Good Will Hunting: Abhishek Kuthum
In the tiny NITR community, when you’ve spread enough goodwill, we believe you’re entitled to a certain acceptable amount of haughtiness. This country churns out engineers in hordes, but one of the graduates of the upcoming batch will have broken the stereotype. The workaholic and ridiculously humble President of Cinematics, Abhishek Kuthum shattered every preconceived notion that we had about him when we contacted him for an interview and he calmly interjected, “Why do you need an appointment to interview me? Just barge into my room whenever you feel like.” Here is a glimpse of the episode, from barging into his life, with full permission.
Act I: Sholay
Seated on a chair before the MM squad on the ground floor of the BM/BT building, which also houses his very own Department of Industrial Design, he recollected his childhood days. “I was very normal as a kid,” said this KVian from Hyderabad. Though born in Raipur, Chhattisgarh Abhishek Kuthum basically belongs to Vizag, Vishakhapatnam and later shifted to Hyderabad where he completed his schooling. As most kids his age, he didn’t limit himself to a single hobby but wholeheartedly squandered his time in every possible extra-curricular activity.
“Was ending up in the department of Industrial Design, a choice or a chance of fate?”
As if he already saw this coming, he revealed the “Jai and Veeru” story of his life which is something that he has managed to keep guarded, from even his closest comrades on campus. “Enrolling in ID at NITR was certainly by choice”, he started. Going against the general trend of grabbing a seat in some haloed branch in a renowned institution he chose ID because the ‘Jai’ of his life Sachin Rathore was allotted Architecture in NITR. “Still why take ID?”; “I was not a studious kind and I got this straight in my head during my senior secondary years so, after a little bit of research on easy going branches with the appropriate amalgamation of fun and physics I fell for ID.” But fate had it otherwise for this ‘Jai Viru’ duo. Sachin shifted to School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal while Viru (Abhishek) was left behind at NITR. When asked how satisfied the creative bug within him was with the activities of his branch, Abhishek had an entirely negative reply.
Industrial Design is something very creative but here our curriculum is crammed with Mechanical subjects with a complete absence of any creative aspects. It is pitiful that the department doesn’t have several relevant courses, and even the professors themselves do not belong to the core discipline. On a personal note I despise attending Mechanical related lectures and when it comes to clearing a semester I am an ultimate grappler.
Having used up his freshmen year in sleeping and idling, he regrets not taking part in the plethora of opportunities by various clubs.
Act II: The Shawshank Redemption
“How did you finally develop an affinity for the lens?” was one question any layman would ask.
Being the son of an artist father and with a DSLR at home, it is ironical and rather hard to believe that Kuthum never laid his hands upon the tool, nor gave the slightest hint that he was on his way to becoming a Photography Prodigy.
“It happened in the summers at the end of my first academic year,” he said delving into reminiscence. “Back then, I had just started frequenting the Department of Industrial Design and had been exposed to the ugly truth that the curriculum was far from what I had expected. Thus, knowing whatever I learned in these four years would have to be a result of self-study, I started looking through the portfolios of notable Industrial Designers. In that quest, I quickly observed that most people with an eye for design were also gifted photographers. This served as an initial motivation for me, and very soon I found myself so engrossed in photography, that my interest in design lapsed.”
Delving deeper into reminiscence Abhishek recounted his journey from a photographer in MM to the Photography Coordinator and then finally to the Photography Mentor. “I had a wild card entry into Monday Morning,” he said wearing an expression of wicked glee, “The inductions for that year’s team had already been conducted in the previous semester. Ashutosh Purohit approached me while I was clicking photographs near SAC and asked me if I would work for MM. He asked me if I was willing to work hard, and I naturally agreed. Consequently, I was interviewed by the Chief Coordinators then, Anubhav Moharana, Anshuman Patnaik, and Snehasis Hota, before being made a part of the family.”
“During my photographer phase in MM, I got to practice and learn several technicalities of the DSLR but could try creative photography only during fests. However, I never minded doing the groundwork, and all those who feel pressurized by it are simply not serious enough. It is essential to mention at this point of time, that none of this would have been possible without the support and blessings of my generous parents who gifted me with my first Canon 600D, which has served me well, ever since then.”
As one of the members who was closely involved with the growth of MM from being a weekly e-newsletter to its braver ventures in other forms of multimedia, he feels that photography too has evolved. The work that used to be basic and routine at his times, now offer promising prospects if pursued with passion. He adds, however, that it is indeed still “a work in progress.
“Apart from the general fest coverage, it would be interesting to see if a story could be strung together in the daily life of NITRian, a walkthrough for a day at NITR.” Unfortunately, he also admits that the team is grossly handicapped when it comes to manpower, and perhaps there is a need to focus especially on such activities during the upcoming inductions so that the daunting task of editing and processing can be completed.
Act III: Into the Wild
“There was never an induction for this guy,” Abodid Sahoo, a campus kin of Abhishek and his second visual instructor after Gokul Nathan Kasinathan, as Abhishek describes him, said, “he made a wild card entry everywhere.”
“After a chance encounter with Abodid and Abhinay Venkat, where I was unmasked as the guy behind the ‘iDesign’ photos being shared on the DC++ forum. They asked to join them for a music video shoot on the weekends where he instructed me about the basics of cinematography: settings of the shutter speed, aperture length, lighting, focus and such other technical jargon. Later when we were in his room after the shoot, he explained to me the intricacies of Videography. After this, he called me for a meeting of Cinematics, which was still in its nascent stage then, and that marked my formal entry to the club. The rest has been history.”
Having no personal spots for photography is campus, he feels the imagination of the person behind the lens brings out the richness of a particular situation, be it an event in BBA or a pro-show. On being asked how he imagines the opening shot of a movie based on his life, he says, “The facade of the main building, with NIT in block letters, adorned by a slight drizzle, as I saw it when I walked onto this campus for the first time, with my mother still remains clearly etched in my memory.”
With most of his friends already a part of Third Eye, he says he didn’t ever feel the need of joining it formally. Owing to his carefree attitude, he never got around to submitting the photographs required for a formal induction, and remained a creative photographer, strictly by his own interest.
When asked about his views on the creative acumen of the NITR junta, with a sad smile, he explains,
The growth of a number of people owning a fancy/professional camera doesn’t imply the growth in quality of photography or inspiring pictures. After having spent 4 years at NITR, I don’t find the creative output up to the mark. Even though the number of photographs have drastically increased, there hasn’t been much impact. Every once a while we get people who are out of the box thinkers and who challenge the way things are. They stir up the norm and that’s when we get the richness and creative output. Creative acumen is not time dependent. It doesn’t increase or decrease with time.
As somebody who has been a part of the wave of change at NITR, he can only hope that the legacy left behind these people is strong enough to motivate others to become out of the box thinkers.The club culture has been such that having basic skills overpowers the inherent interest of an individual, who is being inducted. The only solution to this is that clubs organize workshops which equip students with the necessary skills. However, right now even the clubs are too caught up in their own projects and activities, which is why perhaps expanding them into bigger teams could help improve prospects.
Act IV: The Dirty Picture
A cinema enthusiast in his sophomore year who considered getting into ‘Cinematics’ as something actually cinematic has had as many memorable moments behind the camera, as he has created in front of it. When asked to enumerate them, he starts at the very beginning, when he thought the idea of his first ad shoot was “terrible”, and spend hours laughing about it later – “They depicted, how a dark skinned girl, suddenly turns fair under the light of a particular bulb. I had absolutely no idea regarding what I was doing, and only followed the director’s instructions”
Their first professional shoot was given to them by Nirupama Hotels and served as a fun-filled, all-in-all package for him and his entire Cinematics Family. “Since this was our first professional experience, we rented a lens worth INR 2.2 lakhs. During the shoot, while we were at the dining hall, and Abodid was perched behind the lens that was fitted to the camera sitting on the tripod, the camera along with the lens fell from a standing height. We were so shocked, that we didn’t even move to pick up the lens, and we stood there mocking Abodid for being the one standing right behind it.”
Abodid who was also present for the interview, quickly added that the entire team was not only insensitive to his disposition but actively made jokes about the situation, so much so that he was reminded of all his backlogs and had even devised a plan of procuring a contract with Taj Hotels that would pay them enough to repay the damage for the lens.
“So how did you come out of this?” we asked, unable to contain our curiosity to know the climax.
“Ah! That’s interesting”, a smile enveloped his face with a simultaneous sense of relief as he narrated the climax of the story “Abodid’s uncle is a professional photographer and we sought his counsel. Knowing that there was a crack in the lens, he told us to approach the lender honestly, and not resort to any kind of jugaad.” The lender told them that if they could repair the lens it would be fine, else they would have to cough up the entire sum of money. Abodid admits to have gone through various financial backups like crowd funding, club budgets, loans from friends and relatives, during his trip with the broken lens. Luckily for them, it was repaired for a meager sum of INR 700, and he spent the remaining cash on treating everybody else because he was so elated. He says, “For students like us, who shudder at the thought of paying up our library fines, can you imagine what it meant to pay INR 2 lakhs out of our own pockets?”
His experience at Spring Fest seems to be hilarious. As he and his friends settle down after the laughing while thinking about the times at KGP, Abodid Sahoo interjects,
He (Abhishek) was the laziest of the lot. He wouldn’t shower or brush. He would sleep the whole day and shoot hyperlapses and silhouttes of couples for the whole night after all the events were over. How we still won amazes me.
Seeing our still confused faces, he explains that Cinematics was to participate in 3 competitions – Advertisement, Short Film, and the After Movie Making categories. While the works for the first two were done quite quickly and efficiently before leaving for KGP, the after movie was another story altogether.
When Abodid reached KGP for the editing the supposedly shot film, no concrete footage had yet been taken. The editing work went up until the last possible minute, on a random person’s bicycle on the way to the auditorium where the screening was taking place. Once the judges saw the final video, they were declared the winners without any further discussion – of all the three contests. NITR was declared the overall champion that year, and the joy was incomparable.
Talking about on-campus experiences, Abhishek says that he has never seen as much energy as was thronging in the streets during ZoNASA’15. He talks about the chants and slogans, the enthusiasm of every participant and a sense of loss when the whole thing ended, and they watched everybody leave, one at a time, late into the night. The project will remain special to only him, but to all those who were involved in it.
Act V: Pursuit of Happyness
Even though he hasn’t zeroed in on the genre of photography he wishes to pursue but there is not a speck of doubt in his mind that he will devote his time completely to his passion, after getting his degree out of the way. He already has ample experiences with shooting ad films and other cultural events on campus, and he has even ventured into the field of Wedding Photography while working as a Product Photographer for Phoenix Robotix, for his summer internship.
I had a blast meeting and working with some very talented photographers. In India, photography is disdained as a legitimate means of earning a livelihood and I do not know how exactly I will be dividing my time between projects. I am clueless about the specifics, and all I know is that I want to keep clicking and shooting, to my heart’s content. Maybe if I’m lucky enough, you’ll see me working as a cinematographer under Mani Ratnam, at some point.
On being asked, what legacy he wants to leave behind him, at NITR, he says:
I strive to learn something new every day. And surrounding myself with people who are more zealous than me keeps me motivated. That is all advice I can give my juniors. Listen to your intuition – always.