Madhupal talks to Saraswathy Nagarajan about his roller-coaster ride in Mollywood and his directorial debut film, ‘Thalappavu,’ which will be screened for IFFK
Phone calls keep interrupting the interview. “Never knew there were so many script writers and scenarists who wanted me to direct their dream project. Looks like every one has a story to narrate,” says debutant director Madhupal with a grin.
His new role of a director in Mollywood has made him a much sought-after star, something that eluded him in his roles as actor, assistant director and scenarist. “While walking into a restaurant the other day, I overheard a few taxi drivers saying: “See, Madhupal, director of ‘Thalappavu.’” Till then I had always been referred to as the serial actor Madhupal, villain Madhupal and so on…I am still getting used to this new avatar,” says the actor-turned-director.
Emphasising that he is first and foremost an ardent cineaste, Madhupal says he has never cared about his role as long as he was a part of good cinema. His ‘Cinema Paradiso’-like upbringing in a village in Palakkad may have something to do with his passion for films. Like Salvatore, the hero in the classic film ‘Cinema Paradiso,’ Madhupal spent a good deal of his childhood in a projection room watching films of all kinds.
“My father, Madhava Menon, had a theatre and most of my time was spent either in the theatre or amongst books. Most people create the ambience of the story and the characters as they read but my construction was in a visual language. When a person’s feature was discussed at length, I would think: ‘Oh, this must have been a close-up shot for him to see every pore on the skin.’ A panoramic description of the landscape would make me think of a long sweeping shot …”
Despite his close encounter with cinema, his family encouraged him to think of a career in accounts and so Madhupal, a qualified cost accountant, donned many hats before finding his feet in cinema. All the time he kept alive his romance with the written word. His works such as ‘Ee Jeevitham Jeevichu Theerkkunnathu,’ ‘Hebruvil Oru Premalekhanam,’ ‘Jaini Meettile Pashukkal’ (co-authored with Joseph Marien), ‘Pranayinikalude Udhyanavum,’ ‘Kumbharasara Koodu’ and ‘Kadal, Oru Nadiyude Kathayaanu’ won him acclaim as a writer. Some of his stories were also translated. He believes that at each stage in his life, it was providence that made him be at the right place at the right time.
“I began my career as an assistant director in ‘Yamanam,’ a film produced by Bharat Gopi. When the director left for personal reasons, I had to function as the director as well. It was baptism by fire. But I did it. Similarly, I faced the camera when the actor who was supposed to enact a character in Rajeev Anchal’s Tamil film ‘Thankakolusu’ (1991) failed to turn up. It was necessity that made me don the greasepaint. That led to more roles – negative and character roles.”
Finally, he tasted success on the small screen. He won the Critic’s Award for the second best actor for his role in a series called ‘M.T. Kathakal,’ on Amrita TV. In the meantime, he assisted Jude Attipetty in a serial ‘Shararandal’ and worked in documentaries for the Water Authority, Public Works Department and Sports Council.
He looks back at his setback and successes with surprising equanimity. “That is because I was passionate about cinema and each film I worked in. When I work in a film, I share with the crew what I feel would work for the success for the film and not promote myself as an actor or director. Maybe that is a mistake but I have no regrets. I went with the flow…nothing was planned.”
But his dream project ‘Thalappavu’ was always there at the back of his mind, says Madhupal. “I was moved by the story of Varghese, a man who lived for others. More than his politics or his background, what attracted me was his willingness to help the most oppressed sections in society. I felt his story had to be told to motivate a ‘me-first’ generation which seems to measure success in terms of money and fame.”
Paucity of funds did bog the production of the film but his determination to complete it finally helped the film see light. His wife, Sindhu, motivated him to complete the film even if it meant exhausting their bank account or drawing on their savings.
That ‘Thalappavu’ was Madhupal’s crowning glory became clear when veterans like M. Mukundan and R.Sukumaran (remember ‘Padamudra’ and ‘Rajashilpi’) gave the film their stamp of approval. Litterateur M.T. Vasudevan Nair also expressed a desire to watch his film and spent two hours with Madhupal talking about films and filmmaking. “This is my reward. I could not have asked for more,” says Madhupal.
‘Thalappavu’ will be screened at Kripa Theatre (11.30 a.m. on Sunday) in the Malayalam Cinema Now section of the International Film Festival of Kerala.