Deedi Damodaran explains how and why she became the first woman script writer in Malayalam cinema
The story of Deedi Damodaran's life changed when she began working on her doctoral thesis – ‘Film and female.' That was when the keen enthusiast of cinema realised that none of the reel women seem to have anything to do with real women. The only way to rectify this, she felt, was to write a screenplay herself. And thus was born the first woman scriptwriter of Malayalam cinema and the script of Nayika, which was launched on the sidelines of the International Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram.
Nayika, starring thespians Sarada and Madhu in the lead roles, is about a veteran actor looking back at her eventful career in the evening of her life. “There is some more work to be finalised before the shooting begins,” says the feisty Deedi who was in the city to watch films along with her journalist husband, Premchand.
They have watched all the films released in Kerala during the last two decades. “And it is always the first show on the first day. It is only on rare occasions like this that we miss a first show of a film like Kandahar but as soon as I get back to Kozhikode I plan to watch it,” says Deedi. She is perhaps the only woman scribe to have covered eight International Film Festivals of India.
Cinema in her blood
Cinema is in Deedi's blood. As the eldest daughter of celebrity scriptwriter T. Damodaran, she is familiar with the workings of the film industry. And writing scripts come easy to her. After all it was something she was initiated into at the age of 12 when she began assisting her father who was scripting the cult, super hit film Eeenadu. “People might see it as another instance of a brat boasting about her being a prodigy,” smiles Deedi. She explains that the job fell on her because her mother, Pushpa, did not agree with the way her father wanted her to take down his dictation.
“My father's films are dialogue oriented and Achan would modulate his voice while dictating the dialogues. It was a wonderful exercise as it exposed me to the wide canvas of a film like Eeenadu, with its huge star cast and sub plots. After writing the screenplays of his films, I would find something missing on the screen if the modulation of the dialogues strayed away from the way I had heard my father say it,” recalls Deedi.
The experience stood her in good stead when Deedi began working on her own script. But her father does not discuss the script or the story with her. “At home, my father refuses to even talk about a character or a scene I am writing. Both of us might be working on different scripts and if there is some similarity he might feel compelled to change it. He would not want me to think that he had lifted an idea from my script,” says Deedi. But he has watched Makal and Gulmohur, both of which were scripted by her and which reached theatres much before her first script of Nayika.
However, Gulmohur, the film, is quite different from her eponymous book. “Jayaraj's focus was not on the female characters in the film, but he had promised me that he would make a film with me and that is how Nayika happened.” Deedi assures you that her Nayika will be a woman of flesh and blood and not like the novel women who inhabit our films.
She believes that the sidelined and silenced women characters of cinema, especially Malayalam movies, will get a life only when women begin working behind the camera in large numbers. “There is a difference,” she avers. “We have seen Mammootty in several roles. But the Mammootty we saw in Kutty Srank is very different and I believe that it was because there was a woman behind the camera.”
It was when she began studying cinema that she realised that women characters in cinema were being shaped by men who were often playing out their desires and fears about women on screen.
“I used to discuss this with leading filmmakers like Blessy, Jayaraj, Santhosh Sivan and so on. Many of them had not even given it a second thought,” she says.
But then Deedi is not a passive woman who lets herself be pushed along with the tide of time and destiny. Not only did she script a critically acclaimed film, she also pretty much scripts her own life, even when it meant sparring with the big C.
“I was diagnosed with cancer during the editing of Gulmohur. There were moments of despair and the ‘why me' days. But my friends and family rallied around me and kept my spirits up. Even when I lost my hair during chemotherapy, my family, especialy my husband and daughter, Muktha, turned it into a sort of celebration and so I never gave it another thought.” But the experience motivated her to join support groups and make people aware that cancer can be treated.
And because she is Deedi, she now plans to make a film on red tapism and maze of bureaucracy that made her run from pillar to post for a reimbursement of Rs. 50,000 that she was entitled to for her treatment. With great enthusiasm she tells you how she plans to begin the documentary with a letter of apology she received from the Minister for the inordinate delay in sanctioning the amount. The writer is at work.
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When my father was writing Vartha, I was quite carried away by the image of the female journalist and almost became one. At one point of time, I even idolised Devayani Chaubal, who had a column called ‘Frankly Speaking Devi.'
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What’s In A Name
Deedi is an unusual name. “My father was crazy about football and so all three of us sisters were named after Brazilian giants Didi, Vava and Garrincha. But we persuaded him to change my youngest sister's name to Resmi.