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He made lives throb on celluloid

P.K. Ajith Kumar
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MT revolutionised scriptwriting in Malayalam cinema through ‘Murappennu’

Forget the camera for a second. Forget the music. Forget the actors. And forget the editing. At the end of the day, cinema is all about telling a tale. Everything else recedes into the background.

When it comes to telling stories on the silver screen, few have excelled M. T. Vasudevan Nair. He has been doing it for almost half a century. Can we stop admiring Chanthu of ‘Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha’, the very Chanthu we all used to despise for his treachery? Can Unnimaya of ‘Parinayam’ or Indira of ‘Panchagni’ ever fail to move us? Can we ever be indifferent to the pain of Vimala’s endless wait in ‘Manju’? Can we ever understand why we forgive Perunthachan for killing his own son? Can we ever forget the frustrations of the Velichappadu in ‘Nirmalyam’?

The characters will live as long as cinema does. And we have not even talked about the guilt of Dr. Haridas of ‘Amrutham Gamaya’, the dilemma of Ramu of ‘Nakhakshathangal’ or Malini’s sorrow in ‘Vaishali’.

The more you think of the men and the women in MT’s tales, the more you would struggle to find an equal to him in Indian cinema. He found his own way into writing scripts; he had not even read a single screenplay when he wrote his first, ‘Murappennu’, in 1965.

MT never wanted to be a scriptwriter in the first place; he was more than happy being a writer of fiction. Sobhana Parameswaran Nair, the legendary producer, had used all of his powers of persuasion to get MT to write for ‘Murappennu’.

‘Murappennu’ revolutionised the art of scriptwriting in Malayalam cinema. Balan, Bhagi, Aniyan and Kochammini all spoke and behaved the way normal people did. MT showed how to move hearts without resorting to extreme drama.

He reminded Malayalam cinema about a simple fact – that screenplay is the cornerstone of a film. The importance of MT’s arrival in Malayalam cinema cannot be overstated. You may divide screenplays in Malayalam into two: the ones before ‘Murappennu’ and the ones after it. He showed the way to the scriptwriters that came after him.

MT is an exceptional scriptwriter because he is an exceptional litterateur. Apart from him, only P. Padmarajan has achieved success in both these roles. Yes, Padmarajan went on to become primarily a filmmaker and then a writer.

MT made ‘Nirmalyam’, his directorial debut that won the National Award for the Best Film in 1973, and ‘Manju’, a brilliant adaptation of his breathtakingly lyrical novelette. He has directed just six films. He once told this writer that he did not direct more because he felt the writer in him would have suffered, as filmmaking consumed so much time. “You are often asked after directing a film, ‘What next?’ and I did not want to hear this question. Besides, you have a commitment to the producer who invests money,” he explained.

But he has continued to write scripts, some 60 of them. His successful partnerships with directors such as Hariharan, I.V. Sasi and Bharathan ensured that the Malayali film viewer has always had something to look forward to all these decades. Hariharan has recently completed shooting yet another script of MT, ‘Ezhamathe Varavu’, which will hit cinemas soon.

Even as we eagerly await its release, we could rewind to other MT classics such as ‘Thazhvaram’, which remains the best thriller in Malayalam till date, ‘Olavum Theeravum’, ‘Aroodam’, ‘Alkoottathil Thaniye’, ‘Nagarame Nandi’, ‘Sadayam’, ‘Venal Kinavukal’, ‘Aksharangal’, ‘Oppol’, ‘Uyarangalil’ and ‘Utharam’. When we remember them, we gaze in awe at the big world MT he has created in Malayalam cinema. A world that continues to delight us and will delight many more generations.

He directed just six films, and did not add to the tally because he felt the writer in him would have suffered.

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