Siddique, a hitmaker who set humour standards for a generation

Siddique was one half of the most successful filmmaker duo in the industry, who conjured up humorous repartees, which are still a part of everyday conversations for Malayalis, three decades later

Updated - August 09, 2023 02:12 pm IST

Published - August 08, 2023 10:01 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Director Siddique

Director Siddique

A period of five years can be considered as nothing more than a blip in the long arc of Malayalam cinema marked by historic successes and unexpected failures. But, in the years from 1989 to 1993, the filmmaker duo of Siddique-Lal shot across our cinematic sky, burning bright with unparalleled hits before going their separate ways.

Siddique, who passed away at a private hospital in Kochi at 9.10 p.m. on August 8, was one half of the most successful filmmaker duo in the industry, who conjured up humorous repartees, which are still a part of everyday conversations for Malayalis, three decades later.

Siddique Ismail was born as the second one of eight children in a not-so-well-off family in Kochi. In later years, he would recollect that his first taste of humour was from within the family, through the rib-tickling acts of some of his close relatives. The innate humour would draw him and his friend Lal to the Kalabhavan troupe, where they started the popular show ‘Mimics Parade’, along with a group of formidable performers and writers. It made mimicry a popular art form in venues across Kerala as well as with the expat communities.

Mimicry would pave the path to cinema with them assisting filmmakers Fazil and Kamal in a few movies. Later, Sathyan Anthikkad made Pappan Priyappetta Pappan in 1986 based on their story in which the lord of death allows a dead young man to return to the earth for a short while through the bodies of other dead people. The dark humour in that film has aged well, but back then it flopped as it was a bit ahead of its time.

The duo’s brilliance was evident in Sathyan Anthikkad’s next film Nadodikkattu, based on their story. The film also revealed a facet of their humour based on characters who made people laugh despite their own suffering and poverty. Ramji Rao Speaking, their debut film as writer-director in 1989, also had characters struggling to find jobs, yet producing a laugh riot out of their sorry situation, which was fused hilariously with that of a ransom call landing on a wrong number. It became a major hit for the industry, spawning a flurry of clones as well as remakes, including Hera Pheri in Hindi.

ALSO READ: “Malayalam has a rich heritage in terms of comedy” - Director Siddique

Jobless, aimless youth and their amusing attempts to pursue a woman were at the centre of their sophomore film In Harihar Nagar, released in 1991, but a murder mystery and a suave villain made it a potent mix that again set the box office on fire. Ramji Rao and John Honai from In Harihar Nagar are incidentally two of the most memorable villain characters in Malayalam cinema.

The very next year they followed it up with Godfather, one of the biggest hits in Malayalam cinema history, with a theatre run of around an year. The romance of two youths from rival families might be a run-of-the-mill theme, but the Anjooran household where women are prohibited from entering became the source for some inventive humour. Anjooran, played by N.N.Pillai, became another of the duo’s much loved characters.

Though some of their basic storylines were inspired from Hollywood movies, their treatment of it was rooted in the Kerala milieu and had original, organic humour, much of which, according to Siddique, were derived from the repartees among their friends. But, their greatest success was perhaps in finding the sweet spot with a seamless mixture of humour, pathos and serious drama.

In 1992, they made Vietnam Colony, which had a serious subject at its heart - the attempts of a private behemoth to evict working class families from a colony for a major construction, but it again was laced with humour. The duo’s successful run continued with Kabooliwala, which was their last film together.

Though they found success in their later solo ventures, they never could touch the heights that they attained in those five years.

Siddique came back as a solo director with Hitler in 1996, which was partly Godfather in reverse with an over-protective brother banning any male interaction with his sisters. Hitler as well as Friends and Chronic Bachelor, which came over the next few years were major hits in Siddique’s career. With Bodyguard (2010-11), he found success across multiple languages, also directing the massively succesful Hindi and Tamil remakes. This consistent success with remakes that he had was also a rarity for Malayalam cinema.

But the films that came afterwards, including Ladies and Gentleman (2013), Bhaskar the Rascal (2015) and Big Brother (2020), were mostly humourless, and ended up as massive disappointments.

Though the soaring success of the earlier years could not be matched in the later years, Siddique would be counted as someone who set the humour standards of a generation and among the biggest hitmakers of the industry.

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