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Still raring to go

PREMA MANMADHAN

M.C. Punnoose, who is better known as Navodaya Appachan, talks about his journey in filmdom. The filmmaker is the recipient of this year's J.C. Daniel award.



Risk taker: M.C. Punnoose.

When there was no film school, no proper literature to learn more about cinema and the communication revolution had yet to arrive, M.C. Punnoose a.k.a. Appachan made movies with confidence, reading the pulse of the people correctly. He dared to take risks and went in for pioneering technology in the film industry, backed just by intuition and came out trumps. The prestigious J.C. Daniel award of the Kerala State Government for overall contribution to films has come to him this year. Just three months ago, the 87-year-old movie maker won the lifetime achievement award from the Kerala Film Producers Association. Though known as Navodaya Appachan, after the production house he owns, he helped his brother Kunchacko Boban manage the first studio in Kerala, Udaya, for many years before he struck out on his own with the Navodaya banner in Kakkanad, near Kochi.

Production, his forte

Production is his forte though he has directed three movies, ‘Thacholi Ambu,' ‘Kadathanattu Makkam' and ‘Mamankam.' “Production is more challenging than direction,” feels Appachan. He is known to take risks, but always, he had the full backing of his family. ‘Thacholi Ambu,' in which Sivaji Ganesan and Prem Nazir starred, was an ambitious venture in cinemascope, the first in Malayalam cinema. “Very few theatres had the facility to screen cinemascope movies then. We bought screens and the lens needed and rented them out. Sivaji broke his arm in a fight scene with Ummer. His fans threw stones at Ummer's house,” laughs Appachan, reminiscing about the making of the film.

Getting the stories for the Vadakkan Pattu films such as ‘Thacholi Ambu' and ‘Unniyarcha,' made earlier in Udaya in 1961, and directed by his brother Kunchacko, is a big story itself, he revealed. “We went to Thalassery, one of the areas where Vadakkan Pattu originated. But no one knew the stories correctly. Finally we were directed to women who worked in the fields, who sang these songs. So we waited for them to work in the fields, heard the songs and wrote them down. Then the script was written. We collected all the stories this way,” he says.

‘Padayottam,' the 70 mm film made in 1982, was another pioneering effort in Malayalam. “The post production work of ‘Sholay,' the first 70 mm production in India was done in the United Kingdom. But for ‘Padayottam,' we got the work done at Prasad Labs. No one knew for sure if it would succeed, but it did,” says Appachan. The 3D adventure that Appachan and his sons embarked upon was perhaps the biggest risk this man from Kuttanad took.

Landmark film

‘My Dear Kuttichathan,' the first 3D film in India was a runaway success and different versions of it keep popping out from his production house. The third one, in digital format, this time, with a few additional scenes, is running in Tamil Nadu. “We went to the United States to do a recce. My son Jijo was interested in this 3D project. ‘The House of Wax' (1952) was a 3D film but no one bothered to do much work in that area later. The cost was exorbitant. Without giving up, we pursued it and at last got a camera and a person to give the technical guidance within our budget. Jijo, who has always been interested in physics, wrote the story and in the days when graphics were yet to come, it was a great challenge to shoot one scene, of a room moving round. He got a local man to make a contraption and the whole thing was manually done. We took the movie to Delhi for the President (Zail Singh) to see, in a big van, the screen, the paraphernalia and the whole group, driving all the way to Rashtrapathi Bhavan.”

Director Fazil and Mohanlal (‘Manjil Virinja Pookkal') Baby Shalini,( ‘Ente Mamattikkuttiyammakku') all had their movie debuts with Appachan, as also Geethu Mohandas and Suresh Gopi, in ‘Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare.'

Almost every film that Appachan produced has done well. How does he feel the pulse of the masses? “I discuss the story idea with my family and friends. If they approve of it, I make the film, otherwise I don't. There have been several films which I refused to make. Others produced them and sadly, lost their money.”

After ‘Chanakyan,' directed by T.K. Rajeev Kumar he shifted his allegiance from the movies to amusement parks. Kishkinta was set up in Chennai. Kishkinta city is the next project near the amusement park, where a whole township is coming up.

“When Chanakyan was made, the pirated CD menace began and I tried to fight it in vain. So, I looked for fresh pastures,” says Appachan, who is still raring to do new things.

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