Location Diaries: A real-life lathi charge
Director M Padmakumar talks about his experiences working on the films, Inspector Balram, Padavi, Oru Bolivian Diary, and Shikkar
In IV Sasi's Inspector Balram (1991), the shoot for a major scene was supposed to take place on the main road of Thalassery. It was of a procession with the police doing a lathi-charge. Mammootty was playing the hero. The moment people heard that he was present, a huge crowd gathered. It became impossible to shoot anything. Nevertheless, Sasi kept his cool. He placed cameras at four different locations. Then he went up to the producer Liberty Basheer and said that the people had to be removed. Basheer nodded and informed the police. Thereafter, a lathi-charge took place. “So, we got a real-life sequence,” says director M Padmakumar, who was working as an assistant director on the film. What Padmakumar will never forget was the sight of numerous slippers that were strewn on the road, as the people struggled to get away. “We showed this scene, too,” he says.
In Sasi's Padavi (1993), the shoot was taking place on a beach in Goa. One morning, everybody set out from the hotel. In the last vehicle sat assistant directors Shajoon Kariyal, Vinu Anand and Padmakumar. They had the script box with them. Unfortunately, the driver did not know the name of the beach. So, they wandered from one beach to the other, trying to find the location. “There were no mobile phones at that time,” says Padmakumar. “So, there was no way we could contact the crew. We were feeling so tense because the shoot could not take place without the script.” By the time they finally reached the location, it was 5 pm. The trio expected Sasi to blow his top. “But when he saw us, Sasi Chettan looked so relieved, because he thought that we were involved in an accident,” says Padmakumar. “Even the hero Rahman and the crew looked happy. So, it ended up fine, even though we lost a day of shooting.”
In Oru Bolivian Diary (2013), there was a crisis of a different kind. The story is about a North Indian Maoist leader Chaukidar (played by Samuthirakani), who comes to preach his beliefs to the tribal people of Wayanad. Naturally, he is in trouble with the police. So, he takes refuge inside a temple. This temple was constructed with plaster of Paris and plywood, in the middle of a river. “This was a river, with little water, inside a forest, so that you could easily walk across,” says Padmakumar.
The camera was kept on the bank. The shoot began. But soon, it started raining. Samuthirakani remained inside the temple with an assistant. Suddenly, the water began to rise up, till it became a raging force. “Then we realised that their lives were in danger,” says Padmakumar. Two members of the art department tied a rope around a tree on the bank and then dived into the water and attached it to the pillar of the temple. Then Samuthirakani, who did not know swimming, held the rope tightly and managed to wade through the water, and reached the bank followed by the assistant. The shoot was stopped for the day. The next morning when the crew came to the bank they saw that the temple had also been washed away. “So that was a close shave for our actors,” says Padmakumar. “We waited for the rains to stop, then managed to make another temple and completed the shoot.”
Like Oru Bolivian Diary, the shoot of the film, Shikkar (2010), which starred Mohanlal, too, took place deep in the forest of Pooyamkutty. One day, at 5 pm., when they were returning in a convoy of 12 jeeps, the road was blocked by a group of elephants. Immediately, Mohanlal stepped out and said, “Be silent. Don't make a noise at all.” One of the elephants had just given birth. “We watched as the calf tried to stand up and would fall down time and again,” says Padmakumar. The minutes ticked away. Soon, it became dark. The headlights were switched on. But the elephants remained calm. And it was only at 7.30 pm that the calf was finally able to stand up and walk. Thereafter, the herd moved away. “It was an unforgettable sight for all of us,” says Padmakumar.