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‘An incomparable writer’

SIBI MALAYIL(AS TOLD TO SARASWATHY NAGARAJAN)

A.K. Lohitadas proved he was one of the best, both as writer and director.

Photo: S. Mahinsha

Master narrator: A.K. Lohitadas.

Film director Sibi Malayil and A.K. Lohitadas were the golden pair whose works scripted a new chapter in Malayalam cinema. Sibi pays tribute to this storyteller par excellence.

I believe it was the hand of fate that brought us [Lohitadas and Sibi Malayil] together. It was in 1987 while I was in the midst of discussions for a new film with Mammootty. In the midst of a dubbing session, Thilakan ‘Chettan’ told me a bout me a young playwright and author who he felt I should meet. He introduced me to this bearded person who seemed to be an introvert. After a few days, he called me and we met in Palakkad. He narrated four or five stories, all of which were very good.

Meanwhile the project we were working on did not work out and suddenly I was in need of a story. The dates for the shoots had already been finalised and I was in a fix. Then I remembered Lohi. I recalled him telling me that he lived in Chalakudi. So I went to Chalakudi along with a producer. We had no idea where he stayed and had to ask for directions. But the person we asked for directions knew Lohi and so we knew we were on the right track. By then dusk was falling.

As soon as we reached a bend in the road, in the headlights of the car I saw two men sitting on a culvert. So, again we decided to ask for directions to reach Lohi’s house. As soon as the car slowed down, one of the men said: ‘Erangi vaada’ (get out and come). Both of us were a little taken aback. That man turned out to be Lohi himself. It turned out that he was expecting a friend and that friend also had a white Ambassador car and so Lohi had assumed that it was his friend who had come to meet him. I told him why we had come. Lohi agreed to work on a story for us. The project I was working on was a tale about a mentally disabled man. Lohi told me that he knew a family with a problem of mental illness in the family and that he would work on it.

Landmark film

In April 1987, Lohi came to Kochi to work on the script. We stayed in Woodlands Hotel. Lohi did not a utter a word and lay curled up on a bed all the time. The next day was Vishu and I went for lunch at a friend’s place. When I returned I found him still in bed. In the evening, I told him to come for a walk. A silent Lohi and I went to Subash Park and on our way back he narrated the story of ‘Thaniyavarthanam.’ It was gripping.

I knew we had discovered an extraordinary story teller. I told him to write the screen order. He told me that he would write the screenplay straight away as he did not know how to go about the screen order. I agreed and left to hunt for locations. By the time, he had written the screenplay of three scenes, I was confident we had a successor to Padmarajan and M.T.

Meanwhile, I had introduced him to Mammootty as well. I could see them talking and Mammotty arguing with him. But after that session, Mammootty called me and told me ‘He is brilliant. He had convincing explanations for each of my doubts about the story.’ That was how my fifth film ‘Thaniyavarthanam,’ undoubtedly a landmark in Malayalam cinema, was made. It was a turning point in my career. It shot me into the top bracket as a director and helped me gain mass acceptance. Mammootty won the film critic’s award for that year.

Each of the ventures we worked on was significant movies that enriched our cinema. ‘Thaniyavarthanam’ was followed by ‘Ezhuthapurangal,’ a story of three women that were played by Suhasini, Ambika and Parvathi. After ‘Mudra’ and ‘Vicharana’ came another landmark film – ‘Kireedom.’ It was our first project with Mohanlal. I consider ‘Kireedam’ to be yet another decisive milestone in my life and it catapulted Mohanlal into a superstar. Lohi drew on real life to script his stories and that was why his stories related to people so easily. Look at ‘Dasharatam.’ This film on surrogate motherhood was ahead of its time and that was why initially it did not do well at the box office. But now, whenever it is shown on television, I still get calls appreciating the film. We followed it up with films like ‘Bharatham,’ ‘His Highness Abdullah,’ ‘Kamaladalam,’ ‘Dhanam’ and ‘Chenkol.’ There is nothing fake about his films. His loss is irreplaceable because I feel such people are unique.

Lohi also had this great ability to spot talent. Manju Warrier and Meera Jasmine – two of the most talented actresses in Malayalam cinema were his finds. Similarly he also introduced a number of unknown names in certain roles and all of them shone in that particular role. ‘Chakkaramuthu’ and ‘Joker’ had such artistes who lived their characters on screen.

As director

He excelled as a director too. As soon as he showed me the script of ‘Bhootakannadi’ I told him to go ahead and do it as it was an extraordinary story. But I feel he should not have gone mainstream as a director or producer. It proved to be too much of a strain for him. He should have been like Sreenivasan and been very choosy about the films he directed. If one begins as a writer-director it is fine, but if you begin as a writer and then try your hand at filmmaking, it can prove to be a tough task. Both require different set of skills. I feel that Lohi’s decision to turn director affected his writing too. It certainly proved to be a huge setback in my career. I found it difficult to establish the rapport I shared with Lohi with another writer. He was incomparable as a raconteur. There was a vacuum in my career after he turned director.

Recently, we had several discussions for a film that would have starred Mohanlal. It was an attempt to revive the team that had worked wonders at the box office and won critical acclaim as well. We knew there would be great expectations and were exploring several storylines. We were supposed to have finalised the project on June 30. But the same hand of fate that brought us together decided otherwise and now that will remain stillborn.

Malayalam cinema is poorer by the loss of this great writer and humanitarian.

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