Shankar Ramakrishnan, scenarist of ‘Urumi,' talks about his maiden feature film that won him gold at the box office.

Shankar Ramakrishnan, scenarist of ‘Urumi,' is still coming to terms with his success, as his grand saga of patriotism, chivalry, romance, and revenge bowled over viewers and transported them to the period of brave hearts, warrior princesses, and oracles. Despite the customary practice of moaning over the lost golden period of Malayalam cinema, a new generation of viewers is beginning to exert their opinion on filmmakers and the film industry. And ‘Urumi' reaped the benefits of that young generation of viewers who ensured that the film hit a century.

Director-cinematographer Santosh Sivan and ‘Urumi's leading star and producer Prithviraj have acknowledged Shankar's vital role in the shaping of the epic film that is now getting set for its Tamil and Hindi releases. Shankar, who has been working as ace filmmaker Ranjith's associate director for some time, had scripted a tale for a competition based on the medieval history of Kerala. “Called ‘Chekavar,' it was on the gallant warriors of Malabar and the pageant of the Mamankam. I had shown it to Prithviraj during the shooting of ‘Thirakatha.' We used to spend hours discussing movies and scripts. He was quite taken up with the script and mentioned it to Santhosh when the two were working on ‘Raavanan.' That is how Santosh got in touch with me,” explains Shankar.

Brainstorming sessions

Santosh's acting assignment in Lenin Rajendran's film ‘Makaramanju' saw him spend a considerable amount of time in Thiruvananthapuram. That was when Shankar and Santosh got time to enlarge the thread of a story the film director had in mind. “Santosh wondered what it was like when the first white man stepped on to the soil of India… What was it like to meet a group of traders who came with implements that spat fire…How did the local residents react to these traders who later tried to be their masters…I told him a story that fused these elements. The one-line story was that it was about ‘the boy who wanted to kill Vasco da Gama,'” recounts Shankar.

And that was how the story of the man with the golden sword was born. Shankar spent two years gathering the material for his script and doing research to flesh out his characters, some of whom are familiar names in Indian history. He went to Kannur and read old ballads and stories of the region. Since it had to seamlessly blend fact and fiction, Shankar was careful to see that his yarn was grounded in the soil of the land by building his story on events that have been documented in history. The fictional characters were skilfully placed on that edifice.

Turning director

Although Shankar has made a splash as a scenarist with his very first film, he says his ambition is to direct a film. ‘Island Express,' which he helmed for Ranjith's Portmanteau film ‘Kerala Café,' proved that he was a director to look out for. In the meantime, Shankar, who has done cameos in movies, was also tipped to play the hero in a Ranjith film. However the movie has been postponed as Ranjith's new film ‘Indian Rupee' is under production.

“Later in the year, I will be directing a film under the banner of Ranjith's Capitol Theatre. I am also working on a musical in Hindi for Santosh Sivan, tentatively called ‘Music Room,'” says Shankar.

After working with two of the most happening directors in Malayalam cinema, what is that he has imbibed from the two? “Ranjith is my mentor and his passion for cinema and his willingness to experiment with themes and narratives are qualities to emulate. He is a director who is also an excellent writer and many of his movies are visual translations of his work. Santosh's eye for detail is amazing; he has taught me to dream big and to push the envelope…He thinks visually and each frame of his is a composition of art. I have been lucky to work with such craftsmen who are so dedicated to cinema,” gushes Shankar.

He points out that both these veterans of the film industry have proved that there are viewers to watch stories that don't conform to the conventional formula in any way at all. Shankar hopes to continue that grand vision and instinct for good cinema by writing scripts and directing his kind of films.