Monday, 30 March 2015

Mollywood's C-grade superstar

Mar 30 2015 : The Times of India (Pune)
Mollywood's C-grade superstar

Santhosh Pandit, a one-man movie machine, is making waves with his hugely tacky Malayalam hits
Sometime after his 2011 debut, Malay alam filmmaker Santhosh Pandit re ceived an 8-minute phone call. Amid muffled giggles, the caller spent the first six minutes “appreciating“ Pandit's work and inviting him to Singapore for a function.Then for two whole minutes, the caller let loose a deluge of abuse that didn't even spare the director's late parents.The rant was a reaction to Krishnanum Radhayum (Krishna and Radha), the first of Pandit's four breathtakingly tacky movies.Made on a measly budget of Rs 5 lakh, the film went on to do big business at a time when mega projects were sinking. He went on to make three more Malayalam films, of which two did average business but the last, Kalidasan Kavithayezhuthukayanu (Kalidasa is writing poetry) which released last year, was a big success.
What irritates the ruling elite of Malayalam cinema, critics and discerning filmgoers is that Pandit's C-grade films -mostly complicated social dramas featuring romance and family intrigues -actually click at the box office. And the fact that he is immune to vitriol (one famous Pandit song is an irritating earworm that goes: “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear... Night, first night. Now always first night.“). Not just that, he uploads hate calls on YouTube, and one can hear him calmly engaging the furious caller in a conversation. After all, he displays his mobile number in his movie's credits to request viewer response.
“If you have to win, there must be a loser,“ says Pandit referring to his critics.“My films are devoid of negativity. There is no verbal abuse, booze, or soft porn. What's the issue then?“ Pandit, who calls himself the `Superstar of the Poor', is not willing to disclose any details about his upcoming films which are likely to be released around Onam between August and September. The 32-year-old handles every aspect of his projects -production, acting, direction, playback singing, choreography , script-writing, editing, and even distribution.
`Edavela' Babu, secretary of the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists, refuses to comment on someone “indulging in buffoonery“. Other senior industry players have publicly wondered if Pandit is mentally sound. Observers say he is hated because he holds up a mirror to the inadequacies of mainstream Malayalam filmmakers. “We could say he is spoofing them, though not deliberately . What he does is more or less what the superstars do, minus their technical finesse. Even the aesthetics are not very different,“ says film critic CS Venkiteswaran. “They (the industry) realize that accepting him would expose their own hollowness and render them irrelevant.“
Having watched only snatches of his songs, hit-mak er Anjali Menon says Pandit is a peculiar phenomenon be cause he really doesn't intend to be farcical. But she also points out that his films reveal a lot about the audiences watching them. Says a 2014 research note for the multimedia Sarai programme of the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies: “The theatrical exhibition of the film (Krishnanum...) was a spectacle in itself, with the young all-male crowd jeering and shouting out all kinds of sexually coloured expletives directed at both Pandit and the actresses.“
The crisis is exacerbated because from the 2,000 cinema halls in the 1980s, Kerala has a little over 600 left today. In this restricted screenspace, Malayalam films compete with Tamil, Hindi and English productions.
A native of Kozhikode, Pandit married and divorced early in life. A civil engineer when he entered the world of films, he had to sell his house to raise funds for his project.He paid Rs 1,500 for a multi-media course to learn editing. As he prepares for his fifth release, Pandit has one grouse -he gets fewer hate calls: “I can't create the spark they provide before the release of a film,“ he says.`Superstar' Santhosh Pandit is beginning to miss his villains.

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