Interview with Sohan Lal

[Today’s is a guest post by K K Moidu]. Young director Sohanlal is delighted by the overwhelming response to his maiden directorial venture Orkkuka Vallappozhum (Remember sometimes). The low-budget Malayalam film, with veteran actor Thilakan in the lead role, is bringing him laurels from all walks of life. There are more reasons for him to be happy, this is his first feature film and it has already placed him among well-known filmmakers in Kerala.

Moreover, the film has not only got rave reviews, but it also won the prestigious Atlas Film Critic Award for the director. Awards and appreciation are not new to him. He has won more than 15 awards earlier for his small-screen works. His teleserials Pedakam, Neermathalathinte Pookkal and other mini screen programmes like Sopanam, Anjali, Cinema Vicharana, etc. fetched several awards for him earlier.

Born in Thiruvananthapuram, he has a postgraduate degree in Web Designing and a degree in English Language and Literature from the prestigious University College, Thiruvananthapuram. He has been working with various television channels in Kerala. His initial years at Doordarshan gave him the opportunity to work with famed directors like Shyama Prasad. His live commentary for a programme called Veettilekkulla Vazhi (Road towards home) is still fresh in the minds of people. He has worked with most of the Malayalam channels like Asianet, Amrita, Indiavision, Jeevan etc.

His long experience with electronic media has made him technically perfect in his projects. While working with Indiavision he had the good fortune of working with the legendary littérateur and filmmaker MT Vasudevan Nair. Incidentally, MT is writing the preface for his book Orkkuka Vallappozhum, on which the film was made. A strong critic of present-day commercial potboilers, he always wanted to make good films and Orkkuka Vallappozhum proves his commitment.

Sohan Lal, who was in Dubai recently, talks to KK Moidu on his film and other projects. Here are some excerpts:

Tell us about your first feature film Orkkuka Vallappozhum?

Orkkuka Vallappozhum is a natural film, which tells the story of an old man’s journey into his past. This is the story of Sethumadhavan, a 75-year old expatriate played by Thilakan, who returns to his native land where he was born and brought up, after living out of the state for 60 years.

How was the initial response to the film?

People gave it a positive response and I am very happy about the good reviews from the media. Orkkuka Vallappozhum is a fresh experience for the audience. I think people accepted the theme and the way it was presented before them.

Did the film achieve success at the box office?

Well, the film did not harm the producer because it was a low-budget venture. My close friend Vinu YS produced it and I can’t imagine any financial loss to him. Like the script of the film, I am aware of the expenses. It has already recovered its cost from satellite and audio CD rights.

How did you manage to get a producer for a film like this, which obviously lacks any commercial elements?

I was really lucky, my friend Vinu YS trusted me because of my long association with him. The film is not a colourful event with mind-blowing stunts, punch dialogues and glamorous dances but it has some commercial elements and its own chances of success at the box office.

Can you explain?

Late directors like Bharathan and Padmarajan had achieved great success at the box office by making good films with stories that touched the hearts of common people. They had the flavour of the soil of Kerala.

Many audience left theatres when some of the new directors started copying the format of the new Hindi, Tamil and Telugu films. I am trying to bring back those audience who are eagerly waiting for good Malayalam films.

Are other language films also hits at the Kerala box office?

Many people are showing interest in other language films with highly charged action scenes and amazing foreign locations. They treat them as just time pass. But they actually long for a good film. That’s why my film made a good impression. It’s unfortunate that some of our filmmakers are blindly following the format of other language commercial films.

The recent Tamil films have focused on the Tamil life and culture. Look at the recent films like Paruthiveeran, Anjathey and Subramaniapuram. They are super hits. Instead of focusing the camera on our life and culture, Malayalam films are copying other language films.
Orkkuka Vallappozhum is trying to change that trend.

Did you expect commercial success to the film without a crowd pulling hero and a glamorous heroine?

I was not serious about the box office success and audience reaction at the time of making the film.

Your award-winning teleserials Pedakam and Neermathalathinte Pookkal were based on the stories of Maupassant and Kamala Das, what about Orkkuka Vallappozhum?

The film was inspired by a poem with the same title by the great poet P Bhaskaran. But the film is entirely different from the poem and my attempt was to sincerely present it before the audience.

Why did you select Thilakan for the lead role?

My trust in the veteran actor and his great interest in the subject.

Did you utilise the maximum talent of Thilakan in the film?

Squeezing the maximum talent out of Thilakan was not my priority. He is a great actor and he can perform the character Sethumadhavan in various styles. The character in my film is a soft-spoken person and needs only basic expressions. He is living in 2009 and the entire film happens in his mind. After living outside the state for six decades, he is returning to his native place and to an old bungalow there, where he spent his past, his childhood and teenage years. He is totally shattered when he knows about the death of his childhood darling Paru. He decides to accept death by falling into a cave. His character has only few dialogues and he is talking his mind. The actor had lots of scope for performance.

Why did you choose a newcomer like Shilpa Bala, an expatriate girl as the heroine, instead of an established heroine for the crucial double role?

Shilpa is a talented girl and she has done her part very well. The film is also a teenage love story and I can’t even imagine any compromise on my subject. I know her for years and she anchored many popular programmes like Playstation on Middle East Television, Dubai, where I was working as a senior programme producer for two years.

Jagadheesh is playing an important role in the film. Is there any comedy element in a film with an emotional subject?

Jagadheesh is playing a pivotal role in the film as the talkative Kasi, the caretaker of the bungalow. Although he is not doing anything purposefully for humour, the audience will definitely get a chance to laugh after watching the genuine performance of the actor and the special treatment of the subject.

You haven’t assisted any film director and you are also not a film institute student. How did you manage to succeed in the highly competitive film world?

The assistance of established and experienced technicians like cinematographer MG Radhakrishnan and Pandit Ramesh Narayan and my mini screen experience gave me the technical knowledge. I am a student of cinema and my tenure in mini screen was my study time. My childhood aim was to direct films and television opened my entry into filmdom. If a director can view in his mind the first frame to the last frame of a cinema, then he can make films. I learned the grammar of cinema by reading books like Grammar of Cinema. Communication is also very important and if a director can clearly communicate with the technicians and artistes, half of the work is done.

Tell us about your future projects?

Vinu YS is producing my next film under the banner of Gods Own Moviz and two other films with different producers are at the discussion level. One of them will be produced by a prestigious banner with a leading superstar. The other film is bilingual and a leading Bollywood actor will play an important role in the film.

Will the film with the superstar be a commercial entertainer?

It will have commercial elements. But I am interested in making value-based films — it will not be a colourful event for satisfying the mass audience.

But you have directed colourful events and stage shows earlier for television?

It’s true. I had done that for satisfying a larger audience on the spot with superstars like Mohanlal and the glamorous dances of Ramba, Simran and the songs of Udit Narayan and Sonu Nigam. But my films will be entirely different, I promise.

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