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Updated: June 20, 2011 19:00 IST

Salim's Story

Divya Kumar
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A JOURNEY BEGINS: Director Salim Ahamed. Photo: S.S. Kumar
The Hindu A JOURNEY BEGINS: Director Salim Ahamed. Photo: S.S. Kumar

Salim Ahamed's debut film “Adaminte Makan Abu”, which swept the National and Kerala State Awards, is all set to hit the screens this week. Divya Kumar catches up with the director.

When Salim Ahamed graduated from college over a decade ago, he dreamed of joining the film industry. A stage artist with his own mimicry group (Salim was known for imitating Kamal Hassan), he wanted more than anything else to make movies.

Instead, he found himself working in a travel agency for the next five years. Not, most would agree, the ideal way to start a showbiz career. But it was the stories he heard and the people he met during that time that sowed the seeds for “Adaminte Makan Abu”, his debut film that has swept both the National Awards and the Kerala State Awards in 2011. Salim was recently in Chennai, organising previews and working towards the theatre release of the film in the city (it opens on June 24), and he described “Adaminte…” as the culmination of 10 years of struggle. “I've spent the last 10 years running around trying to get this movie made,” he said. “It wasn't just enough to find producers; I needed people who would understand the subject. After all, this is a movie in which the hero is 75 years old and the heroine, 65!”

The story of “Adaminte”, written by Salim, is based on the experiences of elderly ‘Hajis', and the struggles they face, especially financially, to realise their dream of going on Haj before the end of their lives. “I would meet all these Hajis at the agency, and they'd tell me their stories,” he recalled. “There was one old man, I remember, who made the money for the journey by keeping cows and selling milk for years.”

His protagonist in “Adaminte…” sells the precious jackfruit grove in front of his house to go on Haj, causing him considerable heartbreak, and leading the film to its poetic, bittersweet end. The movie, which for financial reasons is seeing its theatrical release only now, has garnered rave reviews from critics and jury members who've seen it. “They say it's like an international film,” said Salim with simple pride, “and not like a first-time filmmaker's effort at all.”

Entirely digital

By winning four National awards (best film, best actor for Salim Kumar, best cinematography and best background score), and four Kerala State awards (best film, best actor and best background score plus best script) the film has certainly broken new ground. Salim is the first debut Malayalam movie director whose film has won the National award, and this is the first time in 34 years that a movie has won ‘Best film' at both the National awards and the Kerala State awards. According to Salim, it's also the first time that a film shot entirely in digital has won a National award for cinematography.

Not bad for a film that got made in large part because of the kindness of the people Salim worked with. “Everyone from the actors to the technicians cooperated with me and worked for less money,” he said. “And cinematographer Madhu Ambat, whom I met for the first time when he agreed to work on the film, helped me tremendously, even chipping in financially. Without him, I couldn't have sent a print for the National awards.”

This little-script-that-could is just one of several that Salim has penned in the last 10 years. Through his time in the travel agency, his brief stint as an assistant scriptwriter with T.A. Razak, and as an assistant director on one film, and his five long years as a writer/creative director with Surya TV, he has completed a whopping 12 scripts.

“After the release of this film, I will decide whether to start on one of them, or first do the Hindi remake of ‘Adaminte…' for which a couple of companies have approached me,” he said.

Salim's days of mimicry, travel bookings and television writing may be far behind him, but it looks like the storehouse of stories he built through those years will keep him busy for some time to come.

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