From back-to-back flops to housefull shows: Dennis Joseph on Mammootty’s comeback via ‘New Delhi’

With ‘New Delhi’, Mammootty made a spectacular comeback in Malayalam cinema. This incredible tale of comeback was narrated by scriptwriter Dennis Joseph in an interview.

Joshiy and I had joined hands for this film. But before that we had seen several failures. We had worked together on movies such as ‘Sayam Sandhya’ produced by Evershine and ‘Nyayavidhi’ by Jubilee Joy but these failed one after the other. These were all big flops during that time.

Apart from these, KG George's film 'Kathakku Pinnil, which I had written, was also a big flop. Like that, about four to five films which we had collaborated with Mammootty flopped. But at the same time, the Mohanlal movies I had written for Thampi Kannanthanam were becoming hits.

Not just our movies, but Mammotty's films with our directors also tanked at the box office. His career hit a low-point and the crowd booed at the very name of Mammootty.

But when the movies such as ‘Sayam Sandhya’ that flopped then appear on television today, people ask me why had these failed? Many people have told me that these movies are better than the ones that ran successfully at the theatres then. But the truth remains that these movies were big flops then.

Due to a string of failures, the Joshiy-Dennis Joseph team was slowly getting ousted from Malayalam cinema. But Mammootty was in a bigger predicament. The situation was such that producers were reluctant to cast Mammootty even in one cinema. But I still don’t know what led to such a scenario. During this time, Mohanlal films were having a successful run.

Then producer Jubilee Joy (Joy Thomas) met me one day. Joy Thomas is not like other producers, he is slightly different. Joy Thomas had then produced several superhit films, featuring Mammootty and Mohanlal. But most of his hits were with Mammootty.

Joy and director Joshiy were saddened to note the continuous failures of Mammootty’s films. Both of them sincerely wanted to do a superhit film that would reinstate Mammootty in the industry. Now, most people would not understand this. But that was the time when several producers stayed away from Mammootty despite being on good terms with him earlier.

Also, Joy Thomas and Joshiy had no trouble in getting the dates of Mohanlal or any other actor. It would have been easy for them to abandon an actor, who had failed, and move on to another. And in the business of cinema, most people would do that only. But Joy and Joshiy did not follow this. Both of them made a herculean effort to bring back Mammootty into the industry. Basically, they were just being stubborn. And the reason behind this obstinacy was their affection towards Mammootty.

Thus, we started thinking about several stories for Mammootty. That's when I thought of a story I had learned in school - Payyampally Chandu! We toyed with the idea of making Payyampally Chandu's tale into a movie. Joy and Joshiy agreed to this. 'Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha' had not released then.

I thought of making a fully commercial film, with songs, on the lines of old Udaya movies. Not many knew of Payyampally Chandu then. Chandu was the Guru and close friend of Thacholi Othenan. Chandu was the one who prepared Othenen for his final battle.

While we were preparing to make this movie, we heard that Sajan Group was planning to do a film based on the Vadakkan Pattu with Priyadarshan-Mohanlal team. Joy and Joshiy were quite unsettled on hearing this. And we decided not to compete against Mohanlal’s film by making a similar movie.

While we were looking at other stories, I narrated the storyline of 'New Delhi'. The story was based on an actual incident. A tabloid journalist, whose newspaper business failed, tries to kill the American president. This was a crazy idea he had to create exclusive news. He gives a quotation to kill the American president. As he was sure that the president would be killed, he printed his newspaper the day before the assassination was to happen. He had planned the assassination to be held at 2'O clock. And at 2.30, he released his newspapers. But the assassination had not happened. The attempt had failed, and the police nab this person and the gang.

Many famous English novels, such as The Almighty, are based on this same theme. The basic theme of ‘New Delhi’ is also from this. That's how we thought of a criminal genius, who creates news to garner attention. But I was sceptical if the Malayalam cinema would accept that a person would resort to such a heinous crime just to expand his newspaper business. Therefore, I gave the hero a specific reason to do this. He uses this as a weapon to target the people who had destroyed him. This was a very ordinary storyline but we set the story in the media world.

Criminal genius who creates news

I put forth the suggestion that the story should unravel in Delhi and that the protagonist should be an English editor. Joshiy and Joy asked the reason behind this suggestion as it was risky to go to Delhi and shoot while we were facing a financial crunch. Also, this was just years after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

Though several movies had been shot in cities such as Bombay, the general audience were not very familiar with Delhi. Only if we tell this story in the backdrop of Delhi will it give credibility to his extraordinary tale. Normally, a producer would not agree to this as this would require double the budget of a Malayalam film. But Joy Thomas accepted the suggestion.

By then, everyone in the industry got to know that we were going to start the shooting of our new cinema in New Delhi. Everybody was interested in knowing about the budget. Several people said that producer Joy Thomas was crazy to do this. There were also talks that Joshiy and I were fleecing Joy. But we did not pay any heed to this.

I spent lot of time writing the movie script. But I was not satisfied with it and tore up many pieces I had written. When Joshiy and I left for Delhi for the film shooting, I had written just 13 scenes and I kept these in my pocket. During the flight, Joshiy asked me about the rest of the scenes and I replied that I had torn away those.

I sat at the Kerala House and wrote the scenes. The scenes to be shot for each day were written by me only on that day. Most people will find it hard to believe this now. But that is the truth.

Shooting in Delhi

The accommodation was arranged at the Kerala House in Delhi. But not everyone in the crew got accommodation there. We just got five rooms. So, I, Joshiy, Joy, Mammootty and Sumalatha stayed there, while the rest stayed elsewhere.

Before 'New Delhi', Malayalam cinema was not familiar with shooting at the national capital. Most people in the unit were seeing Delhi for the first time.

Late Congress leader C K Jeevan's support was a huge help for the filming of 'New Delhi'. As Jeevan wielded a lot of influence in Delhi, the filming was completed easily.  The late Victor George, Manorama photographer, was also in Delhi then. Victor, a friend, too had helped with the filming. It took Joshiy just 22 days to shoot the movie.

I had a memory of seeing a glass capsule elevator in an old movie. From the hotel lobby, one can see people going up and down in the elevator. This appealed to me. We went to a hotel for the shooting and I found this elevator.

In one scene in 'New Delhi’, Mammootty and Sumalatha were taking the elevator to go to the top from the lobby. We decided to shoot that scene at this hotel. Joy also agreed. I, along with Joy and Joshiy, took it up with the hotel authorities. They agreed but sought Rs 25000 for one hour. That was a huge amount in those days. We needed to shoot at least 5-6 hours to complete just that scene. Thus, we would be spending over Rs 1 lakh for that scene alone. Even Mammootty's remuneration in the movie was Rs 1 lakh. So, I and Joshiy said no to this. But to our amazement, Joy said that we would shoot the scene there. He said that the film will benefit from the scene.

Then we approached the hotel manager to seek permission. When the manager, a Keralite, came to know that a Malayali crew was seeking permission for film shooting, he waived off the payment. Instead, he said that the hotel's name should be shown in the film one or two times. Not only that, the hotel provided free lunch for the entire crew that day.

The film shooting was slowly progressing. But I was not able to find a climax for the movie despite repeated attempts. That movie was narrating an unusual tale, hitherto unheard in Malayalam cinema.

I thought of various instances, wrote down everything I could find. But all of them were worthless and I was thoroughly confused. One day, I came across a news item in the Times of India - 'A printer's arm got chopped off'. He was printing booklets on safety in the industrial sector. During this, his hand got crushed in the machine, and two pages of the book were printed in his own blood. I turned this into the climax of the cinema. The news on a person's demise getting printed with his own blood. The climax is really the success factor that kept the movie going then and even now.

But by then, the failure of his movies was affecting Mammootty. He was crestfallen over the failures of his several films that had been released earlier.

Then we faced another problem. We had first approached Tamil actor Sathyaraj for a role in the movie. But in the last minute, Sathyaraj did not appear to be too keen to do this movie. And Tamil actor Thiagarajan became part of New Delhi. Thiagarajan was also acting as a hero in Tamil movies then but he too was on the brink of getting ousted from the cine field after suffering back-to-back flops. This film proved to be a comeback for him as well. Finally, the shooting ended and all works were completed. And the cinema was gearing up for release.

Though Joshiy and I were confident, we were apprehensive also. If this movie too failed to click, we would be out from the Malayalam cinema. Joshiy, Joy and myself watched the movie a couple of times. But nobody else had seen the movie.

One day I told Joshiy, "There is someone who I trust. Let's show the movie to him also." Joshiy sought to know who that was and I said Priyadarshan. He came and saw the preview. Priyadarshan was the only person who saw 'New Delhi' before its release, other than the three of us.

After watching the movie, Priyadarshan told Joshiy, "Joshiy chetta... I was stunned. When I saw the first three reels itself, I was sure that the movie would be a superhit."

After stepping out, Priyadarshan called Mohanlal over the phone and said, "Mammootty is gonna make a comeback." Thus, Priyadarshan was the first person who told us that the movie would be a superhit.

But the release of 'New Delhi' got delayed unexpectedly. The movie could not be released on the set date. There were a lot of action scenes in the movie and sequences that showed the judiciary in bad light and hence the Censor Board blocked the release of the film. The movie then came up before the revising committee in Delhi.

Producer Joy Thomas had to stay in Delhi for days and argue before the revising committee, and finally the movie got the Censor certificate. By then, I along with Joshiy, Mammootty and Sumalatha had reached Kashmir for the shooting of 'Nair Saab'.

About 5 to 10 days after the shooting of ‘Nair Saab’ began, 'New Delhi' was released. In Srinagar, we were staying at a small hotel. On the day of the release, we were all waiting by the phone to know about the movie’s fate.

During those days, it was not easy to make STD phone calls from Srinagar. We waited for the matinee to get over. As soon as the matinee got over, Joy called us and said, "The movie is a superhit."

"The show is over. People broke the window panes in the Anand theatre due to the crowd. Good crowd at all places," Joy said. We were all elated to hear this. That day we did not do any of our scheduled programmes.

But even then Mammootty was finding it difficult to believe that the movie had become a superhit. Only after getting the first show's report, Mammootty was sure of the film's success. As soon as he got to know this, Mammootty rushed towards me and Joshiy, hugged us and broke down. The film had scaled a different level of success.

(Prepared by Sunil)

(Courtesy: Charithram Enniloode on Safari Channel)

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