I used to work as a cartoonist, journalist and film critic at the Janasakthi journal. Later, I started my own ad company. It was during this time that my interest in Cinema began to deepen.
When my desire to produce a movie became intense, I decided to make it in Malayalam. Having watched several films from around the world as well as films by Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Bimal Roy and others in the film societies, I was particular to produce a movie in that style. Most of the Malayalam movies were being produced in that standard.
A young and upcoming director called P N Menon caught my attention. I was impressed by his movies such as Chemparathi (Hibiscus), Olavum Theeravum (Waves and Shores). I looked around and caught hold of him. He was joined by the already-famous Malayalam Poet and songwriter Vayalar Rama Varma. Serious – and I mean very serious – “story” discussion happened over bottles after bottles (of alcohol).To my horror, the pile of bottles became larger, but the story never came.
Vayalar Rama Varma telephoned and asked Sri Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai to join the team. Vayalar thought that the presence of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai would bring forth a good story. However, in this party as well, only the pile of empty bottles was growing… with no sign of a satisfactory story.
One person sensed my frustration. It was Azad, a screenplay writer who graduated from the film institute (in Pune). He was also part of P N Menon’s group. He had already directed a movie with Mammootty. He asked, “Sir, I have a friend in Mumbai. He is working on a film called Uski Roti (Their Daily Bread) with Mani Kaul. He is very talented. Shall we call him? I replied hastily, “Make arrangements for him to come immediately”.
John Abraham came to Chennai. If we make a movie on Jesus, John can act as Jesus. He looked so beautiful and graceful. One cameraman, one assistant and Azad became part of this team.
Gone!! This is also a drunken monk case. On top of it, Ganja and other intoxicants.
But John had this habit of drinking continuously for four days, and then sleeping off the next four days. After waking up, he will work endlessly – without food, drink, sleep and rest. If there is no work, then the same routine starts. Again, he would drink and drink, non-stop.
Somehow, they developed a good story. A group of school children were the focus of the story. The title of the movie was Vidyarthikale Ithile Ithile. It was Vayalar Rama Varma who decided the title. “Oh students, come come!!” is the meaning of the title.
I had set-up the office for the team at Mahalingapuram. Director, cameraman and all the assistants were staying there. I had organized a cook, who would prepare food for them. They finished the script and selected the actors. Madhu, Jayabharathi, Adoor Bhasi, S V Ranga Rao, M R R Vasu, Manorama and fifteen to twenty children.
I was not sure whether the direction team had any knowledge of music at that time. This was the period when Ilayaraja was trying to enter the cinema world. His elder brother Pavalar Varatharajan was a close friend of mine. After his younger brothers came to Chennai, somehow, Baskar became very attached to me. He would often record his brothers’ compositions in a tape and play for us. The music didn’t impress John Abraham and his group. Alright. I also felt that an experienced hand will be better for them. I asked Vayalar Rama Varma whether we could ask M B Srinivasan who was very popular in making music for art house films. ”He is the best choice”, Vayalar exclaimed. For Vayalar’s words, M B Srinivasan composed the music. With his excellent music, we recorded four songs.
The shooting began in a small house in CIT colony, near Nanthanam. Initially I was very scared watching their style of working. I was familiar with shootings that happen in big studios with magnificent sets, hundreds of lights and fast and efficient labour. I felt great fear and doubt watching John Abraham and his team.
The whole set was just a small room. The director, assistants and actors were moving about haphazardly in this room. There were only two or three small lights; and, some camera equipments. They tied a thin mosquito net on the roof of the room and made light fall on the net. It was then made to reflect on the actors. This, they shot. The name of the cameraman was Ramachandra Babu. He must be twenty two or twenty three. I was shocked as they were calling this small boy a cameraman. There was no make-up for the actors. Will it work out this way? How will the actors’ faces look? I was perplexed. All these doubts were put to rest when I saw the rush prints made from a week’s shooting.
Like this, the shooting went on in small houses, slum areas, narrow lanes, streets and a school in Adayar. They didn’t enter a studio even once during this whole time. In between, there will be episodes of ‘going back to square one’. John would get drunk with Ganja or arrack and start running madly from street to street, road to road. At times, the nearby cinema company workers would find him lying on the streets and carry him back. At other times, he will be locked up in station. If the Sub Inspector is known to me, or a compassionate one, I will receive a call.