Malayalam Interviews

The Sathyan Anthikad Interview: “It Hurt When ‘Pingami’ Flopped”

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An accomplished filmmaker, writer and lyricist, Sathyan Anthikad is one of the most popular figures in the Malayalam film industry. After working as an assistant to director Chandrakumar in over 20 films from 1973 to 1982, Anthikkad made his debut film Kurukkante Kalyanam in 1983. The 62-year-old director has made 54 films in a career spanning three decades. His films such as Sandesham, Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu and TP Balagopalan MA have attained cult-classic status over the years. In 2001, his Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal, won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Malayalam.

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He has won the Kerala State Award five times.

The village of Anthikad lies on the outskirts of Thrissur, a fast-developing city where Sathyan Anthikad’s last release, Jomonte Suvisheshangal is set. The roads are narrow and cut through a lowland that was once a sprawling paddy, but is now waterlogged from the monsoon.

The paddy in front of the house

The place looks like a perfect Anthikad filmscape, where life is slow-paced and laidback; a place where everyone knows another. “That is the house you are looking for,” a shopkeeper points towards an unmanned gated compound. Inside, surrounded by trees, is a house with a well-maintained kitchen garden in the front yard.

I am ushered into Anthikad’s sun-lit living room. Books and the latest editions of Malayalam magazines lie on a teapoy. “That is my favourite spot in the house on summer days,” says the filmmaker, pointing to a parapet next to a green fish pond.

Anthikad has just returned from a sojourn with close friend Sreenivasan, the National Award–winning director-actor-screenwriter, to work on his next script. “We had to cut short our trip when we heard that Vineeth (Sreenivasan) had a baby boy,” he says. 

It’s been 16 years since the two worked together. They have made numerous films together though, such as Sandesham, Nadodikkattu, and Thalayana Manthram. “We worked last in Yathrakkarude Sradhakku. We consciously took a break from each other after that film, so that both of us could make movies in our individual style. We had hoped to get back together after a couple of years. But, the break dragged on,” he says. 

Excerpts from the interview:

How do you usually begin the script-writing process?

We just completed the character development. That’s usually how I begin. It almost never begins with a story. There is no written rule about how you should write a script. Sometimes, the subject comes first. Thalayana Manthram was born from a theme that Sreeni (Sreenivasan) suggested – about the vanity of middle-class wives. Sandesham was born from a one-liner about how the political culture in our country affects the life of the common man. I wove Indian Pranaya Kadha around the character of Aymanam Siddharthan, which was written to break Fahadh Fazil’s onscreen image as a metrosexual guy.

What do you prefer – working on a screenplay written by another person, or writing your own?

I have never made a film from someone else’s readymade screenplay. I always add my input to it. That said, I prefer working on a script written by another person. I like working as a team. With another person, you get a new perspective. When I work alone, I seek an opinion from my assistants, my friends in the media, and colleagues in the industry.

You have also adapted two novels into films – ‘Irattakkuttikalude Achan’ and ‘Appunni’. 

Appunni was born out of my admiration for Vadakkke Koottala Narayanankutty Nair’s works. VKN himself wrote the basic screenplay of the film. It was a rebellious work at the time. Since then, I haven’t come across a short story or a novel that inspired me to make a film. Earlier, literature and cinema used to be similar in style. Nowadays, writers focus more on subtext, and that cannot be translated into cinematic language.

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But, I’ve never felt a dearth of stories. I make just one film a year. 

Dulquer Salmaan and Mukesh in ‘Jomonte Suvisheshangal’

Many of your contemporaries such as Fazil aren’t making films these days. 

I never cut myself off from the society I live in. That’s why I am able to continue making films. I am still able to connect with the audience effortlessly. I learn about youngsters from my children, and others. If you watch my first film Kurukkante Kalyanam and Jomonte Suvisheshangal, you will see how much my style of storytelling has changed. My films now compete with those of Dileesh Pothan and Vineeth. I am aware of that.

How important is box-office success to you?

It is of utmost priority. But, I will not sell my soul for a box-office win. Have you looked at the kind of news being shown on our television channels — on the abduction and sexual abuse of an actress. Do they display any sensitivity or logic there? All they care about are TRPs.

Anthikad  gets a phone call from a friend. They chat about a Whatsapp audio clip that he has forwarded to his media friends. “Let them listen to what ordinary people think of the on-air discussions on their channels.” 

He continues: “I try to make successful films without adulterating them. Some of my best films were not superhits at the box-office. TP Balagopalan MA, for one, despite being a good film, only broke even. But, I am glad I never compromised for the sake of the box-office. The most crucial chapter of my career began with TP Balagopalan MA. It brought together Mohanlal, Sreenivasan, Vipin Mohan, and I. Till then, I had been doing movies in random genres. I lacked clarity.

With Balagopalan, I knew the kind of films I wanted to do. One of my most loved films is Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu. It is close to my heart. People keep asking me to make something similar. But, life is so much faster these days. Where does one find that kind of laidback village? Maheshinte Prathikaaram, however, reminds us of that era – when life was slow-paced and relaxed.  In fact, Dileesh and Syam  told me that they’ve watched Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu at least a hundred times.

I never let success go to my head or let criticism and failure bog me down. I am always thinking about my next film. 

Bhagyadevatha was a commercially successful film. But did it not back the dowry tradition? 

I don’t make a movie to reform society.  I know many people slammed the movie. For me, the film wasn’t about dowry, but about a young man whose life comes full circle. He mistreats his wife because she couldn’t bring him dowry, but goes through the same pain later. My story was about that irony. 

Sandesham, one of your most successful films, is also among your most controversial. A section of the audience criticises it as being dangerously apolitical.

I am aware of the flak Sreenivasan and I received for Sandesham. It might look like an apolitical film that urges people to remain selfish, to confine themselves to their middle-class existence. But, look at the two characters the movie is centred around. They are irresponsible and selfish. I think we made our point through the line Thilakan says, “Politics is a profession for hard-working, sincere individuals. Brats like you ruin its name.” 

Sandesham isn’t about capable political leaders. It’s a story about two irresponsible foot-soldiers.

Despite being an important figure in the film industry, you are not an active member of any cine organisation.

I was an active member when MACTA (Malayalam Cine Technicians Association) was founded. Now, there is FEFKA (Film Employees Federation of Kerala). I am not an active member there, but am in touch with members. I don’t think I am a good organiser. I prefer living a quiet life in this sleepy village. I can’t even handle the chaos of a city like Kochi, let alone take part in heated discussions at meetings. I like to laze around. I take long vacations between two films, and spend time ‘doing nothing’. 

Your films are grounded, and inspired by real life characters and situations. In spite of having seen the film industry from close quarters for many decades, why didn’t you ever make a meta film?

I never wanted to make a meta film. Generally, I look at things around me and think about how I can use them in my next film, with a hint of comedy — be it outrageous talk shows or the adulterated food at supermarkets. More than the film industry, it is the society at large that I am most interested in. I think only an industry insider would be able to relate to the humour in a meta film. 

Pingaami flopped at the box-office when it released. But, youngsters now love it.

Mohanlal and Sathyan Anthikad on the sets of ‘Pingaami’. Courtesy: Mohanlal FC

It hurt when Pingaami failed. We were confident about the film, and it wasn’t in my usual style. It was based on a short story by Raghunath Paleri, titled Kumarettan Parayaatha Kadha. Although it was set around a crime and its investigation, Pingaami was not an action drama. It was a dark film that proceeded at a peculiar pace. I believe the film failed because of one bad decision. We released it alongside Priyadarshan’s Thenmaavin Kombathu, which was a thorough entertainer. Priyan had told me this might happen, and asked me to postpone the release. That hit my ego. I thought, ‘Hey, why can’t Priyan postpone the release of his film?’ (He laughs.). But, over the years, I have come to the conclusion that first-day collections are not that important. 

Achuvinte Amma released to a lukewarm response at the box-office. There was a popular multi-starrer playing at that time –Udayaanu Thaaram. Naturally, Achuvinte Amma, which had two women in the lead, got held over in the first week itself. But, only a few days, public opinion turned in our favour. The film completed 100 days. I was confident that it would. 

I was similarly confident about Pingaami. But, the harsh criticism hurt me. Later, I happened to meet Mani Ratnam in Kozhikode. He had come to meet MT Vasudevan Nair for a story discussion. He had just made Thiruda Thiruda, which ended up being a flop. “Ellaarum Thitturaanga,” he said, disappointed.

I watched Pingaami first as a child. The scene with the murder of the father was quite a haunting visual. 

When I read a scene, I visualise it. I worked with (director) Chandrakumar for a long time, but my films do not look anything like his films. All I learnt from him was the technology of film-making. I believe a lot in the power of improvisation. I read a scene and look for the emotion that needs to be stressed upon. I learnt visual language from the films of other directors. 

Take, for instance, that famous scene in Kilukkam where Innocent’s Kittunny is told that he has won a lottery. Another director would have composed that scene with mid-shots and trolley shots with both actors (Innocent and Revathi) in the frame. But, Priyadarshan knew that the humour lay in Innocent’s facial expressions – which comically switch from scepticism to shock. He shot it as a close-up single shot.

In Pingaami, the father’s murder is shown from the perspective of Kumarettan (Thilakan), who is hiding in the bushes at a distance, with a crying baby in his hands. I doubt the scene would have had as much impact if I had gone in for a closer shot of the man being set on fire. It was an instinctive decision. 

I discuss every shot, every scene, with my cameramen. I am not an autocrat on the sets. I have been taken for granted because of this approach, but I believe it’s always better to trust the ability of your technicians than interfere in their work. I have absolutely no qualms about taking note of ideas suggested by crew members. 

For instance, it was a light boy who suggested that we take an overhead shot of the makeshift set of a railway station platform in front of a hotel for a crucial scene in Yathrakarude Sradhakku. He said that when he saw the set from the terrace of the hotel, it looked like a real railway platform. It was S Kumar who suggested that the bus scene in Vinodayatra be a single shot. I had initially planned it differently. Cinematographers Venu and Vipin Mohan have even contributed to dialogues. For instance, in Sreenivasan’s Vadakkunokkiyanthram, there is a part where Parvathy asks Sreenivasan if she should bring him tea. It was Venu who suggested the line, “Chaya vendi vannekkum”; it went on to elicit much laughter.

The title card of Nadodikkattu says it is based on a story by Siddique-Lal. How did that happen?

There is a strange story behind it. Sreenivasan wrote the story, dialogues, and the screenplay of Nadodikkattu. Siddique and Lal own the credit of a single sequence in which protagonists Dasan and Vijayan are cheated by Mammukkoya’s Gafoor, who takes them to Chennai, convincing them that it is Dubai.

That bit was part of a short story (‘Kaalilla Kolangal’) they had written to make it into a feature film. It’s about two unemployed youngsters who accidentally solve crimes.

When I was shooting Pappan Priyappetta Pappan, they were working as assistant directors. Sreeni and I were just off from Sreedharante Onnaam Thiru Murivu, which had flopped. We desperately wanted a hit. Sreeni told me this, and I thought that sequence from Siddique-Lal’s story would perfectly fit our film. We asked them for permission, and they readily agreed since they had dropped the idea of making it into a feature film.

We paid them and also decided to give them credits for the base story, because we felt that particular scene was the hook point of the film. The producer had said that a simple ‘thank you’ would do. Siddique and Lal were happy. I think Nadodikkattu helped their careers too. However, it created a lot of misunderstanding among the general public. They thought Siddique and Lal had written the story of Nadodikkattu. “Aa nanma njangalkku thanne kurishaayi maari”. (We were kind, and that went against us).

Years later, even Siddique and Lal started to agree with the popular misunderstood version. Once I saw an interview of Siddique-Lal where they said something about Nadodikkattu being their story idea. That one time, I sent them a message asking them to find a single line or word in the entire film that Sreenivasan hadn’t written. I told them that if they could, I would give them the entire credit for Nadodikkattu.

The crucial idea of two unemployed men arriving in Chennai and presuming it is Dubai, is their idea. The rest – Ananthan Nambiar, the CID thread, Pavanayi… – that’s our brainchild.

Your older films are still much loved…

My older films reflect the reality of the times they were made in. Nadodikkattu was shot when unemployment was rife. Sanmanassulavarkku Samadhanam was about the politics of space. My recent films are more light-hearted and built on unusual storylines. For instance, Jomonte Suvisheshangal is about a man who tries to double his wealth through a tricky business deal but goes pauper. Indian Pranaya Kadha was about this funny caricature – Aymanam Siddharthan. My new film with Sreenivasan is about the general sense of mistrust in our society. People do not know whom to trust and what to trust. Everything is commercialised. 

The current political atmosphere in the country isn’t supportive of independent filmmakers who want to make daring, bolder films. 

The political atmosphere in the country is very communal now. The truth is that it wouldn’t be possible to make a classic like Nirmalyam today. Artistes do not enjoy the kind of freedom they used to. My films have not really come under political attacks, so I haven’t been personally affected. Yet, there have been incidents. A critic panned me for a scene in Vinodayatra, where Murali is stabbed by a man wearing a belt that is usually worn by Muslims. He said I was anti-Muslim.

In Kadha Thudarunnu, there is a dream sequence where the child is chased by people wearing black cloaks. I wanted to depict death, but some interpreted it as purdah-clad women.

Two of your films – Ennum Eppozhum and Innathe Chinthavishayam – have very different takes on marriage and divorce. In Innathe…, the three female protagonists are sent back to their irresponsible husbands. You conclude it by saying that, no matter what, couples should live together to save a marriage. In Ennum…, you seem to have a different opinion.

I never saw this link between these two films. Innathe… was built on an idea I had when I came across the family torn apart by a hapless divorce case. I noticed that divorce cases were on the rise in Kerala. I wove a story around this topic. Incidentally, two actresses in the film, Mohini and Sukanya, were going through a divorce during the making of the movie.

Ennum Eppozhum was based on a famous quote by Madhavi Kutty about how difficult it is to share a room with someone you despise. KR Gauri has also shared similar sentiments. The film had Manju Warrier in the lead, so people interpreted it as her story.

In fact, Dileep didn’t talk to me for a long time after the movie was released. Later, we reconciled.  I did not deliberately take a U-turn. As Manju’s character says in the film, I think it is better to part and stay happy, than stay together unhappily. The role of women in marriage has undergone a lot of change, hasn’t it? New-age marriages are founded on friendship. That is how it should be. 

Mohanlal and Shobana in ‘Nadodikkattu’

You have a distinct style of portraying romance. Dasan and Radha in Nadodikkattu, or Reji and Gauri in Manassikkare not typical filmi lovers. 

I like to portray romantic relationships with a touch of subtlety. My characters do not confess their love for each other in words. Romance is in what they do for each other. Romance is developed at a slow pace in all my films. 

Jomonte Suvisheshangal somewhat resembles Vineeth Sreenivasan’s Jacobinte Swargarajyam.

Isn’t it commonsense to not copy the story of a recently released super-hit film, that too, one directed by my friend’s son? My favourite part in Jomonte Suvisheshangal comes in the second half, when the father and son live like friends. That, in my opinion, is my film’s crux.

You won’t find that in Jacobinte Swargarajyam.

The affection with which you treat the character of Jomon isn’t there in your older films. Has growing older changed how you look at youngsters?

True. It must be my age that made me look at Jomon affectionately and treat his irresponsible nature with patience.

I thoroughly enjoyed making that second-half, where the father-son relationship is explored. I had portrayed a similar relationship in Veendum Chila Veettu Karyangal too.

I am not an authoritarian father. I am my sons’ close friend. One of them fell in love with a colleague , and opened up to me. She belongs to a Muslim household. I invited her family over, we had a formal talk, and arranged their wedding. It is as simple as that. They are happy together.

I don’t think  youngsters are vile, irresponsible or insensitive. They are kids. Sometimes, they make mistakes.

Online trolls attack you for making village-oriented pastoral films. 

Actor Salim Kumar once said that I am not a good director because I never take risks. He said, ‘Sathyan Anthikad is like a bus driver who takes the safest road all the time.’ I take that as a compliment.

My films ride on someone else’s money. It is my responsibility to take the safe route. I do not like to take big risks.

In Pingami, Jagathi Sreekumar’s motorbike hits a jeep and falls into a lake. The stunt went wrong. The stunt master and his men had to jump into the water, cut the rope with which the dupe had been tied to the bike, and save him. If we had been late by even two minutes, the stuntman would have died.

Ever since, I’m afraid to shoot such scenes. In a film like Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu or Thalayanamanthram, we could shoot scenes like we were on a vacation. Film-making should ideally be like that — fun and artistic.

Did you come to cinema through literature or theatre?

My film career began at a very young age. I was just 19, and a  voracious reader. My stories and poetry have been published in Mathrubhumi’s children’s section, Balapankthi. I’ve never been very interested in theatre.

Is there a writer who has inspired you?

There is no writer who influenced my generation as much as MT Vasudevan Nair. He is still our hero. I’ve never worked with him. Sometime ago, while flipping through a weekly, I saw a photograph of MT sitting inside a second-hand bookstore in Calicut, going through its collection. I was astonished to see the passion with which he still reads. He is very inspiring. 

Writer KS Sethumadhavan contacted me after watching Jomonte Suvishehsangal. I asked him what he was doing these days. He was reading a non-fiction about Tipu Sultan. KS is older than MT. They are our role models. They don’t seem to be affected by age.

They overcome the frailties of the body through art and reading.

It was MT’s stories and other writings that inspired me during my early days in cinema. My reading habit became sporadic after I joined Chandrakumar’s team as an assistant. He was a very busy director. He made about 11 films in one year. Imagine! And, assistant directors had twice as much work to do. 

Now, I deliberately take a break after each film to relax and read. My goal is to read at least about a fourth of the books I have bought. Currently, I’m reading Jacob Thomas’ ‘Sravukalude Koode Neenthumbol’. Sometime ago, I read B Jeyamohan’s novella that was published in ‘Bhashaposhini’. It was a great read. And, I love ‘Soviet Kadhakal’. One of my favourites is ‘Malakaludeyum Steppikaludeyum Kadhakal’, published by Prabhat Books. It’s a fantastic Malayalam translation of a set of Russian stories, and reading it  is like watching a Russian film. 

You were once an acclaimed lyricist too.

It was by chance that I started writing lyrics. And, fortunately, all of them became popular numbers.  Also, it was nice to listen to my name mentioned in radio announcements. A Christian devotional song that I wrote for a brief scene in Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal is even sung at church ceremonies. Later, I hung up my boots because it was not easy to take the pressure of both pre-production and lyric-writing.

Mohanlal continues to joke that an old Malayalam teacher used to ghost-write the lyrics in my name, and that I don’t write these days because he is dead. 

I remember a poster of Innathe Chinthavishayam which said something about Meera Jasmine’s costumes for the film being a hit among the audience. Is costume a department you take particular care about? 

For Sanmassullavarkku Samadhanam, I asked Karthika to choose the clothes for her character. She picked what a lower middle-class office-going girl would wear. In that film, Mohanlal wore just about seven shirts. My films in that period were about middle-class people who had more basic problems to deal with.

For my recent films, such as Jomonte…and Innathe…, I paid more attention to choosing the costumes. In the latter, Meera Jasmine is a fashion designer, and in Indian Pranaya Kadha, Amala Paul a young Canada-returnee. I had to bring in a youthful, stylish look to those films and characters.

Youngsters have access to international movies over the Internet. Making films for such a generation must be difficult.

I like the company of young people. I am not a bitter person who is critical of their way of life. Maybe, because of that, I never found it difficult to make films that youngsters could connect with. I know they are fond of international movies. But, I’ve never wanted to experiment on those lines.

My films are not inspired or copied from Mexican or Korean films. Yet, they become-box office hits. Why should I worry?

I thoroughly enjoy watching the films of the new generation of filmmakers such as Dileesh Pothen, Abrid Shine and Rajeev Ravi, among others. However, my biggest inspiration is Sreenivasan, the genius.

Rajeev Ravi recently harshly criticised Sreenivasan for writing Sandesham.

Yes, but I never spoke to him about it. I remember Sreenivasan’s remark: “Did my screenplay bite him?” That’s just Rajeev’s opinion. I am sure many do not agree with him. 

Sreenivasan is known for his strong opinions on social and political issues.

Yes, but his words are often misinterpreted. He is often surprised when he sees these “quotes”. He has never completely dismissed modern medicine. But, there were reports that Sreenivasan said cancer centres were useless. He farms on a 14-acre plot in Wayanad. He has conviction in that lifestyle.

I have always led that kind of a life. I mostly eat vegetables cultivated at home by my wife and I.

Thilakan also spoke courageously. 

Yes. He was a  regular collaborator of mine until his health deteriorated. He is an actor I admire. I never tried to keep him away because of the alleged bans by film associations. But, he misunderstood me. After the release of Rasathanthram, he told me, “I should have played Gopi’s role.”

I don’t think it’s possible (or right?) for any organisation to ban any artiste. Organisations such as  AMMA and FEFKA are meant to help unemployed artistes and those with poor health, and do charity.

Thilakan had alleged that the industry is casteist, but I don’t think anyone thinks of an artiste’s caste while working with him.

Women in the film industry are speaking out about the sexism they face.

Ask the women artistes I have worked with – Nayanthara, Sreebala (K Menon)… I’m sure none of them had any bitter experiences. If you ever face a bad experience, you should have the courage to speak up about it.

When you do not name the person and just say the industry is bad, it creates a distorted image. 

The people I have worked with are individuals with self-respect and integrity. Naturally, I have never seen any [sexism] from close quarters. I’m not undermining the Women In Cinema Collective. Just because I have not seen such an incident does not mean I can dismiss the bad experiences women have faced in the field.

Recently, Youth Congress members marched to Innocent’s house, protesting against some statement he made at a venue the previous day. When I met him, he looked shocked, wondering where he’d gone wrong.

I told him to be extra careful in choosing words, now that he’s a parliamentarian. He apologised later, but  the matter had gone out of hand. 

Superstar culture and fan frenzy is also on the rise…

I think the superstar culture is slowly declining in Malayalam cinema.

Young male stars aren’t doing many films in a year. Angamaly Diaries,which had an all-fresh cast, is a super-hit. Ann Maria Kalippilaanu had Sunny Wayne and a little girl in the lead. It was a hit too.

If there is a profusion of good films with good screenplay, there will be no superstar culture. Fans of superstars might create a buzz on the first day of release, but cannot save a bad movie.

You have closely worked with two excellent music composers – Johnson Master and Ilaiyaraaja. 

I have worked most with Johnson. He was an excellent collaborator; it was as if he could read my mind. For instance, there is a dream sequence in Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal, where Jayaram goes to Samyuktha Varma’s house at midnight to meet her in secret. He tells her, “Come beloved, let’s sit under that flowering tree.” His character is that of an amateur theatre artiste. While shooting the scene, I thought it would be good to use an old theatre song as the background score. Johnson, to my surprise, did exactly that, although I had said nothing.

After doing many films together, I decided to part ways with Johnson, since I felt our work was becoming repetitive. Ilaiyaraaja then came into the picture.

Johnson happily let me use another composer. He was very professional about it. After 12 films, people started to say my collaboration with Ilaiyaraaja had also turned monotonous, so I joined hands with Vidyasagar.

These days, a lot of film songs are in the form of background scores. They cannot be sung. But, I think people love old fashioned melodies. Alphonse Putharen proved it with Premam.

Good songs definitely help storytelling. Our kind of films is  founded on it. 

Almost all your films have at least one portion set in Tamil Nadu. What prompts you to go back to this region every time?

Tamil Nadu is a landscape close to my heart. My first and second films were made while I was living in Chennai. Naturally, those films were set in Chennai. Later, when I shifted to Kerala, I started making films set in the villages and small-towns there. Yet, I keep going back to Tamil Nadu whenever I see an opportunity. It is like Kerala’s closest cousin in terms of culture and language. Jomonte Suvisheshangal was partly shot in Tiruppur. While we were shooting, the workers came in large groups to watch. 

You have worked with almost every top actor in the industry. 

Yes. But, I’ve repeatedly cast Mohanlal  because his body language and face suit the type of characters I write – be it Dasan of Nadodikkattu or TP Balagopalan MA, which was an image breaking role for him.

Both he and Mammootty happily acted in my films, where they had to play dhoti-clad villagers. This was when they played underworld dons in action-dramas and thrillers.

Mammootty has a body language made for serious character roles. But, if you give him a well-written comic role, he will deliver well. Like in Pranchiyettan And The Saint.

Once, SN Swamy and I put our heads together and wrote a light-hearted story about a cat-and-mouse game between a young thief and a police man. That was Kalikkalam.

Mammootty is a peculiar actor. Cast him in a role, and he will call you up at odd hours to ask for details about the character. He was so excited about his role in Kalikkalam, that he called me at odd times to ask, “How does the character walk?” and “What are his quirks?”

He would drive me nuts (laughs). 

That’s the level of dedication and involvement he brings to his roles. Mohanlal, on the other hand, doesn’t think of his role until he reaches the set. He magically transforms himself into the character in front of the camera.

After Sreedharante Thirumurivu flopped, I took it as a challenge to deliver a hit with Mammootty. Venu Nagavalli and I created the character Ben Narendran; we highlighted his good looks and stylishness. People loved the film and his character. That chic jacket that wore in the song sequence, Shyamambaram, was a hit among youngsters.

Urvasi and Sreenivasan in ‘Thalayanamanthram’

Among actresses, I have worked the most with the excellent Urvashi. I cast her in Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu in a comic role as a village girl, at a time when she was playing sombre roles in IV Sasi’s dark dramas. I thought she had the right looks to play Swarnalatha.

There are scenes in which she lies through her teeth keeping a straight face – that’s when I realised she was an exceptional actress. Later, I cast her in films such as Thalayana Manthram and Achuvinte Amma.

I make it a point to write female protagonists who get equal screen-time and space as their male counterparts. Shobana in TP Balagopalan MA and Karthika in Sanmanassulavarkkku Samadhavam were modelled around women we see around us.

Generally, I never face difficulty in getting the dates of actors and actresses, because, for some reason, they trust my filmmaking abilities. Sometimes, they call to ask if I have a role for them in my next film. But, there was this one time when Mohanlal’s dates were just not unavailable. Then, I made films such as  Sandesham and Sasneham, which were again superhits. 

Do you read critiques?

Does  anyone write good critique pieces these days? Writers prefer sarcasm to any serious discourse on cinema. I see pieces written by popular critics on the Internet and in print. They are either appreciation or sarcasm. My films are mostly laughed at. I don’t understand the basis of star ratings for films. I don’t think they are of any importance.

 

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