Saji Surendran as he talks about his journey in Mollywood

“Sawadika…,” cry Jayaram, Bhavana and Samvritha Sunil in unison as they seek alms from passersby at Pattaya, Thailand. The trio seated on a towel are immaculately dressed, though, to be beggars. While some (mostly tourists) do pause to give them alms, others pause to click snaps with them.

Chuckles Saji Surendran, director of the movie Happy Husbands as he shows me clippings of the video on his mobile phone: “It was a prank played by Jayaram ettan, Bhavana and Samvritha while shooting the song Take It Easy for Happy Husbands in Pattaya. The trio managed to collect 350 Baht in an hour at Pattaya's floating market. Snippets of their antics appear in the end credits of the movie. All of us – cast and crew made a pact then that we would return to Pattaya on a holiday if the movie crossed 100 days in theatres. Samvritha still has the money, which she still keeps for us to spend during the trip.”

Celebrating a 100 days

The film has completed a hundred days. “We are celebrating the event at a function in Dubai in June. The trip to Thailand is yet to be finalised,” says Saji who is riding the wave of success with two back-to-back hits. His debut movie Ivar Vivahitarayal was screened to packed theatres too.

However, his journey to Mollywood wasn't an easy one says Saji, who has directed serials such as Aalippazham, Daya and Madhavam. “Mollywood, till recently, considered serial crews a rank lower then them. It is only after my hits that they see the potential in us,” says Saji who has brought over the whole crew from his serial days on to his movie sets.

“The industry laughed when they heard that a team from the mini-screen was going to try their luck on the big screen. Guess we are having the last laugh now. There is a long list of serial directors such as K.K. Rajeev and Aji John set to make their mark in Mollywood this year.”

A native of the city, Saji's affair with cinema began when he was in class six at Lourde Mount, Vattapara. “I was a movie buff who had stars in my eyes. Jayaram ettan who had just entered the film industry then was my hero. I was his number one fan. I was so sure I wanted to be an actor that I told my friends so. They would tease me mercilessly. In fact, in my autograph book, friends addressed me as Jayaram. I took acting lessons via correspondence. I also wrote several letters to all the directors of the day. There was no reply though. Now I know why. I too receive letters from youngsters pleading for a break in cinema,” laughs Saji, who adds that his classmates were all present at the premieres of both his movies. “They are all proud that I have made my dream come true.”

It was a newspaper advertisement that gave Saji a break in the acting field. The ad called for teenagers to star in an upcoming movie by Pappan Payattuvila called Uppukottan. “During the audition for the movie there were close to 200 kids there. I mimicked Jayaram and won the lead role.”

However, with the camera trained on him, Saji soon realised acting wasn't as great as he thought it would be. “Instead, I was in awe of the director; his ‘start camera, action.' I asked Pappan ettan if I could assist him in one of his works and he said, “Why not work on this one.'”

And that is how Saji started as assistant director at the age of 16. He then went on to assist Viji Thampi in serials and movies such as Black and White, Mahatma Gandhi Colony, Naranathu Thamburan and Satyameva Jayate. “I was close to the scriptwriter of his serials, the late G.A. Lal. One day, I told him I would like to direct a tele-film on my own. He gave me a kitty of his stories to choose from. I picked December Mist, which won Kerala's best tele-film award in 2001, best script award, best direction… Then we did Aaram and Vilolam together. After Lal ettan died, I stopped directing tele-films,” says this psychology graduate from Mahatma Gandhi College.

It was Baiju Devaraj who gave Saji the opportunity to direct his very own serial called Aalippazham. Although the serial was well received by the audience, it was Megham, his second serial, that brought him into the limelight. The 32-year-old director who enjoys watching light-hearted movies, says he prefers serving the audience with the same. “I go to the theatre to leave all my worries behind and comedy, I feel, helps me unwind. I think it is the same with others too,” says Saji, whose two films are a laugh riot.

“And so will be my third one Four Friends starring Jayaram, Jayasurya, Kunchacko Boban and a heroine who is yet to be finalised.” The director is also in talks with Mohanlal, Mammootty, Dileep and Prithviraj for future projects. “I hope to work with all artistes in the industry; it is a dream of mine,” says Saji.

When Saji is not busy at work, he enjoys catching up with his friends or tucking in to his wife's cooking. “Sangeetha, my wife, is an excellent cook. She enjoys trying out new recipes and I'm her guinea pig,” grins Saji.