Calling the Shots : The Dream & Making of RKFA

Revathy Suresh talks of the Making of the Revathy Kalamandir Film Academy 

Nestled amidst well-manicured lawns and lush green foliage is a building that is reminiscent of all things earthy and ethnic! The Revathy Kalamandir Film Academy situated inside the KINFRA, is a smooth blend of nature, tradition and modern expertise!  When it’s inspired by two generations of Mollywood veterans, immensely passionate about cinema, raising the bar comes naturally. The RKFA, that began operations in 2014, is gaining popularity for its wide network within the film fraternity and for the excellent experiential training it offers! Revathy Suresh, daughter of Film producer Suresh Kumar and renowned actress Menaka Suresh, talks to RITZ about the family’s mission and dreams for RKFA.

Text: Riya Sonny Datson

What was the inspiration behind Revathy Kalamandir Film Academy?

All of us in our family are very passionate about Cinema. My dad has been a film producer for over three decades, my mother, Menaka Suresh and my sister, Keerthy Suresh are renowned actors and I, for one, have always been passionate about direction. After completing my course in direction and visual effects from the US, I continued to work there for a year before joining Red Chilly in Mumbai. I worked with the team behind Bollywood flicks like Krish 3 and Chennai Express and was also a part of Priyadarshan’s ‘Oppam’ recently. It was always my dad’s dream to start a film academy and when he mentioned that he wanted me to involve myself in its management, I was more than happy to join him. As a family, we have gained a lot from cinema and we felt it was time to return the favour by training quality students who would be the future of cinema.

What kind of student mix does the institute cater to?

Cinema is open to anyone and is not necessarily focussed on any specific age group. At RKFA, we have students from different parts of India, who are not over 30 years of age – comprising mainly of high school students, graduates and even post graduates. For short term courses, we have had students over thirty. Admissions are based on our aptitude test which evaluates the student’s knowledge, skill and interest in the subject. At any point of time, we don’t have more than 25-30 students as we firmly believe in providing quality education on a one-on-one basis.

What sets RKFA apart from its contemporaries?

Since we are all actively involved in the film field, our greatest strength is our excellent network of film professionals. This makes it easy for students to access the film fraternity. We have professors and visiting faculty who are renowned experts in their respective fields. National award winning director Sunny Joseph is the HOD of direction and cinematography, he has worked across eleven languages and his expertise is remarkable. Raghuthaman of Abhinaya, is our Acting HOD. We have James Joseph to handle photography and communication and Aravind Chandrashekhar is the sound instructor. Expert faculty for script writing and direction include Suraj Varma and Shambu Purushothaman. Chandra Mohan, former HOD Acting of FTI Pune is the visiting professor in the department of Acting.  Harikumar Narayanan, who is a National and State Award winner, is the Honorary Professor in the Sound department.

Secondly, the infrastructure in our two acre campus includes a well-equipped studio floor, sound recording and dubbing studio, edit suit, actor’s studio and many more modern facilities where students are given the opportunity to practise and experiment. Hands-on training is very important in this field so we strive to provide experiential learning wherever possible.

The campus as well as the architecture of the institute is designed in a very unique eco-friendly and traditional manner keeping with the true spirit of Kerala. We don’t believe in restricting students to the four walls of a classroom, in fact we feel that nature inspires creativity.

What are the courses that are being offered at the institute?

There are mainly nine courses – a two year diploma comprising of subjects like cinematography, direction, screen play writing, editing and sound design and one year diploma in digital videography, digital film making, sound recording, editing and acting. The first six months of every course has an integrated approach where students learn all the basic aspects of cinema. We have also introduced periodical short term courses in film making aimed at working people and amateurs who have the inclination to make movies but lack the time to learn the art. These are organised over the weekends. This year, we are also introducing summer acting classes for children and young adults.

Special classes in life skills and communication are also being offered here that help the students to get a first-hand knowledge of how to tackle situations or people while on the sets. These sessions are handled by prominent personalities, who have proved their mettle in the film field.  We have had periodic guest lectures, master classes and workshops by great acting legends like Madhu, Urvashi Sharadha amma, director Priyadarshan, Girish Kasaravalli, former FTI Director Hariharan, Ramu Aravindan for photography, Cinematographer Basker Rao, Fousia, Anil Metha, National Award winner B. Ajith Kumar for Editing, Anjum Rajabali for Scriptwriting, Bhagya Lakshmi for dubbing and so on.

Tell us about the main challenges faced by the institute.

The biggest challenge is tackling the thinking and the mindset of our society. Most parents feel that a career in engineering or medicine is the safe and successful route ahead. So even if the children are passionate about cinema, parents are not convinced enough to support them. Another major hurdle is the parent’s perception of the film industry. Even today, the film field is perceived as a dangerous career choice especially for girls.  The student ratio of girls vs. boys is very low and I feel there is a need to educate parents about the changing scenario.

How involved is your family in the functioning of the institute?

My Father is the Chairman of the institute and he is responsible for all major decisions pertaining to RKFA. I am a part of the management and handle all the event organising and planning. My mother takes acting classes for the students and is also actively involved in its functioning. Keerthy, of course is our Brand Ambassador (she laughs!).

Do you have tie-ups with foreign Universities?

We are presently working on a tie-up with a foreign institute in the US but we have had foreign film professionals like Polish Director, Krzysztof Zanussi and Nigel Walters, BBC Cameraman, Soap Opera Director Rita Walters, Documentarian Erica Ginsberg, taking live classes or workshops for our students. We also have web conferencing classes conducted by professionals working abroad. We reciprocate the same by letting our faculty take classes for their students as well, like in an exchange program.

Whenever there is an opportunity, we try to provide hands on experience. For example, in 2014, our students had master classes with visiting experts to the IFFK (International Film Festival of Kerala). Depending on the available opportunity, we send students for internships. One of the faculty was directing a movie and our students were sent as assistant directors, assistant camera men, and sound technicians. That was a huge learning experience for them.

Have any of the students started working?

Even though our first batch of 2-year diploma students will pass out only this year, some of our students have already started work. One of them is a cinematographer in a Kannada film, and another in a Malayalam film. One of our acting diploma students who passed out has already completed working in Director Jayaraj’s movie, while another did a lead in a tele serial. We have two students doing their own short film and one who is working on his ad film. So students are branching out slowly and going places.

Future plans…

We want to strengthen the brand RKFA here in Kerala and in future, slowly expand. But now, our core focus is this institute. Every year, we hold several competitions for amateur artists. We host the 24 hour Film Rush where we invite teams to create a short film in 24 hours.  Teams of 6 register and based on a theme given to them, they are required to write a script, shoot, edit and mix to make a short film – all in 24 hrs! The 3 best teams win awards. We had 200 teams registering last year and the event has made us very popular. In fact, it has become our signature event! This year we plan to take the festival across south India. We are also planning to introduce a short film festival for film enthusiasts to encourage them and provide a creative platform.