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Thursday, August 7, 2008
BEGINNING THE ASCENT-LAL JOSE
Lal Jose breaks free from the familiar mould of low-budget films with Cousins, that features Mohanlal and Prithviraj in lead roles. KK Moidu writes
Can a low-budget film without any star attractions create box office history in the superstar-dominated Malayalam film industry? This possibility cannot be ruled out, if Lal Jose is in the directorial seat.
This very successful director has proven his ability to the industry, not once but twice, with colossal hits like Meesa Madhavan and Classmates. He created box office history with these low-budget films without depending on superstars. He was even daring enough to cast an established screen comedian like Salim Kumar in the lead role in Achanurangatha Veedu. Although, the film didn’t pull in the crowds, it was appreciated for its presentation and the artistes’ performance. Salim Kumar won the Kerala State film award for the second best actor for portraying Samuel, a widower with three young daughters and a government employee on the verge of retirement.
However, in his forthcoming film, Cousins, Lal Jose has trodden a more tested path and cast two front-line heroes Mohanlal and Prithviraj. Needless to add, the film will also not be a low-budget venture taking into consideration the remuneration of the highest paid actor of the Malayalam industry, Mohanlal. The handsome young Prithviraj will be an equally big draw in the film.
Lal Jose filled in the details about the project when he was here in the UAE for the film’s discussions. The film is based on a script by Dubai-based Homeopath, Dr. Iqbal Kuttippuram.
Surprisingly, Lal Jose made his directorial debut a decade ago with the other superstar of Malayalam films Mammootty in Oru Maravathoor Kanavu and Cousins will be his first film with Mohanlal. Also Prithviraj will be sharing screen space with Mohanlal for the first time.
Lal Jose set the record straight and denied chasing Mohanlal because of his superstar status. “It’s just that the role perfectly suits Mohanlal.” He also reminded that “of the three biggest hits of the Malayalam film industry – Narasimham, Meesa Madhavan and Classmates – with the exception of Mohanlal starrer Narasimham, directed by Shaji Kailas, the other two films were directed by him. Explaining his lack of fascination for superstars he said films with superstars always managed impressive initial collections, but to keep the cash registers ringing the film had to rise up to the expectations of a superstar’s fans.”
As an example he cites the Mammootty starrer Pattalam. Mammootty fans didn’t like fact that in the film he portrayed an army officer with a comical shade and Jose even received threats over the phone for doing so. Voicing despair, Lal Jose says: “The original war scenes in the film, which are very rare in Malayalam films, went unnoticed.” Jose added “while making films with actors like Sreenivasan we have no such difficulties. Because he does not have any fans associations and there is no need to satisfy anybody, except the audience.”
Lal Jose has to his credit 11 films, as an independent director. Meesa Madhavan and Classmates made him a favourite of the audience. Even more experienced directors with more films to their credit have not succeeded like him in winning the hearts of people from all walks of life. The success of these blockbuster films propelled young actors Dileep and Prithviraj to superstardom.
His other successful films like Oru Maravathur Kanavu, Chandranudikkunna Dikkil, Chanthupottu, Arabikkatha underscored his credentials as a master craftsman. He has also introduced many talented actresses to the industry like Kavya Madhavan. Actresses like Samvrutha Sunil, Muktha and Meera Nandan, who made their debut in Lal Jose’s box office flops like Rasikan, Achanurangatha Veedu and Mulla, not only received offers from the local film industry but also from outside the state.
Lal Jose blames a TV channel for the downturn in Mulla’s box office collections. Dileep plays the lead in this recently released film. Lal Jose said, “initially it was only a few women from the audience who didn’t like the fact that the hero loses a leg in the film’s climax. The film was running successfully at the box office. But after a week, a TV channel ran down the movie as a disgrace in Lal Jose’s otherwise chequered career. This wrong assessment and negative comment about the film badly affected the box office collections.” A TV channel showed a clipping from an African film, and claimed the scene had similarity to one scene from Mulla. Lal Jose complained “these media didn’t utter a word against their favourites, whose films were similar to films of other Indian languages and Hollywood films.”
Lal Jose attributes much of his success to the care accorded to avoiding stereotypes. Cousins tells the story of farmers. The Lal Jose-Dr. Iqbal Kuttippuram team earlier gave Arabikkatha with Sreenivasan in the lead. Lal Jose introduced a Chinese national, Chang Shu Min, opposite Sreenivasan in the film. This was a first in the history of Malayalam cinema.
Not surprisingly, audience expectations are at an all-time high for Cousins, because in addition to the Lal Jose-Dr. Iqbal Kuttippuram partnership it features crowd-pullers like Mohanlal and Prithviraj in the lead. The two actors play cousins and the film revolves around their relations. As the only living members of a family, wiped out in an accident, the cousins maintain an extraordinary bond. Circumstances, however, force one of them to leave the village and settle in the city but he returns to village later. The film will also have two heroines, of which one will be a new face.
Having been a long-time assistant of director Kamal, whose films are known for their quality music, Lal Jose has admirably continued this glorious tradition. Catchy songs have been one of the highlights of his films. Chinga Maasam (Meesa Madhavan), Thirike Njan (Arabikkatha), Ente Kalbile (Classmates), Omana Puzha (Chanthupottu) being some of the outstanding examples. A newcomer will score the music of Cousins. His earlier finds like music director Biji Bal (Arabikkatha) have proven their talent in their very first film itself.
Lal Jose himself had no prior links with the film industry when he joined it. He belongs to a middle class family in Vallapad, Thrissur district. Both his parents were teachers and his entry into films was purely accidental. After completing his education from Ottappalam he dreamt of finding a job in the Gulf. Before joining a photo studio in Gulf, he went to Chennai to learn manual colour film processing, which would enable him to earn more money during his spare time.
However, his friendship with film personalities in Chennai changed his life for ever. He joined veteran director Kamal as a temporary assistant for just one film, but on the director’s insistence continued to assist him in 16 films. After he finished his first film, Lal Jose’s father arrived in Chennai with the visa, but by then the young Lal Jose was mesmerised by the magic of cinema refused to go along with his father. His father then requested Kamal to intervene and advise his son to go to the Gulf, but Kamal supported Lal Jose and the father had to return disappointed. Meanwhile, Lal Jose also assisted other directors like Thampy Kannanthanam, Vinayan, KK Haridas etc.
At present, Lal Jose is busy with his maiden Tamil directorial venture Mazhai Vara Pokuthu, featuring Daniel Balaji and Priya Mani in the lead. Only after completing the film, he will start work on Cousins. Jose said he is confident about his Tamil debut doing well, although Daniel Balaji is no top-notch superstar. Similarly, Lal Jose is willing to make Malayalam films with new heroes, as long as he is able to find producers for the projects.
Lal Jose says: “Cinema is my passion, my life and I dream cinema.” He is not shy of admitting that he dreams of worldwide acclaim and winning an award at the Cannes Film Festival. When asked whether being a director in regional cinema would be a hindrance in scaling these heights of fame, he said: “My dreams were always big and that is why I achieved at least this much and reached this position.” He plans to make his debut in Bollywood before setting his sights on Hollywood and if he succeeds regional cinema will have something to be proud of.