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Updated: May 6, 2010 16:30 IST

Hero of the common man

Saraswathy Nagarajan
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Film Director Sathyan Anthikkad. Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar
The Hindu
Film Director Sathyan Anthikkad. Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

Sathyan Anthikkad, celebrating his golden jubilee as a filmmaker with ‘Katha Thudarunnu,' has found his niche by making common cause with the issues and concerns of the common man.

Sathyan Anthikkad continues the saga of the common man with his film ‘Katha Thudarunu,' which reaches theatres today. Scripted and directed by Sathyan, the film narrates the story of a single mother (Vidyalakshmi) who refuses to let circumstances crush her spirit or her sense of adventure. Common sense and sense of humour – the hallmark of every Sathyan film – is evident in this film as well. For the veteran director believes that if one is endowed with the two, one cannot be down in the dumps for too long. And who should know the secret of success better than this director who is celebrating his golden jubilee as a filmmaker with his ‘Katha Thudarunnu.'

Gift for comedy

Right from his first directorial venture, ‘Kurukkante Kalyanam,' Sathyan's heroes and heroines are people next door. Unerringly, he tapped the gift for comedy in actors such as Sukumaran, Nedumudi Venu, Mammotty and Mohanlal to eulogise the common man and his world of joys and sorrows. Over the years, he has gifted viewers with some of the most memorable heroes and heroines in Malayalam cinema.

“All of them are my favourites,” says Sathyan with a smile. “But,” he adds, “among them it is undoubtedly Balagopalan of ‘T. P. Balagopalan MA' and Kochu Tressia of ‘Manasinakkare.' Balagopalan is very dear to me. All my other characters, I feel, are his cousins and friends. Preman (played by Jayaram), my hero in ‘Katha Thudurunnu,' could be his younger brother,” says Sathyan.

Looking back at his eventful filmography, Sathyan says what he treasures during his stint in Mollywood are certain priceless moments that came his way on account of his work in cinema. “I cherish the fact that I was able to work with such a fine actor as Mohanlal. There were moments during the filming when he blurred the line between reel and real life. One moment, he could be laughing and joking but the moment he stands before the camera, within seconds, he becomes the character,” says Sathyan.

A trifle sentimentally, he says he treasures the fact that he could hear, work and see playback singer K.J. Yesudas sing. “That is not something filmmakers of tomorrow would be able to say,” says Sathyan, also an evocative lyricist whose songs have been sung by Yesudas.

Another golden moment he holds close to his heart happened while they were recording the songs of ‘Rasanthantram.' “Much before I entered tinsel town, Ilayaraja was someone I idolised a great deal. The fact that I am able to work with him is something precious to me. While the recording for ‘Rasathantram' was going on, Kamal Hassan's ‘Vettaiyadu Vilayadu' was being shot in the vicinity. During a break in the shoot Kamal would join Ilayaraja in the room that he used for composing. I told Kamal that my heroine's name was Kanmani in the film as I was inspired by his song ‘Kanmani Anbodu Kadhalan' in ‘Guna.' Immediately, Kamal hummed the lines of the Ilayaraja song sung by Kamal himself in the film. Ilayaraja played it on the harmonium and Kamal sang along. I value such moments more than awards and hits,” says Sathyan.

Not that he is a stranger to hits and awards. Many of his films (especially the ones written by Sreenivasan and Lohitadas) have become classics in Malayalam cinema, while the much quoted dialogues have become film lore and a part of the vocabulary of Malayalis. He remembers with a smile how during the discussions for ‘Sandesham,' Sreenivasan had assured him: ‘I don't know if the film will be a hit or not. But it will certainly have the best of dialogues.'

“Kerala was going through a period of political vacuum and that is when we began discussions on the film. Both Sreenivasan and I knew we had a good subject but we were unsure how it would work out on the screen. Finally it was Lohitadas who gave us the confidence to go ahead.” But when both Lohitadas and Sreenivasan became engrossed in their own works, Sathyan began writing his own scripts. “Fortunately, writing has never been a new domain for me. But I still discuss my scripts with Sreenivasan and other friends. For instance, in ‘Katha….' there is a twist to the story that was advised by Sreenivasan. Similarly, it was Lohitadas who advised me to make Narain's character a bank manager in ‘Bhagyadevta,'” says Sathyan.

However, he avers that it is essential for a filmmaker to have his ear to the ground to catch the rumblings of change that shapes a society in transition. The veteran feels that many of today's films seem to have lost that lifeline to reality, which is one of the most important reasons for the problems plaguing Malayalam cinema. “I make one film and watch films for the rest of the year to understand what is happening around us. I must be one of the few people who must have watched the most number of Malayalam films that were released last year,” says Sathyan, who continues to live in the village (Anthikkad) that he has put on the map of cinema.

Perhaps that is how Sathyan gives us those perfect snapshots of life in the suburbs, complete with three-dimensional characters who live their roles on the screen. “I am one of them,” says Sathyan. “I make a film when I have something to say.”

With ‘Katha Thudarunnu' the raconteur unveils another facet of life in Kerala.

Memorable characters

T.P. Balagopalan (‘T.P. Balagopal MA')

Dasan and Vijayan (‘Nadodikattu')

Gopalakrishna Panickar (‘Sanmanasullavarku Samadhanam')

Sethu (‘Gandhi Nagar Second Street')

KRP and Kottapalli (‘Sandesham')

Kanchana (‘Thalayana Manthram')

Reji and Kochu Tressia (‘Manassinnakkare')

Sreedharan (‘Sreedharante Onnam Thirumuruvu')

Achu and Shymala (‘Achuvinte Amma')

Roy (‘Veendum Chila Veetukaryangal')

Velayudhan kutty (‘Mazhavilkavadi')

Vinod (‘Vinodayatra')

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