Priyan, beloved of many industries

The prolific Malayalam filmmaker talks about how every filmmaker is accused of copying scenes from other films

Priyadarshan is a prolific factory. Very successful too. Few filmmakers have spanned industries like he has and come up trumps.

The first director from Malayalam cinema to achieve mainstream success in Bollywood, Priyan — as he is fondly called — went on to make the second highest number of films in Hindi.

His work, however, has not been without criticism. The filmmaker has often been accused of plagiarism, sometimes from his own work.

Showtime caught up with the director at the IFFI, where he is the Feature Film jury chairman, to look back at a very miscellaneous career.

“I started as a screenwriter,” he recalls.

“There was a huge scarcity in the beginning for Malayalam cinema when it came to humour. The first film to bring in some slapstick elements was ‘Poochakkoru Mookkuthi’ (1984). I found acceptance among people. Then I thought I had made a mistake because every producer wanted to make only such films,” he says.
But he broke the mould soon. Priyan was soon making satires and tragedies and experimenting constantly. For instance, he tried ‘keerthanams’ instead of songs in ‘Chitram’ (1987), a huge hit.

“Sometimes when you make films, you find yourself repeating, and that is the moment you realise you have to change your cinema,” he says.

His success in the 80s owes largely to a certain brand of comedy, which he created at a time when Malayalam was producing very brilliant, but almost always serious cinema.

“I basically started with the thought that every human being has a child in them which will die the day you die. Of course, I know a few people whose child has died early, but for most people, it will still be there. I was making films for that child. So I never made my movies vulgar... there were never any double entendre. Because I was brought up in a very conservative world, I always thought we should never thrust any vulgarity in the name of humour,” he says.

And cartoons came in handy. “I loved humour because of shows like Tom and Jerry. I learned slapstick from them. I learned from the situations of Laurel and Hardy. I learned sarcasm from Chaplin. They are all my gurus. My favourite directors were David Lean and Satyajit Ray. When I made ‘Kalapani’ I thought of David Lean, when I made ‘Kancheevaram’ I thought of Satyajit Ray.”

But in Bollywood, where he made his most successful films, Priyadarshan had fewer ambitions in terms of quality of his art. He stuck to slapstick, often through the tried and tested plots from Malayalam.

“When I moved to other languages, I remade films. If they succeeded in Kerala — a place with high educational standards and highly critical audiences — they will elsewhere. I thought my job would be easier if I take the same film in another language. What I made is filtered, mistakes removed and presented again,” he says.

The National Award-winning filmmaker believes only entertainment sells in Bollywood. “That’s why I never tried to experiment in Hindi. I don’t want to go there and make a ‘Kanchivaram’, I don’t want to do a ‘Kaalapani’. You can go watch a Salman Khan film, a Shah Rukh Khan film or an Amitabh Bachchan film... the acceptance is not by Bombay. They became great by the acceptance of UP, Bihar.”

The very thought also made him a prolific filmmaker up north. “I wanted to make films that would be appealing to the people there. That is why I have made almost 30 films, second only to David (Dhawan).”

Priyadarshan doesn’t consider adaptation as a crime. “Sholay is ‘Seven Samurais’. The most famous scene from Sholay (where Dharmendra is on the water tank) is from ‘The Secret of Santa Vittoria’. In those days too, people adapted films from other languages.”

“Noted writer M T Vasudevan Nair was criticised that he copied ‘Nagarame Nanni’ from ‘Conquerors of the golden city’. Adoor Gopalakrishnan was straightaway accused of copying ‘Kodiyettam’ from ‘Days of Mathews’. Everybody has gone through this,” he shrugs off.

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