Director Joshiy's New Delhi, written by Dennis Joseph and produced by Joy Thomas of Jubilee Productions, is now regarded as a cult classic with a section calling it the best ever action thriller movie in Malayalam. Narrating the story of an ageing investigative journalist named G.Krishnamoorthy (GK), the film is said to have resurrected Mammootty's career after a series of flops. All that changed after the release of New Delhi, which completes 35 years this Sunday.
Attached below are excerpts from a YouTube biography series published on Safari TV where the legendary screenwriter spoke at length about the time at which New Delhi released and the impact its superhit success left behind. Here are 10 points to gather from his memory of the film.
New Delhi released after a series of flops that not only featured Mammootty, but also the writer- director duo of Dennis Joseph and Joshiy. Films like Sayam Sandhya, Shyama, Nyayavidhi and Aayiram Kannukal had released the previous year and none of them had clicked. Producers had started to ignore Mammootty, but Jubilee's Joy Thomas took it up as a challenge to bring him back. Although unimaginable today, Joesph describes this period as one where the audience would start booing the second Mammootty appeared on screen. So when they started making New Delhi, it was the team's collective need to prove that they could make a hit and stay relevant. Years later, Mammootty partly dismissed the severity of this situation as it is being described today. In an interview to Ranjith, he said that even though his career was on the downturn, it was still a time when he had over 20 films signed and ready. Given that even Dennis Joseph explains how the team had moved on to making a big film like Nairsaab, perhaps his career wasn't as doomed as the narrative now says it was.
The team had discussed many subjects and one of these were an "Udaya style Vadakkan Paatu". Dennis Joseph mooted the idea to make a film based on a folk hero he had read about, named Payyampally Chandu. This was even before Hariharan and MT Vasudevan Nair made Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha starring Mammootty—an all-time classic. However, the team decided to drop it when they learnt that Mohanlal and Priyadarshan were making a film along similar lines titled Kadathanadan Ambadi. Several delays would ensure the Mohanlal film released four years later, but the New Delhi team had moved on by then.
Joseph describes the seed of an idea emerging from a real life incident that happened in the US. It was about a small tabloid owner who wanted to kill the American President. He pays a team to commit the assassination and in his hurry, he even prints the next day's newspaper with the news of the assassination on it. And when they're unable to go ahead with the plan, the tabloid owner gets caught. This is the plot-line he developed into New Delhi, although, what interested him was the idea of a criminal mastermind who creates content to grow his newspaper.
But the idea of a man committing huge crimes just for his newspaper business was not something the writer thought would connect to the Malayali audience. In his words, it's not easy for Malayalis in Kerala to imagine owners of Mathrubhumi or Malayala Manorama doing this and as a result, the story, too, needed to be shifted out of Kerala to a place like Delhi. New Delhi, even as a city, was new to the Malayali viewer. Given that the film was set a few years after Indira Gandhi's assassination, the city also gave viewers the notion that anything could happen there. And when he added a personal revenge angle to the story of the criminal mastermind, the base for the film was ready.
To add to this idea, the writers chose to make GK the owner of an English newspaper, too, and the whole film, naturally, needed to be shot in New Delhi. This was a huge budget for a film that was being made around a struggling star and crew. Even so, the producer went ahead and spared no expenses, even agreeing to pay the Rs.25,000-per-hour shooting cost at Delhi's Centaur Hotel. But when the team took a flight to New Delhi, Dennis Joseph had written just 13 pages of the script. His previous flops had made him so nervous that he kept writing and re-writing. Joseph was even stuck writing a convincing climax for the thriller. While staying at the Kerala House, it was a news piece he read on the Times of India that gave him an idea. The news report described how a printing press worker had lost his hand while working on the machine there. The booklet that was getting printed then was ironically the Manual For Industrial Safety.
The top technicians and crew stayed at The Kerala House during the shoot. Dennis Jospeh would write the script required for the day's shoot just hours before the first shot. During this process, it was revered photographer Victor George who would take Joseph around in his scooter for a "reece". He even admits that entire scenes were written around the places he saw sitting on the back of this scooter. Getting location permits for these shoots were not a problem because the producer was close to a handful of top Congress leaders there. K Karunakaran, too, is said to have blessed the film and his word in Delhi made sure shooting there was a breeze.
Joseph wanted one of the film's most iconic scenes to be shot at the lobby of Delhi's Centaur Hotel and he had even incorporated the two glass elevators into this exchange. But when consulted, the managers asked for Rs.25,000 for an hour's shoot at a time when Mammootty's salary itself was just one lakh for the whole film. The producer agreed but when the Malayali manager arrived to see the shoot, he allowed the shoot for free and also gave the crew a courtesy meal at the five star hotel.
The crew finished the shoot of New Delhi in just 22 days. But there was a delay in the film's release because the Censors objected to a scene about the judiciary taking a bribe. The producer had to take another trip to Delhi to meet the revising committee. Meanwhile, Joshiy and his team kept editing the film, unsure of the final output. Finally, Dennis Joseph called on director Priyadarshan to watch a cut. When Priyadarshan guaranteed the film's success, that's when the team, too, breathed a sigh of relief. When the release got delayed further, the same team travelled to Kashmir to start Nairsaab. Later when it released, Joseph said the team was so nervous that they couldn't shoot. They waited at their hotel in Srinagar for reports to come from Kerala and after the matinee, the producer called with news. Apparently it was such a hit that the crowds had destroyed the glass windows of the Anand Theatre in Kottayam. They canceled the shoot for the day and Dennis remembers Mammootty hugging the director-writer duo and breaking down, unable to hold back his tears.
The film went on to become a blockbuster in Kerala, but the magic also travelled across borders. In Chennai's Safire theatre, the film ran for a record 100 days back when the maximum run for a Malayalam film was just two weeks. The Rights of the film were snapped up by the producers of the team's previous film Dinaratrangal and it went on to get remade in Telugu, Hindi and Kannada. As Joseph describes it, none other than Rajinikanth himself approached him for rights of the film's Hindi version. The Superstar did not have a great role in the Hindi film industry after Anda Kanoon, and he felt a role like GK's in Hindi could be the perfect film for him. When Joseph tried to convince him to buy the Tamil rights instead, Rajini did not want it. In his words, in Tamil he was a super man. He could not have done a movie in which he gets beaten up and then send goons to take his revenge. Because the rights had already been sold by then, Jitendra starred in the Hindi version—the only flop among the four versions of the film.
The respect Rajini had for the writer of New Delhi was so much that he agreed to do an extended cameo in Dennis Joseph's first directorial for free. Although this planned film did not go through as a result of the Gulf War, the superstar never took it personally that the rights didn't go to him. But the screenplay also had another high-profile admirer. When Dennis Joseph was back in Madras to work another film, actress Suhasini asked Dennis Joseph if a certain Mani Ratnam could meet him. The director walked in to his room and described the screenplay of New Delhi to be the second best Indian screenplay after Sholay. But Dennis Joseph believed that this distinction should go to Ratnam's own Nayagan. Ratnam was in fact such an admirer of the screenplay that he wanted Joseph to write his next film—Anjali. They started working when Joshiy contacted Joseph with urgent work on another film. The producer of this new Malayalam film was in dire straits and Joseph had to quit Anjali at the last minute to work on the new film. This new Malayalam film then went on to become #20 Madras Mail.
Dennis Joseph admitted that he regretted the way he left Anjali and the fact that he did not ever work with Mani Ratnam. Ratnam, though, had planned the perfect revenge. When Anjali released, he asked Joseph to watch the film. In it was a character played by Prabhu—someone the kids described as a dreaded murderer. Do you remember this character's name? It was Dennis Joseph.