Director Sibi Malayil, who has been making Malayalam films since the mid-80s, is making a comeback after seven years with his upcoming film Kotthu. This political thriller, which stars Roshan Mathew, Asif Ali, and Nikhila Vimal, is slated to hit the theatres on September 23.
Malayil’s body of work cannot be explored without speaking about his friendship with frequent collaborator and writer AK Lohithadas (Lohi). The late writer, who passed away in 2009, has penned screenplays for many of Malayil’s films such as His Highness Abdulla (1990), Bharatham (1991), and Sagaram Sakshi (1994). In a conversation with Vishal Menon, Malayil opens up about his friendship with Lohithadas, and details the impact the writer has had on his career.
Lohithadas is acclaimed for his detailed and realistic screenplays and Malayil says that it all stemmed from his life experiences. He says, “Experience is a teacher. And not many would have experienced the kind of life events that Lohi went through. He had a very sad childhood and he struggled through his youth. He battled poverty, abandonment, family issues and loneliness. Even when there were people around him, he lived a lonely life. All these experiences moulded Lohi, who later used such details in the stories and characters he created.”
Such experiences are also what made Lohi cherish the smaller things even when he had to ride out the tough times. “Lohi was a very compassionate person, and was someone who wanted to give others what he couldn’t have. He was someone who used to find joy even in suffering. Even when he came into the film industry, he used to sideline himself by not putting himself in the limelight,” says Malayil.
Reminiscing about the last time he met Lohi, Malayil recalls, “The last time I met Lohi was three weeks before he passed away, on June 8th at Lakkidi. He passed away on June 28th, and we had decided to meet on 30th to discuss a story for a film with Mohanlal. On that day (8th), we spent the most time together. Lohi talked about his bitter experiences in the film industry and of people who exploited him.”
Although the duo did not collaborate after the 1990s, Lohithadas went on to help him in his films without taking any credit, Malayil reveals. “At two crucial points in my career, Lohi came in and helped me write (the films). In the case of some films, things looked so irreparable that just before the film would go on floors, Lohi would write a completely new script for me. He didn’t want to take credit for it and so we never disclosed it. There was an assurance that he would always be a call away,” he says.
Friendships can sometimes be strained because of outside forces in the industry, Malayil points out, adding that Lohi had fallen victim to this trap due to his naivete. “He understood this and confessed this to me. That must have given him relief as he had carried the weight with him,” says the director.
Malayil also notes that it was Lohithadas who helped discover the director in him. “I owe my career to Lohi. Even when I was four films old, and my third movie got the National Film Award, I was not sure of my voice as a director. It was Lohi who helped me discover that voice in me. He is the reason I got to sustain myself as a director in the Malayalam film industry. Sometimes, I see people mocking me on social media saying things like “Sibi Malayil minus Lohithadas is zero”. I don’t have any anger towards people who write things like this. Because there is a lot of truth to it. The gap in my association with Lohi has created a vacuum, and my graph has taken a hit during such times,” Malayil concludes.