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He loves courting risks

PREMA MANMADHAN

In a freewheeling chat with PREMA MANMADHAN Appachen, the doyen of Malayalam cinema, shares nuggets of information of his life and career

Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

Game for anything Navodaya Appachen is ready for fresh ventures

Somewhere along life's line, Maliampurackal Chacko Punnoose became Appachen. That's how the 87-year-old cinema-man loves to be known as too.

The credo, big is beautiful, has always been his scheme of things, as also charting the untrodden path. Examples are ‘My Dear Kuttichattan' - the first 3D movie made in India, ‘Padayottam', a 70 mm film and ‘Kishkinta', a 120-acre amusement park in Chennai.

Kishkinta City

And now, Kishkinta City is taking shape, joining hands with developers just outside Kishkinta Park.

Appachen, who lives in Chennai, is in the city now to get his 10 acre studio, Navodaya, back into shape. Started in 1976, the studio was fully functional after he moved to Chennai when Kishkinta, the amusement park was started in 1995.

Back with verve, after he won the lifetime achievement award from the Kaerala Film Producers Association some days ago, Appachen, in his trademark white jubba and mundu, is supervising work at Navodaya, Kakkanad.

Air conditioned floors for TV reality shows, rooms for participants to stay, floors for ad shoots and movies are almost ready. In an exclusive interview he looked back at the road life took, revealing little known nuggets of information.

“Did you know that I was born in a pathemari? (countrycraft)”, he asked, and explained that in Kuttanad, during the floods, people moved into these boats. “In what is known as the ‘floods of 99' (in the Malayalam calendar), I was born”. So perhaps it was destiny that this child be adventurous.

After schooling in Pulinkunnu, he went to Palayamkottai, St. Xavier's College. He narrated how he got dismissed from the hostel for taking up for a friend, who was caught for some mischief. At the tutorial college in Thrissur, almost a film-script-like experience awaited him. He lived at a town hotel with some friends. They went to listen to M.S Subbulakshmi's kutcheri and the jackfruit bough they were sitting on broke. When they came back to the hotel, they found an angry hotel owner who had discovered that one of the boys had written a love letter to his daughter. They were evicted. “I went home. I did write the exam but failed,” said an amused Appachen, whose first failure led to gigantic successes later in life. He took life head on, hands on, sans academic qualifications.

Appachen describes the birth of Udaya Studios, the first in the State: My brother Kunchacko used to play badminton with Kunju Kunju Bhagavathar and others. That's how an interest to make a studio came about in the 40s. The first film, ‘Vellinakshatram' was not completed. It was a loss. Then, K.V.Koshy, who distributed films, came as a partner and mass oriented films like ‘Nalla Thanka' and ‘Jeevitha Nauka' were made. Kunchacko told him ‘to learn the tricks of film making from Koshy' and he used to watch the shooting. “Once, during the making of ‘Jeevitha Nauka', there was a scene where Adoor Pankajam was grinding chilli and S. P. Pillai was peeping. She throws a stone at him and he was supposed to run away. I suggested that he ran into a chorithanam bush (a plant whose leaves caused scratching) to add to his discomfiture! Koshy then told my brother that I was all ready to do film making myself.

Digital Kuttichathan

After Navodaya was opened in kakkanad, 1976, he was totally into production. He has directed only three movies, ‘Thacholi Ambu', ‘Kadathanattu Makkam' and ‘Mamankam'. ‘Padayottam' was a pioneering 70 mm production in the South and his sons Jijo and Jose looked after the 3D ‘Kuttichathan' after a trip to US to study this mode of film making. “The digital version will be ready by Vishu,” he says, still on the Kuttichathan trail.

The other sensational movie, ‘Ente Mamattikkuttiammakku', (1983) in which Baby Shalini created ripples, was also his production. “They were staying close by and one day, Shalini's father came home to make a phone call. The child with him was speaking over the phone, while playing and I was impressed with her charm. That was the beginning of Shalini's rise and rise.

Navodaya's ‘Manjil Virinja Pookkal' gave us Mohanlal and ‘Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare' gave us the talented Geethu Mohandas and Suresh Gopi too. “I was close to many political people too in those days,” says Appachen and talks of how both the families of Vayalar Ravi (Kunchacko's wife and Devaki Krishnan were classmates) and Mercy Ravi were close to him. “Mercy's parents were worried about her. I said I would go and find out. But when I went to Ravi's house, I saw Mercy cleaning sardines and I knew she had already become part of the family.”

Appachen is today a truly contented man, but ready to toil as hard as his will dictates. He is looking forward to Kishkinta City and the renovated Navodaya Studios.

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