Friday, August 7, 2015


Growing up in Chennai, my siblings and I spent quite a lot of time, mostly the weekends,   in the “studios”, those magical places where movies were made. In those days, all the Telugu movies were made in Madras, as Chennai used to be called then. Both my parents were in the movie business, father, the famous ‘Sri Sri’ was a poet, writer, screenplay and dialogue writer, lyricist and my mother, Saroja Sri Sri,  was his assistant, the dubbing and music director. What an amazing world it was. In those days there were no gizmos, the high technology that exists now and which perhaps makes movie making easier? Definitely more technically perfect. I remember going to the studios for the song recording, the orchestra in their sound proof room, the play back singers in theirs, the music director sometimes with the orchestra, sometimes with the singers or sometimes in the recording room. I remember the big panel with its moving knobs, the recordist moving them to adjust the bass, the tenor and what not. By the end of the recording the song became so familiar as to be my favourite.  It was such a wonderful experience, what a marvelous time I had!! Similarly, during the dubbing of movies, my parents mostly handled Tamil to Telugu, the scene would go in a loop and the dubbing artistes would stand before the mike in front of the huge screen and speak the dialogues, while mother watched like a hawk for the ‘lip-sync’. My maternal aunt was a dubbing artiste and a chorus play back singer herself. One time, when I was with her and my parents who were working on a movie, there was this scene where there is supposed to be a crowd which says something like” long live the king, or hail the king” in Telugu. There was another little girl like me, the niece of another dubbing artiste who was in the studio with us on that day. It was decided that we children would also speak the dialogues, since there were some kids also in the scene. The ladies pushed us in front of the mike and said we would have to shout a bit because the mikes were high up and we were so small. I was scared and a bit shy. I didn’t want to do the ‘dubbing’. Nevertheless I got pushed in front along with the other girl. When the time came for us to shout the dialogues, I found myself bereft of voice and the other pint size hollered at the top of her voice while all the ladies were silent. It was a trick! The other girl got wholesome praise while I got roundly ticked off for being shy.  Even today, this is one of my fondest memories.  One time, this very famous lady playback singer who was equally famous for singing religious songs and raunchy numbers, arrived for a song recording. She was wearing a finger ring which actually was a miniature watch. Now, none of us had seen anything like that before. The grownups pretended like they always knew that such a piece of jewellery existed. Well, naturally, I was a child and never had I even imagined it. So I gushed at it with my eyes round and large.  Later, both mom and aunt gave me a tongue lashing like anything!! Again, in retrospect, this is one of my fondest memories.  We had to maintain pin drop silence when we went to the floor and the red light was on indicating a “take” or a recording was in progress.  Lunch would be served in the sheds separately for the junior artistes. The seniors or the main artistes got their food from home.  Like my uncle who was then the leading comedy artiste and my aunt used to send a couple of huge tiffin carriers to the sets. I used to wonder how a single man could eat so much; it turned out that others ate the food that came from his home while he ate someone else’s.  And it used to surprise me that he would eat seafood, and prawns. My father was a non vegetarian himself, but he always went to a couple of hotels nearby to eat non-veg food, my mother a super cook refused to cook non-veg food in the house. You couldn’t even order it. Whereas my aunt used to cook it at home all the time. I used to wonder how that was possible. The thing is you have these fundamental questions but were too scared to ask then.  Then again, I imagine had we asked also, we would have been asked to shut up, or would be told you will know when you grow up, or that’s how it is..... My mother is an awesome woman. She used to edit movies too. I remember her sitting in front of what used to be called the movieola, or some such name, my memories are of movieola only, with a white marker chalk and marking out the loops on the negative.  In the dubbing of movies, the entire movie is actually cut into small manageable sections, a white film attached to the section and run in a loop. the projectionist would then go start the projection, first with the tamil dialogue. the dubbing artiste would hear the dialogue, look at the picture, get the 'lip' as he/she read the telugu dialogues along. and when they got the hang of it, the sound would be cut and the artiste would speak to the dumb film and finally a "take'. And my mum was the editor who cut the loops after judging which would be a manageable length, and then was on the floor managing the dubbing. My mother went to 6th standard for three years. My grandfather, her father, the headmaster in the local boys high school would not send his daughter for 'higher studies' to a neighbouring place because it would entail 'traveling'and so she went to the same class over and over again. This lady went on to be a music and dubbing director, an editor, and has written a four volume  autobiograhy of her life with my father!! Proud as proud can be of her!!

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