Mathew Kodath, a successful producer and film director in Honduras who revitalised the movie industry there, talks about his journey from the city to Tegucigalpa
Fascinating is a word that figures frequently in Mathew Kodath’s conversation. The two-film-old Mathew’s captivating narration of his evolution as a filmmaker is as adventurous as any movie or novel. Fascinating, you agree, is what his adventures have been as a film director and producer in Honduras.
Handing you his card with the image of a resplendent macaw, he says: “My production company is called Guacamaya Films. The Macaw is the national bird of Honduras.”
So how did this Malayali computer engineer from a ‘good, middle-class background’ find his way to Honduras? Therein lies the twist in the tale. “During my student days in Sathyabhama College in Chennai, my flatmates were two movie buffs who breathed and ate cinema. Our flat was in Besant Nagar and from there we could see a lot of shooting happening on the beach. The movie bug bit me. So, after graduation, I decide to do film studies and secured admission in a college in Vancouver,” says Mathew during his rapid fire conversation with MetroPlus. That is when he happened to meet a director of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, which looks after the monetary affairs of five countries in Central America. He encouraged Mathew to take up a job in the bank and before he knew it, much to the relief of his parents, Ranjith Mathew and Reeny, who had apprehensions of his passion for cinema, the 23-year-old found himself flying to Honduras in 2004 to become a banker. Fascinating indeed!
“It was completely crazy. Honduras did not have not an embassy in India and Kerala Travels, who were arranging the tickets, had to find a route that would take me to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. So I had to go to Mexico and get a Honduran visa from there,” remembers Mathew.
The moment he landed there, he felt at home. “It is a green tropical country and so much like Kerala. Even the people there can easily pass off as Malayalis,” says Mathew, a broad, infectious grin never too far away from his face.
After diligently working in the bank for two years, Mathew moved on to marketing several international beverages and that involved working with Hondurans on the street. Not only did he pick up Spanish, he also discovered that there were only a handful of movies made in the country over a period of 50 years. “The movie bug resurfaced and with some of my friends we discussed how we could make this dream come true,” recalls Mathew, the excitement still fresh in his voice.
Thus was made Amor Y Frijoles (Love And Beans), a dramatic comedy about a woman who sells beans for a living. As the movie industry was quite non-existent in the country, he decided to select the best talent from the United States. While the thread of a story about a suspicious food vendor and her husband was Mathew’s, the script was written by a Spanish friend. “I found that Hondurans, like Indians, like a bit of drama in their films and life and so all my years of watching movies came to my rescue. The government also supported us in the production,” says Mathew.
He continues: “On a Sunday morning in June 2009, I woke up to the sound of gun shots. There was a coup in the country, just 59 days before the release of my film. There was a 24-hour curfew. We were anxious about the fate of the film. But, following the coup, there was a resurgence of national pride and identity and the film did very well in all the 38 of the 59 theatres in the country. Finally, I was doing what I always wanted to do. Instead of the film school I wanted to go to, I got hands-on training during the making of Amor Y Frijoles.”
His company also makes television content, including serials and soaps, for two of the biggest television channels in Honduras.
So has all that success inspired him to make a film in India? “I don’t know. Honduras is home for me. Initially, newspapers in Honduras would write about me as a filmmaker of Indian origin. Now, they have accepted me as one of them. But, yes, I would always love to make a film in India. Let’s see.”
Language of commerce
Mathew, who has a keen eye on the market, felt that although the film did well in Honduras, it did not connect with viewers in other Latin American countries. For his next film, the young producer and director racked his brains for a universal theme and that is how Quien Paga La Cuenta (Who Pays The Bill?) was made.
“Money speaks the same language. Moreover, many Hondurans live on credit and recovery agents are a constant threat. For our research, our camera crew went out on the streets and spoke to people from different walks of life. Their tales about why they took credit, how they evade recovery agents and how they are managing ranged from hilarious to sad. We also spoke to recovery agents to get their side of the story and that is how we got our research material. The story is about four families from different social strata. The common element is one recovery agent,” laughs Mathew. The movies releases on January 25, next year.