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October 27, 1998


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To catch a thief...

Shobha Warrier

A still from IPC 215. Click for bigger pic!
You enter the guesthouse of the MGR Film City and suddenly feel you've come upon a spot a murder occurred some time ago.

Dozens of what looked like policemen were running around the place -- some looked pretty serious while the others looked as excited as a tortoise on drugs.

Supervising the whole thing was a relaxed and smiling Charuhasan. He was actually instructing some of the artists when we first set eyes on him, looking well command. But his assistants were in panic -- the telephones ordered hadn't reached the place.

"Why do you get worked up? Relax, relax," said the director. "If we can't shoot today, we'll do it tomorrow. This isn't very serious..." The assistants stopped hyperventilating and smiled for a moment and then found something else to get nervous about.

As the shot is getting ready, Charuhasan sits down and starts talks to you, like any average person you meet would.

"I'm not like other film people. You can talk to me at any time. Acting and films are just one part of my life. I do so many other things." He flashes a brilliant smile.

I'd always admired Charuhasan, the actor. Now I got to see and appreciate Charuhasan the human being too. He's refreshingly different from his daughter Suhasini and son-in-law Mani Rathnam in dealing with people. It was delightful talking to him and watching him interact with others. This kind of genial affability is rare in film actors other than, maybe, Mohanlal, the superstar from Kerala.

Charuhasan's not affected by his industry either. I've seen him walk into music sabhas quietly, without the pomposity some other stars affect.

We get to the story of the film and find it is based on Charuhasan's experience as a lawyer when he was a practising lawyer. He'd defended a man named Muthu for a crime under the provision in the Indian Penal Code section 215. The section states that anyone who returns stolen property without catching the thief can himself be imprisoned for two years.

Charuhasan directing IPC 215. Click for bigger pic!
"This doesn't seem to be a very good law. These days when you are releasing hardcore terrorists to get innocent hostages back, is it fair to punish a man because he had recovered stolen property and returned it to the owner," asks Charuhasan. And that is the backdrop of his film, IPC 215.

Charuhasan himself wrote the story and screenplay since the subject has been nagging him for the last several years.

The story begins with a child being kidnapped. The police force tries to nab the criminal, but in vain. The grandfather of the child, a lawyer, decides that only a man from prison can successfully negotiate with the kidnappers. He goes to court and gets Muthu, an old man now, released on parole.

The story of Muthu, an old time private detective unfolds as the lawyer argues in the court for his release.

Ponavannan, an actor who isn't all that well known, despite being a writer and director too, plays Muthu. For him, this role is like meditation.

"The director wanted us to be very realistic while emoting. No melodrama, no exaggeration, I had to be as natural as I could. Yes, it is very, very different from the roles that I've done so far. Since I believe in these kinds of films, I took it up as a challenge and I must say it was such a satisfying and rewarding experience for the artist in me. You may know the tranquillity you experience when you meditate. Acting under Charuhasan was like meditation, a divine experience."

For a change, Charuhasan, a national award winner, is himself not acting in the film.

"I've taken a new role in this film, as a filmmaker. I won't be able to concentrate on the film if I had also to act. Directing a movie is creative, but acting is comfortable and easy. You get more fame for less work. Somebody like Girish Kasaravalli makes a good film and I get an award. I become more famous than the creator of the film, when the entire work is done by my director.

"I know it's challenging to become a director. That's why I took it up. I do not know whether I can measure up to expectations, but I'm trying hard."

Had the film has come out as he'd visualised while writing the screenplay?

"Almost... Yes. Whatever my poor vision has thought of has come out in the film. See, a film can never be better than the director, and if the film is bad, the director's vision must have been bad. If I don't get good results, I think I don't have enough brains to make a film."

If that argument were true, IPC 215 should be a hit.

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