Debutant director Santosh Sethumadhavan on retelling his father K.S. Sethumadhavan’s Chattakari, in which Shamna Kasim reprises the role of Julie. The movie reached theatres yesterday.

It is one of Indian cinema’s classics; a love story that in its various avatars in Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada has wowed generations of viewers with its bold theme and timeless tale of romance overcoming all barriers. Chattakari (1974), directed by veteran K.S. Sethumadhavan and written by Thoppil Bhasi, based on an eponymous short story by Malayalam author Pamman, was, perhaps one of the original ‘new generation’ films in mainstream Malayalam cinema. It’s a film that made sensuality cool and one that made icons out of relative newcomers Lakshmi and Mohan, especially the inimitable Lakshmi who essayed the title role of Julie.

Now debutant director Santosh Sethumadhavan, son of Sethumadhavan, has remade this mother of all love stories. The new Chattakari, with Shamna Kasim and Hemanth Menon in the lead, reached theatres yesterday.

Set amid the backdrop of an economically disadvantaged but happy Anglo-Indian family in the 70s, Chattakari tells the story of Julie Morris who falls in love with the rich and broodingly handsome Sasi Warrier, and the consequences of their pre-marital affair.

“The storyline of the new film is more or less the same as the original and all the characters have been retained. But the narration is slightly different from the original and we’ve concentrated more on the emotions in the story. Writer Vinu Abraham has tweaked the screenplay a bit to give a contemporary touch to the period film. We’ve used a number of flashbacks in the narration too. In the original version, Lakshmi practically carried the entire movie. In our version, Julie does not overpower. Supporting characters such as Morris and Maggie (Julie’s parents), Usha (Sasi’s sister), and Richard (who carries a torch for Julie), and the like, have been brought more into the spotlight and given their due. Our Chattakari is also a lot more colourful than the original – and I don’t mean just because of Julie’s costumes! There are a lot of exterior shots, it’s also visually more appealing and has more of fantasy elements than the original,” says Santosh.

But Chattakari was never just a love story about two people belonging to different religions. Instead, it delved into issues such as the life and culture of Anglo Indians in post-colonial India, the taboo on pre-marital relationships and inter-religious marriages, and, on a larger canvas, the hypocrisy of society when it comes to ‘Indian ideals’ and professed ‘Western ideals.’

“I did extensive ground work for the film and I visited a number of Anglo Indian families in Kochi and attended a few of their weddings and receptions. Thirty years after my father made Chattakari, I still found these families, often a minority community in the cities they live, retaining the old world charm in their lifestyle, manner of dressing and even in their preference for speaking the Queen’s English,” says Santosh.

“It was a challenge to make the film, but the entire experience was actually smooth. It’s the culmination of my life-long dream of making movies. I had never really thought about stepping into my father’s shoes. I don’t think I can compare myself with him and never intended my movie to be a carbon copy of his film. My father’s only advice was that I should be cool and play on my strengths as a filmmaker,” adds Santosh who has directed a number of news documentaries and ads prior to Chattakari. Santosh’s Tamil short film Appuvin Nayagan, starring Charuhasan, won the National Film Award for the Best Film on Family Values in 2008.

Shamna, who is essaying Julie in this remake, looks as coltish and coquettish as her predecessor as she sashays on screen dressed in well-tailored, barely-there frocks. But that’s not all. Like Lakshmi did back in 1974, Shamna too makes her debut in the lead role in Malayalam, after making a name for herself in Tamil and Telugu, where she is known under the moniker Poorna. “It was by far the most challenging of roles and a dream debut in the lead for any actor. I’m not overly worried about the constant comparisons to Lakshmi ma’am’s Julie,” says the actor. Adds Santosh: “Shamna is a terrific actor. In fact, I feel that she’s been under-utilised as an actor all this time. Her Julie is actually a little bit more glamorised than Lakshmi’s Julie.”

Hemanth Menon, who debuted in Mollywood with Fazil’s Living Together and who has not really been able to get a foothold in the industry, reprises the role of Sasi Warrier, originally essayed by Mohan. Innocent (Morris), Suvarna Mathews (Maggie), Kalasala Babu (Warrier), Renuka (Mrs. Warrier) and young actors Harikrishnan (Richard), Shelly (Usha Warrier), and Malu Raveendranath (Elien Morris) also play significant roles. Vinod Ellampally has cranked the camera and music composed by M. Jayachadran is already on the top of the charts, especially the number ‘Nilave, Nilave…’, crooned by Shreya Ghosal.

Economics of creativity

After the recent success of Neelathamara and Ratinirvedam, once again, veteran producer G. Suresh Kumar funds a remake under the banner of his Revathy Kalamandir. Like in quite a number of his earlier films, this time too he’s chosen to work with relative newcomers. “There’s the fun in the challenge of introducing new faces but there is also a certain economics behind it,” explains Suresh Kumar. “Firstly, I feel that Malayalam cinema has come to a stage where it’s not economical to make hefty payment to established stars. Secondly, I don’t see the point in taking the risk to spend crores on production costs in such a small market as ours. Chattakari is my 31st film as producer. I like to think of my self as a creative producer and with newcomers I am at my best.”