John Paul gifted Malayalam cinema a glorious era through screenplays noted for their artistic merit. He stepped into an industry where action-oriented or soft-porn flicks, especially those made in Chennai studios, were the order of the day. He carved out a new style noted for the portrayal of down-to-earth stories. He simply amazed viewers with next-door characters and native life.
Though his first film was Chamaram, he had earlier associated with Njan Njan Mathram. Viewers could instantly identify with the college life visualised in Chamaram, featuring characters representing the upper and lower middle classes. The language used and the structuring of dialogues were pleasant and different. Naturality was a feature of the productions by the Bharathan-John Paul team. They heralded a new beginning in the industry. John Paul continued to weave his magic in films by great directors.
Like Vida Parayum Munpe with Mohan, Avidathe Pole Ivideyum and ‘rorumariyathe with K S Sethumadhavan, Mizhineerpoovukal and Unnikale Oru Kadha Parayam with Kamal, Ina with I V Sasi, and many more. Uncle, as I addressed him, used to say good scripts alone won’t make great films. The director’s craft makes great films from good scripts. A good story should become a good screenplay, and a gifted director would shape up a good film from it. That was his vision.
He was a person who constantly evolved and improvised, thanks to his association with great writers like M T Vasudevan Nair, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and Kamala Suraiyya. John Paul’s entry made Malayalam cinema more literature-oriented. The precision in vocabulary and dialogue structuring made his scripts stand apart. He was a towering presence for about four decades in Malayalam cinema.
Vast reading and a huge friend circle enhanced his vision of life. He had commendable knowledge on world cinema, writers and directors, and books from across the world. Vast experience, be it with people or literature, moulded the writer in John Paul. Quite natural that his films stood out.
I had a close association with him. I used to have long discussions with him and travelled with him several times. He was like a library that we would long to visit again. Even a brief conversation with him is sufficient for one to feel his knowledge and creativity. His talent for spotting stories was amazing. Even a small news report would give him a spark. ‘Yathra’, an adaptation of the Japanese classic ‘The Yellow Handkerchief’, told us about police atrocities. We can draw parallels with real-life incidents even today. Naturality was a highlight of his films. Characters spoke dialects matching their lifestyle and environment, and that attracted people.
His uniqueness was perhaps the ability to frame characters that changed the careers of artists. He conceived unusual roles for certain actors. Take the case of Nedumudi Venu, who acted as an old man in ‘Ambada Njane’. Characters larger than his age kept coming to Venu Chettan -- from ‘Chamaram’ to ‘Vida Parayum Munpe’ or ‘Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam’.
(The writer is a Malayalam
actor, director and screenwriter)