‘Romba selavu panra kanjan’ is what his associates called him, KV Anand confessed during an interview after the release of his film Anegan. For a man known for his scale both as director as well as cinematographer, there was something oddly fitting about this title. He’s someone who won a National Award for his first film (Thenmavin Kombathu), something the likes of AR Rahman achieved. But his simplicity was such that you forget all that just minutes into a conversation with him.
Having worked as a photojournalist himself, he always looked at reporters, however junior, as something of a colleague. So instead of sticking to the film he was promoting, interviews invariably touched topics as charmingly random as his wife complaining about his messy room and how terribly disappointed his mother was when his first film was going to be a ‘Malayala padam’ (because of its sketchy 80’s reputation). There were long pauses between his words and his sentences would end with a giggle about three to four seconds after he made his point. But the points he made, about politics, commercial cinema and even journalism, always stayed in mind, even if the words he used were few. He really was a kanjan, in that sense.
But his work always appeared to be the opposite of his personality. One could argue that he redefined Priyadarshan’s visual language with the brilliantly shot Thenmavin Kombathu. Until then, there was a set-like quality to the director’s films that would contribute to the fantasy, but always from a distance. But with this film, he used naturalistic choices to create an even bigger fantasy. Signature shots of the director, like how a prop covers the foreground with the actual drama happening in the background, later became a Priyadarshan mainstay.
Even his songs never looked the same after this association. Priyadarshan’s film songs of the 80’s had a literal, if tacky, approach to it. So if a film was about a fateful phone call (like in Hello My Dear Wrong Number), a song would feature a giant telephone right at the centre, the same way an even bigger guitar took centre stage in a song in Thalavattom. After this film, the director’s song picturisation became just as exciting as the comedy scenes. KV Anand shot Priyadarshan’s Minnaram, another film that looks just as fresh today. The Jugalbandhi-like dance sequence of ‘Oru Vallam Ponnum Poovum’ predates so many hit ‘dance numbers’ but it’s hard not to notice how they borrowed generously from it, including the director’s own work later.
With Kadhal Desam, he made a film that made Madras look like it was Brooklyn. In Chandralekha, he proved again how he could make small films about regular people appear big, something that was central to the script of his next Mudhalvan.
He became a different cameraman for Shankar, someone who could actually keep up with the showman’s ‘brammaandam’. Every song in Sivaji has a story to it and many behind it. Appliances stores, to this day, use the film’s songs to show off an LED TV’s real abilities. He chose ‘All of the above’ at a time when it was fashionable for cameramen to stick to one particular colour theme for a film.
Yet for a person who was so famous as a major cinematographer, he worked on just a handful of movies (16, in all). Maybe he always knew he would become a director and chose to work with only those he could also assist to learn the craft. Of Shankar, Anand said, “You may find comedy scenes in my films that are silly, but they will evoke laughter in someone in another place. We shot a realistic heart transplant scene in Maattrraan, which was praised by doctors, but the general audience may have found it too technical. It’s a tightrope walk really, something director Shankar has mastered. I always work on his films as an assistant director more than just as a cameraman. There is a lot to learn from him.”
He achieved this magical balance in two of his films. Ko took a political fantasy from the 90’s and conducted a heart transplant on it to create a hip blockbuster with a killer twist. And with Ayan, he made THE perfect entertainer, the exact mix of everything a film needs—something he himself couldn’t reproduce later.
His love for song picturisation continued into the films he directed too with actual writing going into the montages in lovely songs like ‘Ennamo Edho’ and ‘Vizhi Moodi’. He could give you a spectacle, any day of the week, but it’s these songs that you somehow associate with the man.
His films later on may not have recreated the same magic but there was no question of it offering something new each time. His mass films too were backed by a concept, even though he could have gotten away with something generic. So, he took the chance and wrote a big mainstream film about conjoined twins as leads and another one about reincarnation. He may have gotten into the craft to make films like Kana Kandein but he found himself right at home making blockbusters.
But with all the news of his passing away at just 54, all the unforgettable visuals from his films come to mind. The giant moon from Josh is one, just like the dreamy sepia-like visions in Khakee’s ‘Dil Dooba’. Who can forget songs like ‘Ende Manasilorru Nanam’ and ‘Manathe Chandiranothuru’? What about the trippy ‘Hello Doctor’ at least decades before anyone of us even heard of psychedelics? But instead of the magical visuals he helped create, why did he choose to take a page from the films he directed? Why did he leave with the worst KV Anand twist of them all?