IFFI remembers master cameraman Mahajan

Panaji, Dec 1 The 38th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), in a rare gesture, has paid a tribute to late K.K. Mahajan, one of the greatest cinematographers Indian cinema has ever seen.

Saturday, December 01, 2007 | 11:43:31 AM IST (+05:30 GMT)
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Panaji, Dec 1 (IANS) The 38th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), in a rare gesture, has paid a tribute to late K.K. Mahajan, one of the greatest cinematographers Indian cinema has ever seen.

It is not often that IFFI acknowledges the contribution of technicians to the movies, but it did so Friday evening for the legendary cameraman.

The celebrated technician, who changed the very face of Indian films in the late 1960s and early 1970s with his camerawork for a memorable slew of new wave films, passed away in July this year after a prolonged illness.

From an avant-garde FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) diploma film made in collaboration with director Kumar Shahani to the very last feature-length film that he shot, Anup Singh's 'Ekti Nadir Naam' (The Name of a River, 2002), Mahajan left an indelible stamp on whatever he captured with his camera.

Cinematographer-director A.K. Bir paid homage to the trailblazing Mahajan and acknowledged the huge debt that he and his contemporaries owe the late technician. Basu Chatterjee's 'Sara Akash', based on an epochal story authored by Nai Kahani architect Rajendra Yadav, was screened in remembrance of the legendary cameraman.

According to Bir, Mahajan came into the Indian film industry at a particularly difficult juncture, when formally 'trained' cinematographers faced strong prejudice from the mainstream movie establishment that believed in the practice of apprenticeship as a means to nurturing talent.

'His greatness lay in his ability to squarely face the challenges he had to confront and change the grammar of cinematography forever,' he says.

A four-time National Award winner, Mahajan contributed to both art and commercial cinema. He was one rare Mumbai technician who possessed the vision and skill to bridge the gap between the two opposed poles of the industry.

One of the early graduates of the FTII, Mahajan started working in the industry in the mid 1960s, first shooting advertisement films and documentaries. Then 1969-1970 happened and in the span of a few months, 'Sara Akash', Mrinal Sen's 'Bhuvan Shome' and Mani Kaul's 'Uski Roti'. Indian cinema was never going to be the same again.

No cinematographer since Satyajit Ray's associate Subrata Mitra and Guru Dutt's cameraman V.K. Murthy has ever had the sort of seminal influence on how the art and craft of cinematography has panned out in subsequent years.

It was due to Mahajan's expertise and creative ingenuity that the low-budget offbeat films of the early years of the parallel cinema movement acquired a sheen that defied all limitations of resources.

But he did not confine himself to the art cinema space and went on to work with commercial filmmakers like Subhash Ghai and Ramesh Sippy. He was at ease in both worlds and that reflected in the sheer spontaneity and magical fluidity of his camerawork.

In the course of a career that spanned three decades, Mahajan took Indian cinematography to a level that it had never experienced before. His work became the benchmark for other cinematographers to aspire for. It still is.

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