Films are the key to realising himself, director-writer Anil Radhakrishnan Menon tells P. Anima

Harikrishnan, of North 24 Kaatham, takes on a journey northwards on instinct. Much like his creator Anil Radhakrishnan Menon. Hari undertakes the physical and emotional journey to knowing himself after perceived reluctance. Anil does so, driven by conviction, knowing well it is time to pause and realise his dream before it is late. The director- scriptwriter has journeyed cities and jobs, sans training and technical experience, to let a dream grow and flourish.

Anil believes filmmaking cannot be taught. Neither can he teach anyone. Cinema is Anil’s growing up. “It is an internal experience,” he says. It is his solitary journey, a journey which he has to figure out himself and go ahead. His resume does not boast years as an assistant or a coveted film degree. “If my movie was unconventional it was because it was my evolution,” he explains.

North 24 Kaatham could be deceivingly simple. Yet scrape the surface and it bares its layers. Anil says someone blogged on the characterisation of women in the film, on the freedom they enjoy and the respect they command. It has got the debutant director recognition and he went back to his alma mater as the celebrated alumnus.

But At Meadows, tucked in the by lanes of sleepy Ottapalam, frills find no place. But humour is handy company. Anil’s dad, retired banker and full-time raconteur, spends his time in the local library reading travelogues, only to call their bluff later. He wonders if he should nurture the Perunthachan complex; from being Radhakrishnan Palat he is growing to be known only as Anil’s father. He chooses instead to leisurely bask in the son’s glory. Anil’s mom asserts she was a document writer in her last birth considering the volumes of her son’s script she has written in long-hand. “But I enjoy it,” she agrees.

Anil admits his family is eager accomplice to his quirks. They pitched in when he plunged one fine day to goat farming. “I thought it was a great idea and spend lot of time on it.” But he refuses more glimpses to his “crazy previous life.” They were with him when he gave up lucrative advertising for the uncertainty of films; so too when he swapped Pune’s bustle for Ottapalam’s quiescence. “My parents, and after marriage my wife, stood by my every crazy idea,” says Anil. His family is his first audience; the first ones to read a done script. “My dad is the only critic.”

Not being well-versed in writing Malayalam means Anil’s scripts are in his mother’s hand. “I pace up and down the room and narrate, she writes. By the time I am done with a script, I would have walked 50 kms,” says Anil poker-faced.

It has been busy times for the duo of late. Anil is headlong into scripting his second. “In fact, I wrote this first,” he corrects. If people flipped around “Kaatham” the first time, the Sanskrit tongue-twister this time could have you in knots. Anil announced the title on Facebook recently — Saptmasri Taskara. Films begin with the title for him. “I had this title, meaning seven gentlemen thieves, in my head for the past two-three years. Before I start a script, the title has to be set. When I see a movie, I go for the name first. Look at One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In North 24 Kaatham, the ‘north’ to me depicts ascendance, a movement towards where your mind is.”

The scriptwriter-director though is tightl-ipped on Saptmasri Taskara starring Prithviraj to be announced soon. A satire is all what he is willing to tell. “What I am trying to see are things we tend to miss, rather close our eyes to,” he says.

‘Soft, satirical humour’ is what the director identifies with. “I like happy endings.” Growing up where ever his father’s bank job took him, in small hilly towns and large cities, Anil is a bit of all he saw as a child. And there were films too. “Daddy cool took us for English films. I remember watching End of the Dragon at Crown, Kozhikode. My sister and I also watched a lot of Amitabh Bachchan movies, for instance Kaalia. We loved it, but I don’t know how dad sat through it all,” he says.

Anil took his time to warm up to Malayalam films. Padmarajan’s and Balachandra Menon’s films were the starting point. The only script or part of one the self-taught filmmaker has read is Padmarajan’s Oridathoru Phayalvan.

A personal loss spurred Anil, an animator for close to 10 years with a stint in advertising too, to give it up to make a film. “An animator has a shelf life, the stress injuries are many. The money in advertisement was good though. But I realised I will be left with unfulfilled dreams if I did not do something. I started writing in 2008.”

The move from Pune to Ottapalam opened the transition. The only one who might have had regrets is his school-going son, says Anil. For the filmmaker though Ottapalam, a place that meant holidays as a child, is where he moved to write, make films and be himself. “Films have made me at ease. I want to be myself.” It doesn’t bother him that he is working away from the cinematic centres of the State. “I am trying to change a few things. It is not that pre-production can happen only in Kochi or that you need to go faraway to write. My creative juices start working here,” he says,

What draws him to films are characters; his creations. “I take a lot of time to plan a character. In fact, my scripts are centered on characters rather than situations. But I believe a director should be a good editor in his head.”

Though producers are seeking him out and young men want to be his assistants, Anil is taking it slow. “I am not keen on every advance offered. I am happy with one movie at a time.” But in his bag is a script, his first, which he wants to make one day for sure — Orungapatti Karuppu 175 cc. The Tamil movie was to be his debut, but is now his ambition. Quirks are not few either. “I want to open a restaurant where a cup of tea might cost Rs. 500. But you can sit there the whole day, paint, read — a place to go, sit and dream, like the old German bakery.”