While reading for this piece, it was a revelation to realize how similar the art of movies and architecture are. It makes one reckon, that architecture was, is and will always be about the art of creating spaces. When one further dissects the purpose of art (an expansive research-worthy topic), one could find that it is the elixir of life. It is this elixir and its impact on people’s lives that we will be discussing in the article through two beautiful personalities and their artistic attributes in their respective professions. The article traces their similar trajectories in their profession and the compassion behind their thoughts and ideas.

A movie, according to Merriam – Webster dictionary, is a recording of moving images that tells a story that people watch on screen or on television (“Definition of ‘movie’,” n.d.). I would describe it as an art of recording moving images that tell people’s stories to people. Architecture, on the other hand, is described as ‘the art and science of designing and building structures. I, again, would describe it as an art of creating spaces for people to them. Both have certain common premises in terms of being creative fields to cater to people for different experiences that awaken diversified subjective responses (“Definition of architecture,” n.d.).

The Director and his Art

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Pa. Ranjith Illustration by Prajna Ghosh_©Theprint

Pa. Ranjith is a Tamizh movie director who debuted with the movie Attakaththi in 2012. He studied Fine Arts at the Government College of Fine Arts in Chennai and hailed from Karalapakkam, Chennai. He worked as an assistant director to Venkat Prabhu, another director from the Tamizh Film Industry. During his college years, he joined the film chamber and watched world cinema. He quotes that films like ‘The Battle of Algiers’ and ‘City of God’ influenced his art (Contributors to Wikimedia projects, 2022). He also mentions that movies like ‘Malcolm X’ and ‘Ali’ deeply impacted his perspective and the book ‘Roots’ created a shaking revelation for him, as the nature of oppression that the African Americans faced in America seemed eerily similar to the nature of caste-based oppression he had to face all his life (South, FC, 2019). This feeling of relatability to African American art, movies and culture has influenced his approach to his craft. But nothing amounts to the lasting impression and value in the essence of his art than the teachings and ideologies of Dr B.R. Ambedkar. It is this quality that makes his craft, unique, bold and solution-driven.

To receive the full extent and meaning of his art, we need to understand the context of his social setting. Born in an oppressed community, he had to face caste-based bias, bigotry and segregation and he later acknowledged that all of those behaviours stemmed from our unequal society and culture and the deeply flawed system that aids it. However, his movies transcend the bounds of caste and also address various intersectional modes of oppression based on gender, class and power. He is celebrated by many in the film industry and by the masses as a director who changed the course of Tamizh cinema as he exposed the most important conversation about caste and its nuances in the mainstream.

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Pa. Ranjith and his pathbreaking movies_©LatestLy

Dissection of His Art

Dir. Pa. Ranjith’s movies could be explored by analysing the interesting layers employed in his stories. The intent has been to catapult social truths on the naivety and ignorance of the privileged classes and boldly speak one’s own truth. The first layer could be seen as the attempt to humanise the characters by shifting the narrative from the oppressor’s hands to the marginalised communities that have been stereotyped and ridiculed in movies. The context centres around the people from these communities voicing their stories and living a life of freedom and happiness within themselves. Their culture, traditions and belief systems are woven seamlessly into the narrative. For example, his critically acclaimed movie ‘Madras’, a political drama revolving around two friends, centres itself in North Chennai, a community that has been typecast to play negative roles and stereotypical characters in other mainstream movies. 

The second layer is brought in with the conflict of the story, a conflict that is most often heard and seen in our daily lives but never given due attention. The conflict could be about the common opposition to intercaste integration through marriage in our society in ‘Natchatiran Nagargiradhu’ and interference and condescension of counterproductive ideas brought in by political parties and leaders into these communities in the movies ‘Kaala’ and ‘Madras’. This is where realism kicks in by instigating the viewer to see and understand the real-life impact of such issues on the characters’ lives.

While the context is set in these communities, the story follows the characters. The director deliberately makes the protagonist a flawed and imperfect character with who we can relate and hence understand. This is the third and most important layer as it unravels the horrors of the conflicts in a personal way as the movie has already established the connection between the protagonist and the audience. It is the last nail in the coffin of our ignorance as it questions our opinions. It has been a decade since his debut and he has changed hearts and gained momentous acceptance as a celebrated and beloved director.

The Architect

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Diébédo Francis Kéré_©wikimedia

Diébédo Francis Kéré, the 2022 Pritzker prize winner, was praised by the jury for the ‘beauty, modesty, boldness and invention’ of his architecture (Harrouk, 2022). These words could be used to describe him too. Francis Kéré was born in a remote village Gando, in Burkina Faso. He was the village chief’s eldest son who was sent to school in a city far from his home study as there was no school in the village. He received a scholarship to do an apprenticeship in carpentry in Germany after which he went on to study architecture in Berlin. After graduating, he built the first school in his village with the people of the community (TED, 2013).

It is crucial to understand Architect Francis Kéré’s life and social background to appreciate his architecture in its full glory. In a ted talk, to describe his source of hope and motivation, he narrates a recurring incident of his childhood. Every time he went back to school after the holidays, the women of his village gifted him with the last penny they had tied in their clothes as a sign of affection. They contributed collectively, to his education so that he could return and help his community (TED, 2013).

Process of his design

Kéré’s process is one of integration. His designs come with the technology of building them and the materials that he uses. Perhaps, because he is trained in carpentry, he is able to visualise the technique of the building’s construction too. As an architect, there are many terms I can use to describe his architecture, climate-responsive designs, sustainable buildings and cost-effective construction. However, his ideas to create spaces come from his experience. In other words, empathy. For example, he has expressed that the school that he studied in was made of concrete, and was dark, dingy and hot (TED, 2013). His experience inhabiting such an uncomfortable space to carry out such an important activity informed his decisions in building the school in Gando. His choice of materials was compressed clay blocks for the walls, traditional clay flooring and steel bars to form trusses for the roof. These materials provided cooling and insulation against the harsh sun and high temperatures in Gando. He further introduced a well-thought ventilation system to make the classrooms comfortable (TED, 2013).

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Gando Primary School_©pritzkerprize.com

The Startup Lions Campus in Kenya is another example where the location and its features are used to the advantage of the design. The temperature inside the building is regulated by the tall ventilation towers that release hot air from within the structure and introduce cold air from lower openings. This is inspired by the tiny towers of the termite colony (“Kéré,” n.d.).

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Startup Lions Campus_©kerearchitecture.com

The person who informs the profession

The aim of this article is to show how people translate into their professions. Both the personalities who were discussed above are those who have personal stakeholding in their art. They have bold social opinions and work for the same through their distinct ideologies aiding the betterment of people’s lives and society. Both draw inspiration and content from their real-life experiences and their culture, to provide a better platform for the benefit of their respective communities.

In the ted talk, Francis Kéré says, “From Gando, my home village in Burkina Faso, to Berlin in Germany to become an architect is a big, big step. But what to do with this privilege?”, as if to ask each and every one of us, what we would do with this privilege that is handed to us. Pa. Ranjith also asks us the same through his movies. Hence, if Pa. Ranjith was an architect, he would have innovated structures to elevate the living conditions of his community just like Kéré who has showcased to us that he has achieved the impossible.

References

Contributors to Wikimedia projects, 2022. Pa. Ranjith [WWW Document]. Wikipedia. URL https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pa._Ranjith (accessed 9.11.22).

Definition of architecture [WWW Document], n.d. URL https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/architecture (accessed 9.11.22).

Film Companion, 2019. Definition of movie [WWW Document]. YoutTube. URL https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/movie (accessed 9.11.22).

Harrouk, C., 2022. Francis Kéré Receives the 2022 Pritzker Architecture Prize. ArchDaily.

Kéré [WWW Document], n.d. . Work. URL https://www.kerearchitecture.com/work/building/startup-lions-campus (accessed 9.11.22).

South, F.C., 2019. Pa. Ranjith Interview With Baradwaj Rangan. YouTube.

TED, 2013. Diébédo Francis Kéré: How to build with clay… and community. YouTube.

Author

Bhairav is an aspiring conservation architect who loves to write about the social aspects of architecture, urbanism, and heritage. She earned a B.Arch in 2018 from Anna University in Chennai and an MSc in Architectural Conservation in 2020 from the University of Strathclyde in the UK.

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