Tuesday, February 04, 2014

“Shaji is my Soul Mate”

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Anasuya talks about life with the film director Shaji N. Karun

Photo by Kaviyoor Santosh 

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, in 1979, Anasuya Shaji was sitting with her in-laws in the living room of their home in Thiruvananthapuram. Her elder son, Anil, was playing with some toys on the floor. As was his habit, Anasuya's father-in- law, N. Karunakaran, switched on the radio to listen to the news. Suddenly, to their shock and surprise, the family heard the announcement that Shaji had won the National Award for cinematography for 'Thampu'.

We were so happy,” says Anasuya. “Shaji had not come home. There were no mobile phones in those days. When he came, we ran outside and congratulated him. Shaji did not expect it. He was at a loss for words.”

For Anasuya, 'Piravi' is her favourite film. “It was his debut film,” she says. “Shaji was like a toddler, trying to walk.” However, it won a total of 31 awards, including the 'Camera d'Or–Mention d'honneur' at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as the National Award for Best Director and Best Feature Film in 1988.

Anasuya also likes 'Swapaanam', his latest film. “Shaji is a philosopher, psychologist and artist in the film,” she says. “He has put his heart and soul in it.”

Anasuya will know Shaji's heart and soul inside and out, because they have known each other since they were children. Both were neighbours and would play games like hide and seek. “We had a warm friendship,” says Anasuya. “My brother, Babu, and Shaji were fond of taking photographs, and reading books.”

So voracious was Shaji's reading that his friends would call him, 'That man from the British Council library'. Whenever he got some free time Shaji would be in the library. His reading included books on films, painting, arts and philosophy.

Love bloomed when Shaji went to Pune to do the cinematographer's course at the Film And Television Institute of India in 1971. “He missed his family and me also,” says Anasuya. “That was when he realised he loved me. He began writing letters to me.”

When he returned, he proposed. Anasuya trusted and liked Shaji a lot. “Our parents also knew we liked each other,” she says. “So they were happy to marry us off.” Unusually, Babu also fell in love with Shaji's sister, Sheela and they, too, got married.

Anasuya and Shaji tied the knot on January 1, 1975, and they went for a one-day trip to Neyyar Dam. Then Shaji rushed off to Chennai where he was working as a freelance cinematographer. At that time, Anasuya was working in the telephone department and managed to go to Chennai after three months following a transfer.

But life was not easy. There were financial problems in the beginning, because Shaji had very little income. So, Anasuya's job as a telephone operator helped a lot. However, in 1976, Shaji secured a job an an officer in the Kerala State Film Development Corporation at Thiruvananthapuram, so the family relocated from Chennai.

Back in Kerala, Anasuya continued with her job. But when her second son, Appu, was born, in 1981, Anasuya felt insecure about leaving the children at home. So she quit, after working for ten years.

Regarding his qualities, Anasuya says, “Shaji is a simple and honest person. He communicates well with people who have talent. If he gets upset, he will never show it. We are ordinary people, even though Shaji is part of the film world. He likes everything old. Our house, which was constructed in 2005, is in a traditional style, with a tiled roof, and a L-shaped design.”

Like all artists Shaji has unusual traits. When Shaji is working, he cannot be disturbed. “As far as possible, Anil, Appu and I will not disturb him,” says Anasuya. “We understood his need for isolation. The house would be silent when he was reading or working.”

Film, of course, is of primary importance for Shaji. “I don't have a problem with that,” says Anasuya. “I have seen him grow in front of my eyes. Shaji is my soul mate. And I am proud of all that he has achieved in his career.” Incidentally, Shaji won the Padma Shri award in 2011.

But it has not been easy to live next to an artistic person. There have been moments when Anasuya has wished that he would spend more time with her. “But if he has to grow, Shaji has to be obsessed with his art,” says Anasuya. “After all, he is a creator.”

To write a story and direct a film takes three to four years. After all the arrangements are made, Shaji will start filming. “Shaji is lucky to have a strong team for all his films,” says Anasuya.

Anasuya and Shaji have also been a strong team for 39 years. “Spouses should understand each other,” says Anasuya. “If the man has talent, the woman should understand and nurture it. And vice versa. Life is sweet and beautiful. Live it in that way. After all, you have only one life and it is very short.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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