Director M. Padmakumar might be understated. But his never-say-die spirit has seen him climb his way up in Mollywood. He talks about his interesting life

How does this man fit into a world that spells glamour? This is what crosses your mind when you meet M. Padmakumar, director of ‘Thiruvambady Thampan', just released. Soft-spoken, and the kind of person who stands in the last row for a group photograph, Padmakumar has that never-say-die spirit that few possess. Else, how can a boy who had just passed pre-degree, from the outskirts of Palakkad (Mundoor) take off to Chennai to join the film industry? In fact, his life story would make a splendid script. His was a home where movies and even novels were anathema. Yes, he bunked classes to see movies, as any boy that age is wont to. He remembers seeing ‘Punarjanmam' then.

His creative urge took form in radio plays, eight of which were aired by Akashavani Thrissur station. And with the money he earned thus, he went to Chennai.

Patience, he has aplenty and that stood him well throughout, while scouting for directors who would so much as look at his half-written script for a children's film, which he was armed with, when he landed in Chennai. (He has since completed the script, but is yet to film it!)

“It was Dr. Balakrishnan who was kind enough to read my script. He must have found it okay for a 19-year-old to pen, because he told me to learn direction and introduced me to director Hariharan. I was his assistant for ‘Aranyakam', and two more films. In between, I would do small jobs. I worked as an assistant director with I.V. Sasi later, then with Shaji Kailas, Ranjit. As I had a good handwriting, I would be asked to write their scripts neatly. This was a great learning exercise for me,” Padmakumar recounted his early struggling days. “I haven't told this to anyone. There was an interesting incident when I went to meet director I.V.Sasi. I got the address from a film magazine and found the house. I pressed the calling bell and an old lady opened the door. She asked me if I was ‘Thampy' (brother in Tamil) and I said yes. She said Sasi sir was shooting and Seema Chechy was upstairs. So I thought I had to go upstairs to meet her and started climbing, when Seema Chechy walked down, in jeans and a T-shirt. She was shocked to see me and gave the maid hell for letting me in. I walked out.

“Later, when I was his assistant, Seema Chechy has served me lunch in that same house innumerable times, but I have never ever told either of them about this incident and she does not know it was me either,” Padmakumar says with a smile that almost graduated to a laugh.

His first independent venture was ‘Ammakkilikkoodu', which appealed to the family audience. ‘Vargam' and ‘Vaasthavam' passed muster while ‘Parunthu', with Mammootty, did not do that well, owing to a combination of reasons, chiefly luck! Padmakumar's contribution to ‘Kerala Café' was ‘Nostalgia'. ‘Shikaar' was received well by movie-goers. And now, this movie, ‘Thiruvambady Thampan', is a story that happens on the Kerala border with Tamil Nadu, Marayur and so it has Tamil actors as well, speaking in Tamil and Malayalam. Kishore, Samudrakkani and Jayaprakash are in the cast with Jayaram and Jagathy Sreekumar doing a prominent role.

What about the first script written at 19? “I have it still with me and one day, I will make that movie,” Padmakumar says, as his son Akaash, looks on. He has helped out his father once when the child artiste did not turn up for ‘Vaasthavam'. In ‘Manikkakallu', Akaash played the hero (Prithviraj) in his childhood.

What next for Padmakumar? A la ‘Kerala Café', there is a project coming up with five directors making movies, each half an hour long. What binds them? “They are all action oriented, that's all. Joshiy, Shaji Kailas, Diphan and Vinod Vijayan are the other directors. Shooting will begin after Onam,” Padmakumar reveals. ‘Paathiramanal', his movie, which got shelved last year, when Jayasurya was injured, will be revived this rainy season, as the scenes demand the rain. But now, Unni Mukundan will also be part of the cast,” he says.

Didn't that boy who sought life in tinselworld ever want to be an actor? “Never. I am uncomfortable even on a stage,” says Padmakumar, as he volunteers to drive me back to the office from Wyte Fort Hotel, which currently seems to be the favourite haunt of Mollywood.