When was Keechaka-Vatham released?

A few days back, I was flipping through a back edition of a popular weekly info-tainment magazine, when i saw the advertisement of a published book, which supposedly had chronicled the history of Thamizh cinema’s hundred years. The promo advert for the book claims that Keechaka-Vatham, Thamizh cinema’s first film (Silent) was released in the year – 2018. I have not read that book, so i cannot make an opinion on that statement.

A few months ago, I was having a conversation with someone on Social media. The person claimed that Keechaka-Vatham was released in the year 2017. She pointed out to a reputed Film Historian, who had made that claim.

Sadly, none of us know know the exact date or year of release of Keechaka-Vatham. Not that it would matter, in my opinion, since no one would do it anyways – simply, because Mudaliar’s descendants unfortunately do not have a ‘political’, ‘artistic’ or ‘cinematic’ legacy to carry forward. So, no one needs to bother. This inference is underlined by a grouse raised by D.V.Balakrishnan, who claimed that no one from the State Government of Thamizhnadu celebrated M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s centenary, in the year 2012.

But, apparently, some attempts are being made to continuously extend star Actor-Politician M.G.R and legendary actor Sivaji Ganesan’s legacy. Would these stars continue to be remembered if either Ganesan’s family was still not in the cine-business or if MGR had not floated his own party? I don’t think so. But sadly, that is the way, things are in Thamizh nadu.

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PC – http://www.agamudayarotrumai.com/t/nataraja-mudaliar

With regard to when Keechaka-vatham was released? The closest guess is the year ‘1916’. Nataraja Mudaliar, the maker of Keechaka-Vatham himself mentions this date in an interview to Chitralaya Magazine in the 1970’s. So, for all practical purposes, and until a more concrete primary source of some form emerges, 1916 will continue to be the date of release of Keechaka-Vatham- Thamizh Cinema’s first Film.

 

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Peer2Peer, Piracy and Perception

One of the earliest forms of technology which was used in the last decade for sharing and accessing infringing content was Peer2Peer, popularly called as BitTorrents ( now Magnetic Links are available which eliminate the need for .torrent files to be stored on a server). It is still popular today, because it can offer even more improved speeds than the download limit of a centralised streaming server. P2P is also much more tolerant towards resuming broken downloads. However, the liability of infringement is much more, because unlike downloading a file or streaming a movie, in a P2p swarm, at some point, a lecher becomes a seeder as well.

P2P and Torrents have come to be strongly associated with Piracy to a point that even if a company originally associated with it wants to evolve into a legitimate product, faces immense challenges.

Based on P2p sharing technology, The BitTorrent company had introduced a serverless cloud solution called Sync, a few years ago. Since a server was not involved here, the speeds of transfer were immensely much faster than traditional server based cloud solutions. However, it appears that the stigma of BitTorrent continued to hamper the name of a truly path breaking, legitimate file sharing solution.

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Resilio Sync, Formerly BitTorrent Sync

 

Some time back, Sync was seperated and made the flagship of a new company called Resilio. It still uses the same P2P technology, but its branding is no longer associated with BitTorrent.

 

Cheran’s dream is now officially over!!!

The much hyped ‘Cinema2Home’ project has met a slow death. Barring the release of ‘JK Ennum Nanbanin Vazhkai’ and the re-release of ‘Madha Yaanai Kootam’, the project never really took off. Its online distribution infrastructure was ridden with bugs and login issues.

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Over a period of time, interest in this project declined for the news media. Barring an incident which took place last year in which, an arrest warrant was issued against Cheran for a bounced cheque, nothing else related to the C2H project piqued interest. Infact, no one even bothered to observe that the C2H domain went offline.

The downfall was obviously eminent. A couple of days ago, Director Cheran has made an announcement on his Facebook feed which sums up the inevitable. Good bye, ‘Cinema2Home’. He has also announced that he will be making a couple of films, which will logically be distributed through the traditional distribution system.

As with his case through out, he even now takes the moral high ground of pointing fingers against those who pirate, and takes a satirical dig at his failure and speaks about re-budgeting his films to calculate known losses against piracy.  Did it need such a costly experiment for an experienced film maker like Cheran to figure this out?

 

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[P.S – Several attempts were made by this author to contact Director Cheran over the years to speak about the status of the C2H project, but to no avail. Personally, right from the beginning, I was very skeptical about this project and some of the views that Cheran was expressing. I even wished to point them out and discuss them with him, but unfortunately, this did not happen.]

Pointless Acts : Re-Mastering and Re-Releasing Films, which are already in Digital

Starting with re-processing of Sivaji Ganesan’s movie Karnan, several films have been digitally re-mastered and re-released in theatres. These include films like ‘Pathinaaru Vayathinile’, ‘Baasha‘ and now ‘Vetri Vizha‘. All these films have already been available in Digital format for quite some time now.

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In this article published on the Internet, Deva, the distributor ( DARWIN PICTURES) holding the rights to the film ‘Vetri Vizha’ speaks about the need to archive film negatives for posterity and for them to be preserved for the upcoming generation.

First of all, preserving movies on film is a very costly proposition. It is also much more cumbersome, and only continued re-runs of film can make saving ‘film on print’, viable. This is obviously well known and that is the reason why digital slowly replaced print. More over, with the ‘shelf life of movies’ coming down to a matter of days, if not weeks, the possibilities of even thinking of film, is less than zero.

The availability of free digital copies online ( and affordable DVD’s) seriously limits the general audience interest in wishing to see a near similar, albeit slightly enhanced experience of the film at the theatre. The upper limit of Basha’s re-released collections hitting at around only 40 Lakhs seriously limits the scope of what can be done to a film like Vetri Vizha. Given this budget limitation, the movie makers are definitely not going to do a 3D version of the film, or something like that. Moreover, no matter what re-mastering you do, you aren’t going to end up with a ‘Bahubali’ kind of experience at the theatre. So, what is the point? Even, if it is a stark improvement in quality, would it justify in bringing the general and younger audience to the theatres?

It is obvious that classic films need to be shown to the younger generation. But this film, Vetri Vizha has already been available on YouTube, for quite some time now. So, logically, why would most people, wish to come to the theatre and pay for it, when they can see a film for free? They will not.

In all probability, the screening of ‘Vetri Vizha’ is just another gimmick that would appeal only to ‘die-hard-fans’ of the actor Kamal Hassan (who have already seen this movie multiple times) and continue to rake in more moolah, for the rights holder. Simple.

Rather than invest so much resources into remastering and screening films, of which digital prints of acceptable quality are already available, why don’t we put in that same effort to bring Digital copies of films stored in film prints, but are unavailable to the common public in any form what-so-ever?

TALKIE EXPERIENCES IN TAMIL – FEEDBACK

Feedback received for ‘Talkie Experiences in Tamil’ 

  1. ‘Excellent work Sugeeth!’ – Sruti Harihara Subramaniam, The Cinema Resource Centre.
  2. ‘Wow, Sugeeth, this is fantastic work. Looking forward to reading it’ – Lawrence Liang.
  3. ‘I read the book in one sitting as it was interesting to know how films were made in the past. Laudable effort by your pal to translate the book from Tamil by Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar. It will be valuable for students of cinema, researchers and film makers.’ – Babu Subramaniam, Film Enthusiast. ( Former Lecturer, Film Appreciation Course, Christ College)
  4. ‘I spent three years on the IndExpress project without knowing who & how it will help. One researcher, you, benefiting from this exercise, more than justifies my effort.’ – M.V.Surender.

Adios(?), ‘Amma Theatre’!!! 

A couple of years ago, when Cheran’s Cinema2Home attempt was in the limelight, the state Government of Tamilnadu announced another feather to its cap of already populist and successful schemes like Amma canteen, Amma water bottles, Amma cement etc. This was supposed to be the ‘Amma Theatre‘.

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Image Source – http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/mind-boggling-list-every-amma-product-and-service-launched-last-5-years-38816

The plan was to build a modern theatre with all the latest facilities and amenities, but the cost of a movie ticket wouldbe only around Rs.25. The remaining amount would logically be subsidised by the government. It addressed one of the raging issues of its time and one of the major reasons for piracy – ‘Huge entry price points for theatres’. Additionally, implementation of this program would also help immensely benefit ‘propaganda’ values for the government and also further cement the legacy of the now Late, Chief Minister, Miss. J.Jayalalitha.

Reports later surfaced that the NFDC was called in as consultants to help the Tamilnadu state Government, implement this project.  (The NFDC has experience providing budgets for low cost movies, and that too, thanks to Central government support, but what expertise, NFDC has with regard to building and running a low cost subsidised theatre chain baffles me!!!).

Three years later, the project seems to have gone into limbo. The stakes and priorities change immensely now, given that Madam Jayalalitha is now no longer there ( and therefore, ‘propaganda’ values diminish !!!), or even the fact that there is already enough political confusion and instability in the government.

The public demand things, with higher priority now and even if a few theatre complexes were established and budgets incorporated subsidies, it makes little sense with the affordability and accessibility that the Internet has provided. More over, building a few ‘theatres’, with so much investment could hardly have a fraction of the ‘socialistic’ impacts that subsidised ‘Food’, ‘water’ or ‘medicines’ may have.

It is unlikely in the current circumstances that the ‘Amma Theatres’ concept will be revived. Maybe like the ‘Cinema2Home’ project, its purpose of serving ‘news feeds and flash news’ had come to an end, before the project(s) even began.

 

The Dilemma of Private Collectors.. 

People tend to preserve things that they ‘treasure’ personally or which they believe, ‘will have the potential to return a windfall in the future’. From a social perspective, institutions like ‘Libraries’ and ‘Research Centres’ preserved material in the interests of the society, all though some ‘private ones’ were driven by ‘motives of profit’ as well.

But within this framework lay a sort of power – ‘the power to hold information.’ It enhanced the value of the ‘individual’ or the ‘organisation’ immensely. It meant that ‘individuals’ desiring in accessing this information were at the behest of the former. The ‘former’ could cut off ‘access to information’ at any time.

Since the material was in physical form, either in paper – ‘magazines’, ‘newspaper clippings’, ‘books’ ‘pamphlets’; film – ’35mm’, ’16mm’, ‘8mm’, ‘VHS Tapes’ or ‘microfilm formats’, the ownership lay in entirety with the current possesioner of the material.

Since the ‘individual’ would in all respect, have paid both ‘access and maintenance costs’ ( or obtained donor copies from someone else), they held absolute rights to the material. The holding of such rare material was almost like ‘access to private property’, and the owner could prevent access to any ‘trespasser’ at any point in time.

Another factor that needs to be mentioned in this is that the ‘borrower’ who wished to access such materials in this case, in most cases, did not have the infrastructure for ‘duplication’ or to ‘store and preserve material even if duplicated’ in most cases, especially if it dealt with film material.

With the advent of digital technology however, the power of ‘reproduction of any material in any form’ and its ‘subsequent storage’ of such digitized content has passed to anyone, almost like the air, that we breathe. This has brought a sea change in the attitude of some ‘individuals’ and ‘organisations’.

The fear that their content may be reproduced in digital form and taken out into the world, fears them.If that happened, no longer would they have absolute ownership of the material, in real world terms.

Some of these owners, have rare material, whose copyright have long expired. An attempt at monetization in any form today, will invariably lead to duplication. ( I refrain from using the word ‘piracy’, unless the owner is the ‘copyright holder’ of the ‘material in posession’). Should such content be ‘duplicated’ and ‘disseminated’ during the process of monetization, The owner can do nothing . So, they tighten ‘access’ even further.

It is agreed that many of them have invested heavily in acquiring such ‘rare’ priceless material, but with the ecosystem having changed, there is nothing that can be done to further, their cause. Either, they continue to ‘hoard’ material, without it being of benefit to no one, or they take the better stance in common sense, of allowing ‘desiring individuals’ access to information, for the benefit of enhancing the societies common knowledge.
Some instances where I have encountered such behavioral patterns, i cite below :-

( In the third case, I must humbly admit that the grudge in this case is extremely trivial and was mentioned to just complete a blog post. Compared to the small inconvenience of lack of reproduction, the larger importance is ‘Right of Access’. The immense benefits that the institution has given me through direct access to material for Reference. Thank you very much. )

  1. D.V. Balakrishnan, fan of M.K.ThyagarajaBhagavathar (and father of Suresh Balakrishnan, author of a biography on M.K.T), a person whom I have interviewed extensively tells me of a popular cinema celebrity of having a copy of ‘Rajamukthi’.  He tells me that the celebrity’s father himself has confirmed this information to D.V.Balakrishnan. There is no known film company of ‘Rajamukthi’ which is believed to have survived or any print known to be in circulation. ( Thanks to D.V.balakrishnan, i was able to trace a family in Madurai, which held one of the rare copies of this film, but which eventually decayed and went into garbage. It is a sad story indeed.)
  2. While Speaking with Shivangini Tandon, a researcher who is working on Director Jyotish Sinha, she tells me of a person who she had met in Sri Lanka, who has copies of the Sri Lanka film ‘Kapati Arakshakaya’ made by K.Subhramanyam ( Co directed by Jyotish Sinha), but is hesitant in letting out prints. The same person has uploaded a couples of the movie on YouTube.
  3. This is my own experience that I have of a ‘public Research centre, owned by private backing’. Without doubt, it does have the best facilities and is easily accessible for a layman without any hassles. The support staff are also very helpful in bringing out any content for Reference. Thank God! But when it comes to ‘reproduction’, they take a back seat. Some of the old magazines are breaking ( turned brittle) and filled with Termite holes. I asked them a xerox copy of some pictures from one such magazine, which they refused me. Fair enough.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             But can content not be shared without causing further physical damage, if one resorted to Digital methods? It most definitely can, if one possessed the right attitude.  Another instance of ‘reproduction’ turned down was when I requested for xerox of a couple of pictures of a magazine printed two years ago, was turned down. I was refused denial plainly and I was told that if I desired it ( since I was desperate!!!), i would have to Contact the publisher directly 😦 ( This was in stark contrast to my experience at the NFAI. The library staff there are way ‘too sweet’. Sounds cheesy maybe ,but no other adjectives fit them better!!!).