Film: Basheer, the man and writer, was remembered when scholars and actors got together after acting workshops for ‘Balyakalasakhi’

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer wrote effortless, natural and unpretentious prose. To translate that seeming simplicity to the silver screen appears to be proving painstaking. A screen adaptation of Balyakalasakhi has meant years of research for director Pramod Payyanur. The director is now conducting workshops across the State scouting for the best men and women to play Basheer’s characters. After the end of the workshop in Kozhikode, scholars and actors got together to remember the man — Basheer.

At the event organised by the Nursing College Union and the film crew at Kozhikode Medical College campus, quirky wit and wisdom were a given.

From his 40 years of association with the writer, Malayalam scholar M. M. Basheer picked out those that highlighted the virtues of the man. “Basheer, the man, could be ranked much higher than his works,” he says.

He recounts finding Basheer walking on a rainy day with a bag of fish on one hand and his slippers in another. To Basheer’s query to why he was carrying his slippers, the writer is believed to have said that with his slippers on he would trample on the little creatures that troop out after the rains.

“That is the man. He didn’t want to hurt even the smallest creature on earth and he firmly believed that the earth was not man’s alone,” he says.

Author Khadeeja Mumtaz remembered Basheer’s translator Ronald E Asher who said Basheer’s written word and spoken word were both literature.

Those who knew Basheer, personally and through his works, agreed on the humanist he was. “In his works like Bhoomiyude Avakashikal, he spares a thought even for the mosquito that sucks your blood. For him, spirituality was about giving a dry plant and a thirsty animal water,” says Mumtaz.

As an actor Murali Gopi understood the creative tests Pramod was facing. “There are writers who create a visual through words. But for Basheer, the word itself was the visual. Pramod’s challenge is to translate that word-image onto the screen,” says Gopi.

He also had a word of advice to the prospective actors in the film. “Some actors are skin deep, some delve a little deeper. A few characters touch your soul,” he says, adding, the truth of Basheer’s characters will shine out only if one essays it from the soul.

An actor's test

Actor Mamu Koya who knew Basheer well, remembered the writer’s distrust for those from the film industry after a bitter experience regarding turning one of his works into films. Balyakalasakhi, he says, will be a test to the actor.

“The onus is on the actor, the story is well-known.” Scriptwriter T.A. Razzaq hoped this untainted love story will bring back the innocence of Malayalm cinema.

Basheer’s son Anees Basheer talked about the only script his father wrote, the classic Bhargavi Nilayam.

“Many cajoled him to write a script after that,” he says. Basheer and humour were always together and the son too talked of his father’s gift. The occasion, he says, was the release of Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Mathilukkal based on Basheer’s work.

While facing journalists after screening the film, someone asked Adoor if he cast Mammootty to cater to the market. Adoor, says Anees, was a tad taken aback by the query. That is when Basheer pitched in with his timely wit. He, says Anees, said, “I was more good looking that Mammooty when I was younger.”

Anees also remembers that Basheer first wrote Balyakalasakhi in English during his days in Bengal. “Then he started writing it in Malayalam saying my readers are in Malayalam.”

Anees, meanwhile, also sympathised with the producers of the film as director Pramod is neck-deep in research.

“Pramod knows the comparison will be with films like Bhargavi Nilayam and Mathilukal. He will wait till he finds actors 99 per cent suited to play the characters. The producers, though, have to grin and bear it.”