Dennis Joseph scripted a new chapter in Malayalam cinema

Dennis Joseph   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

If scenarist-director Dennis Joseph’s scripts crowned Mohanlal and Mammootty as superstars of Malayalam film industry, the writer’s iconic characters will always give him a place of pride in the pantheon of Malayalam cinema. His scripts in the mid-eighties and nineties were blockbusters that have gone to attain cult status in Mollywood.

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The genial writer, who passed away on May 10, was fondly remembered thus by Mohanlal in his Instagram account: “… Dennis was king of the scriptwriting world. Of the many characters, born as children of that king, I was among the fortunate to have been able to breathe life into some of them… So many thrilling stories that captivated the silver screen, intense emotional storms that unleashed waves of intense feelings, the fire of rage, the sweetness of romance, dialogues soaked in salty tears of pain…”

Poster of ‘New Delhi’, a Mammootty-starrer was written by Dennis Joseph and directed by Joshiy

Poster of ‘New Delhi’, a Mammootty-starrer was written by Dennis Joseph and directed by Joshiy   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

A versatile writer, Dennis was at home in different milieus. Be it thrillers like New Delhi, Rajavinte Makan, Bhoomiyile Rajakkanmaar and Gandharvam or dramas like Shyama and Akashadoothu. His early films like Nirakkoottu, Rajavinte Makan, Bhoomiyile Rajakkanmaar and Shyama gave him a solid footing in filmdom. Later on, Dennis began experimenting and he made his directorial début with the much-beloved children’s film Manu Uncle, with Mammootty playing the titular role. It went on to win the National award for the best children’s film in 1988. Mohanlal also did a cameo in the film.

A missed opportunity

In an episode of ‘Charitram Enniloode’, a series on on Safari TV, the veteran recalls how he regretted missing a chance of working with Mani Ratnam, who wanted him to write the script of Anjali. Soon after the release of New Delhi, Dennis says he got a call from actor Suhasini Mani Ratnam who told him that Mani Ratnam was keen on meeting up with him. Dennis, a fan of Mani Ratnam, agreed and soon the two became friends. That was when Mani Ratnam requested Dennis to do the script of Anjali. But, Dennis says he could not take up that offer as he had to come up with a script for Joshiy within four days. The script for Joshiy was the evergreen No:20 Madras Mail . Dennis recounts with a smile that after Anjali was released, Mani Ratnam called him on the phone and told him to watch the film. Prabhu’s character, a negative role, was called Dennis Joseph in Anjali!

Poster of Mohanlal-starrer ‘Rajavinte Makan’, written by Dennis Joseph and directed by Thampi Kannanthanam

Poster of Mohanlal-starrer ‘Rajavinte Makan’, written by Dennis Joseph and directed by Thampi Kannanthanam   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

One of the memes paying homage to the writer shows the different ‘Achayan’ characters Dennis created, all of whom hailed from the hilly regions of Kottayam and its vicinity — Illickal Kuttapayi (Sangham,1988), Kottayam Kunjachan (eponymous title,1990) and Tony Kurishingal (No:20 Madras Mail, 1990) among many others.

In addition to making superstars of Mohanlal and Mammootty by gifting them characters that had an interesting mix of the hero and the anti-hero, Dennis’ films explored the grey mindscapes of revenge, remorse and retribution. His women characters were no pushovers but the hero was firmly in charge in many of his films.

Even in a film like Shyama, with Nadia Moidu in the titular role, Mammootty was centre stage all through the film. So it was in almost all his films.

Paying homage to Dennis, Suhasini Mani Ratnam writes on her Instagram account how she remembers the banter, arguments and discussions that she used to have with Dennis, Priyadarsan and cinematographer Dinesh Baboo.

Although Dennis worked with several directors, some of his biggest hits were helmed by Joshiy and the late Thampi Kannanthanam. Later, he tasted the same success with tearjerker Akashadoothu, which was directed by Sibi Malayil.

Evergreen work

“It was actor-producer Prem Prakash, Dennis’ uncle, who suggested that I direct a script by Dennis. Since he was a master of mass entertainers and thrillers, I expected a story on those lines. Instead, he came up with a story that was more like the ones I was used to doing, a sentimental family drama that has passed the test of time. That was the only film we did but it remains one of our biggest hits,” says Sibi.

He remembers Dennis as an introvert, as someone who did not want to be in the rat race. “Dennis moved to Ettumannoor, his hometown, after a few years in Kochi. He was not someone comfortable with the razzle-dazzle of tinsel world. He never pursued directors or producers and was happy to do projects that came to him,” adds Sibi.

Poster of ‘Bhoomile Rajakkanmaar’, written by Dennis Joseph and directed by Thampi Kannanthanam, had Mohanlal in the lead

Poster of ‘Bhoomile Rajakkanmaar’, written by Dennis Joseph and directed by Thampi Kannanthanam, had Mohanlal in the lead   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

It is that serene nature that TK Rajeevkumar, who directed Dennis’ Mahanagaram, a Mammootty-starrer, recalls. He remembers his honesty and sense of humour. “He was a good human being who refused to be carried away by his success. A voracious reader, Dennis himself seemed surprised to see his characters being wholeheartedly welcomed by the audience. What was unusual about him was that he used to narrate his story first. Only then would he put it down on paper. Even as he wrote, he had a clear picture of which actor would be doing the main role and tailor his dialogues accordingly. So, the actors enjoyed working with him. He told me that he was an “accidental writer” who was forced to write his first script (Eeran Sandhya) by his uncle Jose Prakash and the director Jeassy. His sense of humour and warmth made him a friend of many in the film industry,” recalls Rajeev.

After FIR (1998), Dennis could not reach the peaks of success he had achieved with his early works but the scenarist with his genial outlook had malice towards none.

Making a comeback

For a few years Dennis took a break and then made a comeback in 2002 with Phantom. It was Patham Nilayile Theevandi (2009) directed by Joshy Kurien that brought Dennis back into the limelight. The film, which focused on mental illness and the relationship between a patient and his family, society and health professionals, had Innocent in the lead role and won the FIPRESCI Award at the International Film Festival of Kerala.

Dennis Joseph (second from left) with Joshy Kurien on the sets of ‘Patham Nilayile Theevandi’

Dennis Joseph (second from left) with Joshy Kurien on the sets of ‘Patham Nilayile Theevandi’   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“A critically-acclaimed film, it was perhaps the only film that Dennis also associated with as a producer. He wrote it as a short story in a leading Malayalam magazine. I approached him and asked him if he would turn it into a script for a film. Although initially reluctant, he did it as only Dennis could and we made the film,” says Joshy.

Dennis wrote the dialogues for Geethanjali (2013) by Priyadarsan, his last work for a film. Although he had finished a script for film director Omar Lulu, that has not yet reached the screen.

Dennis’ associates say how Dennis was planning a comeback in a major way. Although that chapter will remain unwritten, the characters that Dennis brought to life on the screen will always live on among viewers of cinema.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 12:17:25 AM |

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