K.P. Suveeran, director of the award-winning Byari, says art should be an expression of the new

K.P. Suveeran is just back from Goa. Characteristically clad in black (“I wear only blacks”), his disobedient locks puffed up by travel, Suveeran takes stock — of life till Byari and after. If the maker of this year’s best film at the National Awards is content with the appreciation he got, he doesn’t show it. The film was screened twice at the International Film Festival of India, Goa, and offers have come to screen it at six festivals including in Holland, Switzerland and France, says Suveeran.

Sitting in his modest apartment at Patteri, Kozhikode, he says Byari changed his life. Awards on the shelf have multiplied lately, and the man who was once “expelled from life and world” now dwells amidst bustle and action.

“My life is changed, though I haven’t,” he admits. Suveeran is a bit of a rebel, sure that his place is not among the chorus that makes the majority. “People who say the truth are always in a minority. When you work around set ideas you have a commercial product and when you scream out the truth, you have an artistic one. Good art is a sequel to science.” Art for him is an expression of his very personal search, for truth and pleasure. “‘Pleasure’ is a misplaced term in our culture. The maker should enjoy what he makes,” says Suveeran. He stays true to theatre and films for the undiluted pleasure the process gives.

Byari, he says, was not his dream project. It was a work that opened him to a new arena of creativity. “I studied theatre academically for eight years.” After graduating from the School of Drama, Thrissur, he won his masters from Pondicherry University and went on to specialise in direction at the National School of Drama, New Delhi.

Suveeran’s theatre life brought him creative highs and humiliating lows. The experience that left him angry and scarred was his expulsion from the NSD days before passing out. Looking back, he can laugh it off now, for it layered the artiste he became. But back then, it was traumatic. “It was my dark phase. I was at the edge, I even thought about suicide.”

Years of struggle

Robbed of his art, he wandered aimlessly, knocked on many doors and tried new things. “I went to Mumbai to work in the film industry. I worked with Bhupen Kakkar for a while,” he remembers. He soon returned to Kerala and attempted theatre again. “I planned a big play, Oedipus Rex, with about 60 actors, but it collapsed mid-way.” He decided to quit. “After the play Agniyum Varshavum, I called a press conference and told the world I am withdrawing from theatre. I planned to do agriculture.”

Suveeran recounts his return to theatre. “I spent almost a year confined to a room. My partner Amritha fed me at that time,” he says. During a particularly tough Onam, a group from Payyanur approached him to do a play. “They wanted it for a competition and I told them I will do it if they gave me Rs 50,000 as ‘kooli’. After a moment’s silence, they agreed. I asked for an advance of Rs 15,000, which they put in my account. The Onam was taken care of and the play was Ayusinte Pustakam.”

C.V. Balakrishnan’s masterpiece novel translated into a poignant stage production, winning awards along the way. It also took him back to the NSD, this time to stage his play. Over the past three years, Suveeran has taken his theatre to the Gulf, where he prepares old associates for a tough competition. “I even bought my car with the money I earned from theatre,” he says. That is important to Suveeran, to earn his livelihood from his art. Winning competitions was a habit, but a choiceless one. “I had to win, I did not have another way. The ‘kooli’ was the prize.” It is often the prize money he earned at competitions that saw him through.

‘Kooli’ (wage) is a word Suveeran uses often. A word without sheen or polish, a word that shows the end product of a job done as it is, minus flourishes. It is his art that Suveeran hopes will have all the splendour.

Art is his tool to say something novel, its cutting edge being the newness of expression. ‘‘When you come across things only you can see and say, you resort to art.” And if he has moved from theatre to films, it is spurred by a realisation. “The language I have discovered in theatre won’t survive time. Theatre is for the moment. But films, with the mechanical reproduction it allows, can survive 100 years.”

Suveeran has a couple of film projects lined up, including one to be shot in Sri Lanka. A masterpiece is still taking shape. “If I make good money in films, I will do theatre again, maybe start a company where my colleagues can earn a living through theatre.”