Sunday, April 12, 2009

The hit machine!


A letter written to director P. Balakrishnan enabled Sathyan Anthikad to get his break in films. Thereafter, he has become a director of numerous hits

By Shevlin Sebastian

In 1973, when Sathyan Anthikad finished his Class 10 he wanted to join the Film and Television Institute of India at Pune. But he was told that he could apply only after his graduation.

“That meant I had to wait five years,” he says. At that time he came across an interview with director and producer Dr. P. Balakrishnan in the film weekly, Cinemarama.

“I read that Dr. Balakrishnan had introduced several new talents in Malayalam films, like musician A.T. Ummer and director I.V. Sasi,” says Sathyan.

So Sathyan wrote a letter to the Chennai-based Balakrishnan. He was surprised to receive a hand-written reply within a week asking the youngster to come for an interview at a hotel in Kochi.

The meeting went off well, and Sathyan was hired as an assistant director for Balakrishnan’s next film, ‘College Girl’.

“Later, Dr. Balakrishnan told me my letter was very striking,” says Sathyan. “I do remember writing, ‘Cinema is not a craze for me. It is a dream. If it is possible I would request you to give me an opportunity.’ Normally people write begging letters, but I did not.”

Once he got his entry into films he impressed everybody with his sincerity and dedication. “Dr. Balakrishnan was very happy with me,” he says. At that time Sathyan used to write poems. One of them was published in Chandrika, a weekly from Kozhikode.

“A copy was sent to the studio,” says Sathyan. “Dr. Balakrishnan used to receive a lot of magazines. So the Chandrika magazine was delivered to the doctor’s table.”

As fate would have it, Balakrishnan read the poem. “He called me and said, ‘It is a nice poem. For my next film you must write a song.’” Sathyan replied, “I have never written a song.” Balakrishnan said, “A man who can write a poem can also write a song.”

Satyan wrote two songs for ‘Love Letter’. But when he wrote the lyrics for a song for ‘Sindhooram’, it became a bumper hit. Sung by Yesudas, the first part went like this:

Oru nimisham tharoo
Oru yugam tharoo

“It was a love song,” he says. “The inspiration was my feelings for a girl, Nirmala, who eventually became my wife.” He went on to write the lyrics for more than a hundred films, but his job as assistant director continued unabated.

By this time he was getting offers from producers to become a director. Finally, in 1981, he accepted an offer from producer K. Majeendran to direct a film.

So he sat with scriptwriter John Paul and wrote a script based on Kala Mandalam, with Nedumudi Venu as the hero. “We did a small schedule,” he says. Thereafter, Satyan waited for Kamal Haasan who also had a hero’s part.

He was acting in another film for which he had to wear a moustache. “Since Kathakali students cannot have a moustache, I decided to wait till Haasan finished shooting for his film,” he says.

During that enforced break, Sathyan’s life went topsy-turvy. One morning, a man knocked on Majeendran’s door at his house in Kochi. When the producer opened it, he was shot dead. “Apparently it was a business enmity, but my film collapsed after that,” he says. “I went into shock.”

It would take more than a year before he would attempt another film. P.H. Rasheed, an acquaintance of Balakrishnan, offered to produce a film. “It was a comedy called ‘Kurukkante Kalyanam’,” he says. When the film was released it became a hit.

”This was a turning point for me because I had been accepted by the public,” he says. Thereafter Sathyan made several films, all of which did well at the box office.

Then in 1986, Sathyan’s next turning point came when he met actor Sreenivasan and gave him the idea of ‘T.P. Balagopalan M.A’.

“I had a concept of a middle class man who earned Rs 700 a month, who meets a girl in the same situation,” he says. “Sreenivasan liked the idea a lot.” Thereafter, Sreenivasan wrote the script and the film became a hit.

“When Sreeni and I were working on the film we realised we had many things in common,” says Sathyan. “We both came from middle class families and had a similar outlook and a sense of humour.”

After ‘Balagopalan’, the duo worked on ‘Gandhi Nagar 2nd street’ which became a bumper hit. Thereafter, they worked for numerous films together and all of them did well at the box office.

By this time, Sreenivasan’s career as an actor hotted up and he was unable to find the time to write scripts. Other script writers like Lohitadas and Ranjan Pramod had become director.

Sathyan realised that if he wanted to continue to make films, he needed to start writing himself. “So I took the plunge and wrote the script for ‘Rasathantram’,” he says. This turned out to be a successful film and, thereafter, he wrote the scripts for ‘Vinodayatra’ and ‘Innathe Chinte Vishayam’. His next film, the 47th, ‘Bhagayadevata’, starring Jayaram is releasing on April 23.

Looking back, he says that when his first film collapsed, it was a blessing in disguise. “It was an art film, like those made by Bharathan or K.G. George,” he says. “If that film had been completed I might have gone down that route. But, instead, I turned towards comedy and realistic films and that has been good for my career.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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