Location Diaries: The kindness of superstars
Production controller Sidhu Panakkal talks about his experiences working on the films, Appu, Ponthan Mada, Ormacheppu and Padayani
For an early morning shoot at Mahabalipuram for the film Appu (1990), Mohanlal set out from Chennai in a Contessa along with a driver. The East Coast Road was smooth, the traffic was sparse and they were going at a good speed. But suddenly the car experienced engine trouble and sputtered to a stop.
Mohanlal stepped out. He looked up and down the road. There were no vehicles in sight.
Meanwhile, everybody else had reached the set. “There were no mobile phones at that time,” says production controller Sidhu Panakkal. “We stepped out on the road to see whether Mohanlal sir was coming. But no vehicle came.”
After a few minutes, Sidhu saw a van coming at full speed. It was a production vehicle which was bringing the food for the unit. But suddenly, Sidhu saw a handsome man sitting beside the driver. When the van came up, he realised that it was Mohanlal.
“The driver told us that Mohanlal stopped the vehicle and got on,” says Sidhu. “Most superstars would not have done that. But thanks to the down-to-earth nature of Mohanlal, he arrived on the set only a few minutes late.”
On another occasion, for the film Akkare Akkare Akkare (1990), Sidhu went to Mangalore, where Mohanlal was acting in a Priyadarshan film, to collect his passport and that of a few others because there was a schedule in America. When Mohanlal gave the passport to Sidhu, in his hotel room, he asked the latter where he was staying.
“I will take a room in a hotel,” said Sidhu. Immediately Mohanlal replied that there was no need. “You can stay with me in my room,” he said. A moved Sidhu accepted the offer. “Mohanlal sir is a superstar, but he did not think twice about asking me to share his room even though I was only a production manager at that time,” he says.
Sidhu had another moving experience with a different superstar. During the shoot of Ponthan Mada at Kottapadam, every day Sidhu would go and pick up Mammootty from his hotel in Guruvayur. One day, director TV Chandran told Sidhu to tell Mammootty to shave before coming to the set. But when Sidhu went to meet Mammootty he was all dressed up and ready to go. So they left immediately in the car.
After they travelled quite a distance, Sidhu suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to tell Mammootty that he needed to shave. “Even though we were inside an air-conditioned car, I began perspiring,” says Sidhu. “I did not know what to do.”
When they reached the shooting area, Sidhu walked beside Mammootty and quickly told him about his memory lapse. “Mammootty sir just stared at me and did not say anything,” says Sidhu.
When Chandran saw Mammootty, he said, “Oh my god, you have not shaved.”
Mammootty said, “Sidhu told me to shave but since, in two days I have to act in a scene with a beard, I thought I would keep it.”
Chandran said, “I agree, but for this romantic scene, I need you clean-shaven.”
Mammootty nodded and called make-up man Pattanam Rasheed, who, luckily, had a spare razor. “In the end, Mammootty sir got a shave,” says Sidhu. “And he saved my job.”
But not all experiences are inspirational. For Ormacheppu (1998), the location was at Valparai in Tamil Nadu. The shoot, late at night, involving Baburaj and Lal, was inside a tea factory. “We placed a light on the road,” says Sidhu.
However, two drunken men came up and said that the crew could not put a light on the road. Soon, they slapped a couple of the team members. But the crew retaliated and beat them up also. In the end, the duo left.
“The local manager informed us that they were dangerous people who belonged to the ruling party,” says Sidhu. “There was a good chance they would return with more men and create havoc. He told us it would be better to leave at once.”
Very quickly, producer Ouseppachan and Sidhu rushed to the hotel. “We collected all the clothes and other items from all the rooms,” says Sidhu. “Then we paid the bill and left.” The entire production moved, at full speed, in the night to Marayoor, 115 kms away.
Thus far, Sidhu has worked in 120 films over 31 years. But his career in Mollywood began rather casually when he went to Chennai in 1986 to try his luck. He stayed at his aunt’s home. Luckily, Sidhu’s cousin Suresh was friends with Alvin Antony, who was working as a production manager on Sukumaran’s film, Padayani. So, Alvin invited Sidhu to come to the set.
Soon, he began doing odd jobs. One day Alvin had to leave for Kerala for some personal reasons. So Sukumaran called Sidhu and asked him to take over. “In fact, Sukumaran sir asked me to stay at his house in Ashok Nagar which had nine bedrooms,” says Sidhu. “From the beginning, Sukumaran sir and Mallika Madam treated me like a member of their family,” says Sidhu. “I will always be grateful to them.”