Zooming in on love
Malayalam film director Blessy’s debut Kaazhcha bucked trends and, in doing so, brought back family audiences to theatres. Like his mentor, the late director Padmarajan, here is a man who romances life and love.
Blessy, award-winning film director of Kaazhcha, was in Dubai to scout for new talent. He is directing Thanmathra (Molecule), his second film, with Mohanlal on the lead. Talent hunting in Dubai is his way of thanking the Gulf-based Keralite expatriates, who were charmed by the nostalgic expanse of his film.
Blessy says he was awed by the phenomenal feed-back his film fetched abroad. He attributes that to the horde of memories Kaazhcha opened up before expatriate audiences — through visuals of villages, the backwaters, and the film’s unpretentious message of “love over language.”
Kaazhcha portrayed it through the easy camaraderie formed between Madhavan (essayed by Mammootty, a ‘mobile’ film operator) and a boy orphaned in the Gujarat earthquake.
When Blessy conceived the film initially, the earthquake wasn’t part of the story. The boy was meant to be a Naga, who finds himself in Kerala. The film’s thread hung on the ‘love over language’ clause as much as the associations man forms with animals.
Notwithstanding the rave reviews for Kaazhcha, Blessy feels such elements weren’t effectively appreciated about the film. That, he is humble enough to admit, might be because of his deficiencies as a writer-director.
The Gujarat earthquake, however, the gave the film a larger context. It portrayed how men could bury differences, form allegiances and learn to respect nature. “It is when we start being good, doing good that we realise how insignificant we, as individuals, are in the overall scheme of things,” he explains.
Such philosophical inclinations in filmmaking is the result of the many years Blessy spent patronising the Film Society Movement (which popularised arthouse cinema in Kerala’s villages). He recalls carrying the “film-box” of KG George’s film Kolangal from Ernakulam to Thiruvalla to screen it before enthusiastic supporters of “good cinema.”
But “good cinema” as in “art cinema” wasn’t the ideal launch pad for a newcomer, Blessy realised. As much as he would have liked to make a serious film, one that reflected his Film Society hang-ups, he was sure to be sidelined, out of work, with the baggage of an “intellectual” identity.
So he took the path that best shaped his mainstream cinema aspirations: That of his mentor Padmarajan, the late director and writer. Blessy had worked with him on films from Innale until Njan Gandarvan. He then worked with Jayaraj, Lohitadas, Sunderdas and IV Sasi.
Now, with Kaazhcha, Blessy is regarded as carrying the flag of the Padmarajan-brand of cinema, which, better explained, is mainstream cinema that tries not to tease the sensibilities of the audience.
But he hastens to shrug aside comparisons. “I would be more than honoured to even find a place in Padmarajan’s shadow,” he says. “But as a filmmaker, I believe, I must not blindly imitate the techniques of any one, not even my teacher’s.” He says many filmmakers have made the mistake and burnt their fingers.
Blessy disagrees that directors like Padmarajan and Bharathan would have been out of their depth in today’s filmmaking scenario. “Padmarajan made films for tomorrow. In fact, his Oridathoru Phayalvaan is one for posterity, unique for its blend of hard-hitting reality and sublime fantasy. Even his last film, Njan Gandharvan was way ahead of its time.”
Asked to pick five films that he falls back on, as reference points or inspiration, Blessy picks Phayalvaan as one. The others include Battleship Potemkin and Bicycle Thieves. He was so fascinated by the filmcraft in Battleship Potemkin, he incorporated a little of that film in his own Kaazhcha. “I wanted every Malayali to see at least one frame of that classic,” says Blessy.
He agrees that the success of Kaazhcha has put pressure on his new work, Thanmathra. “When I was writing Kaazhcha, I had no audience or the media before me. Today, there are expectations, but I think I must overcome that. But my second film is in fact the one I was to have made first.”
Blessy says Thanmathra was sparked off by a story by Padmarajan. And he has bought its rights despite the alterations he has brought into the content. The film is about three generations of a family played by Nedumudi Venu, Mohanlal, and a new face chosen from the UAE. The bottom line is once again love: How, through one person, you can discover the bonding that continues on to his earlier or future generations.
Kaazhcha, despite the four state awards and 15 other awards, was sidelined at the Indian National Awards. Blessy is disturbed but he is learning to be diplomatic, to avoid controversies and to continue on with his work.
He has completed the script of Thanmathra. In scripting, he is a die-hard Padmarajan loyalist. “He always works with a thorough script, where even the last minute detail is sketched out.”
Blessy says newcomers in Malayalam cinema tend to fall into set-patterns and grooves. “They are not daring to experiment; they still hang on to cliched cinematic techniques. This could be because, unlike in Tamil or Hindi, most Malayalam directors depend on others for story and script.”
Blessy’s quest is to be different and to push frontiers. It isn’t easy. “Kaazhcha, for all practical purposes, is not a film that will enthuse distributors and producers,” he says.
That the film worked at the box-office has made Blessy more responsible. “I had moviegoers calling up met to say they are recommending the film to others. They wanted people to see the film so that good films will not go unnoticed,” says Blessy.
That kind of trust is what deterred Blessy from doing an out and out commercial film after Kaazhcha, the way many Malayalam directors do. “Kaazhcha’s success was a realisation that there are people out there who love cinema for the sake of it,” he says.
And he is not going to compromise on their good taste. After all, isn’t his raw material, going to be love? Unconditional and unrestrained…