Documentary: Filmmaker K.P. Kumaran attempts to understand M.T. Vasudevan Nair through his influences and surroundings
Beneath the veneer of calm and aloofness is a restless spirit. Gentle shots soak in the little twitches, fidgeting fingers, the pauses and the eloquence to capture the man who seeks a life “livelier than life itself”. A Momentous Life in Creativity— a documentary on writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair by filmmaker K.P. Kumaran stays true to the man.
Made for the New Delhi-based Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts’ ‘Great Masters’ series, it attempts to deconstruct the man and the writer through his environment and influences. It travels M.T.’s journey tracing the moods and movements of river Nila on whose banks the writer was born and raised. It tracks the meandering river and its pit stops through Kudallur, Kalamandalam, Kalpathy and Ponnani to rebuild the sights and sounds that make the brick and mortar of M.T.’s stories. Thunchan Paramba, dedicated to letters, serves as a fitting beginning and end to the documentary. M.T. has initiated hundreds of children to letters here and was also a pivotal force in giving the space the identity it has today. Recording the writer’s years at Government Victoria College, Palakkad, and the newspaper office in Kozhikode where he served as a magazine editor for two decades, the maker pieces together the man.
“Any artist has to be placed in space and time,” says Kumaran about the documentary. When the director of films like Rugmini, Athithi and Aakasha Gopuram, was chosen to document M.T., he was clear what his thrust should be. “There have been many works that celebrated M.T. in a big way. I was more interested in how he became the man he became,” says Kumaran. Commenting on M.T.’s many facets, Kumaran says, “On one hand there is literature, but there are others too, of an editor, institution maker and filmmaker. I was interested in knowing how he managed to do all this.”
M.T. says the patience and research of Kumaran’s team appealed to him. “I became part of this group for many days. Kumaran had an exact idea about my work and was clear of what he wanted,” says the writer.
The documentary, says Kumaran, is “also a film about the Malayalam language and is aimed at those outside Kerala. It is for researchers and future generations, a record of the writer.” Shot around Palakkad and Kozhikode, the director ended up with eight hours of footage which was finally clipped to 72 minutes.
While the focus is firmly on the writer, the documentary touches on the personal aspects of the man known for his reticence. As a young boy, books, reading and writing were the games he could play by himself to beat loneliness. M.T. vividly recounts his days at Victoria College where he stayed away from food and movies with friends owing to financial strains at home. “For films they used to take lot as to who will pay for the ticket. The lot could be you,” he says. The little boy also put to use the one year away from studies as his family could not afford to have two boys at college at the same time. He walked to poet Akkitham’s house, surfed his library and devoured books.
Among the regular presence in his works is the river Nila. If someone called it his obsession, M.T. vehemently asserts, “Our Nature is our obsession.”
Pained at the steady deterioration of the river, he has often written about how man has ravaged it. He remembers a time when people cared to listen and understand the language of the river. “I should register my sorrow and protest somewhere,” he says about his writings.
M.T.’s life as an editor who had ample skill for talent spotting is also documented. Contemporary writers Zachariah and N.S. Madhavan talk about being found by M.T. when they had no literary accomplishments to be proud of. M.T. too narrates the thrill of finding a good work. In the documentary he says, “One day Rosy Thomas called up to say she is writing about C.J. Thomas, her husband. I meekly said ‘send it’ knowing fully well that I had to send it back if it was not good. I remember reading it earnestly and getting out of office and talking about the work being really good. Such things become your achievement of the day.”