Guided by principles


BEYOND BARRIERS OF DEFINITION: Sreekumaran Thampi. Photo: S. Gopakumar

BEYOND BARRIERS OF DEFINITION: Sreekumaran Thampi. Photo: S. Gopakumar  

In these days, when most artistes adopt a `politically correct' stand, Sreekumuran Thampi prefers to be guided by his principles. No wonder then that this individualistic, confident man is often dubbed arrogant. But he cannot be ignored.

This trait of his character was evident right from the time Thampi stumbled into films. Like he says in his poem `Meenchanthayil,' this civil engineer got stuck in this world while attempting to take a short cut to his real goal.

"I was a poet first. All that I wrote during my student days got published. This included a novel of mine, `Kakkathampuratti.' This novel was to be made into a film. I was asked to write the screenplay and dialogues for this. But the producer did not want the main character, a woman, to remarry. I refused to change the story," recounts Thampi.

Eventually, this script and screenplay was used in a film directed by P. Bhaskaran.

Thampi, who was introduced by P. Subramoniam as a lyricist in the film `Kaatumalika', has the unique record of having produced 22 films, directing 29, and writing scripts for 78 films in Malayalam.

"Almost all the films I directed for other producers raked in profits. But this cannot be said for the films that I produced. I have always tried to be true to myself. I have submitted only two of my films, `Ganam' and `Mohiniyattam' for awards though I could have included a couple more of them."

What pains Thampi even now is that despite all his contributions to Malayalam cinema, he is discussed, evaluated, and judged only as a lyricist.

"I'm sure very few know that after S.L. Puram and Thoppil Bhasi I have written the maximum number of scripts. When the songs I wrote became popular, I was branded as a lyricist. All the other contributions somehow went unrecognised. For the film `Chitramela,' the film that established me as a songwriter, I wrote the script for the segment titled `Apaswarangal.'

"Likewise, I have scripted and directed so many blockbuster films. But does anyone bother to discuss this?" It is not that Thampi does not love writing songs. "When it came to films I have always believed that one has to write lyrics that suit the screenplay. Lyrics must be part of the story. I remember being called to be present when the story was being discussed. The song sequences used to be discussed and decided. Music, I have always felt, is inevitable in films but not songs."

Film music has hit a new low of late and Thampi spells out some of the reasons for this. "I admit that times have changed and with it preferences. Films stood on the strength of the director. It was their product. Today, lyricists are forced to write for the superstars, to project their image." Thampi always consciously strove to make his songs blend with the scene and also touch it with the muse's wand.

"There is always a picture in my mind when I write. And when one listens to the song this picture must be reflected. In this, I consider P. Bhaskaran as my guru. Everything I read, my life's experiences, even some of the principles in science have found its way into my lyrics. I was also fortunate to have come after Bhaskaran, O.N.V. and Vayalar. They led and I followed."

And what does Thampi consider his biggest contribution to Malayalam cinema, apart from his song?

"Maybe my small role in instilling confidence in R.K. Sekhar to independently compose music and casting Jagathy Sreekumar in a comic role (`Chattambi Kalyani') for the first time. Sekhar worked with me in 12 films and apart from a couple of my films, Jagathy had significant roles in almost all my other films."

Thampi is now more active producing and directing serials for television. Has he bid adieu to the big screen?

"No. But I make films on my terms and if something turns up I'm ready. I'm happy with television. `Sangeeta Yatrakal,' that traced the history of Malayalam film music from `Balan' to the advent of K.J. Jesudas, was my dream project."

Thampi won the State award for best lyricist only once, his book on films won the National award and a couple of films won other honours. But somehow it appears that this versatile genius has not received his due.

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