Comedians and their pathetic childhood

It is an urban myth that successful comedians have a pathetic childhood. What makes this connection between comedy and wretchedness is not known. If we go through history of Cinema from around the world, we see it first caught on to the audience from circus and magic. Some of the famous early filmmakers, like Meliès, or Dadasaheb Phalke, were magicians. And one major attraction in magic and circus is the clown.

If on the other hand, we consider folk theatre, the other grand daddy of cinema, we can easily notice the role played by the vidūṣak on the Indian stage. (vidūṣak, in Sanskrit, has two different but close meanings; a Court Jester, a fool) The Roman comedian shared some of his vital traits too. If we forget about the comic relief they offered during moments of peak tension in plays, we see something very understandable. They were the commentators, just like the audience sitting outside the stage. The comedians were always involved and uninvolved in the act, at the same time. They were the eye of the conscience. Only they seemed to know what was going on in the make-believe world on stage.

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Our modern day comedians are an amalgamation of these two – the Clown and the vidūṣak. But why were they needed in the first place? This leads us to an obvious question with an even more obvious answer – why do we go to movies?

We go because we are crushed under pressure of the mundane world. We want to get back to the freedom of childhood, when dream and reality were the same. And isn’t cinema an extension of dreams?

A lot of psychoanalytical studies have been carried out about the relation between comedy, childhood and identity, including Freud’s early investigations on this phenomena. It may not be totally true that some adults, who had a wretched childhood, want to go back to the dreamland of fairy tales more than others, because they never had it in reality. And they find an accomplice on the silver screen, the comedian, for that journey. However, this may not be totally false either.

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Comedians on the screen are essentially flawed characters. Some gross imperfections in them lead us to laugh at their activities. Consider the tramp played by Chaplin from his early shorts to the later blockbusters, like The Circus and Modern Times. He is gross, unsuccessful and an insignificant character who is trampled and humiliated by the society. That itself is a flaw. However, the bigger flaw that makes him a laughing stock is his knack of getting involved in situations that always go out of his hands. In The Kid, he gets a child by accident and has to bring him up. We break into laughter when we see how a marginal figure in the society, who could not create a place of his own, teaches a kid how to succeed and gain respect.

However, when the same character solves pinning problems in his weird way, we cannot but empathetically identify with him. The same tramp actually takes us back to our roots when he takes up the role of a comedian in one of his films, Limelight. There too he tries to conquer humiliation, poverty and death by escaping into laughter.

Talking about Indian comedians, like Johnny Walker, Mehmood and Johnny Lever, we see these common traits running in their character’s blood. Johnny Walker, specially in the films made by Guru Dutt, helped alleviate the hero’s pain. He was not merely a comic relief, but a very active agent in the plot to solve the hero’s dilemma. He’s the one to bring the hero out of the mental hospital in the film Pyasaa.

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As a matter of fact, the comedian is an active comment on all forms of abusive power and guardianship, such as the school, the police and the mental hospital. So, it is enlightening when the tramp takes up the role of a Dictator Hinkel. At the end of The Great Dictator he talks about parity and peace from a platform which we all want to reach.

Considering the fact Chaplin credited humiliation in his childhood to be a major inspiration for laughter in his movies, there should be a deep connection between a disturbed childhood and the later adult days of comedy.

However, if we consider many other comedians, like Buster Keaton or Rowan Atkinson, we see it isn’t necessary for a comedian to have a bad childhood. There are different types of comedies, ranging from burlesque and slapstick to social satires. Can we divide the comedians into two sharp lines, with or without a disturbed childhood, so they can fit one genre or the other as a rule? However, that’s another story in itself.

Dominance of a few Rasas in Tamil Cinema

Tamil cinema, from its earliest days of silent films, maintained a ‘Cinema of the Other’ stance in the Indian film scenario. The industry started in 1917, with the silent film Keechaka Badham (The Slaying of Keechaka), Produced and Directed by R Nataraja Mudaliar. He made another film, Draupadi Vastrapaharanam (Unrobing of Draupadi), in the same year. It is significant to note the first two films made in South India concentrated on particular portions of Mahabharata that dealt with the obnoxious, producing an emotion with Bibhatsa rasa in the audience’s mind. However, the ventures met with applause and were financially successful.

In the other two hubs of Indian Film making, Bombay and Calcutta (as they were called then), the stress was on the mythological and sometimes historical, but never so much on the portrayal of the grotesque and the abhorred. Does this point to a particular tendency of Tamil Cinema, and in general to Tamil cultural psyche?

Tamil people, even under the British, were keen to keep their identity separate from the people of the North. And any part of India, northern to Madras in the east, Hyderabad in the Central and Mysore in the Western side, was considered as North India, except some southern portion of Bengal (modern day Orissa) and Southern portions of Konkan and Bombay. During the British period, specially before World War II, modern Tamil Nadu became pro-British and actually helped in motivating Indians to join the War by making propaganda features favouring the rulers. Films like Manasamrakshanam (1944) or Burma Rani (1945), represented a common trend in Tamil film industry those days.

The politics of we and they was always a part of Tamil civilization, that raised its head in a big way immediately after independence. In 1949, the germ of Tamil independence took a bigger form in Periyar Ramsami’s pro-Dravidian (and anti-Aryan) identity movement, culminating the formation of DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam). A new batch of filmmakers joined the industry then, who would appropriate the pro-Dravidian sentiment in their own ways for political gains. Among them, the most notable ones were the charismatic scriptwriter and playwright C N Annnadurai, story and scriptwriter M Karunanidhi, Matinee Idol M G Ramachandran and his protégé, Screen Goddess J Jayalalitha.

It’s a general tendency among humans to search for a leader. Once begotten, the leader is unquestionably followed till the individual is a part of the mass-hysteria. Organized religions work on this principle. So do magic and politics. South Indians rarely came under any foreign ruler before the British. Even the Maurya or the Gupta Empire never directly influenced them. And everyone knows how the the Mughal Emperors’ attempts at capturing South India kept failing for over six hundred years. So it wasn’t surprising that the Tamil would want an autonomy after their sole conqueror in history, the British, left. When that did not happen as per their choice, they revolted. Part of the revolution centered on creating a strong cultural identity in the name of Tamilalakam (Tamil land) which upheld Dravidian culture using stage drama, poetry, literature, myth, history, musicals, dance and, most importantly, cinema.

Tamil society, an ideal example of an unchanged patriarchal one, maintained a very strong identity of the male, almost opposite to the one maintained in the rest of the Indian movies. Who is the ideal Tamil hero? He must have moustache, physical prowess, authority, sexual virility and the capacity to control women. It must be noted that except for the moustache, the other character traits are not very different from the rest of the heroes in India. However, the portrayal and the political purpose were very different.

Tamil hero of the pro-Dravidian camp rejects all finesse that he considers to be part of the Aryan culture, and hugs the grotesque instead. In that way, Tamil heroes can be equated with the villains of the North-Indian myths and epics. An obsession with the denial of the other and embracing the grotesque and violent uprooting of all non-Dravidian values from culture led to a cinema of sophisticated violence and other basal instincts in Tamil Nadu.

While in films like Velaikari (1949) and Ratha Kanneer (1954), both penned by Annadurai, showed the hero’s faults as the result of his encounter with other cultures, especially North Indian culture (the vamp had to die in the second film, as she was trying to get into a relationship with a Hindi-speaking character from Bombay). It was Parashakti (1952) which was made to show the superiority of Tamil culture over others. In this film women were given an unambiguous role of being the knowledgeable, spirited and intelligent support to their male counterparts. That never meant women were independent. They were just supports, like obedient servants, who should find their place inside the home.

This made a great difference between the progressive heroine from North India and the Tamil heroine. While the former wanted equality and freedom with education and free will, the latter accepted the choice of her family. In effect, this made the outside world a jungle for man-hunting for the Tamil hero.

And the heroines, unlike their North Indian counterparts, went through literal purification, punishment or death if they chose liberation. In Rudraiah’s 1978 film Aval Appadithan (That’s the Way She Is), the heroine ends up homeless in the end and her journey throughout the film is portrayed as obnoxious. So we see a very strange concoction of Shringara and Bibhatsa rasas at work even, sixty years after it started.

In modern Tamil Cinema, the trend continues through a different guise. In a celebrated film like Veyil (2006) or the Kamal Hassan starrer Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu (2006), the hero achieves his target through extreme violence. But is it not violence and grief that lead to the purification of the soul? Maybe future Tamil Cinema will answer this question more directly.

Career in Film Making

It is now common knowledge that the audio-visual medium is the fastest growing medium of communication in the world. Films are made not only in the fiction format but also as documentaries, training films, corporate films, advertisements and video art. The world of films is like a mushroom cloud that keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Every Film must have a Director with a complete knowledge of Film Making. It stands to reason therefore that higher the number of films, higher will be the demand for directors. A Film Maker is an artist-technician who is also an expert manager, logistics person, coordinator and chief executive officer- all rolled into one. A Film Maker is like a master puppeteer who holds all the strings and makes illusions look like reality. It is a difficult job that requires tremendous creative energy, enthusiasm along with loads of patience and humility. A career in Film Direction is one of extreme creative satisfaction, apart from side benefits of fame and money. But only those who are ready to go through the grind and put in hard labour as well as application can succeed.

Most students of Digital Academy join the industry initially as Assistant Directors and work their way up towards the Directors post. But there is no hard and fast rule about this and if you have the capability you might well straightaway become a Director as soon as you pass out from Digital Academy-The Film School.

While careers of Film Makers are the same as Film Directors it is our analysis that Film Makers who have a complete knowledge of Film Making are generally more in-demand and sought after.

Angry Young Man and His Troubled Relationship with his Father

Indian cinema’s Angry Young Man surfaced in the 1973 blockbuster Zanjeer. It also hailed the end of a generation of cinema that celebrated the stability and status quo India was facing in the late ‘50s and ‘60s.

The Angry Young Man, in the avatar of Amitabh Bachchan in Bollywood and Rajnikant in Tamil Cinema, was a superhero of the common man’s dream. He was just an aam aadmi (common man), with powers and weaknesses of a regular human being, who has decided to act. As normal Indians are afraid of challenging their fate in reality, the Angry Young Man fulfilled the dream they could vicariously live.

However, the Angry Young Man, especially the roles played by Amitabh Bachchan, has a special distinction. He is almost always with an absent or a dead father. And when the father is present, he is in a deeply troubled relationship with him.

Let us probe this issue a little more. In more than fifty films, from Zanjeer (1973) to the recent Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap (2011), the Angry Young Man’s character tries to restore justice, honour and dignity for himself, his family and the people around him. Except for Inquilab (1984), his fight concerns the personal space of family. And in India, who is the archetypal head of the family?

Modeled on a feudal outlook, the post-independence Indian Government framed all types of taxation, laws and governance policies, primarily on the basis of an undivided family; be it Hindu or Muslim. The unquestionable authority of the Prime Minister, other Ministers, the Supreme Court, its Judges and the Police entail from such an outlook.

The tapering figure of the father figure is central to a society and its citizens. In America, there may be a faltering loyalty to Uncle Sam. But in India, it is the father who wields the law.

In Lacanian Psychology, a male child constructs his identity throughout his growing years, by internalizing the name of the father. In short, the name of the father can be equated to the child’s position in the lawful order of the society, in its norms and customs. In contrast, an imaginary father is the figure that sets the child out to the world, alone and cut off from the peace of his mother’s lap… the blissful security lost after the child becomes adult.

In all the films from the Angry Young Man genre, Amitabh or Rajnikant, crave to return to their mother’s lap. In Deewar, the character Vijay, in his last words to his mother, says “Tujhse dur rehkar mujhe kabhi neend nahi aayi maa! Main kabhi nahi so saka maa! Aaj phir mera sar tumhari god mein hai maa. Ek bar phir mujhe sula do maa!” (I could never sleep staying away from you mom! I could never really sleep. Today, again, my head is in your lap. Put me to sleep once again!). By killing or compromising the imaginary father, and making peace with symbolic father, the Angry Young Man finishes his journey in his mother’s lap, thus finishing a cycle of action with his real father.

When the real, imaginary and symbolic fathers can not be separated, the Angry Young Man emerges. In a very simplistic, almost fairy tale overview of life, this almost always happens in Bollywood.

Among all the Angry Young Man films, Amitabh’s character actually has a real but a flawed father only in Laawaris (1981), Sharaabi (1984) Aakhree Raasta (1986) and most significantly Shakti (1982). Only four out of around fifty films where he played the role of an Angry Young Man. In almost all other films, the father is dead, mostly killed by an enemy, thus setting Vijay (meaning Victory, Amitabh’s name in most of the movies belonging to this genre) on a road to vengeance.

But that does not make the Angry Young Man’s disturbed relationship with the father a myth. In the absence of a real father, the child clutches the imaginary father in a very ambivalent way and makes it a friend and an enemy both. In officially first film of the Angry Young Man genre, Zanjeer, the hero (Vijay, again) grows up to be a police officer who’s obsessed with upholding the law (the imaginary father’s one side) and wiping out evil(the imaginary father’s other side). To complete the journey, the hero must know the name of the father. Hence, in Zanjeer, as in Shahenshah (1987), he decides to punish the bad on his own. However, it is significant that he never negates the law. He merely supplements its execution.

In this way, the Angry Young Man’s journey never collides with the ideology of the powerful class or that of the State. In fact, it is not surprising that this character was nurtured more carefully in the post-emergency India, as he talks in favour of tradition, a classless society and power structure. The hero rarely talks about bigger issues. Even when he does, as in Coolie (1982) or Inquilab (1984), he is more concerned about solving his personal problems. That actually made the character a sociological stereotype and called for a change in Bollywood’s prime genre at the end of the ‘80s, which gave birth to the dark hero, as in Baazigar (1993) or Khalnayak (1993).

The hero wants to salvage his pride (because of birth), bad karma (for good means) and lack of security as he grows up. Hence, even in a romantic film like Mili (1975), the Angry Young Man’s psyche surfaces, and the reason is the same – a shame of father’s (or parents’) deed. The ultimate goal is always to be at peace with the father, real or symbolic, by the end of the film.

Hence, it’s not surprising that nowadays the Angry Young Man comes back as the father figure himself. From a Fruedian point of view, that is how it should happen. At the end of the journey the child succeeds in becoming the father himself.

Careers in Film and Television Editing

India makes the maximum number of films in the world. In addition to this, there are some 30 prominent channels, along with many regional networks. The Indian Media & Entertainment Industry is inviting great investment and has tremendous growth potential. Today, the number of aspirants who wish to make a career in films and the television sector, especially in the field of editing, is at an all time high. The scope of editing is ever widening in this era of technological explosion because every piece of audio visual media, requires an Editor.

Editing is a crucial job, which goes far beyond matching visuals and sound in accordance with the script. A good Editor can make the critical difference to a program’s final quality.

An Editor is therefore both an artist and a technician. As a technician, s/he needs to be abreast of the state of the art technology, which keeps moving towards higher levels of sophistication. At Digital Academy-The Film School, we not only ensure a hands-on experience with state of the art software, but also prepare students for the possible changes of technology in the future for e.g. the shift of Standard Definition Television (SDTV), to High Definition Television (HDTV) or the change of celluloid based technologies to Digital projection technology, be it 2K, 4K or higher.

 

What we aim for is to impart an education that grounds the student’s minds in the unchanging principles that govern narrative communication, while also preparing them for the ever changing flux of technology.

With greater responsibility comes greater visibility and better money. Today’s Editor’s can expect to earn top of the line remuneration especially in the high end spectrum.


Careers in Cinematography

Television, video, and motion picture camera operators produce images that tell a story, inform, entertain an audience, or record an event. Making of commercial quality movies and video programs requires technical expertise and creativity. Producing successful images requires choosing and presenting interesting material, selecting appropriate equipment and applying a good eye and a steady hand to assure smooth natural movement of the camera. Technical expertise, a “good eye”, imagination and creativity are essential.

Cinematographers need good eyesight, artistic ability, and hand-eye coordination. They should be patient, accurate, and detail-oriented. They also should have good communication skills, and, if needed, the ability to hold a camera by hand for extended periods.

Employment of Cinematographers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations in the near future. Rapid expansion of the entertainment market, especially motion picture production and distribution, will spur growth for camera operators. In addition, computer and internet services provide new outlets for interactive productions. Cinematographers will be needed to film made-for-the internet broadcasts such as music videos, digital movies, sports, and general information or entertainment programming.

Mostly starting as apprentices to well-established cameramen, the rise to the top need not necessarily be slow and steady for aspiring Cinematographers. All it takes is one independent job to be noticed and the sky is then the limit. Remunerations are modest for apprentices but leap in quantum measures as one’s artistry and uniqueness is recognized. Cameramen are highest paid technicians in any film unit. A career in Cinematography is a career of adventure, excitement, good remuneration and extreme job satisfaction.

Careers in Film & Television Direction

It is now common knowledge that the audio-visual medium is the fastest growing medium of communication in the world. Films are made not only in the fiction format but also as documentaries, training films, corporate films, advertisements and video art. The world of films is like a mushroom cloud that keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Every film must have a Director. It stands to reason therefore that higher the number of films, higher will be the demand for Directors. A film Director is an artist-technician who is also an expert manager, logistics person, coordinator and chief executive officer – all rolled into one. A Director is like a master puppeteer who holds all the strings and makes illusions look like reality. It is a difficult job that requires tremendous creative energy, enthusiasm along with loads of patience and humility. A career in Film Direction is one of extreme creative satisfaction, apart from side benefits of fame and money. But only those who are ready to go through the grind and put in hard labour as well as application can succeed.

Most students of Digital Academy join the industry initially as Assistant Directors and work their way up towards the Directors post. But there is no hard and fast rule about this and if the student has the capability they might well straightaway become a Director as soon as they pass out from Digital Academy-The Film School.

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