Frames from the past
By Rajeev Nair
Director Lal Jose has dipped into his own experiences on the campus for his film Classmates. Can one small-budget film with B-grade actors, no hype, less spectacle and zero technical gimmicks gain a cult following? Can one little film touch so many hearts - that of teenyboppers and 70-year-olds - with equal ease? Classmates, has managed to achieve just that.
The film's rights have already been bought over for remakes in other south Indian languages. It is smashing box-office records and is firmly positioned to become one of Malayalam cinema's biggest hits. Director Lal Jose isn't surprised. Though he did not expect the film to gain this sort of a dream run, he knew that it would appeal to viewers and make them return to theatres. Repeat audiences, indeed, have been one reason for the film's rock-steady collections.
Classmates, says Jose, is his best crafted film. It is also one that he holds close to his heart, having always wanted to make a campus-based film. Assisting veteran directors such as Kamal, Jose turned independent director with Chandranudikkunna Dikkil, a social film noted for its rich visual imagery. He sustained the winning streak with Meesha Madhavan and Chanthupottu - the first catapulting actor Dileep to stardom and the second underscoring his acting ability. Jose's repertoire also includes Oru Maravathur Kanavu, Randam Bhaavam, Pattalam, Rasikan and Achanurangatha Veedu. While he continued his affinity for intense imagery in all these films, Jose was careful not to be stereotyped. "I have been particular that no matter what the box office fate of my films, years later, when people revisit the films, they must recognise the distinctive craft and narrative structure I had followed," says the director.
Jose dipped into the experiences he amassed from his own campus life for Classmates. "Several characters in the film have my personal elements; many others are shaped after some of my friends," he says. Unlike earlier campus films in Malayalam that either focussed on the romance of the rich or the boorishness of pseudo-intellectuals, Classmates showcases several true-to-life moments. For one, the film celebrates the culture of campus politics - an inimitable mix of petty rivalry and clashing ideologies - prevalent in Kerala. "I lived through many of the situations that happen in the film," says Jose. Many viewers should be able to identify with Jose's experiences. While Classmates remains his most personal film, Jose says it is Achanurangatha Veedu - a biting commentary on the disturbing trend of atrocities against women in Kerala - that is emotionally closer to him. "I did that film with a heavy heart," he says.
That film employed several scene scrambles and was a testing ground for Jose. "I utilised scene scrambling techniques in Classmates more liberally, and it has worked well."
Jose is also working on a new film to be shot in Dubai as well as a documentary for the Qatar government. But for now, he is enjoying the sweet success of Classmates. After all, he created the film's canvas from his own life experiences. What could appeal better to human minds than honest thoughts communicated with conviction.
His next project
Jose is on a visit to Dubai to scout locations for his next film based on a script by Dr Iqbal Kuttippuram, a well-known homeopathic doctor in Dubai, who is most known for his mega hit 4 The People.
"I know people from the different economic strata that make up the Indian expatriate community here. My new film will be closer to the aspirations of those who are unable to enjoy the luxuries offered by the rich cities," says Jose.
With actor Sreenivasan as the hero, the film will have an underlying trace of humour.