Producer Listin Stephen spins gold at the box office

Three straight hits in Malayalam and one in Tamil have put producer Listin Stephen in the fast lane in tinsel town. All of 27, the film producer with the magic touch says he has always strived to be different and aimed high. It was no different when he made his debut in cinema.

He won the viewers’ green signal right from his first film Traffic, which raced ahead in Mollywood with its tight narrative and nail-biting story. There was no creative crossroads to overcome as his next two ventures – Chappa Kurishu and Ustad Hotel – coasted to success and critical acclaim. Even while the team of Ustad Hotel was basking in the three national film awards bagged by the film, Listin quietly made his mark in Tamil as well with Chennaiyil Oru Naal, the remake of Traffic.

This is certainly one film producer who has his finger on the pulse of the audience. “I have always wanted to be in films. Just like some people want to become engineers and doctors, I wanted to be in cinema… not as an actor but behind the camera,” says Listin whose Magic Frames, his production house, seems to have cast a spell on the box office.

To understand the industry he was planning to work in, Listin, an Economics graduate, met several producers to learn more about the economics of cinema and the way Mollywood worked. Distributing three films, two Tamil and one Malayalam, helped him get an inside view of the film industry. “I did a lot of research before producing Traffic. I was sure I did not want to follow the herd. To make your mark in any field, one should have an identity and aim high.”

As soon as the budding producer heard Sanjay’s story for Traffic, he felt this film had to be his debut as a producer. He kept in touch with Rajesh Pillai, the director of the film, and assured the doubting Rajesh that he did want to produce the film. Traffic went on to become a landmark film in Malayalam cinema and a huge hit, thus opening the door to a spate of experiments in Mollywood.

Chappa Kurishu, Listin’s second venture, raised eyebrows with its theme and a few explicit scenes. But it certainly did well enough to make Listin a much sought after producer . “I have a gut feeling if a film will click. My research and work as a distributor showed that where and when you release a film is very important for the success of a movie. And that knowledge has helped me in ensuring that my films are released at the right theatres at the right time. While selecting a theme, I look for films that have a message, no matter how simple, to convey,” says the producer.

This insistence on a message and his faith in Anwar Rasheed resulted in Ustad Hotel. The two had been discussing a film on Endosulfan but when the budget went over Listin’s expectations, he decided to drop the project. That is when Ustad Hotel came into the picture. Listin wonders if he would have put his money on the film if someone else had narrated the tale of a youngster bonding with his grandfather over biriyani. “Ustad Hotel has a simple story line and a small message to convey. I knew that Anwar would tell the story in a way that would connect with the masses. I want to make movies that are seen,” says Listin.

Next is a film with Rosshan Andrrews. Scripted by Bobby-Sanjay, the film, How Old Are You, stars Kunchacko Bobban in the lead. Also on the cards is Pulivaal, a Tamil film, the remake of Chappa Kurishu, directed by Maarimuthu, featuring Vemal, Prasanna, Iniya and Pranitha. Both Chennail and Pulivaal have been co-produced with Sarath Kumar.

Is direction next? Listin does not dismiss that idea completely. “I have no such plan now. But it is difficult to predict if I will a few years later. Acting is certainly not a priority but direction is a possibility,” says Listin.

Short takes

* Rajinikanth saw Chennaiyil Oru Naal and the usually reticent actor agreed to speak about the film. It felt great when the titan said it was a film that must be seen as it promoted the idea of organ donation and also said a few words in praise of Malayalam cinema.

* There are several actors, directors and technicians who have continued working in the film industry for more than three decades. But how many producers are there who have been making films without a break for 20 years?

* When an actor gets a hit, he gets at least five films on the strength of that film. But each film is a new venture for a producer. He puts his money where his mouth is.

* My roots are in Uzhavur in Kottayam. This was the home of K.R. Narayanan. People in my hometown dream big and reach for the stars.

* My brother Justin Stephen is a professional footballer who plays in the top clubs in India. He was given Kerala’s Footballer of the Year award in 2009.