Benny P. Nayarambalam has made a smooth transition from stage to screen

Who can forget Radha in ‘Chandupottu'? Benny P. Nayarambalam, who etched the character, also, cannot. Karthikeyan, on whom the character is based, haunts Benny still, for real life is not as rosy as the reel one he wove. While the character in his story, Radha Krishnan changes for the better, the real Karthikeyan became a mental wreck and simply vanished from the sea shore where he belonged.

Nobody knows where he is, or if he died, Benny says sadly. “Like this, every story is from a kernel that is true. Sometimes, it is from what I see around me, sometimes it could be from a small news item,” says Benny who started out as a scriptwriter of dramas in his teens. He wrote ‘Athyunnathangalil Deivathinu Sthuthi' when he was just 19 for Rajan P. Dev's drama company and Benny also acted as Rajan's son in it. The drama won one State award and three other awards from various organisations in the State. Great achievement for a 19-year-old that!

42 plays

The movie, ‘Chandupottu' was called ‘Arabikkadalum Adbudavilakkum' in its avatar as a drama. Benny acted the role that Dileep did in the movie and Rajan P. Dev acted the role of Lal in the drama. The post-graduate in Malayalam Language and Literature entered cinema as a scriptwriter when he was doing his degree (incidentally, he did his B.Com, after which he pursued his Malayalam PG) with ‘First Bell' (1990), directed by P. G. Viswambharan.

In both fields

He stayed on with one leg in cinema and the other in drama for a decade. “I wrote the scripts for 42 plays, in all. But my health took its toll, so I had to slow down my pace. Though drama work is seasonal, the rehearsals and the strain for every show were too much. So, I chose cinema. In the last six years, I have not done any dramas. And I do only one film a year, so that I have time with my family.”

Family consists of wife Fulja (all eyebrows are arched at the name, Benny comments. It means flower, he says chirpily) and children Anna (Plus I )and Susan (Class IV). The Nayarambalam native has a flat in Pachalam where he does his writing, all by himself, sans noise, sans any other distractions. Only after a movie is completed does he begin his search for the next. He is booked for the next five years, that's how busy he is.

But Benny's early years were not easy. “My father was at first quite disappointed with my desire to be a playwright. Like all other parents of that period, he was hopeful of his son becoming a doctor or an engineer. Being a playwright was not exactly a vocation, to them.” But by the time he was doing his PG, he was ‘quite a star' after his first movie script (‘First Bell') and a couple of dramas. He formed his own drama troupe, called ‘Kochin Mahatma' later and was the writer-director of eight plays. The awards started falling into his kitty too. In 1994, he got the State award for the script of ‘Doctorodu Chothikkuka'. ‘Thayambaka' won the State award for best direction in drama, in 1996.

Only two of his dramas have been made into films. Apart from ‘Chandupottu', ‘Kunjikoonan', which was called ‘Vikalanga Varsham' in the drama version, was scripted and directed by Benny. How come only two of the 42 dramas he wrote have so far made it to the celluloid?

Benny has a valid explanation: Most of the heroes in the dramas I wrote are middle-aged, as Rajan P. Dev used to do those roles. But in movies things are different…” and he smiled, leaving me to fill in the blanks.

That the irresistible Tommy Lee Jones, Robert de Niro, Anthony Hopkins and many others are accepted as main characters in Hollywood would in no way influence our superstars to follow suit, one would assume, for trapped in mirage images, the mettle of characters cannot sway them.

Hits

Benny's engagement with cinema has so far been highly productive. His hits include ‘Thommanum Makkalum', ‘Marykkundoru Kunjadu', ‘Chattambi Naadu', Anwar Rashid's ‘Chotta Mumbai', the Vinayan-directed ‘Akasha Ganga' and ‘Pothan Vava', to name a few. Each of Benny's stories is vastly different from the last.

The milieu, the mood and the type of characters are totally different, if you analyse his scripts. The raw material on which the story develops is also different. The one dominant trait that repeats itself in many scripts is perhaps the offbeat character or situation. Take ‘Chandupottu', ‘Marykkundoru Kunjadu' (where the hero remains a scaredy cat till the end) or Vinayan's ‘Akasha Ganga', where the situation is uncommon. Benny has worked with director Shafi in five films, Joshiy, Anwar Rashid and with Sasi Sankar also.

Plenty of masala

Benny makes scripts for the masses and has no qualms about saying so. There's plenty of ‘masala' in all his scripts to tickle the entire family. His 22nd script is that of ‘Spanish Masala', and the movie is almost complete. “Usually, I spend the entire period of the shooting on the sets. That's my style. I see that my producers are satisfied and I am around to help. More than monetary benefits, that is what counts.”

To the refrain that there are very few good stories or scripts in the industry, Benny counters, “There are very good youngsters now, like James Alberts and Satchi-Sethu who are doing well in the field.”

Though he has acted in the plays he has scripted, he has yet to act in any movies so far. “Scripting is a challenging job and I don't think there can be distractions. But I get involved in all the other departments of the movie till it is over,” says Benny, with his next project just round the corner.

The flat in Pachalam is beckoning him already.