KOCHI: 1989. The year is counted among the richest years in the history of Malayalam cinema, both in terms of content and commercial success. I V Sasi won that year’s state award for the best director, the first time such an honour came his way.
Immediately after the announcement, Sasi dialled fellow director Hariharan. While the latter congratulated Sasi, (as told by Sasi himself in an interview) he told Hariharan: “I think you really deserved it for Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha.”
That was I V Sasi - whom the entire Mollywood lauded as the greatest showman amongst the directors. Showman! By all means, he was one. It was never for pleasing the award committees that Sasi called the shots. He was a people’s director who always visioned myriad colours on the wider canvas. Knowing the pulse of the masses was his key attribute. And he was a king of multistarrers, with even superstars readily making themselves available to appear in his movies unmindful of roles being big or small. He created stars, and elevated some to superstardom. He shot movies overseas and did up to 16 films a year, accounting for nearly 150 movies in his three-and-a-half decade career.
Who else could that be but the ultimate showman! Never before, and never again would such a thing happen in Malayalam cinema.Director Jomon, who was among the team of assistant directors for the movie Nalkkavala, recounted an incident that truly revealed Sasi’s stature: During the shoot, Jomon noticed a man on the location. He was standing near a Benz car.
“I asked another assistant director, M A Venu, who he was.” Venu said, “Don’t you recognise him? He is Ramesh Sippy, the director of Sholay. Sippy has heard about I V Sasi’s way of handling the crew, especially when it comes to shooting mass sequences. In Bollywood and other languages, it takes several days for shooting scenes with huge crowds. Sippy wants to see it in person.”
Jomon said it took him two years of work as an assistant before being able to interact with the director. “He was a such a busy person. Nowadays, a producer may find it difficult to get the dates of an actor if his/her call sheets are full. In the case of I V Sasi, during his peak time, the producers had to wait for years to get his date,” he said.
He was perhaps the only director fortunate enough to conceive scripts of a wide range of writers. He partnered scriptwriter Sherif for the first few movies. With the same elan, he handled the scripts of M T Vasudevan Nair - like in Aaroodam, Aksharangal, Aalkkoottathil Thaniye, Adiyozhukkukal, Anubandham; T Damodaran’s Angadi, Avanazhi and 1921, John Paul’s Athiratram and P Padmarajan’s Itha Ivide Vare, Karimpinpoovinakkare and Kanamarayathu.
The ‘showman’ was also a master craftsman as he elevated these scripts to a higher plane, giving due respect to the script. He did not add unwarranted ‘masala’ scenes, rather treated each subject differently. He has done movies with scriptwriters like Dennis Joseph, S N Swamy, Ranjith, Babu Janardhan and Reghunath Paleri, to name a few.
The reigning superstars of Malayalam cinema, Mammootty and Mohanlal, are equally indebted to Sasi for their splendid careers. At a time when Mammootty was a comparative newcomer, Sasi showed the courage to cast him in the lead role in Trishna (1981). Again, it was through an I V Sasi movie - Ahimsa (1981) - that Mammootty bagged the first state award for a supporting role. Further, it was through another I V Sasi movie - Adiyozhukkukal (1984) - that Mammootty received the best actor award for the first time. The actor also attained superstardom through Athirathram (1984), another hit from the Sasi stable.
One of the path-breaking movies in Mohanlal’s career – Devasuram – too had I V Sasi waving the magic band. The character ‘Mangalassery Neelakandan’, which elevated Mohanlal’s stardom to new heights, set forth one of the biggest hits in Sasi’s career. His was the first name, as a director, to create waves of applause in theatres when shown in the title credits. By all measure, I V Sasi was a synonym for a glorious spring in Malayalam cinema.