They belong to different backgrounds and even more varied political convictions. But when time pitched them together at the historic Maharaja’s, nothing could stop them from becoming what they are today.
This young breed of filmmakers, who do not want to be branded ‘new generation filmmakers’, owes it to their alma mater for keeping their passion alive and teaching them how to pursue their dreams. Almost 15 to 20 years after they graduated, Maharaja’s still remains the guiding spirit for Amal Neerad, Rajeev Ravi, Aashiq Abu, Anwar Rasheed, Vinod Vijayan and Sameer Thahir – all experimental movie makers in Mollywood.
Mention the name of the college and memories of the concrete benches, long corridors, winding stairs, graffiti-filled walls, conversations under the expansive trees, arguments that often ended in clashes, inspiring lectures and sturdy friendships come flooding back to their minds.
Amal Neerad, cinematographer-turned-director and twice chairman of the college union (1992-94), recalled that Maharaja’s had a cultural orientation, which no other college in Kochi enjoyed in the late 80s and early 90s.
“We were all from different backgrounds. But Maharaja’s brought us together. We would have definitely turned filmmakers even if we had studied in another college. But I am sure we would not have attained this level had it not been for our college. Maharaja’s guided us and helped us reach here,” he said.
A die-hard fan of Ram Gopal Varma movies from his campus days, Amal, who later went on to wield the camera for the director’s movies including James and Darna Zaroori Hai , praised their teachers for helping them shape their destinies.
“We had so many such teachers like K. G. Sankara Pillai who had wholeheartedly nourished our initiatives. I still remember an incident where a newly-joined principal insisted on taking daily attendance. But the illustrious teachers of our times believed that students would not skip classes, if the lectures were good. And we never stayed away from such excellent classes,” said the young director, who donned the director’s cap for the first time with Big B .
For Rajeev Ravi, the acclaimed cameraman of movies like Chandni Bar , and the recent Gangs of Wasseypur , the memories of hosting film festivals along with Amal in the main hall and auditorium spring up when asked to recollect his years at Maharaja’s. Both of them remarked in a lighter vein that the film festivals had caused a huge dent on their pockets.
“We were not happy with the Cochin Film Society then collecting fee from people for hosting festivals. Our idea was to screen the movies on the campus by placing a bucket at the entrance of the hall. Hosting a film fest using a 16 mm projector was a costly affair. We thought the visitors would contribute generously. But the final collection was only around Rs. 50. We then realised why Cochin Film Society was collecting money,” they said.
Maharaja’s was the cradle of their creativity and their friendship began right from their campus days. Anwar Rasheed, who pursued B. A. History, turned director with the Rajamanickyam and later won critical acclaim for Bridge in the portmanteau film Kerala Café. “We used to host film festivals on the campus. Our group also used to frequent film festivals held outside,” he said.
Vinod Vijayan, co-producer of Rajeev Ravi’s directorial debut Annayum Rasoolum and maker of Quotation and Red Salute , said the group had actively participated in college arts festivals showcasing their multiple talents. “Amal was three-time winner of the still photography contest held as part of then Mahatma Gandhi University youth fest. Anwar was our lead actor in most plays staged as part of the campus theatre group productions. Aashiq was an award-winning magazine editor. We were regulars at the skit and mime contests,” he said.
From the perspective of a faculty member with over two decades of service on the campus, K. S. Radhakrishnan, Chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC), said Maharaja’s instilled confidence in several generations of students. “What they receive from Maharajas is not just education alone. They get loads of self-confidence from here. Students develop a feeling that they are not inferior to anyone. A sense of equality also prevails on the campus. Even though I have not taught these young talents, I was confident that they would make a mark in their creative fields ,” he said.
Aashiq Abu pointed out that Maharaja’s was always an inspiration for them. “It’s here that we got exposed to various kinds of cinema. We were regulars at almost all movie halls in the city to watch the latest releases,” he said. Aashiq, who shot to the big league with his movies Salt and Pepper and 22 Female Kottayam , said the college gave them the freedom to explore new ideas in filmmaking. Sameer, who cranked the camera for Amal’s Big B and shot to fame with his directorial debut Chappa Kurishu , said Maharaja’s helped him approach cinema seriously. “I also had the luck of learning a lot of technical aspects of filmmaking from my seniors,” he said.