Our Most Valued Friend
in the Far East."
- Steven Spielberg
Indiana Jones and
the Temple of Doom
In the Name of God's Poor
The Sleeping Dictionary
The Second Jungle Book
Tarzan the Apeman
Farewell To The King
The Iron Triangle
Bloodsport 2 & 3
Dream Locales in Sri Lanka
Chandran Rutnam markets his country to international filmmakers as the perfect
alternative to shooting in India. [The Hindu Magazize Apr 17, 2005]
When Deepa Mehta's "Water" is released, viewers won't make out that the film, set in 1930s Varanasi, was shot not by the Ganga, as originally planned, but by the side of a lake outside the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.
WATER SET: The Varanasi Ghats recreated
at Bolgoda lake, near Colombo, Sri Lanka
That is what Chandran Rutnam says he promised the film-maker, distraught at having to abandon the shooting of the film in India after mobs led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) destroyed the sets at Varanasi and in other ways made it impossible for her to continue the project.
In 2004, when Mehta decided to make the film in Sri Lanka four years after she pulled out of India, Rutnam's Asian Film Location Services recreated the Varanasi ghats at the vast Bolgoda Lake near Colombo, Sri Lanka.
"Deepa was very happy with the sets, and she completed the filming in just two months," says Rutnam.
Passing off as India
Rutnam, a Sri Lankan, markets his country to international filmmakers as the perfect alternative to shooting in India - less red-tape and political interference, therefore, easy clearances, no protestors. Plus the advantage of a range of locations that can pass off as places in India, from the sea-side to the hills.
Add a quarter-century of experience that Asian Film Location Services has working with international film crews, says its affable owner, and directors can forget about everything else and concentrate on making the film.
That is more or less what Mehta told an interviewer after completing the film: "There were no hassles in getting permission for shooting. We made a film without politics coming in our way. I'd have loved to make the film in India. But I couldn't. Anyway, I don't think my film suffers because of the transposition. I didn't have to look anxiously over my shoulders at who's shooting the next volley at my film. I could just focus on making the film. That fear is a real impediment to creativity."
Give Us a Call When You Run Into Problems
"We call the producers and tell them, `give us a call when you run into problems'," Rutnam says. "Then we cut to the chase."
That is exactly how George Lucas shifted "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" entirely to Sri Lanka. Before that, only some scenes were to be shot in the island.
"We were sitting in this hotel, Lucas and Robert Watts, the producer of the film, and I. Lucas had already prepped the film to be shot in India and just about started building the sets. He got a call that the Indian authorities wanted him not to use the word `thugee', or `maharajah' in the film. He made the decision right there to move the whole thing to Sri Lanka," says Rutnam.
The film was shot at Indian villages recreated on location in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
Rutnam says almost all the films in the shooting of which Asia Film Location Services has assisted show India; most recently "Jungle Book Two" and a number of television films set in India, including one on Mother Teresa, complete with Calcutta slums and rickshaws.
"When a filmmaker comes to us for the first time, he brings a crew of 40. After working with us, when he comes the next time, he brings only 10. We have everything to make a motion picture: sets, crew, props. But more than the equipment, we have a crew who have worked on international films, and are used to the pace of international directors," he says.
Rutnam counts the Art Department of Asia Film Location Services among of the world's best set designers. From the sets for Water and Indiana Jones to the sets for the acclaimed Catherine Denevue-starrer "Indochine".
Rutnam, who began his career as a props assistant for David Lean when the famous director shot "The Bridge on the River Kwai" in Sri Lanka in 1956, has also made his own films, in Sinhalese. One is just out and he is working on another, based on The Road From Elephant Pass, an award-winning novel by Sri Lankan writer Nihal de Silva.
These were some of the international films shot with Rutnam and Asian Film Location Services:
Tarzan the Ape Man; Light Over The Water; Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy; The Further Adventures of Tenessee Buck; Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; The Iron Triangle; Ghosts Can't Do It; Jungle Book Two and Water.
The Big Moment
Chandran Rutnam was a 16-year-old school boy when David Lean arrived in Sri Lanka to shoot his Second World War epic, "The Bridge on The River Kwai". The film crew hired a house that belonged to his parents for the shooting, and Rutnam hung out at the sets volunteering odd jobs until finally, he got hired as a standby props assistant and gofer.
His big moment, Rutnam recalls, came when it was time to shoot the blowing up of the bridge, the film's finale, on location at the scenic Kitulgala river in central Sri Lanka. The crew had laid out only a couple of yards of rail track on either side of the bridge, not enough to show an approaching train. Rutnam's job was to run through a stretch of the jungle on one side working up smoke with a pair of smoke bellows. Of course, those who saw the film only saw the smoke, synchronised with the chugging sounds of a rapidly approaching train.
Lean's production team took eight months to put up the bridge that took only 30 seconds to destroy for the climactic scene of the film. On the day of the filming, the cameraman forgot to give the signal to set off the fireworks that would send up the bridge and the train with it. The driverless engine rolled over the bridge, pulling the train into a gully. But such was the efficiency of the crew that they managed to pull together for the scene to be shot again the very next day.
The experience of watching and working with Lean and his crew, Rutnam says, changed his life forever. To the consternation of his parents, he chucked school and went to London to pursue his dream of a career in films. He later moved to the United States, where he went a film school in Los Angeles, while doing jobs in Hollywood studios. Rutnam's break in selling Asian locations to international film-makers came when he convinced John Derek, director of "Tarzan the Apeman", to shoot the film starring his wife Bo Derek, in Sri Lanka rather than Africa.
Article by Nirupama Subramanian
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