As director, actor and writer, Cochin Hanifa made an indelible impression.
I came across Hanifa when I was 12. Walking into home from school I was drawn by a voice that was delivering the famous dialogue of Sivaji Ganesan from ‘Veera Pandiya Kattabomman.’ It was a flawless performance. He was there brought by his friend seeking chance to act in ‘Hello Darling,’ a comedy film produced by my father R.S. Srinivasan.
Salim Ahmed Ghouse (Cochin Hanifa) won his first break through ‘Hello Darling’ and there was no looking back, to use a cliché. The gentleman who brought him was P.V. Verghese of Thirumeni Pictures, my father’s friend.
Hanifa moved into a lodge, a stone’s throw from our office. He spent time with us, participating in story discussions, contributing ideas and meeting people. He soon started writing story, dialogue and screenplay for Sri Sai Productions, my father’s banner. He made significant contribution on screen and off it in many of the films such as ‘Seemantha Puthran,’ ‘Aval Oru Devalayam,’ ‘Raju Rahim,’ ‘Irumbazhigal,’ and ‘Adimachangala’ all starring Prem Nazir, Sheela, Jaya Bharathi and so on.
In 1983, when my father acquired the Malayalam re-make rights of the Telugu film, ‘Nyaayam Kaavaali,’ Cochin Hanifa got his first break to write a full-fledged Malayalam script titled, ‘Thaalam Thettiya Thaaraattu,’ which proved to be a box-office hit. It starred Lakshmi, Menaka, Balan K Nair and Raj Kumar among others and was directed by A.B. Raj (artist Saranya’s Father)
Hanifa’s adaptation was excellent. The variation he had made in the typewriting institute instructor, a character played by Allu Ramalingaiah in Telugu was especially lauded.
My father, who had nurtured Hanifa, passed away in a boat tragedy in 1985. The Kerala film industry paid homage to the veteran and Hanifa mourned as if he had lost his own father.
Stepping into my father’s shoes, I produced the Malayalam dubbed version of the Kannada film, ‘Mr. Ajith.’ HANIFA named it “Thadangal Palayam” and the lead pair was Ambarish and Jayamala.
IN 1985, Hanifa made his debut as director with “Oru Sandhesham Koody” Starring Mammooty and Rohini. Music was scored by Shyam and Chitra, who had just entered the scene, sang the songs. VMC HANIFF (Hanifa had changed his name based on numerology) wrote the story, dialogue and screenplay. The film was a success. .Hanifa directed ‘Paasa Paravaigal’ and ‘Padatha Theneekkal,’ stories for which were written by M. Karunanidi.
Taking up direction full time pushed Hanifa’s acting to the background. With erratic payments from producers, Hanifa found himself in a financial crisis. Giving up direction, he decided to confine himself to acting. It was a tough and sad decision. But it was rewarding with offers pouring in from all directions, various languages.
It was after all this at the age of 48 that Hanifa married. A teetotaller, Hanifa observed the Ramzan fast with sincerity.
‘Valsalyam,’ according to me, is the most moving film directed by Haniff. It starred Mammootty as the responsible son of a joint family, who is spurned, his sacrifices forgotten.
Was it instinct or premonition that made Hanifa visit my house one night before his death? He went in and out of all the rooms recalling episodes with nostalgia, touching the furniture and other things in every nook and cranny that his camera had captured during shootings.
My humble appeal to the film fraternity, especially producers, is that the money due to Hanifa for his acting should be given to his family consisting of his wife and twin daughters. That is the best homage they could pay to a soul, who loved cinema and pursued little else during his life time.
(The author, a film producer, worked with Hanifa for over three decades.)