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Writing cinema

P.K. AJITH KUMAR

John Paul goes into flashback mode to recall his golden days with film directors like Bharathan and Mohan.

Photo: K.K. Najeeb

Wordsmith: John Paul is working on a book titled ‘Vasanthinte Sandesha Vahakar.’

Life has come full circle for John Paul. He began his tryst with letters as a feature writer before becoming a prolific scriptwriter in Malayalam cinema and now he is busy writing features and non-fiction once again, even as he is working on a campus love story to be directed by I.V. Sasi.

Tribute to directors

John’s last book ‘Kalathinu Munpe Nadannavar’ was released in Thrissur on July 30, the tenth death anniversary of director Bharathan, his friend, philosopher, guide and colleague. He is, at present, working on a book titled ‘Vasanthinte Sandesha Vahakar.’ The book is about directors Bharathan, Padmarajan, K.G. George, Mohan, Hariharan and I.V. Sasi, and their contribution to Malayalam cinema of the 1980’s and 90’s.

“I was lucky to be part of our cinema of that time,” says John, who was in Kozhikode recently to take part in a workshop on scriptwriting. “Many of the clippings shown at the workshop were from the films of the 1980s; most of the participants were amazed to find that such films were actually made in Malayalam,” adds John.

“Back then, the good films did excellent business too. The success of ‘Vida Parayum Munpe’ and ‘Yathra,’ two of my biggest hits, is a case in point. Mammootty, who did a brilliant job as the hero of ‘Yathra,’ was surprised by its success, though he wasn’t a conventional hero in it,” recounts John.

His first film as a scriptwriter, ‘Chamaram,’ too was well received. “When Bharathan asked me to write a campus love story, after our common friend George Kithu suggested my name, I decided to give it a shot. And before I knew it, I had begun writing for four or five films, that too for directors like K.S. Sethumadhvan and Mohan.”

Best works

Some of John’s best works have been with Mohan, including ‘Rachana,’ a film that featured brilliant performances from its three lead artistes – Bharat Gopi, Nedumudi Venu and Srividya.

“Gopi was very involved with the making of ‘Rachana’; he was the one who convinced the producer to make the film and he also chose the actors for the three main roles. I am indebted to Gopi for the way the film’s script shaped up in the second half. I had written the screenplay only till the interval; for the remaining part, I gave Gopi several situations and asked him to act out scenes based on that. And he enacted all the three roles – of himself, Nedumudi and Srividya,” recalls John. He feels that the decline in Gopi’s health played a role in the decline of Malayalam cinema.

Bharathan, the director of ‘Palangal,’ often got the best out of John. “He was a remarkable director, who could paint any thought, give it a tune and sculpt it. We did many memorable films together, including ‘Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettom,’ ‘Chamayam,’ ‘Ormakkayi,’ ‘Ithiripoove Chuvanna Poove’ and ‘Malootty,’ all of which has very different themes.”

When it came to thematic content, John, like Bharathan, was equally versatile. ‘Athirathram,’ which he wrote for I.V. Sasi, for instance, is, perhaps, the first realistically made film in Malayalam about the underworld.

“I had based ‘Athirathram’ on a man I had met in Kasaragod and many scenes of the film, including the car chase, were inspired from his life. Dennis Joseph once said that his inspiration for ‘Rajavinte Makan’ was ‘Athirathram’. And Lal Jose said ‘Chamaram’ was one of the reasons why he made ‘Classmates.’ When I hear comments like that, I feel I have done something worthwhile,” John recalls.

He feels it is foolish to blame the audience for the decline in the quality of Malayalam cinema. “Good films are still received well,” he avers.

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