For a theatre director, staging Basheerian plays elicits an acme of gratification and is at the same time an engrossing and taxing endeavour. But, for Pramod Payyannur, theatre director-turned-filmmaker, transmuting one of Basheer’s most celebrated work- Balyakalasakhi into the silver screen was a watershed moment. Pramod shares his candid take on his first outing into tinsel town through the boulevard of Basheerian tales.
For starters, Pramod Payyanur is no novice who got catapulted into the film industry one lazy dawn. After schooling from the School of Drama, Thrissur, and the School for Performing Arts, Pondicherry, he did his hard miles directing plays for KPAC and working for a multitude of media houses as senior programme producer. His accolades include state award for the best professional theatre director for two consecutive years (2002-03), Vidyur national shortfilm award for his shortfilm based on Basheer’s first story ‘Thankam’, and a spate of other awards and critical acclaims for directing amateur experimental plays, documentaries and shortfilms. At present, he is the programme chief at a leading Malayalam news channel.
And for those who came late, who grew up gobbling Sheldon, Tom Clancy, John Grisham and the Chetans and Coelhos, ‘Balyakalasakhi’ is a romantic comedy laced in homely prose by Vaikom Muhammed Basheer. Considered by many as his magnum opus, ‘Balyakalasakhi’ - published in 1944- has been translated into 18 languages and is the one of the most read Malayalam literature.
The story revolves around Suhara and Majeed, whose childhood penchant for each other blossoms into heart-rending saga of love, which soon is shattered by the inexplicable and jarring vagaries of reality. It chronicles different facets of Majeed and Suhara’s life. From their blitheful childhood to Majeed’s harrowing sojourn as a teen, to their tormenting separation, and his quest to extricate from the pinching poverty that leads him to Calcutta, where he faces the intractable miseries of life.
Queried on why he chose Balayakalasakhi from all other works, Pramod elucidates: “Suhara and Majeed had stirred the most subtle of
emotions, their innocence made us giggle, their quaint intimacy galvanized us, their platonic love startled us, their poignant parting wretched us, and they pulled the most inert of nerves at the same time. It defines the enigma called Basheer, the colossus, who frolicked into the most stigmatised social mores with such aloofness that his mere act of writing became a rebellion. Apart from Suhara and Majeed, most of his riveting characters from his other stories akin Raman Nair, Ponkurushu Thoma , Ettukali Mammunju, Kochithresiya and Ottakannan Pokerru also feature in the movie.
Asked about the casting, Pramod beams: “ It’s a challenge to emote Basheerian characters. There are these niceties that need to be rendered with infallible perfection. Mammootty, dons the role of Majeed and his father with such ease, like always, it’s a delight and humbling experience to watch him act. Meanwhile, Isha Talwar plays the chirpy and the sagacious lover Suhara and has delivered a stellar performance, doing total justice to the character.” Other casts include Meena, Sasikumar, KPAC Lalitha, Mammukoya, Seema Bhiswas, Priyam Chatterji, along with exceptionally talented child artists.
Moreover, 35 trained theatre artists and 20 hijras have given cameo performances in the movie. The movie has been shot in Kerala and Calcutta.
“A 10-day intense grooming camp was organised in four centres, three in Kerala and one in Dubai. It really gave a head start to the actors to meld with the characters. My experience as a theatre director did carry the day for me,” he said.
A first in films, doyens like P Bhaskaran Master, K T Mohammed, Sreekumaran Thampi, Kavalam Narayana Panicker and ONV (Vagdatha Bhoomi Translated in Bengali) have worked together to pen the lyrics to the music of legendary late K Raghavan Master, Shahabaz Aman and Venu Kolkatta. K J Yesudas, K S Chithra, V T Muralli, Shahabaz Aman, Vijay Yesudas and Raghav Chatterji (Bengali poet) have rendered their voice for the songs. Bijipal has given the background score for the movie.
The movie, Pramod says, as far as he is concerned was destined to be made. With people like M B Mohsin and Sajeeb Hashim, the producers of the film and ardent literary zealots, an iota of hope still lingers for revival of such works, through a new and panoptic medium- cinema.
Why Basheer, why now when ‘new gen’ movies are making a killing at the box office, do you seriously think it even stands a remote chance of raking in even a penny? He grins and with a long sigh says: “Now is perfect, I am not here to compete, I am not for the big bucks or the glitz, I am here to pay a tribute, to remind people, especially the new generation, of one of the greatest writers to have walked the face of earth.”
The movie will hit theatres on February 7.