should have been doing something else, but the idea keeps recurring that he is glued to the screen in awe, but beyond that, somehow, i felt it a bit of a drag. Your views?
7. NFDC – Lightman relationship? can you tell us a bit?
8. If my memory goes right, one of your films was to be made by Jayakanthan’s works. – Your views on his work and the film to be made?
9. Have you seen past works of Jayakanthan’s which were adapted into film? It is so hard to get a copy of these films. Barring ‘Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal’ and ‘Oru Nadigai Nadagam Parkiral’? Several other titles made by JK himself and even Lenin are hard to find? – Your views?
10. I understand that you have made 2 main stream films and the third one is yet to release. Please correct me if i am wrong. Your first film Lightman – Was this film operationally profitable? What were the current revenue streams available to a film maker and which were the ones you chose to invest?
11. I empathise that your film ‘LightMan’ was a victim of pre-release piracy. It is indeed a very sensitive subject and the likes of such people are hardly shown. My question is – the kind of films that you make are typically off-beat ones, which in a sense are not expected to really bring public in masses. This has been the same, right from the days when JK made Unnaipol Oruvan. Several leftist neo-real films made in the 70’s also were not operationally proftable. So, in that sense, does pre-release piracy have a serious financial impact in this case? What were the immediate outcomes of the pre-release piracy to your film? Also, what is the state of the light men given. That the film. Industry has shut down for over a month now?
12. Unlike the case of post-release piracy, in which almost happens for every film, pre-release piracy has been happening on and off. Accusations have come that prints were leaked from the Censors, from the Theatres, manufacturing and transit, some even the DSP’s – This is supposed to be a legal system. The recent article on Tamilrockers by Vox also makes dramatic claims that rats and ‘jealous competition’  are very much part of the system and they have been source beds and direct agents for pirate sites. Isn’t there any legal protection in these channels for film makers? Has anyone exercised this right by going to court and getting damages? ( I know it is rather far fetched in the Indian system, but atleast to be symbolic).
13. Your views on the functioning of the TFPC under Vishal? Does this functioning help the small film maker? How was it under the previous group? In the political controversy, Did the alternate group under Cheran communicate with you regarding your branch off? Do you see this as a political stunt or do you think there is a genuineness in Cherans opposing Vishal?
14. Does a small budget film’s success weigh strongly based on its producer/ distributor like – Is there a possibility of Kaaka Muttai ( Dhanush/Vetrimaaran) or Aruvi ( Produced S.R.Prabu) doing much better and getting better visibility than say a film like Kuttram Kadithal, which lay in the cans for 1.5 years before a release? ( Incidentally both Kaaka Muttai and Kuttram Kadithal won National Awards that year). Does this go very much against small budget films without big banner backup names? Or alternatively does ‘Nature of Content’ determine ‘commercial success’? ( Films which pack entertaining elements Vs film makers who don’t compromise for commercial add-ons?)
15. I see piracy as a short term threat. In my view, cinema as we see it, itself cannot remain for long. We are entering times, where newer engagement forms are coming up. Shorter films with no songs. Several films are being choreographed without fights. We are also seeing a lot of web series being made exclusively for the VOD market. In such circuyumstances, what happens to the light men and other technicians as these film makers dont have the luxury of big budgets. Unionism will protect them only so far, but when technology and the medium itself changes, how will they adapt themselves, are they aware of what is coming? Or maybe, you think that i am incorrect? your views?
16. You have been associated with a Russian collaboration for making your film? Can you tell us a bit about this? Is this in any way connected to your own personal political views?
17. Please correct me if i am wrong, You were trying to build a smaller kind of ‘Producers rights body’, for smaller producers, and those that did not have their grievenaces addressed could get in touch with this body. I hope i am right. If that be true, how would get other business partners in the ecosystem to communicate with you and establish your authority. Would a small body be able to handle the kind of chaos that’s been happening in the last one month.
Your views on the TFPC – DSP – Theatre issue which has been simmering for a month.
18. Apparently, one tweet from a reputed producer said that he would restrict his films to 100 screens to support smaller films. I don’t know if it was an official resilution passed by the TFPC. Do you have any idea of this? If this is true, do you think this would be complied or would rules be bent for the bigger films?




TR Continues to be Online ..

For the last month, the tiff between The Tamilnadu Film Producer’s Council and the Digital Signal Providers ( QUBE, UFO, PXD etc) seems to have hit a bottleneck, regarding the issue of ‘Virtual Service Fees’. No new films have released for quite a while, and theatre operators over the state are running re-runs of old films. In such a scenario, there has been some news on the Piracy front.

In the last 24 hours, news sources claim that police seem to have arrested a few operators who allegedly ran the infamous website. The sad part is that, the media which goes gung-ho over this news will not even bother to follow up, what happened to the people arrested today, in the days to come. Even last year, a similar such arrest was made, but there are hardly any reports that have followed up on what happened to the person who was arrested. So, we will never know for sure, if the person involved in that case was ‘innocent’, ‘accused’ or was a case of mistaken identity.


                                           Tamilrockers continues to be up & running.

But what matters is this. The site ‘Tamil Rockers’ still continues to be up and running. It has been domain hopping for over a year, and continues to do so. ‘Blocking of URL domains’ is hardly seems to be an effective solution even for an hour, as the site keeps coming back again and again. The arrests may give some publicity and ‘news-focus’ for a couple of days, before the issue dies down again.

The real danger that the film industry faces is no longer the actual issue of debating whether the act of indulging in piracy is right or not, but rather, that if such events keep happening, that they no longer turn eye-balls or not. I would be surprised, if even popular film magazines which have been around, will provide major focus to this raid, in the coming week.


Benefits of using Primary Sources for Research..

  1. Primary sources help us reverify information which has been published in secondary sources.
  2. Primary sources help us correct any errors which have been published in secondary sources, and which ironically have been reproduced several times to a point where subsequent secondary and tertiary sources keep publishing the error as a fact. For eg several sources attribute the film Prem Sagar to have been directed by K. SUBHRAMANYAM, where as the film was actually directed by Pandit Narottam Vyas. K. Subhramanyam’s flagship production company MUAC distributed the film.
  3. Primary sources help us find new information, that may not necessarily have interested those authors who have used them in the past. (eg Sailen Bose is today well recognized as a well known cinematographer. But primary records also show that he had a film processing lab which was contractually attached to the Motion Picture Studios).
  4. Primary sources provide dates which give us a more accurate perception of chronological events in a time line. Secondary sources typically do not mention dates, or provide a very vague timeline. Some of these dates also tend to be incorrect. For eg. Several sources cite the date of the fire accident at the motion picture studios to be 21 Dec 1940, but the actual date of the event was Dec 11, 1938.

Hindi imposition in Thamizh Nadu (Madras Presidency) , in the Silent film era.

Image link – The title of the post is clearly a misnomer in the context of the article below. None the less there is a contextual analysis to this issue which continues to simmer even today. The Dravidian parties have been long associated with the opposition of Hindi imposition, in defence of Thamizh Nationalism. The other logical argument presented by those which oppose the imposition of Hindi is that there is no need for such a policy as English already serves this purpose. This spirit survives to this day and Thamizh Nadu spear heads this school of thought to all other states which wish to preserve their own identities thereby ensuring a healthy ‘divergent’ democracy, which represents a multitude of people united by language, creed or culture. Today I was going through the ICC 1928 records when I found this gem. It is a-political but the context clearly suggests that there is no need for a ‘lingua franca’ in India, as long as there is English. To all those who still insist on Hindi imposition in India, this is the clearest most non-political, fair and unbiased answer that you can get.

The Aaron Swartz Legacy and its relevance to Film Research in India !!!

During a few conversations that i had had with Theodore Baskaran, Baskaran stressed on the importance of us to find the date on which KeechakaVatham, the first Thamizh film was released. We know that the year is 1916, but we have no idea of the date of the film’s release. This is a tough task and can be brought out only if we have ‘access’ to primary records, possibly print magazines and news paper clippings, and hope that the ones which have survived, make a reference to this film.


R.Nataraja Mudaliar who made Keechaka Vadham, the first Silent Thamizh film in 1916.

The trouble however, is that most of the surviving records are not easy to access. Most of them are not digitized yet – either, due to lack of funds, initiative, or of extreme physical fragility. In some cases, digitized records can only be accessed physically at specific locations, or thirdly, access is being ‘denied’ or ‘allowed’ based on monetary walls, which guard the entrance to ‘access’. So, in all the above cases, neither is the power of the ‘Internet’ nor of the ‘Public Domain’, coming into play, thereby clearly denying a ‘level playing field’ for information access.

I have made use of what is available of the Indian Express Archives ( hosted on Google Newspapers/ M.V.Surender curated collection)  && The Singapore News Paper Online Archives, to a large extent in both the Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar book and the Documentary film. Unfortunately, the Indian Express Archives does not go further backward than the 1930’s, and barring a few scattered records, here and there, we have no streamlined continuous material published in India, of the 1910’s and 1920’s, available in the online space.

So, in this context, a simple Google Search will inform us that the ‘Times of India’ Archives beginning from 1838 – 2001 is available online, through some licensing agencies. While a substantial portion of this time line continues to be in-copyright, a large portion of this Archive is already a part of the public domain. Unlike the Indian Express Archives, the TOI Archives can be accessed through an agency called Pro-Quest which seems to be licensing NewsPaper Archives, to a host of universities.

Sensing the potential that some primary information related to Keechaka vatham and the Silent Thamizh Cinemas may be available in this database, i contacted this organization to only return disappointed. The Snapshot of what happened is pretty much self explanatory.


My request was turned down, on the count that the database was not to be given to individuals, but only to students from Universities. That hardly counts as an excuse for ‘denying access’, but the obvious logic here is that, in most cases, individuals can never afford the 25,000$ to purchase this Database. Even the 4000$ – institutional pricing based on researcher head count is exhorbitant, in any case.

So, sadly, no individual who is interested in searching for new information around the Silent film era, or of any interesting topic in this period will have access to this data. So, any individual who even wishes to look for new information about the Silent film era, will only have to go to existing published sources, and rehash what has been written in the past , thereby hashing and rehashing what is been said already. So, people will be forced to a situation, where they will have to indulge and plaigiarise and rephrase material from a bunch of existing sources, rather than start fresh from primary records. More so, these entry costs will totally repell individuals who work to create and distribute knowledge, without any commercial interests.

The moot question here in this case is – A substantial subset of information in this database, is ‘out-of-copyright’ and clearly belongs to the public. The organization involved in the denial process is not a traditional business organization, but a News Paper, which ironically should represent the pillar of democracy, and uphold the principles of human right, over commercial business interests. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case here. ( I have sent this tweet to the newspaper’s handle as well. I hope that they respond and prove me wrong. 😀)

Like most of us, who flip through news channels and social media and forget names and events within a couple of days, I too have heard the name ‘Aaron Swartz’ once, a few years ago, when he committed suicide. At that point in time, my focal thoughts were entirely on ‘Media Piracy’. But over a period of time, one learns to understand that several of these topics, are all inter related at various levels and form complex interlockings within a larger ecosystem of ‘Access to Information’.

Today, I happened to see ‘The Internet’s own Boy‘, a documentary film based on Aaron Swartz’s life. Never did i know that he like Nostradamus, would foresee the challenges, that individuals like us, in India, who desire ‘free access to knowledge’ for research purposes.

Apart from being a face associated with RSS feeds and the social media discussion platform Reddit, Swartz was largely influential in raising a public awareness movement which was strongly instrumental in ensuring that the S.O.P.A bill was not passed in the U.S.A. While unlike the U.S.A and Europe, where people took to the streets to fight this bill, and that there was not much of an impact in India to be honest, it is obvious that the structure of the Internet would be much different for all of us, had it passed.  Years later, activitists like Nikhil Pahwa, would be in the fore front leading the fight for Net Neutrality, in India, which was won by the public.

Sadly after playing such important roles in preserving the Internet’s democratic structure, Aaron Swartz took his own life. It is unfortunate that he had to commit suicide, but his spirit lives on through individuals / organizations like Internet Archive, Wikipedia, Mozilla and Creative Commons etc. So, some day, let us hope that such newspapers too like these organizations, truly recognize the spirit of the ‘Public Domain’ and the Commons, and make such ‘public domain’ information accessible to us for free, and not just for a few coins.


In the true spirit of the power of the Internet and the fairness of the Public Domain, each day, more and more public domain material gets digitized and is turning up on the Internet, for free access, to the general public. The British Library has been involved in partnering with Archival Institutions and is digitizing material and is providing them for public access through their ‘Endangered Archives‘ program. This promises a great future for all of us.

Incidentally, Aaron Swartz passed away five years ago, and that i had to see this film today, is possibbly more than a co-incidence. It is possible that it is a reminder through some subconscious karma that reminds us to truly uphold the spirit of the Internet – Open Access to Information and Knowledge. Aaron Swartz – Rest in Peace!!!

Will films made in the present, be accessible in the future?

For a long period of time, one of the issues that has seriously boggled my mind is, ‘Why is it that vintage films which were made in the past and have been preserved, continue to be inaccessible today?’. So, I had consciously incorporated this portion of discussion into the pre-final( Chapter 8) and final (Conclusion/Chapter 9) chapters of THE MISSING FILM REELS OF THAMIZH CINEMA to give a contemporary perspective of the problem.

Yesterday, I was having a discussion with a newly introduced journalist friend over phone, when he asked me if films like ‘Aruvi’ ( yes, he said that name) will be available, say ‘ten’ or ‘twenty’ years from now.

It is then that a stark realization has dawned on me, and ironically, it is the reverse of the issue that i have focussed on. From asking, ‘Why is it that vintage films made in the past and preserved, continue to be inaccessible today?‘, my mind evolves to seek another question – ‘Will films made in the present and are ‘accessible‘ today, be ‘preserved‘ for the morrow?’.

Case 1 : The story travels ten years ago in time. Circa 2006-07. Moser Baer has launched itself head strong and is churning out millions of en-masse published CD’s and DVD’s at rock bottom prices, in an attempt to dominate the Home Video Market, and to knock ‘Piracy’ off the perch. While the attempt is a temporary tactical victory, the strategy fails in the long-run. The effect would be, a rapid undermination of Home Video prices, that would never see an upward trend again.


One such movie published by Moser Baer during this period was the film ‘En Manaivi’, which was directed by Sunder Rao Nadkarni in the year 1942. Thousands of prints of this movie was published by Moser Baer. Gradually, over a period of time, Moser Baer moved out of the market, and soon, the concept of DVD’s themselves died a slow death.

Some time in the year 2011, a user has uploaded this film on a popular website, in parts. Possibly as a classical Anti-Piracy Manoevre, Portions of these parts have been removed from the website. Rather than take down all the parts of the film, taking down portions of them, would result in users not being able to go-further and see the entire content of the illegally-uploaded film. That’s the idea.








En-Manaivi – Jan 1942, Indian Express Archives.









In this case, the remaining uploaded portions of this film continue to exist, however. ( If indeed the portions of the film were removed as per Anti-Piracy objections, that itself is an infringement, since the film ‘En Manaivi’ in the year 2011, was clearly in the Public Domain.)

For the past few years, I have been strongly looking for this film. But by then, Moser Baer had long vanished from the market. It appears that this movie was never published in DVD again. To my best knowledge, it isn’t there online, anywhere too. Sadly, the full film, continues to elude me, to this day.

But the film definitely exists in hundreds of homes. Atleast a few of the people who purchased this film a decade ago, would be having the film. But at some point in time, as ‘physical objects’ lose value, and people moving away from DVD drives, these disks will find its way into the dustbin, and be lost for ever.

Case 2 –

In the previous case, finding a copy of a legal DVD may be tough, but not impossible. The fact that the object (DVD) is ‘physical’ in nature, immensely plays a part, here. Even if people have seen the film, ‘once’ or ‘twice’ but not using it, it means that the film, still exists.

In the last few years, Internet Bandwidth speeds have increased exponentially in India. The 4G data disruption caused by Jio over the last year too has had a positive effect. People who consume data through streaming, no longer have the need to download content, as speeds in most cases, are good enough for the ‘real time’ streaming experience. Again, the concept of ‘legal access’ in this case has evolved from brands like ‘Moser Baer, Modern Cinema, Tic Tac, Seventymm’ (physical DVDs) to options like ‘YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime’ (virtual/streaming) etc. The concept of ‘download’ is slowly turning ‘non existent’ either due to the additional hassle of ‘downloading’ or for a fact that services like ‘Netflix’ && ‘Amazon Prime’ simply don’t offer un-encrypted downloads, at all.


Will ‘Joker’ be available, 10-20 years from now?

So, anyone can see a film like ‘Theeran Adigaram Ondru’ on Amazon Prime now, but say ‘five’ or ‘ten’ years from now, if we have moved on to a newer form of technology where the concept of binge watches isn’t adding enough dopamine to us, we could well lose these films. Off course, ‘Theeran’ due to its success may have a relatively longer life, but smaller-lesser known films, may just be lost. Even piracy, although ‘illegal’ but which fuels a large amount of user ‘access’ today, will fail in the future, as there will be no ‘seeders’ to keep Torrents Active.

So, while we have failed to save over 80 – 90% of films made in the Analog Era, we might just be repeating the mistakes of the past, yet again, in the Digital Era, as well.

Atleast now, we need a ‘Centralized, Digital Archive’ to store every film, that is being made today, and this library should serve as a reference point for anyone in the future, to access any film of the past, and this Archive must ensure install ‘backward compatible – playback technology’ periodically, at any point into the future.