Scenarist and short story writer Santhosh Echikkanam tells Anasuya Menon that his creativity is fuelled by his ‘petrol bunk of memories’ – his village in Kasaragod
Much later, Santhosh came to script some of the “super-hit” mega serials for popular television channels that kept the Malayali audience on tenterhooks for years. “I was a natural at it—the business of continuous story telling.”
Santhosh Echikkanam’s journey as a writer begins from Bedaduka, where life was a lesson in resilience. Each day was a struggle against odds. “Any one who has managed to make a life for himself/herself from a village like that is an achiever,” Santhosh laughs. “Of course, now things have changed for the better.” The author of Komala, the socio-political satire which won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for the best short story in 2008, is now a well-known film screen-writer. Never a premeditated choice, but the fruits of it are sweet nevertheless, he says.
Annayum Rasoolum, which Santhosh co-wrote with G. Sethunath and Rajeev Ravi, became a success. “Director Rajeev Ravi is a friend and when he narrated his dream story of Anna and Rasool, which he has always wanted to make into a film , I was only happy to be a part of the process,” he says.
His most recent short story, Idukki Gold, which was published in the Mathrubhumi weekly, is set to be filmed by Aashiq Abu. The story took shape when Santhosh chanced upon a newspaper ad by a retired government official seeking correspondence from any of his Class 7 batch-mates. “I found it intriguing that someone should post an ad like that,” he says. The thriller, which begins here, takes interesting twists and turns when the people who turn up are not who one would expect. One of the friends is a criminal with whom the encounter-specialist protagonist had smoked the first joint in school. Manianpilla Raju, Shanker, Ravindhar, Babu Antory and Lal constitute the likely cast and the screen play is by Shyam Pushkaran.
Siddharth Bharathan’s adaptation of Bharathan’s Nidra also had Santhosh pitch in with the scripting. He co-wrote Amal Neerad’s Bachelor Party with Unni R. “I’m richer in experience as a scriptwriter now, as each of these directors have their own quirks. Rajeev, for instance, begins shooting without a script in hand. The script evolves, including every single detail. His idea is to be as non-intrusive as possible. Let the story take its own course.” Bachelor Party, on the other hand, posed a challenge of another kind. “There are no long-winding dialogues. He wanted staccato phrases that could describe the situation,” he says.
The 40-year-old writer, who shies away from the computer, relocated to Ernakulam 18 years ago and is now busy scripting Kattum Mazhayum to be directed by Harikumar starring Lal and Unni Mukundan. The film is loosely based on the theme of communal harmony told through humour.
Santhosh believes he has suffered the internal turmoil writers go through. Sticking to routine questioned the very basis of existence. He quit a teaching job at a Higher Secondary School in Kasaragod as soon as he was made permanent. “I could not bear the thought of waking up every morning and going through the drill,” he says. A few years later, he started a parallel college with a friend, which too did not last long enough. He tried his hand at journalism, having done a course at the Press Academy in Ernakulam. “There too, you need a certain discipline,” he says.
Writing seemed like the only sensible thing to do. “But I learnt that writing for art’s sake does not fill one’s tummy.” When an opportunity presented itself, he took to scripting tele-serials. “I was asked to write a scene about a boy and a girl meeting in a café,” Santhosh recalls. “Nobody explained the characters or the story line. I was just asked to write. I remember feeling suicidal. But, not doing it would be suicidal as well, as I really needed money to live.” Santhosh has no qualms telling the inconvenient truth: “They (tele-serials) have no creativity. But they fed me for eight years. And I learnt a few valuable lessons from them.”
For someone who carries Bedaduka forever inside his head, Santhosh nurtures an uncanny bond with Fort Kochi. It is manifest in the way he has sketched Anna and Rasool’s love story. “I can’t take Bedaduka out of me. The sky, the birds, the trees… It is the petrol bunk of memories. Everything I write is fuelled by it. But Fort Kochi, it is an experience. Unfortunately, it is often represented in Malayalam films as a gangster’s den. The historical and cultural richness of the place has not been explored enough. The place and its people continue to fascinate me. Look at the food. Where else in this world would one get to eat pazhampori with beef?”
Santhosh, who has published over 70 short stories in leading literary magazines and as books, feels it is about time he wrote a novel. For now, he is working on an anthology—“a collection of memoirs laced with fiction.”