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Life through his lens

FROM COVERING WEDDINGS and functions with his camera when he was barely 17 years old to becoming a professional cinematographer — the passion for photography took Madhu Thyagarajan all the way to Zeigen in Germany to pursue a course in Photography and Film Studies on a scholarship. A diploma in Automobile Engineering and later, another AMIMI diploma through a correspondence course from Hertford, England, equipped him with the skills necessary to sustain his stay in Germany and later, France, where he studied at the Ecole Superieure des Techniques du Cinema et de l'Audiovisuel, Paris. In collaboration with other organisations Madhu established `Jeunes Cineastes du Sud' — a `formation centre in cinema' for young aspirants . And youngsters trained by him soon earned the appreciation of other filmmakers.

But the going has not been easy for Madhu Thyagarajan. Born in Vandipalayam near Cuddalore, the fourteenth child of a farmer, he was adopted by Tara Michael, a French woman, who was then with the Indology section of the Alliance Francaise in Pondicherry. Tara has been a pillar of strength right through, says Madhu.

However, his talent was noticed for even as a second year student in Paris, Madhu got the opportunity to work in a film directed by George Lautner, featuring Jean Paul Belmondo in the lead role. Later, Madhu worked as a cameraman in almost all the films of Belmonde. "One has to work as a trainee for quite a while before one can be accepted as a full-fledged director of photography (cinematographer)," says Madhu. Besides French films, Madhu has worked in American, Canadian and Italian productions too.

His first film in 1993 in which he was director of photography was a Hollywood production called `F.F.F.' Shot partly in France, the film was produced and directed by Spike Lee. Since then he has shot 22 full-length feature films, besides several short films.

`Reunion de Famille', his first directorial venture in 1995, was a turning point in his life. When the film `Elements of One' about musician Steve Coleman was directed by Eve-Marie Breglia in the U.S. and Canada, Madhu was invited to direct the photography. He won an award for `Monologue dans le Noir', his first French film in which he directed the photography.

Based in Arles near Paris after he left India in 1977-1978, it was now time to return following an invitation from the chief of the Films Division of India, Mr. Bankim when the two met at a film festival in Rotterdam, Holland. Back in India he began thinking seriously about making a film here. He plans to shoot `Indrumudal Kaadal' in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This time, he will not be behind the camera but will direct the film, which is envisaged to meet international standards.

The story is an adaptation of the 17th Century French writer Marivaux's play `Game of Love and Chance'. The film will in all likelihood be dubbed in French or have sub-titles. The technicians will be from France and Germany.

Madhu has made it a point to view films seated in the lower denomination classes in the cinemas just to get the reaction of this level of viewers. After watching several films, it struck him that "earlier, filmmakers respected the grammar of cinematography but unfortunately, the experts did not train their successors well. Today's youngsters can take lessons from the films of yesteryear. I have learnt a lot from A.P. Nagarajan's films such as `Thiruvilayadal."

About his proposed film he says, "Drawing from.the experience I have gained over the years spent abroad I want to make the film without the influence of Indian films."

Madhu Thyagarajan has also helped promote Indian cultural activities in France. He was also involved with the organising of the Festival of Music and Dance and L'Inde en Provence in the South of France and in the creation of the Franco-Indian Film Society.

LAKSHMI VENKATRAMAN

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