The 80s and 90s are called the golden era of Indian cinema when we have made great and memorable contributions to world cinema. The recent Oscar nominations triggered in many of us South Indians, a certain kind of aggression, as to why our art is being considered to be secondary to Hindi films. There is another bigger question that many of us have blissfully ignored – why has India’s Oscar entry never received the award for the ‘best international/foreign film’? Is it because, in reality, our films are of a lower quality when compared to world cinema or is it because our nominations are wrong, or may be because we fail to recognise great art and its original craftsmen?
Cinema, around the world is considered as either the director’s or the actor’s craft, depending on who is more famous and influential. South Indian Cinema has always given more importance to the actor – our films are known in the name of the actor. There is definitely nothing wrong in it. An actor’s performance can make or break a film. In the glitter of fame and looks, we tend to neglect the craft of the maker, and the scriptwriter whose brain child is what we see on the screen and grips us to the theatre seats.
It is a matter of curiosity as to why the large community of critics and cinema addicts have never given a thought about why the makers who produced such remarkable films in the 80s and 90s, and the actors who gave their best performances could not continue doing it as beautifully in the era after 2000. Why couldn’t such performers and directors continue to be as artistic as they were. Such a thought leads to only one answer – the absence of the scriptwriters and storytellers who endured the pain of giving birth to their brainchild – the films that mesmerised and inspired us.
To take an example is the master craftsman Joshi. He had given us masterpieces like New Delhi (Malayalam) in the 80s, and many of us had looked forward to his return with the film Porinju Mariyam Jose, which was a huge disappointment for us, Joshi fans. Many of us are not aware that Dennis Joseph, who also wrote Aakaashadoothu, was the writer of the film New Delhi (1987), as the film is known for being a landmark by Joshi. So why did such a master craftsman not bring his craft to all his movies? If he is the sole reason behind the success of a film, then he should be able to make all his films successful, despite the writer or artiste. However, this is not how things work.
Sujatha and his collaboration with Mani Ratnam and Shankar
Many of us are not aware of the names of writers who created the visual magic in films which are dear to us. There is no argument that Maniratnam is a master filmmaker. A very few will be aware of the name of the writer who wrote those poetic dialogues which have become a part of our daily rhetoric and social media posts. Sujatha Rangarajan (S. Rangarajan) was the man behind the dialogues of Maniratnam’s landmark films like Kannathil Muthamittal, and Aayitha Ezhuthu. He was also the writer who wrote screenplays for commercial hits like Sivaji: the boss, Enthiran, Boys, Dil se, Roja, Kandukondein Kandukondein and many more such memorable movies. He was only known to some. He passed away while he was working with Shankar for the movie Enthiran in 2008.
However, things have changed from how it used to be, in the film industry. Today, writers are gradually coming into the limelight, and we have sensible filmmakers who know how to use the writer to bring magic onto the screen. From a generation who was not aware that Raghunath Paleri is the scriptwriter of the Srinivasan hit ‘Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu’, or that Venu Nagavalli (the face of depression and grief in the 80s) wrote all those evergreen comedy in the film Kilukkam, we have grown tremendously. Today we are familiar with names like Unni R (Charlie), Muhsin Parari (Sudani from Nigeria), Syam Pushkaran (Maheshinte Prathikaaram), P F Mathews (Ee Ma Yau), S Harish (Jallikkettu) and many other writers who have worked with and more than the directors, actors and other artists.
Syam Pushkaran and the new wave movies in Malayalam
Today, directors are sensible to make use of the writer in a way which benefits the art in cinema. If you have noticed, Lijo Jose Pellissery is one such filmmaker who knows the value of a writer. If you have followed his cinema, we understand that while making a film adaptation of a novel or short story, he ensures that the screenplay is written by the original writer himself, to take examples of Ee Ma Yau (P F Mathews) and Jallikkettu (S Harish).
Dileesh Pothan is also a filmmaker who chooses his writer wisely as he is aware that the success of a film depends a lot on how it is written. His recent hits Maheshinte Prathikaaram, Kumbalangi Nights, were all weaved into magic by his writer Syam Pushkaran. There are many more writers yet to break the fourth wall and come to the forefront, like the Suhas-Sharfu duo who made Amal Neerad’s Varathan, a scintillating hit.
Writing is an extended metaphor of giving birth, like how a mother carries her child in the womb, a writer carries that tiny thread of a story in their soul. They give it their blood and it grows, finally flowing out into paper, tearing open the writer’s brain-womb, bleeding in blue or black. Every writer is a mother.