It was 1985, the year when some of Malayalam's path-breaking films were being made. Filmmaker Kamal was then a studious young assistant director, busy assisting masters like P N Menon, Bharathan, and K S Sethumadhavan.
One day, during the shoot of Sethumadhavan's 'Aviduthe Pole Ivideyum', a family drama starring Mammootty and Mohanlal, Mammootty called Kamal aside and told him: “Thampy is about to start a film. He has a script. I want you to write the dialogues. Thampy does not have a good associate. I want you to be his associate in that film.” The film was 'Aa Neram Alpa Dooram', a revenge drama planned to cash in on the huge success of 'Ee Shabdam Innathe Shabdam', another revenge drama that came out early in the same year.
Kamal was not too keen. “I was assisting the stalwarts, and Thampy's idea of filmmaking was not something that I shared,” Kamal said. But the young assistant could not refuse the upcoming star of the eighties. Mammootty was very close to Thampy Kannanthanam then. “He must have wanted to help Thampy after the failure of his first two films,” Kamal said.
But there was another reason why Kamal took up the assignment. “Thampy was a great friend. I knew him right from the time he was a star associate director. Even before he had turned director, he used to visualise big action sequences for busy filmmakers like Sasikumar. Above all this, he was a nice person, helpful and kind. I knew there would be no hassles working with him,” Kamal said.
After polishing the script, both Thampy and Kamal met Mammootty in Ooty, where Balu Mahendra was shooting 'Yatra'. “Mammootty gave us his inputs, and the friendly banter between the two showed how close they were,” Kamal said. “I have no idea why they drifted apart later in life,” he added.
Pursuit of Siddique
The casting of a young actor called Siddique was the other episode that Kamal fondly remembers. The incident also threw light on Thampy's soft heart, a contrast to the tough exterior that he sported. “During those times, even big filmmakers were a bit superstitious. Before starting a film, they had the habit of getting the advice of a person known in film circles as Kora chettan,” Kamal said.
'Kora chetan' was an astrologer of sorts - better still, a kingmaker who decided which actor should be cast for a particular role and which location to be chosen.
“Thampy, too, met Kora and we were told that a new person, as yet untested, should be cast as villain in the film. His name was Siddique, Kora said in the tone of a claiyvoyant,” Kamal said.
Thampy wanted Lalu Alex as the villain but since it was Kora who proposed he had no choice. “We had no idea who this guy was and so we went in search of Siddique. We were told he was studying in a polytechnic ay Kalamassery. But at the polytechnic we were told that he had gone to the Gulf. We managed to find his elder brother (Majeed, who is now a character actor in films) and he promised to call up his brother,” Kamal said.
Thinking that it will not work out, Thampy lost interest in Siddique. He roped in Lalu Alex as the villain for 'Aa Neram Alpa Dooram'. “But two days before the shoot, this young curly-haired lad turned up at the room where we were in a discussion. He introduced himself and said he had taken leave to act in the film. Thampy was a bit taken aback, but he did not want to disappoint the young man. He offered him a small role in the film,” Kamal said. After Siddique left the room, he told Kamal to add a couple of scenes to give Siddique's role more meat. Though he did not feature in any of the film's posters, Siddique turn as 'Alex' was noted. Incidentally, Siddique got his first big role in another of Thampy's films, 'Janmantharam'.
'Aaa Neram Alpa Dooram' was a flop, and there ended Kamal's creative association with Kannanthanam. “I did not feel that Thampy was too concerned about the failure. He was a determined man,” he said. Both became independent filmmakers soon.
Kamal's debut film, 'Mizhineer Poovukal' with Mohanlal in the lead, released on July 12, 1986. A week later Thampy released his Mohanlal-starrer, 'Rajavinte Makan', one of the biggest blockbusters ever. “Rajavinte Makan created such a wave that my film just about managed to hold on,” Kamal said.