Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Wrath Of A Yakshi

Scriptwriter Benny P. Nayarambalam talks about his experiences in the films, 'Aakasha Ganga', 'Chhota Mumbai', 'Daivathinte Swantham Cleetus' and 'Spanish Masala' 

Photos: Benny P. Nayarambalam by K. Shijith; Mayuri in  'Aakasha Ganga', 

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, many years ago, the mother of scriptwriter Benny P. Nayarambalam narrated a story. This was about a run-down house, near their own premises on Vypeen Island.

The house belonged to a rich family. There was a beautiful girl in the house. A music tutor would come to teach her singing. Soon, they fell in love. And then she became pregnant. “Unfortunately, the tutor had a wife and children,” says Benny. “When the girl came to know, she drank poison in order to kill herself.”

In those times, there was no hospital on the island. People had to take a boat to reach Ernakulam and go to the General Hospital. “But the family members assumed that the girl had died,” says Benny. “They called all their relatives and informed them that she had died of a sickness.”

However, when the girl was placed on the pyre, she opened her eyes and asked for water. “This was only seen by an uncle,” says Benny. “The rituals were going on and there was a lot of noise. The man concluded that if the girl remained alive, it would bring shame to the family especially since she was pregnant. Instead of water, he poured kerosene and lit the pyre.”

Soon, a curse fell on the family. Members began to die one by one. And they fell into financial problems. “I used this as the crux of my story for 'Aakasha Ganga' (1999),” says Benny. The film starred Mukesh and Divya Unni. Mayuri plays the girl who dies and becomes a yakshi who torments her family and kills a couple of members. Thanks to the taut script, it became a box-office hit.

This was not the first time Benny received an inspiration from real life. When the shooting of 'Chhota Mumbai' (2007) was taking place, several local youngsters of Fort Kochi were hired to act in the film. The film was about the small-time goondas of the area. “I became friendly with one man, Ramesh (name changed),” says Benny. “Later, I came to know that he was actually a leader of a gang of ruffians, but on the set, he was well-behaved.”

Many years later, Benny met Ramesh accidentally at Lal Media, Kochi, where dubbing and editing of films take place.

It took me a while before I remembered him,” says Benny. “So I asked him what he was doing at Lal Media. He replied that he had a small dubbing to do. After 'Chhota Mumbai' he had got a few roles. Ramesh said, 'Sir, now I have become straight and am earning my living like this.'”

Suddenly, an idea sparked in Benny to write a story about a man who is involved in criminal activities but has an acting talent. And then how slowly through acting, he becomes a better person and stops all criminal activities. “That is how the character of 'Daivathinte Swantham Cleetus' (2013) was born,” says Benny. “Mammootty is a goonda. Then he gets the chance to play Jesus Christ. The people do not know he is a goonda. But when he acts, he does it so well that he is purified in the process.”

Meanwhile, rather than get purified, the people got drenched during the shoot of the Lal Jose film, 'Spanish Masala'. This was taking place during the La Tomatina festival in the town of Buñol, Spain. During this event, participants throw tomatoes at each other. It is held on the last Wednesday of August.

Actor Dileep and his mother, played by Kalarenjini had to walk through the immense crowd. “Nobody knew we were shooting,” says Benny. “Kalarenjini was wearing a red blouse and saree. Most of the foreigners, including men and women, wore only shorts. Many men were bare-bodied. So when they saw Kalarenjini in a saree, they just stared at her. Then the people began talking among themselves and stared at her. We felt quite tense. But in the end, because she was a woman, nobody did anything.”

But assistant director Raghu Rama Varma did not have the same luck. He was standing at the end of the street. When they saw that he was wearing a shirt and trousers, they ripped the shirt off. “In the end, he was left with two pieces and a collar,” says Benny. “When he came to us holding these scraps, all of us burst out laughing.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)

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