Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hitting the right notes


A harmonium was the spark for a music career for director MeCartin, but meeting a young German woman shifted the passion to films

By Shevlin Sebastian

"When I was four years old my father bought a harmonium so that my older brothers, George and Mathew could learn to play," says film director MeCartin. "I was instantly attracted to the instrument."

One day, guru Lonappan Bhagavardhar was teaching Mohanam Raga to his brothers. "I listened silently," he says. "The next day I reproduced the same notes. My brothers were astounded. They found it difficult to remember the ragas the way I could."

Unlike his brothers, who lost interest quickly, MeCartin began practicing the harmonium regularly.

When he was in Class 7 a chance incident took place. Early one Sunday morning he was playing the harmonium at his house in Eloor, which was near the St Antony's church.

The parish priest, Fr. Firmose Kachappilly, was on a morning walk and heard the notes. Curious, he went in and said, "MeCartin, I did not know you played the harmonium. Why don't you join the church choir?"

So, MeCartin joined the choir and became a keyboard player. Within a year he was composing music for new hymns.

Soon, a club, Sangeetha Bhawan, asked him to play the keyboard for their orchestra. "When word went around that I was good at composing, stage directors called me," he says. "I composed the music for several plays."

The highlight of this period was when noted writer K.S. Nampoothiri asked MeCartin to compose the music for his play, 'Samavarthana'. "I prepared diligently and when Nampoothiri Sir heard it, he said 'Excellent' and shook my hand," says MeCartin. "It was a thrilling moment for me."

Meanwhile, unknown to MeCartin, destiny was preparing him for some life-changing encounters. One day he was invited to play at a function organised by the Parallel College Students' Union.

"Because of the delay in the arrival of a minister, there was a one-hour gap," says MeCartin. "So, Sabu, one of the organisers asked me to do some mimicry items, to keep the crowd occupied. I said I had never performed in public. He replied, ‘The situation is grim’ and pushed me on to the stage. Somehow, I did well."

In the audience was Babu, who had a troupe called Rosary. He had just received an assignment to present an Onam function for the Kerala State Tourism Development Corporation at Rajendra Maidan.

"But he did not have enough people to mount the items necessary for a two-hour function," says MeCartin. "So he had come for the show, in search of new talent. He liked my performance and called me."

When MeCartin went to see Babu on the terrace of his house at Kaloor, he saw there were ten people present. Among them the most striking was Kala Bhavan Haneef, who had a mop of black hair above his forehead. Standing next to him was a thin boy: Rafi. Little did MeCartin know that later they would be making hit films together for 20 years. MeCartin, Rafi and Haneef became close friends.

At this moment, in 1989, another turning point took place in MeCartin's life. He had gone to attend a religious retreat next to his house. There he met blue-eyed Karen, a young German woman. A victim of a failed love affair, she had come to India looking for inner peace.

"Karen had brought a Hitachi VHS video recorder and did not know how to use it," says MeCartin. "She asked me to take some films of her and promised that if I did a good job she would give the camera to me."

Evidently Karen was happy with what MeCartin did because when she departed she gave him the recorder, a stand, a charger and a few empty cassettes. "I never saw her after that," he says.

Because he had a video recorder, MeCartin and Rafi decided to write a screenplay. But to do that, he read up on several screenplays, but felt disappointed.

"There were a lot of instructions about where an actor should stand and the positioning of the camera," he says. "I never knew screenplays would be so boring to read."

At this juncture a book exhibition was being held at the Town Hall. MeCartin went to see it and chanced upon P. Padmarajan's ‘Thirakkadha’, which contained screenplays of the noted director.

"Padmarajan wrote scripts in the same way that you would see the film in a cinema hall," he says. "There were no instructions at all. It was an invaluable lesson."

Rafi and MeCartin wrote their first script: 'Mr. and Mrs'. Then they took it to the famed directing duo of Sidique-Lal. Incidentally, Sidique is an uncle of Rafi’s.

"That meeting at the Mayura Park hotel in Kacheripady changed our lives," says MeCartin. "They gave us a good class in direction, told us the defects in the screenplay, explained why the dialogues needed to be changed, where to place the camera, and so on and so forth."

'Mr and Mrs' was soon made into a movie and did reasonably well at the box office. Thereafter, the duo made numerous films, including bumper hits like 'Punjabi House', 'Thenkasipattanam' and 'Hello'. Looking back, it is difficult to believe that MeCartin’s successful career was built on accidental encounters.

But an unsurprised MeCartin, in a relaxed mood in his house at Manjumal, says, "Paulo Coelho wrote in 'The Alchemist' that it is chance meetings that turn the course of a life."

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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