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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



MIFF 2020: Meet V. Shantaram Lifetime awardee Dr. S. Krishnaswamy

MIFF 2020: Meet V. Shantaram Lifetime awardee Dr. S. Krishnaswamy

Honoured with the Dr. V. Shantaram Award for Lifetime Achievement, during the inaugural ceremony of MIFF 2020, at Nehru Centre, on January 28, S. Krishnaswamy spoke to, shortly afterwards, at the Films Division Complex.

It was a nostalgic moment for Dr. S. Krishnaswamy. Had fate willed otherwise, he would have joined Films Division (FD) during the tenure of Chief Producer K.L. Khandpur (1962-68) and served in this very complex as a producer. But destiny had other plans. Khandpur persuaded him to appear for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam, a pre-requisite for joining the organisation, and Babu even passed it. After being interviewed by Bimal Roy, he was selected. He had the appointment letter in his pocket when a good Samaritan offered to finance his dream project of a long documentary on the history of India, and he decided to make the film instead. Sadly, the financer backed out, and it took him sixteen years to complete the film, a film that was to be a milestone in his life and in the documentary film movement of India.It was also a moment to reflect upon the period in the late 1980s, preceding the establishment of what was to become the Mumbai International Film Festival. “I had joined a friend in setting-up an institute called the Mass Media Foundation. We organised a conference of eminent documentary film-makers, and as President of the Convention, I moved a resolution that the I&B Ministry should consider holding international film festivals of documentaries, and it would be best if FD organised it. This resolution was widely supported by the conference and was passed on to the Ministry. Sometime later, it fructified, and we are now in the 16th edition of MIFF. It is so heartening to see this festival grow over the years. I have served as the Chairperson of the Jury once and now this honour of the award has me overwhelmed.”

Dr. S. Krishnaswamy’s epic, four-hour documentary, completed in 1976 and exhibited in 1977, is called Indus Valley to Indira Gandhi, because it traces the history of the country from 5,000 years ago to the period when the film was completed and Mrs. Indira Gandhi was in power, i.e., 1976. Finding a distributor for a 240-minute documentary was no cakewalk, and it took a Warner Brothers to release the film. There is an abridged version, called Where Centuries Co-exist, but the original remains sacrosanct. A set of four 30-minute films was also compiled on the same subject but with different content, and was called India 5555 (1998), which stood for 5,000, 500, 50 and 5 year segments. A mammoth, daunting task, but he has always made films that he dreamt about. He never made films he did not want to make. His company, Krishnaswamy Associates, is a corporate entity, with the participation of his wife Mohana (this is the 51st year of their marriage) and his daughter Latha, who lives close to her parents’ home in Adayar, Chennai.

Having made over 200 films, including 20 for FD and 20 for Doordarshan, since 1963, many of them award-winners, he is taking it a bit easy in his 82nd year, and has been writing documentaries for Latha (5,000 Years in 50 Minutes; FD; edited, directed by Latha), though she is writing her current two projects herself and produces all the work for the company nowadays. Her short film, A Different Language, won the prestigious Silver Dolphin at the Cannes Corporate Media and TV Awards, 2018, competing with about 2,000 international entries. The film portrays deaf-and-dumb youngsters and how they are trained to overcome their limitations at the Dr. M.G.R. Home & Higher Secondary School for the Speech and Hearing Impaired, Ramapuram, Chennai.

Dr. S. Krishnaswamy, ‘Babu’ to his family and friends, is the son of K. Subramanyam, the legendary film-maker and freedom-fighter, whom many consider the Father of Tamil Cinema. While a student at Columbia University, Krishnaswamy co-authored, with radio and TV historian Prof. Erik Barnouw, a book on Indian Film, published in 1963. More recently, in 2018, he has penned Unlikely Chemistry, which began as a biography of his wife and ended up being an autobiography.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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