Ramachandra Babu: A wizard who excelled in magical frames, technique

However, when death called on Babu on Saturday in the form of cardiac arrest, he bid adieu without fulfilling one his of his greatest dreams – to direct a film.
Celebrated cinematographer Ramachandra Babu
Celebrated cinematographer Ramachandra Babu

KOCHI: “When I crossed the threshold of cinema, it was a transition. After my  days at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, I landed in the midst of some legends of Malayalam cinema. I was lucky to become a part of the various filmy groups active during that period. My camaraderie with them was a major factor in my evolution as a cinematographer. Still, there are many more steps to climb. Miles to go before I sleep.” says cinematographer Ramachandra Babu in his memoir titled Celluloid Swapandakan. 

However, when death called on Babu on Saturday in the form of cardiac arrest, he bid adieu without fulfilling one his of his greatest dreams – to direct a film. He had already completed  70 per cent filming of his directorial debut Professor Dinkan with Dileep in the lead. Interestingly, Babu entrusted another veteran K P Nambiathiri with the camera work of his directorial debut which  is being shot entirely in 3D.After completing the cinematography  course from FTII, Babu made his debut as an independent cinematographer through  Vidyarthikale Ithile Ithile (1972) directed by his FTII senior John Abraham.

But it was M T Vasudevan Nair’s Nirmalyam ‘which announced Babu’s arrival in mainstream Malayalam cinema. Babu’s phenomenal talent enabled him to dabble in both commercial and parallel cinema.  Swapnadanam (1976), Dweepu (1977), Mela (1980), Kolangal, Itha Ivide Vare (1977), Rathinirvedam (1978), Chamaram (1980),  Yavanika (1982), Padayottam (1982), Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha (1989), Venkalam (1993) and Kanmadham (1998) remain testaments to  Babu’s deft camera work. He was the cameraman for over 130 Malayalam movies. Besides, he handled the camera for some Tamil, Telugu,  Hindi, English and Arabic movies. 

Laurels for best lensman
Babu won the State Award for the Best Cinematographer four times. And he bagged it for the first time for Dweepu, the first Malayalam film to be shot in Eastman colour. And Rathinirvedam, Chamaram and Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha were the oher three which fetched Babu the top honour. He also handled the camera for Padayottam, the first 70 mm film to be made in South India.

Babu was the first choice of filmmakers for introducing new technology to Mollywood. Be it the 70mm film with 65mm negative width and magnetic soundtrack, a 3D camera or experimentation with light,  Babu was always ready to take the risk.

He was a synonym for self-confidence. Many frames he created for movies like Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha, where the camera lingers on the Bharatapuzha glittering in the languid moon to  the accompaniment of the mesmerising  Indulekha kan thurannu song, will forever be remembered  for its aesthetic beauty and cinematographic brilliance. Minus Babu, the history of Malayalam cinema’s journey from black & white to colour, cinemascope, 70mm, digitalisation and 3D can never be complete.

The day lion took the lights out
In Allavudeenum Albhuthavilakkum (1979), Kamal Haasan, who  was playing the role of a street urchin, had to fight a lion in a cave. Accordingly, an animal was brought to the set at Sathya Studio in Chennai. The trainer said that the lion had been sedated, its toe-nails clipped and mouth stitched. So, I placed the camera on a stool. Soon, Kamal came, stood near the lion and slapped its back. Immediately, the lion lept over my head as well as the camera.

Then it hit some lights and escaped through a gap on the set. Since the lights broke, somebody turned the main switch off. So the set plunged into darkness. There was panic all around. Nobody knew where the lion was. When the lights finally came back, we saw the set deserted. After a frantic search, the trainer caught the lion and he was brought back. After the break, the shooting resumed. Thereafter, everything went smoothly. – As told to Shevlin Sebastian

Ace cinematographer Ramachandra Babu passes away
Celebrated cinematographer Ramachandra Babu passed away following a massive cardiac arrest here on Saturday evening. He was 72. He suffered a heart attack in the afternoon and was first taken to the government general hospital. He died while being shifted to the Kozhikode medical college hospital at around 5.30pm. Babu arrived in Kozhikode a few days back on a location hunt for his new film scheduled to commence shoot next month. The film was to be his second directorial venture after ‘Professor Dinkan’, which is yet to be completed. His mortal remains were kept at Hotel Maharani till 8pm for members of the film fraternity to pay homage. Later the body was taken to Thiruvananthapuram where it will be kept for the public to pay final respects till 11am. Cremation will be held at 2pm at Santhikavadam.

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