It has been 13 years since AK Lohitadas, considered one of the finest scriptwriters in Malayalam cinema passed away. June 28th was AK Lohitadas's death anniversary and I kept thinking about him. How quickly time flies! I am sure to this day he has an important place in every Malayalee cinephile’s heart. Although we cannot remember all those who have left us, there are some rare people who are always in our memories because of their overwhelming goodness. Lohitadas was one such person.
Though he didn’t have many friends in the industry, there were a handful of friends he treasured, who stood by him during his good days and bad days, and they were his greatest treasures. He knew whom to keep at an arm's distance and whom to rely on. Even during his last days, he kept them in the dark about his ailments.
It was shocking to hear that he didn’t even tell his wife and children about his deteriorating health.
How did this suddenly happen?
His writing process was interesting. He would lock himself inside a room for days, tie a cloth over his head, recite the dialogues and write about his experiences on paper. Once Director Sibi Malayil told me that some of his greatest works came from a space of extreme mental stress. That was also one reason behind his premature death.
Lohitadas debuted in cinema in 1987, this was 6 or 7 years after I came to Malayalam cinema. Though it was Thilakan who introduced him to Malayalam cinema, I would like to think that I also played a small part in bringing him to cinema. In 1986 when I was getting ready to go to Mata Tourist Home, I got a call from Vijaya Movies' Sevichan.
“Dennis, yesterday we heard a story written by a new guy. The story is nice, why don’t you also hear it? If you liked it, we shall buy it. If you are not too busy, can you come to the office at 11 am?”
I took a minute to think. I was putting together Joshiy’s ‘January Oru Orma’ in the scene order. But I can’t deny such a request, as I had written Vijay Movies productions like ‘Kottinilam Kili’ and ‘Oru Nokku Kaanan.’ And they had also given the advance payment to write a new film. I was still in the process of finding a story when this call came. We agreed to meet at 11 am.
When I got down in front of Vijaya Movies office at Pullepadi, I spotted a slightly bulky man with a long beard and hair who had tucked a diary under his arm. On seeing me, he flashed an awkward smile. At the office, Vijaya movies producers Babu Xavier, Savichan, and Joli were waiting for me. Since their father Xavier sir had heard the story, he didn’t turn up. They sent the peon to call the young man.
The first thing I noticed was an expression of nonchalance on his face. He was offered a chair next to me. “Don’t you know Kaloor Dennis? He has written the screenplay of most of our films.”
He looked at me and nodded.
“This is the new scriptwriter Lohitakshan. He has written plays.”
I smiled at him. But though he wanted to return that smile, he looked too anxious. Perhaps he was worried about the outcome of this meeting.
“Ok, let’s not waste any more time. Lohitakshan, narrate that story to Dennis.”
He took his time to tell the story. But his storytelling was different. He narrated it without frills.
It was a family subject. At that time I was also primarily writing family subjects. The story was about marital discord. I liked it. There was some novelty to it. But towards the climax, I felt it had some similarity with my superhit film ‘Sandarbham.’ Though the producers too had the same opinion, they didn’t share it with Lohitakshan.
But I mentioned that to him. He nodded his head in a nonchalant manner.
“But that’s ok. We can make some changes to the climax. Let’s do this story,” I told everyone.
Immediately Babu Xavier handed him a token advance of Rs 1000 and said—“Keep this. After you come back with a rewritten climax, and if it comes out well, we can fix your remuneration.”
He pocketed that money. During that time, that’s the maximum a scriptwriter was given as advance payment. And their payment was not more than Rs 5000.
He sat there for a few minutes and then left promising to be back in a week with a rewritten climax. We sat there for some time and discussed the casting. Mammootty and Shobana were finalised.
Before leaving, they handed me an advance amount. Since I was pretty busy during those days, I agreed to write a screenplay before the shooting of ‘January Oru Orma.’
But Lohitakshan didn’t turn up with the promised rewritten climax even after 2 weeks. We didn’t have any number to contact him. Though there was a suggestion to go to Chalakudy to meet him, somehow it didn’t happen. Finally, that project was shelved due to various reasons including Mammootty’s date issues.
It took another 4-5 months for AK Lohitadas to resurface, but this time as the scriptwriter of Sibi Malayil’s ‘Thaniyavarthanam.’ It had a fresh story. Lohitadas was also doing the next film of Sibi Malayil. Since Mammootty was the hero of both films, luck seems to be favouring the young man.
When the new subject was discussed, although Lohi mentioned that it was a story he had narrated to Vijaya Movies, after Mammootty's assurance that they had chucked the project, Lohitadas decided to do the film for Sibi Malayil. That film was titled ‘Vicharana’.
During the time of its release, Vijaya movies threatened to file a lawsuit against Lohitadas. They were livid that he was going ahead with a project without consulting them and without even bothering to return their advance amount. Since he was a newcomer, he wasn’t aware of such legal issues. Though they demanded a sum more than the advance amount, finally things were sorted out following Mammootty’s intervention.
Lohitadas went on to become an irreplaceable presence in Malayalam cinema with films like ‘Kireedom’, ‘Chenkol’, ‘Bharatham’, ‘Mrigaya’, ‘Amaram’, ‘Kamaladalam’, ‘Sallapam’, ‘Kauravar’ and ‘Veendum Chila Veetu Karyangal’.
In 1997 he turned director with ‘Bhoothakkanadi.’ That film won that year’s State award for best screenplay. Lohitadas became the most feted scriptwriter in Malayalam cinema.
After that first meeting though we never really bonded, we used to meet occasionally at MACTA meetings and exchange notes. I last met Lohi at the 2007 MACTA protest meeting. That was my first visit after amputating my leg. I was resting at BTH Hotel when directors Kamal, Sibi Malayil, and Lohitadas came to meet me. Lohi came and sat on my bed. He sat quietly for some time and looked at me. I felt like his mind was in turmoil.
“I heard everything.” They were as soft and poignant as the words he would script for his films. Today Lohi isn’t with us and I consider that God’s macabre joke. He made stars out of glow worms and his life is a lesson for every artist about the importance of sheer talent, luck, and perseverance.
I have heard that he was going through a lot of emotional trauma during his last days. I don’t think he is someone who will be able to live without the remnants of the past. “When I was alive there were so many people who criticized and emotionally hurt me. They will all acknowledge the artist in me after my death,” he had said.