'Today we have only copycats'
Hariharan is unique in that he has, throughout his career, walked the most difficult tightrope of them all. He has made films that never compromised on the aesthetics -- and yet, his films have been commercially successful as well.
Hariharan teamed up with literateur and screenplay writer M T Vasudevan Nair to form one of the most potent writer-director combinations in Malayalam cinema, coming up with films like Amrutham Gamaya, Oru Vadakan Veera Gadha, Panchagni, and Ente Janakikkutty to name just a few.
Besides being a director par excellence, Hariharan is also an informed, and concerned, industry-watcher. Here, he shares his thoughts, his concerns, with Shobha Warrier:
It is a good sign that in the 2000, Malayalam films won 14 national awards. But I won't say that therefore, Malayalam films are great, that the industry is doing well.
Do you think that these days we make only quality films? No, not at all. Okay, Vaanaprastham is a very good film and Mohanlal’s performance in it is also very good (The film walked away with awards for best film and best acting)
However, one Vaanaprastham cannot be an indicator of the growth of Malayalam films.
If you compare the award-winning films of yesteryears and those of recent years, you will see that the standard has definitely come down. You can take some consolation in the fact that the better films from Kerala have won awards.
Technically, our films have improved a lot, but they lack in imagination and creativity. Technological advance cannot be called creative growth. Films like Vaanaprastham and Karunam are the exceptions, not the rule.
The majority of our films lack creativity, and show a downward growth. This downward trend is visible in the directorial style, even in the quality of music and lyrics also.
In earlier times, films were based on the literary works of great writers, writers who were good at seeing, and capturing, the essence of life, writers whose creative ability was unparalleled. Why did Chemmeen become such an epic film?
Because it was written by the great writer, Thakazhi (Sivasankara Pillai)! If you look at the films of that period, you will see an incredible depth, not just in the story, but even in the characterisation -- and this was the contribution of the great writers.
Today, writers write stories on the sets. How can you compare the two? Of course, I must add that this is true not only of Malayalam films -- but it is Malayalam cinema we are discussing here, so I'll stick to that subject.
Actually, there is a close parallel with Bengal. There was a time when Bengal produced brilliant films. Why? Because it had a brilliant literary base to draw upon, for themes and stories.
But today, Bengali literature is not as vibrant as before -- and you will see its reflection in their films, which lack the creativity of yore. Today, the characters -- whether you talk of Bengali films, or Malayalam ones -- are flat, uni-dimensional.
Who is responsible? I would say the producers. Today, there are no producers who are committed to making good films -- for them, it is a business, it is a matter of trying to get maximum profit for their investment. They have no commitment to the art of film-making.
Again, this is not just a Kerala syndrome -- it is a national phenomenon.
Does the Hindi industry, for instance, have a Bimal Roy today, or a Guru Dutt? You see the stamp of a Roy, a Dutt, in every film of theirs -- but do today's directors have a stamp, a signature you can recognise? Does the director of today, in whichever industry, have individuality?
No, today we have only copycats. They either copy whatever the last hit was, or they copy from the West. They have neither creativity, nor imagination, nor a style of their own.
Technology has improved, but that too has created its own problems.
Today, many directors feel that a technologically advanced film is a good film. It is all about cameras and filters and pretty pictures, not about the story.
I mean, a Malayalam film revolves around a man in a small town -- and the next thing you know, he is dancing in Switzerland or in Australia! The scenes are well shot, with the latest equipment -- but where is the imagination, the creativity, in all this?
If you ask the filmmakers, they say this is what the audience of today, the youngsters, want. I don't know -- if youngsters like this stuff, then why aren't these films becoming hits?
The high level of literacy is one reason why despite everything, Kerala consistently produces at least a handful of decent films every year. The literary standards of people from Trivandrum to Kasargod is the same -- which is not true of other states, where the disparity between urban and rural centres is very marked.
This is one of our strengths, this uniformity -- but I am sorry to say that of late, even this is deteriorating, the standard of our audiences is also going down.
I think the best period for Malayalam cinema began with Chemmeen, and lasted till 1985.
During that period, we saw great literary works, both novels and plays, getting converted to the silver screen. MT Vasudevan Nair's Asuravithu, Iruttinte Aathmaavu, Murappennu, Kesava Dev’s Odayil Ninnu, Malayattoor’s Yakshi, KT Mohammaed’s Kadalppalam, Thoppil Bhasi’s plays like Mudiyanaya Puthran, Mooladhanam, Sarvekkallu, etc -- the list is endless.
Each film told a different story. Each story was told by a writer of quality, they were rooted in the soil of Kerala, they were recognisable, identifiable. Nowadays, do you see any difference between one film and another? All look the same. That is because stories are cooked up for films, and written for stars.
Then there is the whole superstar thing. Mammootty and Mohanlal have done excellent films, and portrayed some excellent characters. But they haven’t got as many opportunities as Sathyan got during his heydays. Almost all the characters portrayed by Sathyan were amazingly different.
Yes, together, Mammootty and Mohanlal have won six national awards.
Think of it, you need only one film to win a national award, and not 12 films. Mohanlal needs only one Bharatam or Vaanaprastham to win an award. It is also possible that all the other films of his are not good. Similarly, Mammootty needs only one Vadakkan Veera Gadha to win the national award.
The fact, though, is that only very few films exploit the talents of Mammootty and Mohanlal. This year, can you name any film other than Vaanaprastham which can boast of a great performance from Mohanlal? No.
So the situation is, you have good actors, but can't take advantage of their ability. Why? Because somewhere along the way, you have forgotten the real strength of a film -- which lies in its story.
And that is the real reason for the deterioration of the industry today.
God's own films!
'Malayalam cinema is definitely growing'
'Pain drives all great creations'
'It's the filmmaker's duty to entertain people'
'The films I consider bad win awards!'
'I love the films of the '60s and the '70s'
'You don't see emotion these days'
'Cinema is both art and industry'
'We have a long way to go'