Four of us were in Pune National Film Archives- Monica, Jeebesh, Shuddha, and I, searching through old issues of ‘Film India’, looking for anything related to cinematographers and their craft. We were in the middle of our research on ‘Practice of Cinematography in India’ supported by ‘India Foundation for the Arts.’
We read about K A Abbas and his films- ‘Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Main’, ‘Sath Hindustani’ ,’Rahi’, ‘Munna’ etc. One name was common – Ramchandra, the DoP of most of his films. We decided to interview him as soon as we hit Mumbai.
We had lot of work that day and by the time we left to meet him at his house in central Mumbai, we were late. In my old maruti 800 we kept discussing about his work in many films from early fifties to late seventies. We had many questions to ask, setting and lighting the cityscape backdrop of Mumbai in one of the songs in ‘Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Main’, shooting of ‘Sath Hindusthani’ in the jungles, working with Mr.K.A.Abbas, shooting the desert song at night in ‘Shera aur Reshma’ and of course shooting ‘Yadein’… so on and so forth.
Half way through the journey I realized we had crossed the appointment time.
I stopped at a pan shop to make a call to inform him that we are on our way.
Monica went to make the call and we continued our discussion in the car. After five minutes or so she came back with a puzzled look. As I started driving she said
“Arre he seemed to have forgotten about our appointment. I spoke to the maid.”
“You didn’t speak to him?”
“No. The maid spoke to him and she said he will wait for us.”
An old housing society in Dadar.
We rang the bell and a lady opened the door. She took us to the living room where Mr.Ramchandra was waiting for us. We sat down, apologized for the delay and started unpacking our recording equipment.
It was a neat drawing room with a bookshelf full of books.
Bound volumes of ‘American Cinematographer’ from the fifties were neatly stacked there.
The wall had many photographs including one where he is standing beside Mrs.Indira Gandhi.
Top of the shelf adorned a row of awards.
As always we started our interview with a question about images from his childhood. He looked out through the window and talked about his school days, his love for football and about his parents in a low voice. As we advanced into later period, his voice became more and more weak. He took more time to remember and stopped answering after a point.
How did you start working in Bombay Industry?
Whom did you assist?
When did you take this photograph with Mrs. Gandhi?
Sir, what was your last film?
We could feel the discomfort in his eyes. It was painful to see him struggling to remember. Soon we realized he has no memory of his past and we are putting him through severe pain.
We apologized again and packed up our stuff.
Nobody spoke about anything in the car on the way back.
Three months later I met a friend of mine who stayed in the same housing complex. He told me that Ramchandra passed away a week back. He was in the advanced stage of Alzheimer’s.
10th March 2014-
I couldn’t find much about him on Internet databases. Most of them got his name confused with other DoPs with similar names. His films went into their filmography. Other web sites where I thought I would find him, didn’t mention his name either.
Like his memory he too has disappeared from history.
I dug out my 18-year-old diary and these are the listings I found in it-
Rahi- Two leaves and a bud Dir:K.A.Abbas 1952
Munna Dir:K.A.Abbas 1954
Char Dil Char Rahein Dir:K.A.Abbas 1959
Gyarah Hazar Ladkiyan Dir:K.A.Abbas 1962
Sheher our Sapna Dir:K.A.Abbas 1963
Yadein Dir:Sunil Dutt 1964
Aasman Mahal Dir:K.A.Abbas 1965
Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Main Dir:K.A.Abbas 1967
Sath Hindusthani Dir:K.A.Abbas 1969
Reshma our Shera
Dir:Sunil Dutt 1971
Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Main 1967
Reshma our Shera 1971
He was known for his Black&White works. But ‘Reshma aur Shera’ got him his second national award for colour cinematography.
Here is a song from ‘Reshma aur Shera’