Yesteryear star Mohan turns director with his multiple award-winning film Gramam. The actor rewinds to his memorable years in South Indian cinema even as his Gramam is all set to reach theatres soon.

Mohan Sharma was in school then. He and his friends took a bus from his village of Thathamangalam in Palakkad district, walked and ran the distance to Malampuzha where Sivaji Ganesan was shooting for a Tamil film that hot afternoon. The actor was taking a break and a large crowd had gathered by then. Pushing his way to the front, his face red and flushed, Mohan stood and stared at the icon. Then the unbelievable happened.

Sivaji Ganesan called out to the handsome, young boy. Reluctantly, egged on by his friends, Mohan stood by the actor. Sivaji Ganesan wiped the boy’s face with his towel, asked him from where he had come, in which class he was studying and what he wanted to become when he grew up. On the spur of the moment Mohan replied that he wanted to become an actor. Every one around laughed. Mohan, of course, was not serious, but somewhere in him this wish grew.

Mohan went on to become the first South Indian actor to graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Among his batch mates are Shabana Azmi and Nazeeruddin Shah. In an acting career spanning more than four decades, Mohan played lead roles in over 150 films and numerous television serials.

Eventually, Mohan turned producer, made films in all South Indian languages, and then suddenly disappeared from the scene. He returned to tinsel town playing character roles and as a director. His first directorial venture, a bilingual, Gramam (Namma Gramam in Tamil), is likely to release on July 13. The actor-producer-director, who says he has put a huge part of his savings into what he terms his dream project, talks about his career, experience, influences and his directorial debut.

Balu Mahendra

I owe a lot to Balu Mahendra. He introduced me to directors like Ramu Kariat and P.N. Menon even while I was at the FTII. Kariat gave me Nellu and P. N. Menon cast me in a small role in Panimudakku. He was always there for me. Did I give back anything? Maybe yes. During the shooting of Prayanam, Balu Mahendra and director Bharathan, who were swimming in the Bharatapuzha, were caught in a strong current. I heard them shout and wave desperately; I ran ahead, jumped into the water and managed to drag them ashore. I could do that little at least for Balu.

P. N. Menon

Everyone knows him as the director who took Malayalam cinema from the studios to outdoor locales. His films were realistic and, I think, much ahead of his times. Panimudakku did not go down well with the audience but it was so topical. What he said in the film is still so relevant.

Kariat’s Nellu

Many do not know that Sarada was originally chosen for the female lead in Nellu. She turned down the offer when Kariat insisted that she dress like the tribal women of Wayanad. That’s how Jayabharathy got the role. Kariat was a task master. I remember the shooting of the song sequence ‘Kaadu kulirannu…’ I had to run around in the slush and soon had leeches all over my body. But he was not ready to compromise.

Tamil films

If things had gone well, I should have been launched in Tamil by K. Balachander. He cast me in Solathan Ninnakirain immediately after I had graduated. The first clap for the film was to be done by MGR. There was a buzz in the sets, while I sat in a corner memorising my dialogues. Suddenly I noticed that there was a silence. When I looked up, I saw MGR standing in front of me. I stood up and shook hands with him. Two days of shooting went by. Then one of the popular Tamil magazines came up with the startling news that MGR was insulted by a fledgling actor. This news spread. The producer and I got threatening calls. The producer, who was doing his next film with MGR, developed cold feet. He requested me to back out of the film, which I did. Later, I did a lot of Tamil films and, over the years, developed a good relationship with MGR.

Gramam

Gramam is the first part of a trilogy on the Palakkad Brahmin community. I have written the story, script and dialogues apart from directing and acting in it. The first part tells the story of the community between 1937 and 1947, the second between 1947-1962 and the third is set between 1962-1975. I feel this is an important film from the historical perspective. The Brahmin community in Palakkad had a patriarchal set-up. Life of a woman was tough. The first part is the story of a child widow and how she fought societal conventions.

The film won the National awards for Sukumari (Best Actress) and Best Costume, and the Kerala State Award for Best Story and Best Playback Singer for Mohan and Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna respectively. The film stars Nishaan, Samvrutha, Nedumudi Venu, Sukumari, Mohan Sharma, Y.G. Mahendraa, Nalini and Fathima Babu in important roles. Madhu Ambat handles the camera.

Role call

Malayalam: Nellu, Prayanam, Chalanam, Chattakari, Ragam, Theekanal, Kayalum Kayarum.

Tamil: Thoondil Meen, Nadagame Ulagam, General Chakravarthy, Silangai Oli.

Telugu: Sagara Sangamam