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August 22, 1997


'Nobody knows my characters more than me. I even know the smell of them. They are all part of me'

Lohitadas. Click here for bigger pic!
When you look at it from the creative point of view, which is more satisfying, short stories or screenplays?

Short stories give you more pleasure and satisfaction.

Have you written any short story after you moved to movies?

Once I became famous, magazines like Mathrubhumi, Kalakaumudi etc, which had refused my short stories, began asking for them. They even ask me to send my old stories! But I have no time to write short stories now. After I came to this field, I have no time to take any rest. I have been working continuously.

Do you consider it good fortune or are you fed up?

In a way, I am fortunate; very, very fortunate. When you look at it from another angle, I have no time to live your own life. Yes, I am lucky. There never was a moment in the last 10 years when I didn't have any project in hand. After the release of Thaniavarthanam, there was a big rush of producers and directors to my house.

Did you ever expect such an impact?

Never. I thought that would be my first and last movie.

From where did you get your first reaction?

The first reaction came from Mammotty. He is one person is not easily impressed. He behaves that way with everybody. The first time when I met him, he was not impressed. He looked at me as if I was a useless fellow. When he came to know that I was the person who was writing the script, he asked me directly, 'Can you do it?' He was quite indifferent to me. But after he read my script, his whole attitude changed. Later, the public also accepted it wonderfully well.

Mohanlal in Chenkol. Click here for bigger pic!
Did you feel depressed while writing the story or while watching it on screen? It was so disturbing and depressing for me that I had to go out, unable to see the way Balan Master (Mammotty) was being crucified by people around him.

It was not depression that I felt. It was like sitting inside a furnace and burning all over. I experienced all the sufferings of Balan Master. I always felt that way for all my characters. I cried when Balan Master suffered. Do you know I always keep a towel with me while I write a story? I use it to wipe my tears. I experience all the feelings of my characters.

Is it not like torture?

Yes. It is torture. My blood pressure shoots up when I write and I get terrible headaches. Nobody knows my characters more than me. I even know the smell of them. They are all part of me. When I write, I become all of them, including the hero and the villain.

Generally how long does it take for you to recover from each script?

It took me 16 days to finish Thaniavarthanam, six days for Kireedam (with Mohanlal, remade into Hindi as Gardish) and nine days for Bharatham (for which Mohanlal bagged a national award).

Your first directorial venture, Bhoothakkannadi, has just been released. What was the reason you decided to direct a film?

It is a desire in everyone's mind to be a director because the director gets the maximum respect here.

Was it not because the final creative product is the director's?

That is what everybody says. But I have an altogether different idea about it. Okay, if you say that a film is a creative art or a creative product made by a director; he has to create everything, including all the characters. He should know the soul of all the characters and he should know their ideology. Only if he can claim such rights to the characters, can he call his film his own art or creation.

There is a difference between a body with a soul and a dead body. When the director borrows somebody else's creations, he becomes only a technician. Padmarajan was a movie-maker in all the senses because he created all his characters and had a right over them. Adoor Gopalakrishnan also knows the soul of all his creations. I always felt that the director of my characters did not know my creations as much as I know them.

Mammotty and Srilakshmi in Bhoothakkannadi. Click here for bigger pic!
Was that why you decided to be a director?

The truth is that I did not get the same amount of pleasure from directing a film. When I am writing, I am a creator. There is no one between me and my characters. But a director's work has an intellectual and intelligent dimension which is not there in a writer's work. A writer's work is purely creative.

Does that mean you will not direct again?

I will. You might know there is a pleasure in solving mathematical problems. The same kind of pleasure is there in directing a movie too.

After watching Bhoothakkannadi, did you find any difference in the way you directed your creation and what others have done so far?

Yes, there is some difference. I do not believe in cutting frames. That is the pattern followed by others. Most of the scenes in Bhoothakkannadi are done in one shot, even some big scenes. That is, like what we see in real life. I made the movie the way I wanted to, that's all.

In this context, let me ask you one thing. Do you believe in compartmentalising movies into art and commercial categories?

No, not at all. No art form, let it be dance, Kathakali, music, painting or film, can survive without a commercial base. An art form grows only with patronage, and for that you need money. Don't you have to pay more to see a Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair or a Kalamandalam Gopi performing? Why do you pay more?

Because there is a difference between the performance of Kalamandalam Gopi and an ordinary Kathakali peformer. You have a pay more to listen to Balamurali Krishna. There is a world of difference between the performances of Balamurali Krishna and other classical singers.

Chembai (Vaidyanatha Bhagvathar, the legendary Carnatic singer) used to say he was the highest paid singer in his time. So, there is a monetary base to all art forms. There has to be one too. In the case of films, money plays an even more important part. When a producer invests Rs 5 million in a movie, he is doing it to make more money and not to lose money. I don't think any producer in the world would spend Rs 5 million just for the fun of it.

Mohanlal and Kaviyoor Ponnamma in Chenkol. Click here for bigger pic!
Are you willing to compromise for commercial success?

What kind of compromise can we do to guarantee commercial success? Nothing.

Your movie is different. And it cannot be bracketed as a commercial movie.

My film may be different. But the difference is in the theme.

But your movie is more artistic than a commercial venture.

It is a commercial movie. I wanted to recover money for Unni (the producer) from the theatres itself. Unni also produced it with the hope of getting a profit. Not otherwise. Unfortunately, it did not become a huge commercial success. There are two markets for films. One is, theatre and the other is, foreign festivals.

One type of movie is made with foreign festivals and foreign television channels in mind and the other type with our theatres in mind. The first group claims they are art film makers and the others are naturally commercial film-makers.

But I want to ask one thing, if they didn't have an eye for commercialisation, why are they after foreign channels and festivals? It is like some people going to the USA to make money and others going to Dubai. The intention is the same for all: make money!

My film Amaram (directed by Bharatan with Mammotty in the lead) ran for 100 days. Bharatam (directed by Sibi Malayil and produced by Mohanlal) ran for 125 days. I cannot find any commercial ingredient in both these movies. I also cannot see those movies lacking in any artistic element.

At the same time, films with four or five stunts are failing, full length comedies are also failing miserably. My belief is that only films which are made with honesty, films that close to life run.

Bharatam was one film which even changed the usual structure or pattern of films. After the death of Ramananthan, the elder brother, nothing happens in the movie. After that, there is no story or suspense or twist in the climax in the film. But people loved the film.

Several of your characters are so memorable that people still talk about them. Which of your characters do you like the most?

Both Mammotty and Mohanlal have made many of my characters unforgettable. I feel that Mammotty performed the best in Amaram, Valsalyam and Bhoothakkannadi. That is, without his personality taking control of the characters. Mohanlal has portrayed most of my characters extremely well; still, the best, according to me, was Chenkol.

Click here for bigger pic!
Not Bharatham?

He might have won the national award for the role. But I feel he performed the best in Chenkol (it was a sequel to Kireedam). Then comes Kireedom. And Bharatham comes only later. In Chenkol he surprised me with his expressions. There was an amazing quality in the way he walked, talked and even sat.

I feel that the upcoming generation can watch this performance of Mohanlal and learn a lot. It can be called a textbook in acting. It was a superlative performance.

In some of the reviews of Bhoothakkannadi, the way Mammotty dressed was criticised. The criticism was that he did not at all look like a watch repairer. He looked so different from the other villagers, too sophisticated to be a villager.

I will say that they have not seen a watch repairer in their lives. I have noticed that barbers and watch repairers always dress very neatly. Vidyadharan wears only bright, ironed shirts and an extremely white dhoti. He is very particular about keeping his hair neatly combed. Extreme cleanliness or a mania for cleanliness can be an abnormality.

Vidyadharan is one person who looks at everything closely and minutely. Myself and Mammotty had discussed about this cleanliness mania of the character before deciding on his attire. It was not done to cater to the stardom of Mammotty. If that was so, would he have appeared with a grey beard and thin hair later on? The kind of film criticism that we see here is not healthy at all. They tend to criticise a person rather than his film as if they have something against the person.

From where did you pick up Vidyadharan? Have you seen him anywhere?

I was searching for a theme for some time. What has shocked me of late is the attitude of people towards even small girls of twelve or thirteen. They are looked upon as just sex objects by men. It horrified me a lot to read such stories in the newspapers.

I have no daughters, only two sons. And I long for a daughter. I began asking many of my friends about their daughters. All of them get a fear in their mind when they see their daughters growing up. All fathers are scared about the safety of their daughters. Then, I thought of telling a story about the fears of a father for his daughter. That was where it all began.

I had no intention to make the father a watch repairer. All I wanted was an ordinary father.

One day as I was walking and it showered a little. I had to take shelter in a watch repairer's shop. It was then that I noticed him intensely looking at a watch, and I immediately decided that he is going to be the father; a father who looks at everything so intensely and deeply, in great concentration.

From there the magnifying glass also developed. What disturbed me was, nobody talked about this angle, the worry of the father, the way women are treated by men. Not even women. You have feminist organisations here, you have women's magazines also, but nobody reacted.

Surprisingly, that was what I noticed in the film, that was what haunted me later on also. It was not the existence of the magnifying glass that I noticed. Then I thought, may be it is because I am a feminist that I saw this angle. Then I went through quite a few reviews too, but none of them have highlighted this angle.

See, what can you say about such critics? They did not see what was there in the film. But I am glad you noticed it.


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