How We Told The Story Of Pettah's MGR

Roar Media
July 25, 2019

Recently, we chronicled the life and times of Manikkam, now known to everyone as the ‘MGR of Pettah’.

A porter by day, Manikkam’s love for dressing up as popular South Indian movie star M.G. Ramachandran has brought him many fans on the crowded streets of Pettah. So the moment we came to know of Manikkam’s existence, we realised that we wanted to tell his story. More importantly, we wanted to showcase the multiple sides of Manikkam’s story, instead of simply framing him as a novelty. After all, it is this approach to deeper storytelling that has made us unique.

The People And The Tools

Of course, this story wouldn’t have turned out as well as it did if not for the people behind it.

Since we were shooting in a busy part of Pettah, we had to be very careful with the equipment we chose. Striking a balance between visual quality and portability was extremely important. After some careful planning, we opted to use the following equipment:

  • 2x Sony A7-III cameras
  • 1x DJI Ronin stabilizing gimbal
  • 1x Tripod
  • 1x Sennheiser clip-on-mic
  • 1x 85mm prime lens
  • 1x 21-70mm zoom lens

The Challenges We Had To Overcome

Anybody who has been to Pettah, the business district of Colombo knows how crowded and noisy the place can be. Since crowds and clear, crisp audio don’t make good bedfellows, we had to find a relatively quiet location to shoot in.

Using our knowledge of the area, we located an empty market nearby which could serve as the backdrop for the series of opening shots where Manikkam re-enacts a few of MGR’s mannerisms. These little moments were never scripted, but were thought up on the spot by our video crews, who had to work with whatever was available in their surroundings.

We also found a colourful, shuttered shop, which served as the perfect backdrop for Manikkam to speak to the camera.

Manikkam’s outfits are a very important part of his life, and we had to put in a lot of thought into giving them the screen time they deserve. Creative panning shots along with the intelligent use of catchy background music were used to shine a light on each outfit, of which Manikkam had brought three.

The Lessons We Learned

  • Plans cannot be perfect
    Shooting in a busy part of the city meant that we did not have full control over the environment, and had to adapt on the fly. Often, this meant pressing the camera trigger for multiple reshoots, or pausing shots to let a noisy lorry pass through. But, that’s okay. You must be comfortable with things not going according to plan.
  • Let the story unravel itself
    Typically, videos of this nature have a pre-set narrative and framing, and the interviewee’s responses are slyly structured to fit this narrative. But, we chose to go in the opposite direction. We let Manikkam talk to his heart’s content, and banked on our innate curiosity to delve deeper into his story.
  • Never underestimate the power of familiarity
    A few of our team members who were at the shoot were trilingual, and they were able to converse with Manikkam in Tamil (his mother tongue), which helped him become very comfortable in front of the camera. This ability to understand someone’s story in their mother tongue, including all its nuances, helped us later adapt the story to suit audiences in all three languages.

The Results

As at the time of writing, our video has gone on to accumulate:

  • More than 1,000,000 views on Facebook
  • Nearly 400,000 views on YouTube

In addition, the video also garnered hundreds of positive comments and shares, which helped Manikkam go viral. Nearly a month to the day we released our video, Manikkam has also been featured on a music video by popular YouTuber Ravi Royster.

Perhaps, this is why they deemed the camera mightier than the sword.  

This is why we believe that stories hold immense power.

And this, is why we think the era of good content has finally arrived.

Whose story do you think we should tell next? Let us know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

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