Monday, December 24, 2007

Blessey, blessed or brave?

The ace director gets ready to release his new film, Calcutta News

By Shevlin Sebastian

After a satisfactory day of shooting for Calcutta News, which stars Dileep and Meera Jasmine, director Blessey Iype Thomas, 42, retired to his hotel room in Kolkata’s Lake Market area. Around midnight, a slight rain began. Blessey paid no attention. At his usual time of 4 a.m., he got up and looked outside the window. It was still raining, but it did not seem like a heavy rain. However, later, when he went down to the reception, he got a shock: the room was under water. He stood on a bench and looked out towards the street. Again, he was surprised to see that the unit van was half under water.

“Since the kitchen was also water-logged, there was no tea or breakfast,” says Blessey. “I was so worried.” There were 150 people who had come all the way from Kerala and they needed to be fed. “I had read about the floods in Kolkata, but this was the first time I was actually experiencing it,” he says.

Anyway, the problems were solved and a couple of days passed. Once again, there was a rain and the streets got flooded. This time Blessey decided that he would incorporate this scene into the movie. “Immediately, I called Dileep and Meera and the crew members,” he says. “By the time everybody arrived, amazingly, the water had drained off.”

Then somebody suggested that the street where Meera Jasmine was staying was flooded. So, the crew went there, but there was not enough water to show that the city was flooded. “Suddenly, we got a call from my hotel saying that the street in front had become flooded again,” says Blessey. “So, we rushed back. It must have been a low-lying area and water from other areas might have come there. In the end, we shot a song sequence on the flooded street. This was an extraordinary experience for me.”

Blessey is sitting on a low sofa just outside the dubbing room at the Lal Media Arts centre in Kochi. On the door an appropriate sticker has been pasted: ‘Bare Foot Inside, Ego Outside’. The 5’11” director, wearing a striped black shirt and trousers, gives an impression of serene grace, but says, “Yes, I look calm now, but on the set, I behave like a madman.” When he says this, he breaks out into a boyish smile. The director is waiting for Dileep, who has to do the dubbing for the last few scenes of Calcutta News.

Asked why the setting of Kolkata for his latest film, he says, “The city has a very important place in the imaginative life of creative artists, writers and thinkers of Kerala,” he says. Most of the classic films have been made by Calcuttans: Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak. Then there are the powerful writings of Rabindranath Tagore. “Even an ordinary worker has read the short stories of Bimal Mitra,” he says. “And who can forget tremendous personalities like Swami Vivekananda and Mother Teresa?”

Calcutta News traces the life of a television journalist Ajith Thomas going through the travails of his job. “It is a thriller in parts, but there is also a romantic interest, played by Meera,” says Blessey. The film, which will be released in January, 2008, has raised a lot of expectations, because of Blessey’s previous films.

He made a stunning debut in 2004 with Kaazcha, which starred Mammooty, and is about the friendship between a small-town film operator and a Gujarati boy orphaned in the 2001 earthquake. The next film, Thanmatra, was about Alzhemeir’s Disease, with Mohanlal playing the lead. This was followed by Palunku, again starring Mammooty as a farmer making a move to the city. All the films were received well, although Palunku did not do as well as the other two at the box office. Still, Blessey, among the younger set of directors, is a rising star.

But the road to success has not been easy. He spent 18 years as an assistant to Padmarajan, Jayaraj, Lohitadas and others. Asked what he learned from Padmarajan, he says, “I understood that one should do stories about ordinary people and give realistic dialogues. In fact, I feel that this naturalness is reflected in the movies I have made so far.”

Director Jayaraj gives a perspective from the other side. “Blessey’s strong point has been his detailed planning for every scene,” he says. “It creates a powerful effect. And he goes deeply into the subject of the film.”

The well-known caterer, Naushad, 41, who, along with Sevi Mano Mathew, produced Kaazcha, says, “Blessey has a tremendous passion for films. He is willing to go to any length to get a good shot.”

Unfortunately, he seemed unwilling to go to any length to become a director. Jayaraj says that the one reason Blessey took so long to make his debut was because “he is too self-effacing. In fact, I had to prod him to make his first film”.

When Blessey approached a top star, the latter rejected the theme of Kaazcha outright, saying it would not work. Upset and desperate, and at the suggestion of Jayaraj, Blessey went and met reigning superstar Mammooty and gave a one-line description of Kaazcha. Mammooty immediately said it would be an outstanding film. “This was the turning point in my life,” says Blessey.

He told Mammooty he did not have a script, because the established writers felt it would be difficult to have a workable screenplay, because the protagonists could not converse with each other in Malayalam. Then Mammooty said, “Why don’t you write it, and if it does not work out, we can ask somebody else to write it?”

That was how Blessey, who had never written a line before, became a script-writer. Later, for Thanmatra, he would win a state award for best screenplay, as well as best director. These are the twists and turns of life that amaze the director.

Blessey was born in Tiruvala, the youngest of six children, of a pharmacist, who died when the director was only three years old. “My father was a big absence in my life,” he says. “That is why, unconsciously, in all my films, there is a deep love and affection shown by the father for the children.” He says he wanted to enjoy on film what he could not experience in real life: a father-son relationship. The director was also close to his mother, but she died when he was 16 years old. “Even now, when I remember my mother, tears come to my eyes,” he says.

The family lived next to the Deepa theatre and his love for films began in childhood. “I would watch a film on every Saturday,” he says. “Then, at night, when I lay on the bed, I was able to hear the dialogues clearly. And I would recreate the scenes in my mind. This habit helped develop my visual imagination.” (Incidentally, Deepa theatre has been demolished, and a shopping mall is coming up in its place).

When Blessey grew up, he did his graduation in zoology from Mar Thoma College in Tiruvalla. But, unlike most middle-class youngsters, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a film director. Today, he continues to live in Tiruvalla with his wife, Mini, 36, and sons, Adith, 12 and Akhil, 9.

Meanwhile, as fans wait patiently to see what magic Blessey has wrought in Calcutta News, on the day the film is released, the director will go to church and spend several hours there, “praying that the audience reaction is positive. I only come out of the church after the matinee show is over”.

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

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