Monday, March 10, 2008

The American connection

The US based actor-businessman, Thampy Antony, is the producer of Blessey’s Calcutta News. He talks about his experiences

By Shevlin Sebastian

Thampy Antony, 54, the US-based producer of Calcutta News, was in a spot of bother on the film’s set at Kolkata. He needed a few foreigners to be part of a song sequence, but he was reluctant to approach agents who would charge as much as Rs 5,000 for a single person.

During this time, a friend, Alvin Anthony, suggested that since they were in Kolkata, they should go and visit the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, where the grave of Mother Teresa is located. Thampy had wanted to go earlier but had been unable to find the time. So, Alvin and he set out.

When he entered the building on AJC Bose Road, he saw a couple of young foreigners hanging around. He introduced himself by saying, “I am from California.” The Swiss girls, Eva and Elizabeth, said they had come to Kolkata to do volunteer service for the poor. They became excited when he told them that he was part of a film unit. “We would like to see some shooting,” said Eva.

“Sure,” said Thampy, told them the location and they parted ways. One hour later, when he stepped outside, the two girls were waiting patiently near his car.

A surprised Thampy said, “Why have you decided to come with me? You don’t know me at all.”

Elizabeth said, “We met you at Mother Teresa’s House, so, you must be okay.”

So, they went along with him to see the shooting. Later, Thampy told them he needed a few foreigners to act in a scene. They invited him to come to Sudder Street, where several of them stayed. He did so, and the next day, 15 foreigners acted in the film. The silver lining for the producer: None of them asked for any money, but Thampy was gracious enough to take them to a nearby bar for refreshments.

“People say that when you go to Mother Teresa’s home, good things happen,” says Thampy with a smile. “And it happened to me, because I met Eva and Elizabath, got the foreigners without going through an agent, and saved a lot of money also.”

The 6’ tall Thampy, with a neatly trimmed beard and shoulder-length hair, radiates an air of confidence as he sits on a chair in the fifth floor hotel room of the Wyte Fort at Kochi.

Born in Ponkunnam, in Kottayam district, Thampy graduated in civil engineering from the M.A. College of Engineering at Kothamangalam in 1980. Following a brief stint in the Public Works Department, in 1982, he married Prema who was doing graduate studies in genetics from the University of San Francisco.

Thampy arrived in the US in 1984 and after getting an associate degree in architecture and doing a series of jobs, his wife and he started a business in long-term health care in 1990. “Today, we own ten hospitals and have 1500 employees,” he says.

But this astute businessman has a creative side to him. He writes poetry and has acted in plays in New York and San Francisco. Thanks to his well-known younger brother, actor Babu Antony, he secured an entry into the Malayalam film industry and has acted in four films: Arabia, Made in USA, Palunku and Calcutta News. Says Babu: “My brother has a good screen presence and a tremendous passion for acting.”

Thampy has also acted as an Ayurvedic doctor in an independent English film, Beyond The Soul, directed by Rajiv Anchal, 50, in 2003. For this role, he won the Best Actor award at the Honolulu International Film Festival in 2005, the first Malayali to do so. “When Thampy first started acting for my film, I told him, ‘Don’t act, be natural’ and he understood immediately what I was trying to say,” says Anchal. It was because of his performance in Beyond The Soul that Blessey, who worked as an associate director in the film, gave him the role of a poet in Palunku.

So what was it that made Thampy decide to produce Calcutta News? “I wanted to make a good film,” he says. “The most important thing about Blessey is that he writes the script. Most directors don’t write scripts.”

Plus, he says, Blessey has 18 years of experience as an associate director. “I had full confidence in his abilities, so I gave creative freedom and there were no limits regarding the budget,” he says. As for Blessey, he says, “Unlike most producers, Thampy was not obsessed about making profits, but was keen that we make a good film.”

So, is Thampy, who plays a psychiatrist in the film, happy with the end product? “It is a very good big-budget commercial movie, and is a departure from Blessey’s earlier family-oriented films.”

Thampy says he might not produce another film, but he hopes to continue his acting career. He has just acted as a Sardarji in a mainstream Hollywood movie, The Root Of All Evil, which stars Sean Bean. The movie, now in the post-production stage, also has another Malayali, Naveen Chathapuram, a film graduate of the Columbia College in Chicago, in the production team.

Meanwhile, since Thampy has interacted with the Malayalam and Hollywood film industries, he is probably well qualified to talk about the difference between the two. “In Hollywood, the people are more professional,” says this first Malayali to become a member of the powerful Screen Actors Guild. “Apart from being paid well, they are well trained for every job. In India, what usually happens is that people learn on the job. In America, a scriptwriter, for example, will do a course before he or she enters the profession.”

He gives another example: when the shooting for a film is over, the director gives the entire footage to the editor. For one month, the editor will work with the footage and make a movie. Then he will call the director, the producer and a few actors and they will view the film and give their impressions.

“Sometimes, the director will say, ‘You have to cut that,’ or ‘you have to add that’, and that is when the actual editing takes place,” says Thampy. “So, the director gets a contrary opinion, there is a creative interaction, and the end result is a better film.”

In the Malayalam film industry, the director tells the editor what to put in, what to take out. “The problem is that there is only one way of thinking and that is the director’s,” he says. “Editing is a highly professional job and nobody should be involved in it, including the director.”

So what next for Thampy? He has just released a book, Idachakkaplamood Police Station (The Police Station of Idachakkaplamood), a comedy drama, which has been published by Olive Books.

An author, an actor, a producer and a businessman, Thampy slips into these different roles with style and finesse.

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express)

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