T.K. Rajeevkumar talks about his unending fascination for the silver screen and music
Filmmaker T.K. Rajeevkumar's work defies categorisation. Viewers have learnt to expect the unexpected from this film director. After a lull, he returns with two films – Khushti in Hindi and Oru Naal Varum in Malayalam. Khushti is the remake of Mutharamkunnu P.O. while Oru Naal Varum revives the winning duo of Mohanlal and Sreenivasan on screen.
While many other directors would take a break after the hectic shooting and promotional work, Rajeev plans to travel in India and Europe to document the sounds of percussion and to “jam with percussionists who play a wide range of interesting percussion instruments,” says Rajeev, a trained percussionist.
Before Rajeev engraved his credits on the screen, he was a well-known name on the campuses of Kerala as a superb percussionist and mimic. One of his hit performances was a panchavadyam that faithfully duplicated the sounds and rhythms of a percussion ensemble without a single instrument on stage. “Over the years, I have become a little rusty and so I have started training in earnest on the mridangam, maddalam and also on other percussion instruments such as the thavil, thimila and the edakka,” says Rajeev.
He also plans to film the jamming sessions. The percussion yatra, which will also be filmed, will culminate in a concert in the capital city, adds Rajiv.
He says it is the quest for new subjects and styles of filmmaking that keeps intact his passion for filmmaking. A passion that was ignited during his student days when Venu, a relative and a role model, joined the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) to study cinematography. “G. Aravindan was also a relative and a family friend. I yearned to study filmmaking. The late seventies and early eighties were the heyday of film societies and the first ever Kerala University film festival opened my eyes to a new language and vocabulary of cinema,” says Rajeev.
Although, he qualified for the entrance exam, he never made it to FTII as his parents were keen on him taking up a white collar job. But the Zoology graduate kept alive his silver screen dreams even while creating waves on the campuses with his mimicry and music troupes.
“Once, after a show in Muhamma, entrepreneur Mathew Paul met me and asked me if I was interested in films. He directed me to Navodaya where I met my mentor Jijo. I made it clear to him that I had no interest in becoming an actor. I felt I did not have the looks to become one. When he heard of my attempt to join FTII and my ambition, he took me, still a student, on aboard the team of My Dear Kuttichathan, the first 3-D film in Malayalam,” recalls Rajeev.
One thing led to another and soon the young director was calling the shots for the big budget multi-starrer Chanakyan, starring Kamal Hassan, Madhu, Thilakan and Jayaram. A dream break for any director. “My first shot was with Madhu sir. I still remember him putting me at ease by asking: ‘Rajiv, what is the next shot?' I was able to give him a convincing answer. Despite having a galaxy of veterans in my film, it was my film. Never once did any of them try to step into my space.”
After the racy Chanakyan, just when everyone expected him to direct another action-packed film, Rajeev came out with the romance-filled Kshanakathu.
“I did get several offers from Tamil and Telugu to direct Chanakyan. Kamal even wanted me to direct the Hindi version of Avai Shammughi. But I refused. My stand is that one has to pursue new themes and genres to challenge one's own creative boundaries.”
Rajeev agrees that this has its own drawbacks and advantages. “Being associated with a certain kind of films helps pull in viewers who are drawn to that category of films. If the film lives up to their expectations, then you have made it. So each film has to pique their curiosity and keep them glued to the screen,” explains Rajeev. Therein lies the challenge for Rajeev the filmmaker who agrees that this sometimes translated into films that did not set the cash registers ringing.
Thus his eclectic collection of films include Ottayal Pattalam, Mahanagaram, Pavithram, Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu,' ‘Sesham' ….
And then Rajeev took over as Chairman of the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy in 2003. A decision that surprised many then. “It was not about the position but I wanted to see how one could best synergise cinema, the Government and the Academy. Plans to begin a touring talkies, to set up a permanent centre for cinema and so on were put into motion when I helmed the Academy. Decisions that are bearing fruit now. I see it as an educative period when I was able to test myself as an administrator and catalyst. It also gave me an opportunity to see and interact with world-class filmmakers and technicians.”
In addition to films, Rajeev also went on to become a sought-after director for stage shows in India and abroad.
However, Rajeev maintains that his first love has and will always be cinema. “My idol is Mrinal Sen. That is why I called my son Mrinal.”
On being prodded to name his best works that he would want Mrinal and his daughter, Keerthana, to see, a little hesitantly, he says: Chanakyan, Pavithram, Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu and Sesham.
“I have to satisfy myself first and those are the films that met my own standards,” avers Rajeev.
Rajeev tunes in to music when he is not thinking, talking and creating films. “I enjoy Carnatic music and my favourites are Maharajapuram and the Ambalappuzha Brothers. I also enjoy Western Symphonies a great deal.