Saturday, January 24, 2009

Accidental encounters


A paralysis of the arm was traumatic, while a meeting with director Kamal helped Lal Jose to find his destiny as a filmmaker

By Shevlin Sebastian

When film director Lal Jose was in Class four he noticed a lump on his right arm. His parents took him to a doctor at the Calicut Medical College. Without bothering to take an X-ray the doctor said, “This is a growth on the muscle and it can be removed by surgery.”

However, when the arm was cut open, the doctor discovered, to his shock, that the lump was on the radial nerve. (This nerve supplies movement to the triceps, the wrist and hand.)

“To take off a growth from the radial nerve is a dangerous procedure,” says Jose. One day after the surgery, his right arm became paralysed.

“My father and mother were shattered,” says Jose. “I am their eldest son.” For the next six months, his parents, both of them teachers at Ottappalam, took him from doctor to doctor, but with no tangible result. Finally, they met the distinguished neurosurgeon, the late Dr. Jacob Chandy, at Kottayam Medical College.

“He said the only way is to take a nerve from another part of the body, graft it over the damaged radial nerve and hope it will connect with the other nerves,” says Jose.

The operation was done by Dr. John, an associate of Dr. Chandy, who said the chance of success was only 1 per cent. So Jose walked around, his arm in plaster, his hand placed on a sling. “Since I could not play with my classmates I became an avid reader and an observer of people,” he says. “This helped me later in my career.”

One morning, one and a half years later, Jose got ready for the First Holy Communion Mass at the LSN Convent at Ottappalam. “My mother, Lilly, said that if you ask for three things from God it would be granted,” he says. As expected, for the boy, all the three wishes were for his arm to get healed.

After the ceremony was over, Lilly said, “See if your hand is healed.”

Jose straightened his arm and moved his fingers for the first time. “It was a miracle wrought by prayer,” he says.

And so life went on. After his graduation in economics from NSS College in Ottappalam, he received a job offer in a photography studio in Dubai. But Jose needed to learn colour processing.

So he went to Chennai in 1988 and joined Das Colour Labs. Unfortunately, instead of colour processing, he was told to work in the reception.

At that time Jose was staying at Saligram, which is the hub of the Tamil cinema industry. During a weekend gathering he met cameraman Shree Shankar, who asked whether he was interested in joining films. “It is better than being a receptionist,” said Shankar.

Jose agreed and through music director Rajamani they met director Kamal who was in Chennai at that time.

Kamal told Jose he already had a permanent staff but he could work as an apprentice in his next film, ‘Pradeshika Vaarthakal’. “You will have to bear your expenses,” said Kamal.

When Jose arrived at the set in Kozhikode a few months later he saw that there were two assistant directors and an associate director to help Kamal.

“Whatever jobs were given to me I did it sincerely, but I felt I did not belong,” he says. So he ate his meals outside, which turned out to be a lucky decision.

On the 13th day of the shoot, the unit was laid low by food poisoning. All the three assistants had high fever and diarrhoea and were unable to work. Even Kamal fell sick, but since he was the director he had no option but to come to the location.

“In one day I became the associate director,” he says. “I handled the clapboard, recorded the dialogues, provided the script to the artistes and gave the medicines at the right time to Kamal Sir.”

When the shooting was over an impressed Kamal asked Jose to join his unit permanently. Thereafter, Jose worked with the noted director in 16 films. Sometimes he freelanced also.

In 1994 he was working in ‘Vadhu Doctoranu’, directed by K.K. Haridas, in which Sreenivasan had a role. “I knew Sreenivasan well because he had acted in a few films of Kamal,” says Jose. During the shoot, producer Alexander Mathew Pooyappally asked Jose whether he would direct their company’s next film.

Jose was reluctant to take any career risks, since he had just got married. To discourage Alexander, he said, “If somebody like Sreenivasan penned the script I would be willing.” At that time, well-established directors were desperately waiting for a script by Sreenivasan. So Jose knew he stood no chance.

Alexander, a close friend of Sreenivasan, asked whether he would write a script. The actor agreed, and said, “Who will be the director?”

Alexander pointed at Jose. Sreenivasan stared at the young man for a while and said, “Okay.”

For Jose this was a turning point. “If an accomplished writer like Sreenivasan felt I could be a good director I knew I had to take the plunge,” he says.

Jose’s first film, ‘Oru Maravathoor Kanavu’, starring Mammooty, Sreenivasan and Biju Menon was a huge hit. Thereafter, Jose had several successes like ‘Meesa Madhavan’, ‘Classmates’, ‘Chanthupottu’ and ‘Arabikatha’.

Asked to explain the twists and turns of his life, he says, “One’s destiny is pre-ordained. But I know there is a force guiding me.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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