MUMBAI: Three decades ago, at the age of 12, Priyanandanan walked 12 kilometres to earn Rs2.50 per day at a ceramic factory, to support his family. Today, he is a top-rung Malayalam film director, with a string of national and international awards under his belt.
In his struggle to make a mark for himself, Priyanandanan, unknowingly, created a grassroots movement, which supports low-budget, high-quality cinema in Kerala. He is now in Mumbai to promote his second directorial venture, Pulijanmam (Tiger Life).
Priyanandanan, who hails from Trichur district of Kerala, dropped out of class seventh to take up the job at the factory. He supplemented his mother's income and ensured education for his two younger sisters. Though deprived of a formal education, Priyanandanan exploited the free village library for knowledge and information about the world. As a hobby, he took to theatre and worked in several plays, bagging many awards. "But, I felt theatre was a limited medium with a very limited reach, and I had this urge to do something different," he said. So he turned to film-making.
Actor KR Mohan introduced him to film and documentary makers. Priyanandanan learnt the basics of film-making from them. His big break came as assistant to PT Kunju Mohammed, who directed Garshom (Wanderer), which bagged several awards. “That experience was a tremendous morale booster,” said Priyanandanan, who is inspired by moviemakers like Govind Nihalani, Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray.
In 1998, Priyanandanan got a script for a new play. “I felt it was more suited for a movie and suggested it to a producer. He readily agreed,” he said. But the producer backed off mid-way, leaving Priyanandanan with a liability of Rs5 lakh. His theatre acquaintances and villagers helped him raise funds. Later, producer SM Das agreed to finance the film, Neithukaran (The Weaver), the story of an ageing Communist's struggles and how the new generation was ignoring the past. But the distributor mafia didn't like the film. His theatre friends hired a cinema hall, where the movie was released. The film ran to packed houses.
An emboldened Priyanandanan travelled exhorted the youth in other parts to adopt a similar technique to take the movie to the masses. He had scripted a mass movement. The movie bagged many honours — the national award for best actor, state award for best debut director, runner-up best actor (female) and three international awards for best director, best film and best actor.