In the last forty years, Sathyan Anthikkad has never stopped making movies. He has never gone out of vogue too. The prolific filmmaker, whose oeuvre has some of the most popular films in Malayalam, delivered the biggest commercial hit of his career last year, through Njan Prakashan which also surpassed the box-office collection of Pulimurugan.
On International Day Of Happiness, the filmmaker, over a phone-in conversation with Silverscreen, talks about his favourite kind of cinema and artistes/filmmakers whose works have had an influence on him.
Films by Basu Chatterjee and K Bhagyaraj
“Basu Chatterjee made Chitchor and Ek Chotti Si Baat in 70s, when I was working as an assistant director. His films stood out in the mainstream Hindi cinema for their very unique sense of humour. Chatterjee didn’t use loud comic sequences, but built humour out of situations. He kept it subtle,” says Anthikkad.
Actor-director Bhagyaraj, in his initial years, displayed a similar flair for subtle comedy, he says. “Unfortunately, he lost that knack very soon. His Davani Kanavukal, which isn’t a great film, has many memorably humorous scenes. The dialogues sound very fresh even today.” The ‘harmless’ sense of humor that was employed in these films influenced him immensely while he was making Kurukkante Kalyanam and Kinnaram.
P Padmarajan’s Kallan Pavithran
“In our younger days, V K N stories and Kallan Pavithran (1981) were our handy remedies for writer’s block and work pressure,” says Anthikkad. “The film’s title itself is a terrific oxymoron– a thief named Pavithran (one who is pure). And it has many great actors like Nedumudi Venu and Gopi. There is a scene where Gopi, who plays a straight-faced flour mill owner, gets kissed on the cheek by a beautiful woman. The man doesn’t know how to express his joy. He walks around the mills, switches on a random machine. It’s hilarious.
I am an ardent fan of writer-director Padmarajan. Rather than his now-popular Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal or Thoovanathumbikal, it is Deshadanakkilikal Karayarilla (Migratory Birds Never Cry) that is close to my heart. It is about two teenage girls who run away from their residential school, like birds from a cage, to live freely in a city. The portrayal of their relationship is very heartwarming. You see a subtle subtext of homosexuality, and even if you don’t see it, the film works perfectly fine. I like the gentle imagery that Padmarajan uses in all his films, like the rain that mirrors Clara’s relationship with Jayakrishnan in Thoovanathumbikal.
Sethu Madhavan’s Oppol has darker tones, but it is an immensely moving film that ends on a lighter note. It has just a few characters, played by Menaka, Balan K Nair and Master Aravind. It’s about the relationship between a boy and the young woman he calls oppol (elder sister). The audience can sense that he is her son, the lovechild of a brief romantic affair she had with a man in her neighborhood. We never see this man, although we see the house he used to live in. There is even a song about him and the time she spent with him. But the man is irrelevant in the film. It’s a nice little idea that the director uses.
Films by Bharathan
“Two similar films that I can watch any number of times is Bharathan’s Palangal and Kaattathe Kilikkoodu. I notice that most of the films in my list have Gopi playing a pivotal role,” he laughs. “He is an amazing actor who can play an incredibly vast range of characters. In Palangal, he plays a role that slightly resembles Fahadh Faasil’s in Kumbalangi Nights. In Kaattathe Kilikkoodu, he is a hopelessly romantic college professor who falls for a prank that Revathi’s character, a teenager, pulls. It was a different era. The professor imagines it’s possible to have that kind of love, but is left heartbroken. I find the grey shades in that film very interesting.”
Dr Balakrishnan’s Ladies Hostel and Kaliyalla Kalyanam
PK Balakrishnan, who produced Anthikkad’s directorial debut, was an acclaimed screenwriter with over 50 films to his credit. “The highlight of his films such as Ladies Hostel (1973) and Kaliyalla Kalyanam (1968) are their witty situations and dialogues. When we talk about comedy in black and white era, we always talk about performance-based humour that actors such as Adoor Bhasi specialised in. But the era also had fantastic comedy writers,” says Anthikkad.
Films with dialogues by Sreenivasan
Some of the most celebrated one-liners in Malayalam pop-culture belong to Anthikkad’s movies like Nadodikkattu and Sandesham, both written by Sreenivasan, the director’s close-friend and favourite collaborator. “Sreenivasan is a maverick when it comes to writing witty dialogues. Several of those celebrated dialogues from his films were written by him on the day of the shoot. For one, the hilarious scene in Vadakkunokkiyanthram where Thalathil Dineshan checks into a hotel to spy on his wife – the dialogues in the scene were written almost on the spot,” says Anthikkad.
Priyadarshan’s Chandralekha and Kilukkam
Although the humour in most of Anthikkad’s films are dialogue-based, slapstick is his favorite comedy sub-genre. “There are few people in the industry who can pull off physical humour like Priyadarshan does,” says the filmmaker, citing scenes from films like Boeing Boeing. “His films like Kilukkam and Chandralekha are instant mood-lifters. That sort of humour – slapstick and comedy of situation – has become a rarity in Malayalam cinema. Recently, I saw some fine glimpses of it in Anuraga Karikkin Vellam and Sudani From Nigeria.”
Films starring Innocent
Anthikkad has rarely made a film without Innocent, the actor-politician. “He is absolutely a great actor. World-class,” declares the filmmaker. “He improvises, and turns even the most ordinary scene memorable. For instance, in Kilukkam where he faints on hearing that he won a lottery, or the scene in Azhagiya Ravanan where he goes in front of the camera as a nervous novice actor and goofs it up. Sreenivasan once told me that contrary to what it might seem, it was a difficult scene to write and perform.”
“In my filmography, the movie I had the greatest time making is perhaps Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu (1988),” observes Anthikkad. “It has all my favourite artistes – Krishnan Kutty Nair, Sreenivasan, Innocent, KPAC Lalitha, Oruvil Unnikrishnan, Urvashi. They were young and energetic, in their best elements. The atmosphere was always electrifying.”
He cites a scene close to the half-way mark, where Bhaskaran’s (Sreenivasan) and Swarnalatha’s (Urvashi) families come to a face-off. “They are on the either side of a fence, quarelling. Upon hearing the clamour, Bhaskaran’s old ailing father (Krishnan Kutty Nair) limps to the spot, and everyone thinks for a second that he is going to play the mediator. However, the first thing that he does is shout an expletive at Innocent. It’s a scene that cracked me up on the script level (written by Raghunath Paleri) itself. The performances took it to a higher level. Nair designs his walk like a dance, tuned to the rhythm of a tabla piece that Johnson (music composer) plays.”