‘Maamaankam’ controversy: Ousted Malayalam director Sajeev Pillai explains his side

The director, who was recently replaced, writes that problems began when the producer demanded changes in the script.
‘Maamaankam’ controversy: Ousted Malayalam director Sajeev Pillai explains his side
‘Maamaankam’ controversy: Ousted Malayalam director Sajeev Pillai explains his side
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Looks like every other day, there will be a new development in what seems to be a never-ending controversy over the shooting of Mammootty’s big budget movie Maamaankam. Four days after producer Venu Kunnapilly spoke to the media about the ouster of the film’s director Sajeev Pillai, the latter has released a press note, explaining his side.

The problems between the director and the producer are believed to have begun after the shooting of the first schedule of this period film. The outside world heard about it much later, when actor Dhruvan, known for his tough college boy role in Queen, was suddenly removed from the cast and replaced by Unni Mukundan. Sajeev Pillai, the director, had then said that he didn’t know about it. Not just Dhruvan, Sajeev was also apparently unaware of the exit of other members of the crew.

In the press note – 11 pages long – he answers most of the accusations levelleld against him, including the overshooting of the budget as per the contract, the questions on his experience, the reasons for the differences, and so on.

Maamaankam has been a dream that he has been working on for nearly two decades, Sajeev writes in his note. “Is it possible to end my bond with the film legally or logically or morally, if someone who has agreed to put money on it after making sure of his profits, decides to do it through money and influence?” he asks. “Even through the one-sided contract that he prepared and I was forced to sign, it is factually incorrect and legally wrong to say my connection with the film is over. It is a move to cheat me financially and legally.”

The producer had claimed that the crew had been complaining of having too much footage and that the editor – Sreekar Prasad – said that it was disappointing. Sajeev, in his note, says that this is untrue and that the executive producer had admitted that Sreekar’s name was used to exercise control over the director.

It was during the second schedule that problems began, Sajeev writes. Before that, the producer had hailed the script many times. But later, he wanted changes in the script. “The differences began when deciding where the second schedule should be shot. He wanted the set at his friend’s place in Ernakulam. I had warned him that it would be more expensive. But it is much later, when we were leveling the wetlands, that I realised the environmental and legal problems in it. The reply was that they have taken the required permission. It is during that time that the producer reminded me that he has the right to remove the director by saying such issues don’t concern the director,” says Sajeev.

The next difference came up with the changes Venu allegedly wanted in the script. 

“His instructions were of a kind that I could not allow. The film would have then given a regressive and anti social message. It would become the opposite of what I wrote and they had accepted,” Sajeev says. “The scenes would be clichéd and against logic. We would have also had to bear with its Hindutvaisation.”

“This film is a story of our glorious land in the backdrop of history. A big story set at the time when Western trading companies tried to colonise and conquer the world. Not just a Hindutva movie about royal history," he adds.

Sajeev also addresses the accusations about overshooting the budget. He says the expense so far has been Rs 10 crore for finishing 35 per cent of the film, and that the agreed amount in total was Rs 30 crore.

There were attempts to reach a compromise, and once at the lead actor’s (Mammooty) home. 

“There was an instruction to remove the associates from other states and include those who are experienced in Malayalam cinema. I had even included some extra scenes on the suggestion of the producer. But he was not ready for a compromise. He was planning to shoot the second schedule with an associate who comes from the Telugu cinema background. It didn’t happen with the interference of FEFKA and the main actor," he says.

Sajeev had first gone to FEFKA when he felt things were going out of hand. He writes that FEFKA had initially been completely supportive of him, and were of the view that he was right. However, they seem to have had a change of mind later, and agreed with the producer that another director should be brought in. Sajeev writes that FEFKA made him believe this other director – Padmakumar – would only be an associate to him, and would not do anything without consulting him. Padmakumar too allegedly had a private chat with him, Sajeev writes, and assured him of not interfering in his filmmaking. But as the days proceeded and yet another agreement with FEFKA (in which Sajeev agreed to these new conditions) was signed, the director allegedly faced more hostile situations. He would be asked to agree with whatever the producer demanded, he says. The most he could do was visit the shooting locations. Sajeev couldn’t agree to all that, and in the end, found that he was ousted entirely, he writes.

Sajeev says that he has now decided to come out to the media so that no other director will have to go through what he reportedly did.

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