Kozhikode: Malayali audience can hardly forget the blockbuster film Ravanaprabhu in which super star Mohanlal mesmerized everyone in his double role avatar. The actor played the iconic character Mangalassery Neelakandan, the proud patriarch and his son, the fiery Karthikeyan, with ease. However, not many know that a body double had stood in for Mohanlal’s Neelakandan in the scenes where the father and son have been shown together. It was Rajan Koyilandi, the assistant art director of the movie who stood in as Mohanlal’s body double in most of the combination scenes.
Rajan who has been working in the Malayalam cinema industry as assistant production designer for more than four and a half decades has acted in many minor roles too. However, the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have forced Rajan to don the role of a security guard in real life. 65 year old Rajan doesn’t mind wearing the blue colored uniform of the security guard as he stands vigilant in front of a bar in Mavoor road. “I am sad watching cinema being destroyed like this. You need income to survive, right? I am willing to do anything to earn a living. I am not used to sitting idle,” says Rajan.
Scene 1, Kodambakkam
Nanu, whose father was a toddy tapper, was born at Melur near Chenkottukavu in Koyilandi. He has been passionate about movies since his childhood days. He used to hide cinema magazines between the pages of his text books that he carried to school. It was one of his teachers who asked Nanu to change his name to Rajan. The youngster, who dropped out of school after class nine, took the next train to Gujarat, like most people from Koyilandi did, to work in a tyre shop there. However, Rajan didn’t give up his love for cinema. It was this genuine passion that made him come down to Coimbatore, where he found job in a hotel. Rajan then moved to Chennai and worked in a tea shop at Vadapalani Gangai Amman Kovil Street. He managed to find accommodation at the house of a Palakkad native who used to frequently come to the tea shop. It was during this time that Rajan had realized a bitter truth. He understood that among the hundreds of cinema lovers who come to Kodambakkam hoping to make it big in the movies, only a handful of them actually succeed.
Actor Sreenivasan and film makers Vipindas and Sajan who directed Malayalam movie Chakkarayumma used to the visit the tea stall at Gangai Amman Kovil Street where Rajan had worked. Meanwhile, Rajan met TH Kodambuzha and became friends with him. It was Kodambuzha who introduced Rajan to Ravi, a Marwadi businessman based in Kannur. Ravi used to loan huge amount of money to film producers during those days. Interestingly, it was Marwadi Ravi who introduced Rajan to the world of cinema. Noted film maker IV Sasi was filming his movie Arattu in Chennai during this time. Rajan joined the team of well known production manager KR Shanmugam who had worked in Arattu.
Jubilee and Nirakkoottu
Rajan had first worked as an assistant art director in the movie Nyayavidhi which was bankrolled by Jubilee Productions. From then till Jubilee’s recent production Evide, Rajan had been part of all their movies. Similarly, he also worked in almost all films directed by Joshiy including Ee Thanutha Veluppan Kalathu. During that time, he became friends with Dennis Joseph, Shibu Chakravarthy and Gayathri Asokan. Rajan was part of the production team of Nirakkoottu and New Delhi. Moreover, he was seen in at least one scene in these movies. A few days after the release of Nirakkoottu, ad designer Gayathri Asokan called Rajan and said, “Buy a Manorama newspaper on Tuesday. Your face too is there on Nirakoottu’s ad.” Rajan bought the newspaper and couldn’t contain his excitement when he saw his own face next to Mammootty’s in the promotional ad. He had essayed the minor role of a policeman in the film. Rajan had also worked as an assistant art director in the movie Manu Uncle directed by Dennis Joseph.
Akashadhootu and Sammanam
Rajan’s role in the blockbuster movie Akashadhoothu was a breakthrough one. He played the cruel helper of NF Varghese’s villain who is a lorry driver. Rajan still remembers how the women who sell fish at the Koyilandi harbor had snubbed him when he went there after the film’s release. Attakalasam was the first Mohanlal starrer in which Rajan had worked. Since then, he had acted in countless movies alongside the screen icon. He had even worked in Kireedom and Chenkol, two of the all time hits of Mohanlal. Meanwhile, Rajan was seen in just one scene in Bhoomiyile Rajakkanmar. He was noticed for his role in Sammanam directed by Kireedam Unni. However, by this time, Rajan had realized that one needs luck too, to emerge successful in the cinema industry.
Cinema in the recent times
Rajan has been working in the team of well known production designer Boban for quite some time. Interestingly, it is in Mammootty’s movies that he had worked the most. From Mela to the recently released The Priest, Rajan had been part of many Mammootty’s starrers. He has also worked in a handful of films produced by Anto Joseph. He also played minor roles in the movies of directors like Shaji Kailas, Ranjith and Rajasenan.
Six months ago, Rajan had collapsed on the sets of a movie in which Joju George plays the lead role. He was rushed to the hospital by the crew members. Further tests revealed variations in his ECG. After being discharged from the hospital, the film’s producers had taken Rajan back to his home in Koyilandi.
Rajan, who has been part of Malayalam cinema for more than 45 years, helplessly watched as the industry, that he has loved more than anything, get abruptly stalled. Like thousands of cinema workers, Rajan’s family too has been struggling. Rajan and his wife Sumathy have two sons, both of whom are working at Rajaputra Visual Media. The pandemic has robbed this family off their income. The family has to pay Rs 18000 per month as home loan. It was then that Rajan had decided to look for other jobs. He was hired by a Nadakkavu based security agency V4U as a security guard. Currently, Rajan receives a small amount from the welfare schemes of various cinema organizations.
He says that the monthly loan repayment cannot be met even if he contributes his entire salary. One of his sons, who had worked in the movies, now helps their neighbor in stone cutting. “Last night when I was sitting here, guarding the building, I wrote down my liabilities on a piece of paper. I honestly don’t know how long I will be able to survive like this,” Rajan ends on a sad note.