A documentary about a Mridangam Repair Shop

Abhirami, the versatile blogger from Chennai, has shot a small 3 minute documentary about a Mridangam repair shop in Mylapore, Chennai. This is what the Channel 4 Editor has to say about the documentary.

Another in FourDocs’ expanding inventory of ‘process documentaries’. This time it’s drum repair in Chennai, India, beautifully explained in pictures with just a touch of economically used voice-over and sync to tell us what we need to know about the family business that does the repairs. Processes always require discipline from the filmmaker because the key stages can only be explained in the so-called ‘close-up cutaways’, and this film is a near perfect example.

Watch the documentary here

10 Comments so far

  1. nandhu (unregistered) on February 24th, 2007 @ 3:32 pm

    just saw the documentary. i think, there is in fact no voice over at all. just interviews…and it’s good, simple and eminently watchable. made me feel very jealous of the film makers.


  2. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on February 25th, 2007 @ 12:26 pm

    Well spotted! Nice to watch.

    I wish they’d made it a thirty-minute film showing all the detail that goes into making the mridangam from scratch!

    I don’t know this shop — who can recognise the street?


  3. Yuva (unregistered) on February 25th, 2007 @ 11:07 pm

    neat.. but still i think.. some voice-over explanation would help.. yap, although film is nicely done.. i think, documentary should have objective/theme,. compositions and conclusion.. no voice has given open interpretation — wondering what its all about?

    btw: Iam collecting interesting documentaries at http://iamyuva.wordpress.com/documentaries

    any comments and additions are appreciated.


  4. abhirami (unregistered) on February 26th, 2007 @ 12:19 am

    Thad, the shop can be found on Apparswamy koil street in Mylapore (near Vivekananda College). They only repair and tune mridangams and don’t make them from scratch. Thank you.


  5. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on February 28th, 2007 @ 2:24 pm

    It depend on what you mean by ‘make from scratch’!

    I don’t know of any of these guys going the woodwork, although this film shows some adjustment being made to the inside of the shell.

    However, the heads they do>/i> make from scratch and you can see in the film some (few, unfortunately) of the stages involved in that process. That’s good enough for me to describe as making from scratch!

    It is labour-intensive and skilled work.


  6. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on February 28th, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

    Oh, thanks for the location… Yes, I know Arokyam’s workshop near there, and met Gunaseelan before he died — all of the same family.


  7. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on February 28th, 2007 @ 2:30 pm

    Here is A
    good article from Outlook India
    about that family and the business in general. I was directed there from a music forum.

    You may have to register, but if you are interested in this business it is a nice article.


  8. abhirami (unregistered) on February 28th, 2007 @ 2:48 pm

    When I asked him if he made mridangams there, S A Johnson (Arokyam Johnson?) replied that they only repaired them there. That is what I meant by ‘from scratch’. Of course, it requires a lot of skill and is quite labour-intensive.
    What you see there when he is scraping (?) the insides of the shell is that he is lightening the mridangam (am paraphrasing here, so please excuse). Apparently, the mridangist was no longer able to carry it around like he used to when he was younger. And had requested that its weight be reduced.
    A four-minute time limit meant I had to keep it focussed. Plus it is for an audience that is not familiar with the art.
    Thanks for the link. I’ll definitely look it up.


  9. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on March 1st, 2007 @ 2:00 am

    I had not noticed your name, and didn’t realise it was your film! A piece showing the entire process of making those heads would be fascinating — but only to mridangam students, and perhaps a handful of other drummers in the world.

    It is a complete mystery to many, including most overseas mridangam students, for instance, how that black circle is made on the right-hand side. It is built up in many, many thin layers, each one being packed tight and ‘polished’ dry with a smooth stone.

    That’s a nice tale, about the mridangam being lightened for an ageing player!

    Hope you’ll enjoy more seeing the instrument played now :). Congrats on the film.

    Chenthil mentions your blog… but the link seems dead?


  10. Chenthil (unregistered) on March 1st, 2007 @ 1:51 pm

    Thad, corrected the link now



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