It took a decade after he scripted a film for A K Lohithadas to make his directorial debut. And his eye for
detail was evident, much like the very name of that 1997 movie: Bhoo­thakannadi — or microscope, in English. It’s another matter that his celluloid-­related works — 28 of them — before or after that seldom lacked this quality.
When Lohithadas died last week, only 54, it wasn’t just Mollywood — or cinema per se — that suffered a loss. Given that his storytelling flair always brightened when the tales were so full of rustic characters, his abrupt end portends a bleak chance for anybody to view — at least on the screen — more village vignettes of a green state like Kerala that is getting urb­anised by each passing day.
Lohi­thadas’ delving into minutest matters wasn’t at the cost of subtlety. His characters were mostly raw yet refined, complex yet straightforward. And, larg­ely, emotionally fragile. Throwing light at the labyrinths of the human mind without losing the plot was his forte.
That’s how some of his characters continue to stand out: the ancestry-­victimised Balan master in Thaniyavarthanam (1987 — his first film as a screen writer); Sethumadhavan, a victim of circumstance in Kireedam (1989); the angu­ished fisherman Achutti (Amaram), the misunderstood Gopi (Bharatham) or the schizophrenic watch mender Vidyadharan in Bhoothakannadi.
Suddenly, the Malayalam cine freaks got to learn from Lohithadas that the line separating sanity from insanity could, in fact, be thin. Curiously, the theme app­eared in Lohithadas’ opening ventures as a scriptwriter and director — in different styles and cast, though. If the family man status only added to the complication of the protagonist (enacted by Mammootty in both films), the conflict young Sethu faced in the Mohanlal-­starrer Kireedam was of a well-mannered, jovial bachelor with the prospect of a simple marital life that horrendously goes awry amid a lot of self-destru­ction. Lohithadas’ adroitness was arguably his best in scripting this 1989 super-hit.
What sets his screenplay apart — like M T Vasudevan Nair, his still-active predecessor by genre — is that Loh­ithadas seldom essayed the travails of the city-dweller. His characters all lived in dilapidated houses or hamlets, classically in picturesque central Kerala, with ponds thrown in and the Nila invariably girdling it. Bare-chested men chat sipping glasses of tea that are placed with a thud on the wooden tables of the shack alongside a crossroad. A chunk of them are stonecutters, pappadam-makers or tailors. The dialect is simple, preferably of the Vallu­vanad belt touted for its lyricism. Unless the story is, say, about the fisher-folk (Amaram), when it gains the intonation of the ripples of Kochi’s backwaters.
In hindsight, one could say Lohithadas’s mother characters were offbeat. Sample his grumpy moms in Sallapam (1996) and Kanmadam (1998), righteous mothers in Valsalyam, Thaniyavartha­nam and Kireedam or quirky-selfish ones in Mukthi (1998), Bharatham and Venkalam. He etched his female characters with profound affection. They ranged from being strong-willed (Manju Warrier in Kanmadam, Urvashi in Bharatham and Meera Jasmine in Kasthuriman) to emotionally fragile (Saritha in Thaniyavarthanam and Soothradharan) and
ambitious but tied up with their families (Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal).
His scripts never hyped anti-heroes. Kanmadam’s Lal was a sensitively etched rogue — promiscuous yet loyal to his friend and forgiving. In Arayannangalude Veedu (2000), you strangely empathised with Sukumaran (Lal), a village ruffian for his unrequited love for Ragini who in turn was in love with the hero. Joker (1999) framed the life inside a circus camp, while Soothradharan (2001) sensitively depicted the misery of the Devadasis.
Mammootty and Mohanlal dutifully immortalised his characters. “He knew my strengths and weakness. He really understood the actor in me,” grieved Mammootty, while Mohanlal rued the loss of a soulful scriptwriter. Lohithadas was also credited with discovering talents like Manju Warrier, Meera Jasmine and, more recently, Bhama (Nivedyam).
Lohithadas was constantly in touch with the real world. He often took morning strolls around his village, devouring dosa and puttu from the local teashops, catching up with the folks — looking for the next thread for his screenplay. Sadly, there aren’t anymore to come.