Seven years ago, a 27-minute film titled Planning, caught the attention of mediabuffs covering the ALA short film festival in Kozhikode. The movie was about the meticulous plan of two small-time thieves to burgle a house going awry. The director was a villager from Palakkad who did odd jobs in engineering companies, jewellery stores and textile shops; a completely self-taught filmmaker.
A week ago, Sudevan’s maiden feature, CR No. 89, was adjudged the best film at the Kerala State Film Awards, and Ashok Kumar, who had played one of the thieves in Planning , won the award for the Second Best actor.
It must be the biggest Cinderella story of all time in the history of the State Film Awards. Here was a film made by a group of villagers on a budget of Rs. 7 lakh finishing ahead of films costing Rs. 7 crore and directors who have won prestigious international awards. The fact is that Sudevan had not intended CR No. 89 to be a feature. It was meant to be a short film, a genre he is most comfortable and successful at. He has twice won the State Television for short films and his films have been screened by film societies across Kerala.
“My last short film Thattumparathappan had made good money, from its DVD sales and screenings. Then there was this amount of Rs.1.5 lakh we had got as the prize money from the State television awards, so I decided to make another short film and that was how Ifirst thought of CR No. 89 . As always, the actors were amateurs from my village, Peringottukara, and neighbouring places,” says Sudevan.
Once he started shooting the film with digital cameras belonging to his friends, he discovered that it was not going to be short, by anystretch of the imagination. “I found out that it had to be about 90 minutes long and then it would only be a full-length feature film. So I informed my friends, through social network and other avenues, that another Rs. 5 lakh would be required for the post production work,” he says. Help came from several quarters, including the Gulf countries, but it took time.
“We could not demand people to send us money quickly, so the film took a year and a half to complete. As usual, I screened the film (for those who had chipped in with money) at Thiruvananthapuram last June and then at Thrissur. The idea was to sell the DVDs but I was advised by well-wishers such as director K.R. Mohanan and editor Bina Paul that I should desist from doing that and that I should first send it for festivals,” says Sudevan. But that wasn’t easy. “You have to spend something like Rs. 20,000 for a festival abroad and I simply could not have afforded it. But the entry was free for the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), so we submitted the film at Thiruvananthapuram.”
That proved the turning point. Not only was CR No. 89 selected for the festival, it won the NETPAC award for the best Malayalam film. Sudevan also went on to win the John Abraham and G. Aravindan awards. “Getting selected for the IFFK was the biggest surprise of my life, bigger than the State award. There was a time when I did not have the money even to go to Thiruvananthapuram to watch the festival. Then to go there with my own film is something I could not have even dreamed,” says Sudevan. About the film, he says it is a statement about the insecure life of a common man in Kerala. “You could be a victim any time. The film is a statement against violence,” says the director, who is now looking forward to its theatrical release.
“After the State award, I hope I would be able to show the film at theatres. Discussions for the satellite rights are also going on,” he says.