It’s 14 years since director Bharathan died. Scenarist John Paul and director Mohan, two of Bharathan’s close associates, remember him

The Bharathan touch. What’s this ‘touch’? It was that rare quality, that unpredictable something in his movie that Bharathan never failed to deliver during the golden era of Malayalam cinema, in the eighties, right into the nineties. With totally different subjects, milieus and treatment, Bharathan’s ouevre was indeed an artistic force to reckon with, the magic he created was different each time. If he made Rathinirvedam with great sensitivity and a command over the medium even with a subject like that, he dealt with Vaishali, which had a wider canvas and a puranic story, with as much verve and beauty, though the milieus were as different as chalk and cheese.

Gone too soon

It’s been 14 years, this July end, since Bharathan vanished from the scene he loved so much, and the world which adored his works, leaving his wife, actor Lalitha and children Siddarth and Sreekkutty to continue life without him. He was just 50, when life was snatched away, with so many movies yet to be made, so many accolades, yet to be won.

“There cannot ever be another like him. He was a master of colours and music was within him, together with poetry. His full potential could never be tapped before he went away from us all.” This is how John Paul, Bharathan’s close friend and the person who scripted 13 of his films, describes him.

“He would always quote Michelangelo, while working on the set. Michelangelo, he would say, would go round and round the marble blocks till he knew the lay of the block, the images to be sculpted and then in a frenzy, set to carve out his image, which would always be right there, in his heart. The work of art is already there, he would say, and you just had to sculpt out what is not needed.

"With cinema, Bharathan was like that. He would have the entire cinema in his heart before he started making it. He carried Vaishali in his heart for 14 years before it was a reality. When MT and he joined hands for it, Bharathan had even the characters and colours ready on the storyboard and MT just had to flesh out the script. For Thazhvaram, I remember MT, while narrating the story, said when the lead character reached the valley, it was dusk and there was just a lantern there. Immediately, Bharathan visualised the frame and said, ‘So golden tones can be used in these frames.’ That’s how clued in he was with colour, frames and cinema in totality. He would turn a movie in his mind over and over again for weeks or months till he knew every frame by heart. Only after that did shooting take place. He had a sculptor’s mind. Besides, he was a romantic at heart,” says John Paul, memories flooding in, faster than he could narrate them. “It was Kanai Kunjuraman who introduced Bharathan to me and for close to 40 years, our friendship remained intact. He was a mesmerising person.”

Associating with Bharathan for films like Chamaram, Ormakkayi, Marmaram, Kathodu Kathoram, Oru Minnamininginte Nurunguvettam, all stories that belong to different genres, talking of Bharathan has John Paul in a totally nostalgic mood. On the personal front, John Paul says only one word befits his character: ‘Devasuran’. “He was both deva and asuran in turns, but it was always the deva in him that dominated the asura,” he jokes.

That Bharathan won as many awards for art direction as for direction speaks of his intense love for cinema, body and soul.

Director Mohan, also a close friend of Bharathan’s, for over 30 years, says, “Yes, colours and a sense of music. He excelled in these two departments. He was a painter and a poet at heart. Bharathan never adhered to the grammar of cinema as others did. He created his own grammar, a craft he excelled in. Having storyboards for films, as in Hollywood, was followed by him. He did not have timings. Sometimes he would work right into the wee hours of the day and come only in the afternoon the next day. But no one felt any tension on the set with Bharathan as director.” Though Mohan never actually worked with Bharathan, both being in the same department, he was very close to him. “Our families are also close, even today. I got to know him during my student days in Chennai. I was supposed to assist him for his first film, Prayanam, but it didn’t work out. After that I started work independently. Thakara is my favourite, of all his films,” Mohan remembered.

Director Vincent was like a godfather to Bharathan. He did art direction for him. P.N. Menon was his father’s brother. So there was craft in his blood, after all, Mohan remarks.

Marmaram, Ormakkayi, Sandhya Mayangum Neram, Venkalam, Aaravam, Paalangal, Chamayam, Lorry, Chatta, Churam, Kattathe Kilikkoodu, Ithiri Poove Chuvanna Poove, Thevar Makan, Devaragam and more……the list of memorable movies that came from the mind of a genius called Bharathan.