On NEE ENGEY (Where are you)
Watching the film was an exciting journey for me. What is most interesting for me is the pretext of being an ethnographic study; the film is actually a film and a documentary, which tells you much more about people, about life, about history, about love. The faces of the people you meet are striking, their warmth, sincerity and desperation all naked in front of Ramani’s camera. The length of the film is absolutely necessary, and I think this style of very personal cinematography and loose construction works very well with this long-ness.– Fujiako Asako, Film critic, Japan

Very powerful film, lovingly made, beautifully crafted, visually rich, with a standout natural musical track. A 150-minute documentary appeared daunting in the beginning; but as it unfolded I was so engrossed that I felt disappointed when it ended. I experienced laughter, joy, anger, intimacy, sadness, hope, admiration, love as I watched. Rather than trying to describe it, I’d say, “Experience it”. And the intimate way in which Ramani chooses to screen it – to not very large audiences – truly enhances the experience. I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more of the film, and Ramani the filmmaker, in time to come. I’d love to watch it again [and again, and again…
– Nausheer Hameed, Bangalore

We become a co-traveler with Ramani, going through a rich experience. With great care and concern he takes us on a journey with a relaxed pace. At one point, the puppeteers become part of our family.
 –Karthi, Nizhal, Tamil magazine

Ramani’s camerawork has a very unique language. It’s a fantastic thing. He breaks through and goes beyond the established notion of compositions, creating new levels of visual experiences. Very easily, his visual language, substitutes roles, which are usually handled by powerful dialogues.
 Ravi Subramanian, poet, filmmaker

I think it’s terrific. This documentary is invaluable in assessing the history and status of shadow puppetry traditions in India today. Perhaps it will lead to much needed support.
– Nancy Staub, member of the UNIMA (International Puppet Organization) Research Commission

I enjoyed the film very much. It kept me completely absorbed and engaged. I think all of us got a sense of being there with Ramani on the journey. Thanks for a great evening …!
 -Sunil Shanbag

Am truly glad I made it a point to slink away from office in time to watch the film. I am simply compelled to tell you what it brought to me. Watching Nee Engey, made me think of the myriad ways that it is possible to make a film. The film I was on was being edited in a rather classical fashion, I imagine. Constructing a sequence, with an establishing shot, cutaways during a conversation, reaction inserts – all that jazz. Your film taught me immensely about the craft of film, and magic that it made possible.
Nee Engey showed me different type of magic. There was such fluidity in the film and I suspect that fluidity was acheived because of an editor who managed to restrain himself from cutting. Nee Engey showed me the other side of film… Dont’ think I have been able to put into words all the thoughts I have about the film… and I know i want to. And I will. But till such time that I find lucidity in words, I thought it best to share with you, the thoughts I am left with on the surface of my mind… even if in a fragmented fashion.

Thank you, Ramani

– Ruchi Bhimani


Review in Indian Express:

Gentle Witness: The Genius of Ramani

Being Ramani’s friend, admirer and well-wisher brings its own occupational hazards. For years, he has been an inspiration, and a mystery to his friends and peers. Where does he find the resources to make his films, that ‘just happen’? How does he have the courage, and the will to continue with a self-directed creative agenda in this age of commerce-driven culture? Even a passing acquaintanceship with Ramani will reveal that he has plenty of both.


But that does not make his films smooth and easy pills to swallow. From my first encounter with tribals living in an obscure hilly region of Tamil Nadu in ‘It Rested’, it was clear that hand held camera work, visuals unencumbered with pompous narration, ambient lighting, and unorthodox angles were Ramani’s techniques. In addition, subjects that appealed to him could be people traveling in a Mumbai local train, theatre personalities in a workshop situation, a sculptor moulding sand on a beach, a flamboyant martial arts figure – Ramani’s camera seemed a ubiquitous device that fitted his fly-on-the-wall type of shooting perfectly. The results were not what could be served up for wholesale consumption.


And yet, a very strong and discernible thread could be observed in films as widely spaced apart as ‘Through The Window’ and ‘Face Like A Man’ (1993), ‘Lines of Mahatma’ (1999), Brahma Vishnu Shiva’ (1999),’Language of War’ (1996), ‘One Two Three Four’ (1995) and even ‘The Voyeur’ (2000) and ‘Season’ (2001). Whether Ramani was capturing Adimoolam’s sketches of Gandhi, Toshikazu Kanai’s sand sculpture, canvases taking shape under the hands of Bhagwan Chavan, Rekha Rodwittiya, Manu Parekh or Vasudha Thozur, rehearsals and performances of Maya Rao, Chandralekha, Sanjay Subramaniam or Anita Ratnam, it was clear that the creative process fascinated him. His camera snuggled into those spaces around an artist and his or her work of art, that yielded umpteen visual insights about how the artist approached his or her work. The only departures from this were ‘If I Die’ and ‘Our Symbol’, both made in 1996. One revealed the seemingly bizarre and self-destructive motivations of a karate expert, and the other provided a peep into the emotional Tamil voter’s psyche that few political journalists are able to produce in their reams of election time prose.


Herein lay the dilemma of approaching Ramani’s work. His films are non-fiction or documentary, but their shooting and editing style is so different from the grammar that we are accustomed to, that one wonders how to slot them, even in one’s own mind. There is a whimsicality, a quirkiness in the way Ramani handles his subjects, that puts him on par with the artists he shadows. He is the wandering mind, and the seeing eye, never probingly intrusive, like so much of modern Western camera, but a gentle and wise onlooker who learns (and teaches) much from what he sees. No wonder his work has received the attention it deserves, and as his brochure for ‘Nee Engey’ points out, ‘his films offer an experience of fiction’. The Germans and Mexicans who exhibited his work knew what they were about, as did the Mumbai International Film Festival in 2002.


There have been times, when I have been watching Ramani’s films, when I have completely failed to understand why a shot is as it is, or why a singer is allowed to sing so long that I begin to feel I am a hostage of the film. But with ‘Nee Engey’ every reservation I have ever had about Ramani, or my own understanding of his work, completely melted away. In this beautifully shot, tenderly crafted, compassionate film, R.V.Ramani proves that he has learnt much about the creative impulse through all these years. He has shown it alive in the midst of utter deprivation and neglect in creators and performers like Paramasivan Rao and Murugan Rao. In this film, Ramani’s own special techniques, his gentle handling of his subjects, and his artist vision, have all come together to make a very moving and inspired piece of work. ‘Nee Engey’ is special because it removes every doubt about where Ramani deserves to be – among India’s highest rated documentary makers.


And what makes it special? Only one explanation presents itself. This film is what it is because the person behind the camera feels a different emotion for the shadow puppeteers than he has felt before. More than curiosity, understanding, and regard, what is evident here is love.


‘Nee Engey’ is Ramani’s labour of love.


By Scharada Bail



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