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His experiments with cinema

PREMA MANMADHAN

Film director Fazil's maiden film, `Manjil Virinja Pookkal', was released on a Christmas Day 25 years ago.



DREAM MERCHANT: Fazil has made some memorable films in Malayalam and other languages. Photo: Johney Thomas

"He is a commercial film maker who dares to experiment." This is how Mammootty describes filmmaker Fazil, who has been in the film industry for 25 years. It was on Christmas day, a quarter of a century ago, that director Fazil's first movie, `Manjil Virinja Pookkal' was released. It created a flutter and gave the Malayalam film world an actor with an elastic range - Mohanlal.

Mohanlal reminisces how he was selected for the movie. A panel of well-known directors was to select the actor for the role that Mohanlal eventually essayed. Two directors gave him five and seven marks out of 100, but Fazil gave him 90 and Jijo, producer Appachan's son, 95. Thus he became the new villain, who stepped into the hero's shoes later. In his 25th year in movies, Fazil is planning two films. He is working on the script for one, and the next project will have Mammootty in the lead, he says.

Talent spotting

Fazil has a knack for spotting talent, he has introduced some of the biggest names in films in south India. Apart from Mohanlal, Nadia Moidu in `Nokketha Doorathu Kannum Nattu,' Baby Shalini in `Ente Mamattukkuttiyammakku,' and Kunchacko Boban, all had their first acting stints under the baton of Fazil. Nagma was introduced to the south in Fazil's `Killer' (Telugu) while Khushboo started her southbound journey with his `Varusham 16.'

With 18 Malayalam films, 10 in Tamil, and one in Telugu under his belt, Fazil has won the maximum number of State awards for the best film with popular appeal and aesthetic value. Four of his films to be awarded in this category are `Manjil Virinja Pookkal,' `Nokketha Doorathu Kannum Nattu,' `Ennenum Kannettante' and `Manichitrathazhu.' Though 10 of his Malayalam movies were hits, his flops haunt him.

"My film `Ennennum Kannettante' was a failure at the box office, ironically it got the award for the best film with popular appeal. I still feel that the movie was good," he reminisces. But of his flops, he has only this to say: "The creator can make a mistake, but the people cannot make a mistake." He does a painstaking post-mortem of his movies that bite the dust, so that the mistakes are not repeated.

There may not be many in the field with such big hits and flops, equally big. He takes it all in his stride. Fazil turned producer a couple of times with mixed luck. He does not feel the emotional need to work all the year round. He lays off for long periods at times before starting on his next movie. "I work only under pressure, that's my problem," he explains. What keeps him happy in his job is his relationships with people. "I am sure I am one of the few people who have no enemies in the field," he says. His friends have always stood by him, through thick and thin.

To Sathyan Anthikkad, he is a `close friend.' "He has introduced so many people to cinema, but he never talks about that to anybody, a quality that I have imbibed. He has several humane qualities. However big a film you do, the next film is what people will judge you by, he always says. If you ask him to help you when you are stuck with a story, he will do it sincerely and involve himself constructively in the discussion. He looks at a new film just like a novice, willing to learn, willing to listen. He is like a textbook on cinema to me," says Anthikkad.

Star director

Says Joshiy, director, "Fazil is the only star among us. Even if he does not make a movie for five years, he is still a star director. Very few know that he is a very good actor. He acts out everything for the artiste to follow." The only movie in which he has done a small role is in `Nokketha Doorathu Kannum Nattu.' Mammooty also says that Fazil takes a lot of effort and `is an actor's delight.'

Landmark movies like `Ente Mamattukkuttiyammakku' are still fresh in Fazil's mind. "It took just 30 days to make the film. The story was written, the cast finalised, the music made and the movie shot, all in 30 days flat," he remembers. For the film, he was awarded the State award for the best director , the best film and Baby Shalini, the super child star was born. It was remade in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada.

When people took a train to Chennai and made Kodambakkam their home to enter cinema, Fazil made his name, right here in Kerala, in Alappuzha, where he lives.

His father wanted his son to be a doctor, but in school and college, extra curricular activities engulfed him. He wrote plays, enacted them with his friends (Nedumudi Venu was his college mate while in SD College) and this group was perhaps the first mimicry team that entertained crowds. "I used to mimic stars like Sathyan, Sivaji Ganesan and Govindankutty. I learnt later that Mammootty, Siddique and Lal had seen our programmes in Kochi," Fazil laughs. He completed his post-graduation in economics with a high second class, however.

It was at this point that Boban Kunchacko called him for a story discussion. He also got a chance to watch veteran Vincent at Udaya Studios, making a movie, `Acharam Ammini, Osaram Omana.'

"This was the university where I learnt filmmaking. I watched him make the whole movie and learnt the craft. I contributed to the discussions of new movies at the studio. `Theekkanal' was made with big budget stars, like Madhu and Nazir. It was a success. When they discussed the next film, I suggested that a small budget movie be made, with new faces. I was given the job of director for `Manjil Virinja Pookkal.' Jijo was always a great source of encouragement to me," Fazil sums up his early days.

`Nokketha Doorathu Kannum Nattu,' was again, significant, in which Padmini, the dancing star of yesteryear came back in the role of `Ammachi' and where Nadia Moidu was introduced. It was a women oriented movie besides. Fazil has been seriously thinking about a sequel to `Nokketha Doorathu Kannum Nattu,' for the movie ended on such a note, quiet and with hope.

`Poovinu Puthiya Poonthennal' had Mammootty in the lead and the crime thriller was remade in Tamil too. Fazil feels free to take on any subject, be it romance, crime, suspense, family or fantasy. Athough people feel it is fantasy that he excels in, like `Manichitrathazhu,' which is closest to his heart, he admits.

He intends to get cracking again soon with the two projects he has in mind, as his last movie, the Tamil, `Oru Naal Oru Kanavu' was released in August this year.

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