Shaji N. Karun talks about his ‘Kutty Srank’ that garnered five National film awards, including the one for best feature film.

Looks like happy days are here again for Malayalam cinema. With 12 National film awards in various categories, Malayalam filmmakers have reasons to celebrate. Five national awards and a special jury mention have put ‘Kutty Srank' (Sailor of Hearts) right on top of the 57th National film awards. “It is an honour for Malayalam cinema and viewers of Malayalam movies. The film has a non-linear narration and it is to the credit of the Malayali audience that there were many film buffs who enjoyed and encouraged the film,” says Shaji Karun, director of ‘Kutty Srank’.

This recognition for the film has come as a shot in the arm for Shaji who has quietly proved that good cinema cannot be put down by hook or by crook. It also is the best reply to his detractors who were out in full strength to maul the film as best as they could.

Film festivals

The Mammotty-starrer had travelled to many of the leading film festivals and it was the only Malayalam cinema that figured in the Indian panorama in Goa. In fact, viewers in Kerala got to watch this lyrical voyage of a sailor much after its world premiere in Montreal. Although the film had a smooth sailing to Pusan and Dubai, it ran into several controversies in Kerala. The National awards have certainly vindicated Shaji's belief in his kind of filmmaking and films.

The multi-layered, subtly nuanced film explores social, economic, political and cultural aspects in the coastal regions of Kerala through the tale of a man who evolves from a killer to a saviour. “Mammootty took a lot of pains to portray that man - Kutty Srank. So, though it is a happy moment, I am disappointed that Mammootty's sterling act was not rewarded. Luck is an important factor too,” says the soft-spoken, modest director who does not even want to discuss why he was not given the award for the best director.

“I am sure Rituparno Ghosh (who won the National film award for the best director) must be deluged with questions as to why his film was not chosen as the best film,” he says with a smile as mediapersons and flashing cameras surround him.

“Of the four Malayalam feature films I have done, three have gone on to win the National award for the best film. Both ‘Piravi' and ‘Vanaprastham' also bagged the National award for the best actor for Premji (‘Piravi') and Mohanlal (‘Vanaprastham') who donned the main roles in the films. So the disappointment is acute in the case of Mammootty,” adds Shaji.

He points out with pride that the National award for the best cinematography for Anjali Sukla has created history in Indian cinema as she is the first woman to win the award.

“Again, it justifies my faith in her,” says Shaji who was keen to have a woman behind the camera as the story of the film is narrated by three women from different walks of life.

‘Kutty Srank' also won awards for best screenplay (P.F. Mathews and Harikrishanan), best costume, best editing and a special jury recognition for Padmapriya.

When pressed for reasons why ‘Kutty Srank' failed to win a single State film awards, Shaji explains thus: “Here personalities supersede films and matters other than cinema seem to be gaining importance. If I were to write an autobiography, three-fourths of it would be of the pain that has been inflicted on me for no reason whatsoever.”

But that pain seems to be have given shape to the pearls of movies that he has gifted to Malayalam cinema. Having proved why he is regarded as one of the best in India, Shaji is now immersed in the script of his next Malayalam film, ‘Gaadha,' which is set to be a musical. “It is about the creative journey of a musician who wants to give shape to a new raga. My challenge is to transform and capture this aural experience for the visual media. How does one communicate this inner voyage on screen?” wonders Shaji.

While his scenarists polish the screenplay and dialogues of his next film, Shaji will be travelling the world over with eminent artist M.F. Husain who has requested him to crank the camera for his directorial venture. The shoot is to begin in April. “That will be my first priority. I was humbled when he mailed me to say that of the three panels he is painting for a palace in Quatar, one has been titled ‘Shaji's Kathakali.' The maestro had happened to see my film ‘Vanaprastham' in Mumbai and was completely bowled over by it,” says Shaji.

When two masters of the visual medium join hands, it ought to be a feast for the viewers.

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