Veteran director I.V. Sasi made films that struck a chord with the viewer. His partnership with writers such as T. Damodaran, M.T. Vasudevan Nair and P. Padmarajan created a wide range of films that have stood the test of time. The filmmaker looks back on his eventful journey in cinema

The best of I.V. Sasi

When Iruppam Veedu Sasidharan boarded the Madras Mail from Kozhikode in 1968, he had just one aim: to be an art director in movies. Destiny, however, had grand plans for him. Sasidharan, whom the world knows as I.V. Sasi, went on to become one of the most successful directors in Malayalam cinema. He played a crucial role in turning actors such as Mammootty, Mohanlal, Jayan, Sukumaran, Soman, Vincent and Seema into movie stars. He has also directed stars such as Kamal Haasan, Rajnikanth and Rajesh Khanna.

He bridged the gap between commerce and art in Malayalam cinema like nobody else before him could. He has made well over 100 films. Several of them, such as Ee Nadu, Itha Ivide Vare, Angadi, Vartha, Devasuram, Avanazhi and Avalude Ravukal were blockbusters. He also made classics such as Alkoottathil Thaniye, Kanamarayathu, Aksharangal and Vadakaykkoru Hrudayam.

The filmmaker met Friday Review for an interview in Kozhikode. Over the next two hours and a half, he spoke about his remarkably long innings in cinema, or rather, the history of Malayalam cinema from the ‘70’s onwards. His wife, Seema, who played some of his unforgettable characters on screen, helped him refresh his memory at times.

How do you look back at your early days in Chennai?

I worked as an assistant to art director S. Konnanatt, but I parted ways with him due to differences in our perceptions about art direction. I believed in making a set absolutely realistic, while he felt a set should look like one, since an art director was putting so much effort into it; that was the case in Malayalam cinema of those days.

My friend Hariharan, who was one of the busiest assistant directors in Malayalam cinema at the time, suggested I become an assistant to director A.B. Raj for his film Kannur Deluxe; I was reluctant to take it up, but he convinced me that I could do it. I was also involved in the direction of two films, Kattu Vithachavan and Kavitha, although I did not take credit for either. That led me to my first film, Ulsavam, in 1975; the film was a surprise hit and justified producer Ramachandran’s faith in me.

Two years later, you directed Itha Ivide Vare, a tale of a man bent on revenge. It was the first of several films that you collaborated with scriptwriter P. Padmarajan.

I am an avid reader and I was fascinated by Padmarajan’s short stories and novels. I wanted to work with him and the first film we thought of was a love story with Kamal. When we met Kamal, he said he had already begun acting in another film with a similar theme – Madanolsavam, for director N. Sankaran Nair. Then Padmarajan told me about a novella he had written and that was how Itha Ivide Vare was born. I realised that Kamal would not suit the role of the anti-hero and therefore chose Soman, who became a star with the film. My original choice was Unni Mary for the heroine’s role, which was eventually essayed by Jayabharathi.

All your films till then, except Ulsavam, had titles beginning with the letter ‘A’.

Well, the distributor of Itha Ivide Vare had also noticed that fact and suggested that the film be renamed as ‘Atha Avide Vare’. Padmarajan became quite upset and angry at that suggestion.

Your most successful partnership was with scriptwriter T. Damodaran, with films such as Angadi, Ee Nadu, Vartha, Avanazhi, Innallenkil Nale and Adimakal Udamakal.

It was producer P.V. Gangadharan who introduced me to Damodaran. Aarattu was our first film together, and I knew he was going to make it big as a scriptwriter.

Some of your most memorable films have been with M.T. Vasudevan Nair.

I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that M.T. had suggested my name to producer M.D. George for Thrishna; I thought it was an honour. I was privileged to make films such as Aksharangal, Alkoottathil Thaniye, Uyarangalil, Aroodham and Mithya with him.

You turned Mammootty into a hero with Thrishna in 1981.

Mammootty wasn’t the first choice for that film. Ratheesh was, but he was too busy and recommended that I cast Mammootty. Before that I had tried out the film’s cinematographer Jayanan Vincent, but he could not stop laughing in front of the camera. Right from the beginning, I knew Mammootty was a remarkable actor.

One of Mohanlal’s finest performances early in his career came in Uyarangalil.

Yes, he was brilliant in it. Mammootty and Mohanlal are undoubtedly the finest actors I have worked with.

Your association with Kamal goes way back…

We were friends even before we entered cinema. We were neighbours at Royapettah in Chennai and had worked together at the Christian Arts and Communication Centre. We used to frequent Sun Theatre to watch English movies.

Avalude Ravukal was such a bold film in 1978…

Many of the leading ladies of the day were not bold enough to play the role of a sex worker. Then I thought of Seema, who had caught my attention as a dancer while shooting Itha Ivide Vare.

You haven’t made a movie in four years…

I am planning to make a film this year; it would have either Mammootty or Mohanlal in the lead.