IV Sasi, Malayalam cinema's trailblazer and king of the box office

Sasi often sported a cap and thick glasses and it is hard to mistake him for anything other than an intellectual.
IV Sasi, Malayalam cinema's trailblazer and king of the box office
IV Sasi, Malayalam cinema's trailblazer and king of the box office
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I V Sasi was among the more famous Malayalam film directors of his time, whose seminal works such as Avalude Ravukal and Mrigayaa transcended borders and gained an all-India following. His death on Tuesday was untimely, as he was only 69.

At the peak of his powers in the 1970s and 1980s, Sasi could do no wrong and was able to build a bridge of sorts between commercial and serious cinema. He played a vital role in elevating Mohanlal and Mammootty to the star status they enjoy today. But it was 1978’s Avalude Ravukal that got Sasi an audience outside Kerala and served as his mascot after the film was dubbed into Tamil, Hindi and Kannada. The film, the first to get an A certificate in Kerala, got a lukewarm response in the first few days, but went to become one of the highest grossers of the year. The film is on the travails of a teenage sex worker played by Seema, who Sasi married later. He would go on to cast Seema in a total of 30 films.

“Though Avalude Ravukal was among his most famous movies, I feel that his collaborations with writer MT Vasudevan Nair were among his best. I am referring to films like Aalkkoottathil Thaniye and Anubandham. Many of his films were about familial ties and the pathos was overwhelming,” said Shobha Warrier, Editorial Director, Rediff also a film enthusiast. “He also made political films that touched a chord with the audience. I remember the crowd in the theatre clapping for many scenes during Ee Naadu, a political thriller,” she added.

Besides being a director of repute, Sasi was also a first class technician. His films were always perfectly shot and edited. “The camerawork in his movies was more rustic (at least in his earlier movies). His movies were targeted at the working class, who watched them in their masses,” said Sanjeev Ramachandran, editor of a popular website, B-live. On hearing the news of the director’s death, Sanjeev has posted a touching tribute to Sasi on his portal.

Mrigayaa, starring a cynical Mammootty, featured a man-eating leopard and many scenes bring us to the edge of our seats. Sasi was a master in building psychological suspense even when there is nothing much to go by on the screen. Many of Sasi films were popular, but also critically acclaimed, a rare feat even among the discerning, movie-educated audiences in Kerala.

Mrigayaa, written by the late AK Lohithadas, was an early movie on the man-animal conflict that unflinchingly threw light on the perils caused by animals in villages. Mammootty is an unlikely hero in the movie -- he is often drunk, uncouth and seemingly ill-equipped to match the leopard’s wits. It called for repeat viewing and the audiences in Kerala greedily lapped it all up, with the movie going on to become a major success and winning him a best director award from the Kerala state.

Sasi was active in the Tamil film industry as well. He directed Kamal Haasan in several films, including Guru, Alauddinum Aruputha Vilakkum, Karishma and Eeta. He also cast Rajinikanth in Alauddinum Arputha Vilakkum, which was the superstar’s first feature in Malayalam. Rajini was again by Sasi in Kaali, which became quite successful.

But Sasi’s biggest contribution was to Malayalam movies. The JC Daniel Award recipient (the top award for cinema in Kerala) was the first to cast Mammooty in a lead role in Thrishna. On the other hand, Mohanlal got his big break as a co-hero in Ineyengilum. Sasi also promoted a host of other actors including Soman, Sukumaran and of course, Seema.

“My favourite films are Aaroodam, Devasuram, Rangam and Avalade Ravakal. Many films had strong social and political statements. They catered to the masses,” said Sanjeev.

Sasi often sported a cap and thick glasses and it is hard to mistake him for anything other than an intellectual. Sasi was extremely prolific, especially in the 1970s during which he made more than six-seven films a year. Put together, in his three-decade career, he has made more than 150 films.

“There was no genre he was partial too. He made movies in all genres. His films were sensitively done,” said Shobha.

Some of Sasi’s well-known movies are Ina, Karimpana, Devasuram (a blockbuster with Mohanlal), Ee Nadu, Aavanazhi, Athirathram and Balram vs Tharadas, among several others. Sasi frequently collaborated with screenplay writers like T Damodaran, Ranjith and MT Vasudevan Nair.

His death will be monumental loss for his fans and colleagues in the film industry. 

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