Chengazhineerpoovu & the fable of Neelathamara

Sometimes fiction in Cinema becomes a cause of reality. Here is a reverse situation – For M.T. Vasudevan Nair, one of his real life incidents created the concept of film `Neelathaamara’! Traditional belief that drives the theme of this film is an extraordinary flower. It blooms in a temple pond on offering a coin at the sacred step of this temple’s sanctum sanctorum. Seeing the place that nests this belief is an experience of a life time! Malamalkavu near Kuttippuram is special for the same. Ayyappa temple in this place is well known for Chengazhineerpoovu. People come here from far and near to receive God’s will on their lives through the blossoming of this legendary flower… Natives vouch till today the belief has not failed its devotees.

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M.T’s ancestral home is near Malamalkavu. Long back while he was on a personal visit to the place a revered scholar Vaidyamadhom Nampoothiri came to see him. He told the trip was to pray for a chengazhineerpoovu needed for `Deva prasnam’ (a unique activity forecasting well being of presiding deity in a temple). M.T still remembers his amusement regarding the scholar’s faith. To plan an important pooja based on the availability of such a flower he thought, needed such solidity in belief!

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When he planned the story of Kunjimalu, a naïve village maiden, M.T transformed the tradition of Chengazhineerpoovu into Neelathaamara that bloomed effortlessly into a refreshing creation! Though we are not shooting at the original temple and its pond in Malamalkavu nearby lanes and rural roads are our locations. The by-lanes are tiny nerves of village life… with coin like spots of sunlight falling on the non-tarred ground, shoe flower and other shrubs blossoming spontaneously at the sidewalks… In recent times these rural lanes have been picturised in full glow during Bhoothakkannadi of Lohithadas, and I happened to be its associate director. Meesa Madhavan and Pattalam had roads with the indigenous feel of Valluvanad. Organic presence of these walkways in Neelathaamara is celebrated with the warmth of footsteps of men and women who have simple but strong beliefs.

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Stills : Hari Thirumala

Nandan Chalissery

Nandan, is a six feet tall youngster who works as an assistant with art director Gokuldas. He has been there on my sets since Classmates. Those days prior to our introduction I considered him as just another fellow who runs errands; anybody who is familiar with the working style of film locations would know, there are about a dozen or more of these young chaps who are assistants in different departments, ranging from direction, cinematography, art, costume and make up. During the planning, preparation and rehearsal of a shot they have to be very observant, understand the needs of the situation and act impromptu.

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One day when I could not spot Gokul to tell something urgent, Nandan volunteered. Natural to his ways he smiled when he came near. I still can’t figure out my feeling on seeing his smile for the first time…! He does not have two front teeth on the upper gum! This young man of 27 became a mystery to my concepts of `looking handsome’…! Considering his lost teeth may trouble his future, I gave an offer to replace them. He came out with a brighter smile, “sir, the elephant has only two teeth, but I don’t think the animal worries about it!” Now that is a revelation for people like me who are perpetually concerned about hair fall and gray hair!! And sure, Nandan is gifted with such fierce positive energy…. You must see him on the sets!

I did not realize Nandan’s ambition to be an actor till he did a tiny role in a song sequence in Mulla. His role in Neelathamara is nothing but the evidence of our affection; M.T has only written about a manual labourer who carries bags of the lead character in one scene. Nandan was very willing, and because he did that role we started including his character in other scenes at the same location. By and by he became a permanent presence at the premises of the tharavadu and is known by a pet name in the location- `Pengan’!  Just like any other character in Neelathamara Nandan now has a claim to fame of being a character in an `M.T film’! And we are sure that he is boasting about it!!

Some time back he was working on a set with Gokul. They had chosen the location to be the premises of an aristocratic Nair home. While on shoot it rained. On reflux he jumped in to the verandah of the house. He was greeted by a sudden, jerking question from an inmate at the entrance “What’s your name (indirectly probing into the cast of the entrant). Without a wink our hero answered in a similar valluvanadan tune(!) “Nandan Menon”!! Hardly anyone in the set including his colleagues know Nandan Chalissery’s original name is Dhanush!!! Fondly we all call him `Nandan Menon’….

Nandan Chalissery

Nandan lost his teeth about six years back in an accident; the mishap turned into a boon with his extraordinary thought of making it a compliment to his appearance! Mostly I sense the presence of Nandan in the set from far… The location would be energized with the humor- filled, positive throb that he pumps in! Dull moments are wiped off by Nandan’s straight, harmless comments! Here is wishing him the best roles and recognition for all times….

With love
Lal Jose

Meeting the Legend, M.T…

IMG_6359Meeting M.T Vasudevan Nair has been a life long ambition for me. My generation always stood in awe of M.T, one of the most celebrated literary figures of all times. We intently tried following his journeys into various genres of language. In fact, awareness in Malayalam, of any youth during my times, has been judged by his exposure to `MT’s world’! Experiencing the taste of excellence through his writing will stay as long as Malayalam is alive…

My first visual remembrance of him is at an inauguration ceremony in my alma mater, NSS College, Ottappalam. The next picture is fresher when we met him while shooting `Udyanapalakan’. I was working as associate director. In the film Mammutty’s character had a small shop close to a railway cross in Vadanamkkurissy. One day we heard M.T was passing through and was caught up at the level cross. Along with Mammukka we rushed to the spot and met him. That day he was kind enough to spend half a day at our location.

Our next meeting point was yet another shooting location, of the documentary `Voyage’ directed by friend Biju Viswanath. Voyage was about `Nirmalyam’, the celluloid debut of M.T. I had a copy of his short story collection `Sherlock ‘ with me. I wished for the maestro’s autograph. M.T flipped through and got to one of the last pages of the book. I was intrigued at seeing him correct a printing error on that page. Afterwards he signed wishing me the best. I was in for greater surprise when he explained that the print error has occurred in that edition of the book and he corrects it whenever he sees a copy. Focus of this thought and action illuminated my conscience. It gave me a glimpse of the unrest in any genuine creator’s mind. Even after a creation leaves him and starts its journey through the world he worries about its flaws which no one else is aware. And until it is corrected he or she carries the unrest in mind. Philosophically it reminded me how our original creator, the Almighty, worries each time when we err and his efforts of correction. Also the pain and pleasure of our earthly creators, our parents, in seeing the way we interact with the world!!

A few years later my family and I went to Thunchan parambu to perform the vidyarambham, `learning initiation’ ceremony of my younger daughter Catherine. There he was, initiating hundreds of children to take on the limitless ocean of knowledge. Catherine was fortunate enough to be initiated by him on that day of Vidyarambham…

Back to present, producer Suresh Kumar of Revathy Kalamandir approached me last year for a remake of M.T Vasudevan Nair’s thirty year old script Neelathamara. Had I neither seen the film nor read its story. But it didn’t take even an instant to decide that I am doing the film. The only reason that favoured my decision, no doubt, was the author! Soorya Krishnamoorthy, Suresh Kumar and I went to meet him. He presented me an author’s copy of his selected favourite scripts and thus my introduction to Neelathamara. When I read the script, the plot grabbed my attention from a totally new angle. Here is a theme that is truly unconventional from my mainstream perspective. It gleamed in front of my mind’s eye without any flab. The story is simple and compact. With a bang it reminded me that I am seeing a nontraditionally down to earth plot that is far from stereotyped. All its characters are so fresh from life with real emotions- sorrow, love, jealousy, lust, anger and guilt. There is no glorifying just, almighty heroes and untouched, immaculate heroines! The grey tones which are unpopular in story telling are revisiting our cultural scene and as an artist I see tremendous importance in working on such an open theme!

Meeting the Legend M.T Continues….