KOCHI: “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 Bhagavadhar 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 practising the harmonium regularly.
When he was in Class VII, early one Sunday morning he was playing the harmonium at his house in Eloor, which was near 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 started calling 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 entertained.
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 programme for the Kerala State Tourism Development Corporation at Rajendra Maidan. “But he did not have enough people and items 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 there were ten people at his house. 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 they would be making hit films together for more than 25 years. MeCartin, Rafi and Haneef became close friends.
In 1989 came another turning point in MeCartin’s life. He had gone to attend a religious retreat near 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 again,” he says. Because he had a video recorder, MeCartin and Rafi decided to write a screenplay. 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 the 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 director duo, 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, showed 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.”
(This column traces the turning points that make or mar a person's life)