Thursday, June 16, 2016

When Elephants Went Berserk

Cinematographer S. Kumar talks about his experiences in the films, Punnaaram Chollicholi', 'Kadathanaadan Ambaadi' and 'Nirnayam'

Photo of S. Kumar by Kaviyoor Santhosh 
By Shevlin Sebastian
During the shoot of 'Punnaaram Chollicholi', at the Ambalapuzha temple, director Priyadarshan told cinematographer S. Kumar to take shots of a caprisioned elephant for the song, ‘Arayarayo Kinginiyoarra’ which starred Rahman and Zarina Wahab. So, Kumar told the mahout, Mani (name changed) to make the elephant shake its head.
Something in the way he did it irritated the elephant,” says Kumar. “The elephant broke the chain, which tied him to the ground, and charged at Mani.” The mahout fled.
When this happened, the assistant mahout, a youngster named Ramesh, managed to get on top of the elephant by climbing from the back. “Mani was running around the perimeter of the temple pond in order to ensure that the attention of the elephant remained on him and not towards the devotees,” says Kumar.
Meanwhile, Ramesh tried his best to control the elephant but the mammal was in a violent state. A couple of hours went past.
During this time, Kumar and the crew looked on in shock. “The temple priest expressed confidence that when the temple opened at 6 p.m., and the bells rang, the elephant will be brought to a halt,” says Kumar.
Just near 6 p.m., the elephant was lured next to the broken chain that remained on the ground. “Somehow, they managed to link this chain with the one on the neck and the moment, they put the lock on it, the temple bells began ringing,” says Kumar. “But the elephant remained very violent. Ramesh could not get down.”
It was only at midnight that they could come up with a solution. They tied a rope above the elephant between two coconut trees. The mahout then grabbed it, with both hands and managed to make his way to the side, reached a tree and got down.
Thereafter, we left,” says Kumar. “But we heard that a week later, after the elephant had received treatment and had calmed down, Mani was taking him from Alleppey to Thrissur. However, on the way, the elephant gored Mani to death.”
There was another incident regarding an elephant during the shoot of the film, 'Kadathanaadan Ambaadi' (1990) at Mallampuzha in Palakkad district. “It was a fight sequence,” says Kumar. “And we wanted to involve a group of elephants.”
Anoop, a 20 year-old-boy was the second mahout. “Something he did angered the elephant,” says Kumar. “He lifted Anoop by the trunk and hurled him towards a Mercedes Benz car that belonged to the producer Sajan Varghese.”
Anoop crashed through the glass and fell inside. The elephant then gored the bonnet with its tusks and tried to lift the car. Only the rear side went up. Anoop managed to climb to the back seat, opened the door and ran away. “But the car was a total wreck,” says Kumar. “Sajan had to spend a lot of money to repair it.”
In the Telugu film, 'Nirnayam' (1991), a remake of Priyadarshan's film, 'Vandanam', Kumar had a different experience. Tamil actor Charlie was supposed to ride a cycle up the incline of a cart, and go flying through a Bata shoe hoarding.
Usually, to prepare for a shot like this, mattresses and cardboard boxes are placed on the ground, in case the rope, which is tied around the actor’s body, breaks. In this instance, veteran fight master Thyagarajan forgot to arrange it. But he assured Kumar that the rope was brand-new. Nevertheless, Kumar told Charlie that, in case the rope broke, he should be mentally prepared.
It was the right advice. When Charlie rose 15 feet in the air, the rope broke and he fell. But since he was prepared, he was able to roll over and remained unharmed. “There were only a few scratches,” says Kumar.
Thereafter, I have always told my crew that we should take precautions. Anything can happen at any time.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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