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BR Ram Kumar Finds His Passion Through The Kovil Kodai Documentary in Chennai

Today, BR Ram Kumar's dream is to make movies on the ancient heritage, science, art and lifestyles of India

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kovil kodai
Temple Umbrellas in Chennai. Image courtesy: templeumbrellas.co
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  • BR Ram Kumar is a filmmaker who is mainly interested in creating documentaries that capture emotions and tradition
  • His recent documentary, Kovil Kodai, captured the traditional hand-made woven umbrella culture in Chennai
  • These umbrellas form a very important part of Chennai’s culture

The founder of Madras Documenting Company, who is 62 years old today, acquired a bachelor’s degree in Physics, and a Master’s Degree from CalArts in the USA. BR Ram Kumar used to work as an ad filmmaker before he shifted to filming documentaries on topics of his interest. Having spent his childhood in an environment of film makers, he had always been very comfortable with all the film jargon. Kumar has worked on around 400 documentaries till date, including industrial films and a feature film as well.

His recent documentary, Kovil Kodai – The Umbrella Of The Gods, is a huge success and has attracted a lot of attention. In Chennai, woven umbrellas of vibrant colors are an important part of the religious traditions. Kovil Kodai is the act of carrying umbrellas by devotees to protect the deity from sunshine and rainfall. It is also considered as a symbolic way to pay respect to the Gods.

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“These umbrellas are made by about 12 Saurashtrian families who live in Chintadripet,” Kumar told Times of India, who uses his own funds to make the films that range from a few minutes to half an hour. “The name of the area is derived from “Chinatari pettai”, when the British East India Company decided to create a facility to supply England with woven cloth at a controlled price. The weavers were settled in the area,” he says.

These families are descendants of the migrants from Saurashtra. Even though each family owns different companies, they all work together in unity to create around 3,000 umbrellas every year. Each umbrella is around 4.5 feet to 18 feet, and ranges from 3,000 to 6,000 INR, depending on the requirements. These umbrellas have assumed such an important role in performing rituals, that no deity is taken out of the temple without their shade. Each god is believed to be suited a particular color palette. For example, the umbrellas for Vishnua are only white and brown, while the ones used for Shiva are multicolored.

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Ram Kumar enjoys capturing these emotions and candid moments to help portray Chennai’s culture. The documentary was shot over a period of 24 hours with the willingness of the families, which made Kumar’s work easier.  Kovil Kodai – the Umbrella of the Gods will be screened followed by a talk on temple umbrellas by C N Magesh at Apparao Galleries, Nungambakkam on 18th June.

-written by Saurabh Bodas, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter Handle: @saurabhbodas96

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  • AJ Krish

    Documentaries that depict the great heritage and culture of India makes people aware of the traditions carried out in the country. These documentaries inspire people to know more about the land they belong to.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Inspiration should be taken by budding filmmakers as capturing culture at this point if time in India when there is less importance given to it is an important step. Also, there will be time when a few cultures would be forgotten, this is when such documentaries would be seen as a masterpiece.

Next Story

‘A Fantastic Woman’ Could Have Been Paramount in Portraying a Transgender Woman’s Struggle

"A Fantastic Woman" fails to carry us along in its protagonist's tough journey from bereavement to isolation to confrontation to settlement. Marina can't wait to get out of it.

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Daniella Vega
'A fantastic Women' seems stretched out. Flickr

Film: “A Fantastic Woman” (Spanish, with English Subtitles, based on a transgender woman); Director: Sebastian Lelio; Starring: Daniela Vega; Rating: 1/2 (2 and a half stars)

“A Fantastic Woman” could have been penetrating portrait of a transgender woman’s struggle for dignity after her middle-aged lover suddenly dies on her.

Marina (played with consummate sensitivity by Daniela Vega) never quite recovers from the traumatic shock. Neither does the film. It quickly goes downhill from the point of tragedy, building what looks like a shell-shocked narrative in-sync with the stupor that falls over Daniela’s soul after Orlando (Francisco Reyes) passes away.

The ensuing trauma of a ‘woman’ who is unacceptable to society for her gender and status in the life of the man she loved, is brought out like a dentist extracting rotten teeth. It is a graceless situation.And director Sebastian Lelio goes with the frown, rendering every crease in Daniela’s disheveled existence in shades of black and fright.

Daniela Vega
Spanish makes the dialogue-heavy sequences, makes it seem unnecessarily stretched-out and verbose. Flickr

Daniela’s dilemma is so in-your-face, it hardly needed to be affirmed so strongly by the narrative. Her humiliation is shown in scenes in the hospital and at the police station. And we know what happens to the mistress specially when she is gender-challenged. But Marina’s behaviour post the tragedy eschews empathy. She frets, fumes, snarls and at one point even jumps on to the car of her deceased lover’s family to bounce up and down.

By this point the edgy narrative begins to look uneasily unfocused.

Perhaps Marina’s unconventional methods of protest are a cultural things. Maybe in Chile, the conventions of bereavement are played out at a pitch that seems fairly bizarre to us. Also, the fact that the film is in Spanish makes the dialogue-heavy sequences, such as the one where Marina is confronted by Orlando’s wife in a car basement, seems unnecessarily stretched-out and verbose.

Also Read: Eating diorder can be treated in transgenders

“A Fantastic Woman” fails to carry us along in its protagonist’s tough journey from bereavement to isolation to confrontation to settlement. Marina can’t wait to get out of it.

Neither can we. (IANS)