Ace filmmaker Priyadarshan talks about his return to Malayalam film industry and his friendship with his childhood friend Mohanlal.
THE morning has just begun this afternoon for Priyadarshan. The mumbled greeting almost doesn’t make it, he’s still very sleepy. When Priyan (as he is fondly called) finally settles down for an interview, he speaks in fragments, pausing often, leaving you with a jigsaw of thoughts and words.
He’s got several things on his mind – his next schedule of shooting for his new action flick in London, a slew of releases this year, and of course trying to be a good father to son Siddarth and daughter Kalyani. Priyan doesn’t mind interviews but he is selective in his approach. “Otherwise I feel weird. I feel I’ve given everything away, all the information away.” It sounds like a new admission, but it’s the old celebrity dilemma: you want to reach out to your adoring public, and you still want your privacy. That’s the thing about being in the limelight: there are no shadows to hide in. “If you look at my two decades of career I have spoken to only very few journalists. What I want to speak comes out through my movies.”
Regardless of the movies he makes, Priyadarshan is arguably the best filmmaker in India today. Priyan is celebrating 30 years in the film industry.
Priyadarshan has so far directed over 80 films in several Indian languages including Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. Though he began his career in Malayalam cinema in 1984, Priyan has been mainly active in Bollywood for the past decade.
Upon entering Bollywood he has mostly remade popular comedy films from Malayalam cinema and some from his own work. “At one stage I felt it was necessary for me to expand my horizon and at the same time I felt that those movies I made in Malayalam had to be viewed by a larger audience and I felt Bollywood was the best choice.”
From Malayalam he remade Hera Pheri, Hungama, Hulchul, Garam Masala, Bhagam Bhag, Chup Chup Ke, Dhol, Bhool Bhulaiyaa and Khatta Meeta. Having directed over 27 films in Bollywood he has established himself as the best known filmmaker in the country and in Bollywood. “That does not mean I have said good-bye to the place where I began my career. I am soon directing a film with Lal (Mohanlal). But whenever I make a return to Kerala the expectations are too high notably because I have set myself in Bollywood.”
They still are – with each project Priyan takes on. The reason why he relies heavily on super star Mohanlal is nothing but deep friendship that goes back to his college days.
“He is a true friend and I trust him a lot than anyone else. It gives me a lot of confidence while making a film because he is such a flexible actor.”
His friends during college include popular playback singer M. G. Sreekumar, film producers Suresh Kumar, Sanal Kumar, actors Jagadish and Maniyan Pillai Raju. It was then that Mohanlal got into movies. In 1984, Priyadarshan, along with his Suresh Kumar and Sanal Kumar, decided to produce Poochakkoru Mookuthi. Mohanlal, who was by then a commercially viable star, was selected as the hero. The film was a surprise hit. A slapstick comedy film shot on a low budget, it completed a successful run of 100 days in Indian theatres. “Poochakkoru Mookuthi is more or less the real-life story about me and my friends. I regret in making that film because often film makers find it difficult to make a slapstick comedy and make people laugh. The audience still wants to have films like Poochakkoru Mookuthi.”
But in all the 27 films in Bollywood and an equal number of films in Malayalam he has had found paramount success primarily due to his skills in making the audience laugh. However, Priyan doesn’t want to reveal the secret mantra. “If you want to make God laugh, tell him his plans. It is easy for anyone to make anyone sob but it is difficult to make someone laugh.”
Despite these successes, Priyan is still cautious about the film he makes. “There is always this question: ‘How can I do this best?’ I’ve never ever thought, let me just do a fast job.”
The prospect of Priyan rolling up his sleeves for a “fast job” would no doubt be sweet music to a producer’s ears, sweeter even than the movies being created. “I am a pure workaholic and I work almost all the days. In the 90’s I had directed eight Malayalam movies in a year.”
He is surprisingly modest about his accomplishments, ascribing his talent and success to divine intervention. “I think God has been so kind to me. I am happy to live all this life. Happiness comes when you have great people around you to share the successes and failures of your life,” he concluded.