Malayalam filmmaker IV Sasi: A director who lived and breathed cinema
They don’t make directors like him anymore, says Mollywood in unison, as the biggest hitmaker of them all, IV Sasi, bids adieu to cinema and this world. With his trademark cap always in place, he helmed over 150 films, many of them breaking conventions, setting new standards and creating a new grammar for commercial cinema. Marrying aesthetics and commerce like never before, he earned cult status and went on to create many superstars.
A few months ago, at a function in Kozhikode, the legendary director had announced that he was all set to helm the biggest project in his career — a movie on Kuwait war. When veteran directors often come up with such announcements, it’s often taken with a pinch of salt as there always exists the tough challenge to meet the new standards. However, IV Sasi’s filmography, which includes films in Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi, was never about settling down and always pushed the boundaries of Malayalam cinema — in terms of content, characters and narrative technique.
The 69-year-old cancer survivor passed away on Tuesday when he suddenly complained of uneasiness and was taken to a hospital in Chennai. He reportedly died on the way.Sasi gave the first big break to one of Mollywood’s biggest superstars, Mammootty, with his movie Thrishna and also gave a wallop to Mohanlal’s career with films such as Uyarangalil and Devasuram. His movies such as Utsavam with relative newcomers was a pathbreaker in the 70s when directors lined up to do films only with stars, and with Avalude Raavukal, Aalkoottathil Thaniye, Aaroodam, Eeta, Mrigaya and Inspector Balram, Sasi kept on setting new benchmarks and entertaining the audience. Avalude Ravukal was a pathbreaking movie for the director in many ways; he fell in love with Seema who played the lead and later made her his life partner.A question mark hovers over the veteran director’s dream project but he’s left the film industry with enough contributions in his 41-year-old career to make his name stand out while recounting its history.
I V Sasi’s films always had a stamp of individuality. Malayalam cinema rested on his shoulders at one point of time. He was directing not only top Malayalam stars but Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan as well. All the heroes vied for a chance to be in his film.
I had met him and Seemachechi during a channel show recently. He was planning a big budget film and he told me, ‘Whatever happens, you should be in my film.’He was a great organiser as well. I remember, the shoot of Balram Vs Tharadas was going on at a beach in Kozhikode. Mammootty was there and so was Liberty Basheer, the producer. A huge crowd gathered, making the shoot impossible. Everyone suggested that we shift the location. But then we saw something amazing, Sasi was single-handedly managing the crowd and people were obeying! It was a one man show and we shot a fight scene there. He was bigger than a star and people would gather to catch a glimpse of him.Even when he was sick, he would be more energetic than a kid while on the set. He would forget everything else and cinema was in his blood.
Till his last breath, he had only cinema on his mind – Hariharan, director It’s an irreplaceable loss to Malayalam cinema. I don’t think anyone in Indian cinema has such an eclectic repertoire of movies. When we left Kozhikode for Chennai, he only had cinema on his mind and till his last breath that remained the case. Even when he came to Kozhikode recently for a programme, he talked to me about his next project. We came to Chennai and grew together. We first worked together in Kaliyalla Kalyanam in 1968 in which he was the art director. But it was evident he had much more potential in other areas too. So, I recommended him as an assistant director to AB Raj in Kannur Deluxe. Once he came into his own, there was no looking back.With Utsavam in 1975, he kicked off a new trend in Malayalam cinema which was mostly doing movies with big stars. He had done so many varied films with the stars of that era including Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth. He left with more than enough contributions to Malayalam cinema that will be remembered as long as the industry thrives.
When I met him two months ago, I somehow instinctively knew I would never see him again. We were all in Kochi for a channel show and Seema chechi knocked at my door at the hotel room. I went into their room and sat near a bed, on which a child seemed to be lying. Then the ‘child’ sat up and I found it to be Sasiettan! He had shrunk so much that I wept on the spot. I had never even seen him without his cap.But he got angry with me. ‘Why are you crying? I’m doing my new film’, he told me. ‘Am I in it?’ I asked, to which he replied, ‘Will I do a film without you in it?’
Our association goes back to my childhood. He was close to my father during the time he started out as an art director. I remember visiting his set as a kid in Chennai. We became close family friends even before I became an actor. I went on to act in maybe 22 of his films, from Karimpinpoovinakkare to Aayiram Meni. He was the only director who treated a junior artiste the same way he treated Mammootty. Usually if there were more than one hero/heroine in a film, the actors would ask who was more important but in IV Sasi’s films, no one did. All the biggest stars of the time would be part of his film, but there would be no ego clashes. Everyone would get noticed in his films. He could finish the films by managing huge teams of the best actors and technicians of the time within 20 days . Which is why Tamil director Balachander once said that no one could be IV Sasi. However, we never realised how big he was as he always brought out perfect films. Even if the shooting went on till 2 am , he would be fresh and ready by 4 am at the hotel reception. And all the actors would curse their lot. He had a deep relationship with me, I was like his daughter. In fact his mother used to joke, what Sasi and Podi (Urvashi) spoke to each other, only they understood. His Kozhikode slang added to it all. He would call everyone ‘kazhuthakutty’ when he got angry on the set. That was the only swear word he used but no one escaped it. I got called that a hundred times daily. I have countless such memories about him.
His life was a celebration – Janardanan, actor I started my film career in Chennai, around 1972. My relationship with I V Sasi began there. He and Alleppey Sheriff were staying in Alwarpet then. Sasi was working as an art director while Sheriff was a writer. I was a daily visitor at their place and we would talk about anything and everything and also cook and eat together. That was when he directed his first film, Utsavam. He would cast me in almost all his films, at least in a small role, probably because of our relationship. As both of us became family men, we continued our relationship. He was the busiest director of the time and so we met on the set always. Life was a celebration and we spent every New Year together. He shot the maximum number of films in Kozhikode, his home town. And the stay would be invariably be in Hotel Maharani which was where all the celebrations were held. But he would be the first to come to the set and because of that, the rest of the actors were forced to come early. He would never sit while on the set, he would be running around all the time. Recently for a channel programme, Lal Salam, we were both guests where we were asked to speak about the film Varnappakittu. We spoke for a long time that day. He had told me that he was planning to make a new film. Even during his last moments, cinema, and only cinema occupied his mind. If he were to be born again, I hope he would be a film director.
No other director has given so many hits – Lissy, actress
He was ailing for a long time — for about four to five years — but he recovered. He was also taking ayurvedic treatment and looked fine. Physically he was weak but he went to Australia with his entire family a few months ago. He was recovering well. In fact, he was supposed to leave for Australia to be there for his grandson’s birthdayon Tuesday . Career-wise, I don’t think there’s another director who has given so many good films in terms of quality as well as commercial hits.
He had a strong literary sense and took pride in having bold women characters – Babu Janardanan, script writer
Varnapakittu celebrated 20 years last week. An interesting experience that happened while working with him in that movie is still fresh in my memory. We were all back in a hotel after location hunting in Kottayam. He went to his room only to sleep, or else he would be talking to someone or the other about movies. Aalinganam starring Sridevi and Vincent was playing on TV. When Sasi sir joined us midway, I told him his movie was playing but he outrightly rejected it saying it wasn’t his. He wouldn’t believe it was his film till a Bahadoor scene came on. Sasi sir would be one of the very few directors in the world who was not obsessed about his past movies — he has done close to 150 movies. We decided to collaborate for the first time for Anubhooti. His go-to writers were Padmarajan sir, MT Vasudevan sir and P Damodaran master. He had a strong literary sense and yet he wasn’t the kind who read a lot. He is someone who has even made MT sir rewrite scenes. He used to give striking inputs — for instance, in certain scenes he would tell me that it is melodramatic; that’s not something you would expect from a director who was also active in the 70s and 80s. But Sasi sir kept himself updated. Another aspect that I remember about him is that he took pride in having bold female characters. Be it in Aalkoottathil Thaniye, Aksharangal or Aarudom, all of them had strong women characters and he liked scriptwriters who could create them. I am fortunate that way.
He lived and breathed cinema – Manianpilla R aju, actor I have worked with him for about 12 movies. Film was his passion. He used to live and breathe cinema. Once a movie went on floors, he rarely used to eat or sleep. Even if the shoot wound up at 3 am , he would be up at 5.30 am asking all of us to get ready. Devasuram was one such movie where he toiled hard. Sasi sir is someone who knew exactly how to extract the best out of an actor. Also, he conceived each scene with focus and that’s why he could give us the most number of hits. I saw him six months ago and he looked well. I was sure he would come back and make his next project.
We will make his dream movie, just as he visualised it – Sohan Roy, producer
The script of Burning Wells was over and pre-production and casting was going on. He and I had worked it out together. Sasi sir’s untimely passing is indeed painful and unexpected. We had spoken even on Sunday and finalised some of the cast of the film. But it was not meant to be. The film was his dream and its journey would continue. It will come out just as he visualised it. That will be our biggest tribute to him, I believe.