IV Sasi who breathed his last in Chennai on Tuesday, the 24th of October, started out as an art director in films and later turned director.
In a career spanning four decades, Sasi directed over 150 films mainly in Malayalam with a sprinkling of Tamil and Hindi films as well. To the prolific director goes the credit of introducing and shaping the careers of several stars including the muscular Jayan, Vincent and Seema (whom he married after a brief courtship during the filming of Avalude Ravukal).
But the two actors who owe their rise to stardom, largely to the diminutive director are Mammootty and Mohanlal, whom Sasi cast in several of his successful films, both together and separately as well.
Neither of them had any previous acting experience but Sasi realised their potential quite early and afforded them a platform to showcase their talents. In the late seventies and early eighties, both Mammootty and Mohanlal had no set images or fanatic fan followings and had no reservations about being cast together in parallel roles, though most often Mammootty had the meatier role.
Among the numerous films in which they acted together, Aalkootathil Thaniye, Adiyozhukugal, Iniyengilum, Karimbinpoovin Akkare, Anubandham and Vaartha deserve a special mention as all these films swerved considerably from the beaten track.
With Thrishna, Sasi gave Mammootty his first major break as a solo hero and it was Iniyengilum which marked out Mohanlal as a safe bet for the future. Apart from Sasi’s deft directorial touches and his penchant for blending commercial elements with aesthetic touches, the excellent story lines and script provided by writers like M T Vasudevan Nair and T Damodaran also paved the way for the success of his films.
The literary flourish in their writing gave ample scope to both Mammootty and Mohanlal to deliver dialogues that captivated audiences, leaving them spellbound.
While Yavanika directed by KG George brought Mammootty into the reckoning in Mollywood, his thirty five films with Sasi many of them huge box office hits, ensured that he reached a pinnacle in the industry.
Significant among these films were ventures like Kaanamariyathu, Ee Naadu, Mrugaya, 1921 and Balram vs Taradas. In each of these films, the swashbuckling actor had diverse roles and their box office successes took him several notches higher in terms of celebrity status.
Kaanamariyathu, scripted by the late Padmarajan with Mammootty in the role of a benefactor of a young girl, played by Shobhana was a sentimental film that tugged at the heart strings.
The 1982 film Ee Naadu written by T Damodaran with whom Sasi collaborated in several films was a hard hitting critique of the government of the day with a theme based on deaths caused by illicit liquor.
Mammootty had to contend with the likes of established actors like Balan K Nair in Ee Naadu but he held his own remarkably, vindicating his director’s faith.
Mrugaya was perhaps the first time that a handsome hero like Mammootty played a totally deglamourised role, that of a drunken sot Vaarunni whose services were requisitioned by a village committee to rid them of the menace of a man-eating leopard. The film narrated a story of the man-animal conflict and the director had chosen a new genre altogether.
1921, bankrolled by an NRI Mohamed Mannil, was a historical film based on the Mappillai uprising, one of the earliest mutinies against the British. Mammootty excelled in the role of Khader, a bullock cart driver, and the film had a multi-star cast and a huge canvas with war scenes woven into the script.
In one of the latter day films directed by Sasi Balram vs Taradas, Mammootty was cast both as the protagonist Balram and the antagonist Taradas with the actor reprising the role of Inspector Balram from an earlier Sasi film of the same name. Scripted by Damodaran and SN Swamy, it had been a commercial potboiler with punchlines galore and was a box office success as well.
Mohanlal might not have done as many films with Sasi as Mammootty but nonetheless, theirs was a winning combination. But arguably the best film that the Lal-Sasi combination produced was Devasuram, released in 1993.
Mohanlal’s interpretation of the title role, that of an egoist Mangalassery Neelakantan who crosses swords with a young Bharathanatyam dancer Revathi but eventually relents after realising his feelings for her won him plenty of critical acclaim.
The film, a stupendous box office hit, was also notable for excellent performances from the cast including Revathi, Nedumudi Venu, Innocent and the Tamil star Napoleon who played the role of Neelakantan’s arch rival Mundakal Sekaran.
Sasi again cast Mohanlal in his 1997 film Varnapakittu with Meena in the female lead. The actor played a savvy Singapore based businessman Sunny Palamottam whose father is gypped by his rival and who later realises that his girlfriend is in fact a mole planted by the villain to ferret out his secrets.
Unlike Sasi’s earlier films which covered a wide ambit in respect of storylines, Varnapakittu relied more on the hero’s performance and Lal did not disappoint the viewers.
Both Mammootty and Mohanlal expressed shock at I V Sasi’s passing and while Mammootty bemoaned the loss of a loved one, Mohanlal was more forthcoming and in his condolence message saluted the master of Malayalam film industry who made the viewers and actors, including him, to understand the basics of cinema.
Despite the arrival of several young actors, the superstars continue to hold fort and for this they owe a debt of gratitude to filmmakers like Sasi who gave them a much needed leg up when they were seeking a firm foothold in cinema.