Bankable brand

Malayalam film director Jeethu Joseph. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Four hits in a row, two of those in a single year, would be part of any director’s dream script for himself. Some would call it the Midas touch. But Jeethu Joseph is wary about getting carried away by the success. The director of Drishyam says, “I knew it was a good film and was confident about it. But did I expect this kind of an overwhelming response? Never.”

It wasn’t always rosy for Jeethu, who calls himself a self-made man. Dame Luck smiled only recently. There was struggle and disappointment; there were times when it seemed his dream of making a film would remain a dream. Only that some dreams adamantly refuse to die.

There is a buzz of activity as Jeethu settles down for the interview. A television crew waits for a sound byte, the phone constantly rings…his spanking new house in Puthiyakavu is the locus of all activity, construction and otherwise. Drishyam is running to packed theatres, the congratulatory calls and messages keep coming. But he doesn’t appear to be as excited as one would expect.

Drishyam He explains, “I am happy that the film is doing well. That the audience liked it and that the producer made money. I am not excited because one doesn’t know what the next film will bring.”

Reel passion

His producers have made money backing his projects, be it Mummy and Me (2010), My Boss (2012), Memories and the Mohanlal-starrer, Drishyam (2013), raked in the most. His debut film Detective (2007) too fared well.

Today Jeethu Joseph is a bankable ‘brand’. He has come a long way since his first film which his mother, seeing her son’s passion for cinema, offered to produce.

His childhood was spent in rustic Mutholapuram in Elanji panchayat, 10 kilometres from Piravom. He was born into a family of agriculturalists, his father, the late V.V. Joseph, represented Muvattupuzha at the Legislative Assembly. “He was a misfit in politics; he was more of a farmer. But he is my role model.”

Jeethu’s brush with cinema, in that life-defining way, happened while he was doing his pre-degree at SB College, Changanasserry. In the company of a cousin and a friend, Jeethu consumed cinema.

By the time he finished his pre-degree, he had decided Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) was the place he wanted to go to. Not exactly what his father had in mind, “he wanted me to be an engineer but to his credit he never imposed anything on me. My father told me to get a degree first. My cousin was told to write the engineering entrance.” A bout of jaundice, however, ensured he didn’t write the FTII exam. He graduated in economics from Nirmala College, Muvattupuzha.

The path to his first film, Detective, wasn’t smooth. There was a time when he all but gave up on his dream and turned jasmine farmer and businessman with a shopping complex.

Films resurfaced and he assisted Jayaraj on one film, Bheebhatsam. “Jayaraj sir warned me against assisting on too many projects. As I might subconsciously imbibe what my seniors were doing and it would reflect in my films.” Working with Jayaraj he learnt the one quality a director should have – courage, a quality that his films reflect.

For instance, when he wanted to make the Urvashi–starrer Mummy and Me, friends warned him against it. “They told me it was woman-oriented and that it wouldn’t work but I went ahead anyway.”

Probably because his cinema fundamentals also incorporate a “there is no rule” rule.

He quotes from a Shekhar Kapur interview, post- Elizabeth, “Mahesh Bhatt asked if he had a message for budding directors and Shekhar Kapur said, ‘if you want to be a successful director, go against the rules.’ That made an impression on me.” What he terms his ignorance of rules and norms of Malayalam cinema led him blissfully along the path of entertaining films.

He questioned various aspects of film making - lighting, shots, camera angles, and use of sound - all of which were met with ‘in English films it is possible, that is not how things are done here.’

“Shaji Kailas brought in a different kind of cinema, didn’t people accept it? It was different from what was being done at the time, it was a change.”

After Bheebhatsam, chance came in the form of a Dileep-starrer. At the end of a year-and-a-half of work, it didn’t pan out and he was back where he started – nowhere. There was heartbreak and disappointment. “After spending a year-and-a-half in Kochi I had nothing to show.” His wife, Linta, who has been his rock, was in tears.

He had, in the meanwhile, developed the one-line plot of Detective, which went on to be his debut directorial venture. No producer would touch a director whose experience amounted to assisting in one film.

His mother stepped in and offered to produce the film. “She told me ‘don’t be afraid, if you are confident we’ll make the film,’ even if it meant selling some property to fund it.” His mother’s words gave him a lot of courage.

He found a co-producer in a US-based friend. He met Suresh Gopi and signed him on. A month into the project, a producer evinced interest and took on the production. The film was released in 2007.

Turning point

“My first film was easy compared to the struggle I had to go through for my second, Mummy and Me.” There were offers to make films like Detective, but he declined. “I wanted to do a different film” It was for this reason that, though he had one line scripts of Mummy and Me and Memories ready in 2008, he chose to make Mummy and Me. He didn’t want to follow up a detective story with another. To his credit, no two of his films have the same feel, a deliberate effort on his part he says.

Mummy and Me, although it took close to three years in the making, marked a turning point in his career as director.

“Jayaraj sir told me that it is not the first film that defines a director, what follows does. In the first film one puts in, as director, everything one has into it.” He followed it up with My Boss, Memories and Drishyam. My Boss was an adaptation but the latter are his own scripts.

Most of what he knows of filmmaking, he admits, he learnt by watching films and the rest on the job. “I learn from my mistakes. Each of my films has taught me something.”

All the attention, the 41- year-old says has made the trip to the supermarket tougher. “I don’t want the limelight. I just want to make films. I keep to myself. After work I come home to my family, with Linta and my daughters Catherine and Katina.”

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 9:54:08 PM |

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