Scriptwriter Shibu Chakravarthy was only fifteen years old when he went to the sets of P. G. Viswambharan’s Oru Thira Pinneyum Thira (1982) at Aluva. That was because Viswambharan was married to Shibu’s cousin, Meena. “I was supposed to go and give some medicine to him,” says Shibu.
When Shibu reached the location he saw the actors Prem Nazir and Jaya Bharathi. Viswambharan told Shibu, “Do you want a photo with Prem Nazir?”But Shibu was not interested. “I was not much of a Prem Nazir fan,” he says. “But the person who I found most interesting was a handsome, young man who was operating the camera. He was Jayanan Vincent. I was introduced to Jayanan. He was just a few years older than me.”
It was a fateful meeting. Because, in later years, Shibu and Jayanan worked on many films, including Nair Saab (1989).In Nair Saab, a large portion of the film was shot in Kashmir. Shibu remembers travelling on a snow truck from Srinagar to Gulmarg in December when it was snowing heavily.“The wheels had chains on them,” says Shibu. “Snow is like cotton. But when weight is put on it, the snow turns into ice. As the driver braked, the wheels went on slipping for a while. The problem was that on one side of the road it was a steep slope. I felt so nervous.”
Anyway, they reached safely. But there was a crisis. In the film, there is a scene where a house had to be exploded. But everywhere there were signs which stated that nobody should clap their hands or shout as it would trigger an avalanche. “So, we could not get permission to do an explosion,” says Shibu.Then the crew decided to make a miniature model. It would be one-eighths of the actual size. “Next to our hotel, there was a house,” says Shibu. “We took some shots. Then I made some sketches and added a few fir trees.”
In the end, a miniature house was created on a table at Chennai’s AVM Studio. “We used salt to recreate the snow,” says a smiling Shibu. “I think it worked because when you see the film, you will not notice the difference.” After the Kashmir shoot was over, director Joshiy and Shibu were flying from Delhi to Bangalore. As the plane neared Bangalore, both of them saw numerous runways belonging to the Air Force.
Joshiy said, “Shibu, our next film should do should be on the Air Force. You think about a story.”
Shibu got cracking and wrote the script for Sainyam (1994). The shoot, at the Air Force Academy at Dundigal, near Hyderabad, was originally scheduled for November but Mammootty got chicken pox. So the shoot was postponed to March. “At that time, the temperature at Dundigal was 40 degrees Celsius but at the Academy, it must have been two degrees more since there were no trees around because there were 60 runways on 5000 acres of land,” says Shibu. As soon as there was a break in the shoot, everybody went and stood under the shade of the two-seater plane which was being used in the shoot. “But I saw too many young crew members get sun-stroke and fall on the tarmac,” he says. “It was such a stunning contrast to what we experienced in Kashmir.”
However, on the sets of Churam (1997), it was all about water. The climax was supposed to be a flood coming down a mountain. But when Bharathan and the art director tried to make a set, it did not work. The producer was S Satheesh, a member of a dam-building firm.
“Satheesh said that their engineers would make a dam,” says Shibu. “To reach the top of a mountain, near Thenmala, they made a road.” Thereafter, they made a mini dam. Through pipes, the water was sent up. Then shutters were made. “When the crew was ready, the engineers opened the shutters and the water came rushing down the mountain,” says Shibu. “It turned out to be a superb climax.”