Sreekumaran Thampi was the main guest at the closing ceremony of the Kazhcha-Niv Indie Film Festival 2018, where a rapt audience listened to him recount his journey in cinema and share some of the challenges that he faced. Filmmaker and organiser of the film festival, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, introduced Thampi who started his career in 1966 and is still active in Malayalam cinema. He has written more than 3,000 songs, produced 25 films and penned screenplay for more than 70 films. He received several awards, including the JC Daniel Award, the highest award in Malayalam cinema, for his contribution to cinema.
Recounting his work and experiences, Thampi spoke about his films and the milieu at the time when he was working. “I came from commercial cinema and wanted to make my own films… I produced a film in 1976, it was the first woman centric film in Malayalam – Mohiniyaattam, it was the story of three women raped by three men. There was no hero in the film, only three villains,” he said.
Talking about his struggles as a filmmaker, he said, “There is always a new generation and a new approach. I failed in many films… but I made all these films with my own money. That’s the reason why even though I am a producer, I am poor, I am not rich.”
He also shed light on the various compulsions of the filmmaker and spoke about him being driven to hardcore commercial cinema in order to be relevant and exist in the film industry. “I have made many bad films also because I wanted to exist in the market and I came from the commercial market. I had to fight. A time came when either I would have to leave… I had no money, I sold my house…I gave my life to cinema but I had to make a choice. Then I made a hardcore commercial cinema, just to exist.”
In a prolific film career spanning more than 50 years, Thampi‘s versatility is compelling, but he is most revered for the songs that he wrote and that remain alive in the minds of the audience. Thampi entered the industry as a lyricist in 1966, became a producer-director at the age of 33 and even now, at the age of 78, continues to be active.
Expressing his appreciation for Sanal and his efforts in organising the festival, Thampi said, “I appreciate people like Sanal because they are far better than us in their approach. They are trying new areas, new concepts,” and summed up his conversation with the audience on a light note saying, “All the best to you who love cinema. Don’t think I am an old man… in my mind, I am very young, perhaps younger than you all.”