Of Faby and his father Interview with Director K. Sreekkuttan

The fate of José Arcadio Buendía in Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, who, with only his astronomical calculations found out that the earth was round, would still be a bit painful. Melquíades had to regretfully inform that in the world outside Macondo, this fact had already been made simple by other men, who’d found it before him. Yet Melquíades praised him before the whole village, for his magnificent intellect. The disappoint that José Arcadio Buendía  felt  that day could be compared to the disappointment this particular young boy went through after he made a model of a stationary machine gun. However, two months after the model- a cassava stem contraption stuck together with pins- was put on show in his backyard, the real Rheinmetall MG3 found its way to the then magazines and newspapers. Talk about being disappointed, one would’ve felt robbed! But that wasn’t the end of this young man’s ventures. Years later, the same young lad grew up to make Asia’s first animation film- something that was beyond the imagination of the multitudes.

K. Sreekumar- Sreekuttan to most- started his career in movies when he was just 17, where he was assistant director to the film, Mayilpeeli in 1979. Although the movie wasn’t a financial success, there was no shortage of the films that he assisted and directed himself. He joined Hariharan as associate director to mould super-hits like Vellam, Nakhasthangal, Panchagni, Oru vadakkan Veergatha, Sargam, Anjaam (Hindi), Mangai Oru Gamaya (Tamil) and so on. One of his major works with M.T Vasudevan Nair was Kadavu.

However, the one film that stands out in his kitty is O’Faby. Released in 1993, the movie took two years to make. What made it stand out was its character Faby which danced and sang and revolved around the lives of the protagonists. The animated character was the first of its kind in Indian films, let alone Asian. Although Sreekuttan took a long break from the movie industry shortly after this movie, his contributions to the film industry is significant. Sreekuttan, who works as Director in Tecgemini, a technological company is also member of the Censor Board. He is persistently updated about the industry, constantly. Excerpts from the interview:

Tell us a little about your childhood

 I was born in a small remote village in Mannanthala in Trivandrum. I was the youngest of three brothers who were both very studious. My father, M. Krishnan Nair was a busy director in Malayalam and Tamil film industry at the time. The first time I saw him was when I was 5 years old. During my childhood I did not have much time to be with my father, nor did I get as much attention from my mother as I would’ve liked but by that time, she too had to travel and I was more or less left to my own devices. At the height of his success, two films of his would release every Friday. But I liked to invent things, and I didn’t like to study. And I have no regrets about it either. If I had become an academician, I would not have been able to do what I like the most- filmmaking.

How did you come into film-making?

My father gave me a lot of insight into the art of film-making. He was a successful director, and his advice was well-given and quite valuable. He was a man with sharp intuition, and was quite successful in his industry. I was 17 when I joined as assistant director to Mayilpeeli. Unfortunately, the movie never made it to the big screens.  Then I assisted Lava, which got released shortly after. But now I think that I was too young when I came into the film industry. At 17 you’re not sure what the best career is for you.

O’Faby was your dream project. How did you get the idea of an animated character?

I went to watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit with my friends when it was released in 1988. When we got out of the cinema I told my friends that I would like to do something of the sort later. To my disappointment, they started laughing and said I must be nuts to think of something like that in Indian cinema. But it was a dream that was thrust upon me the moment I watched that movie. I had to; I wanted to make an innovative movie like that. O’Faby was inspired by Roger Rabbit.

To have a successful movie, you need a dedicated crew.  How did you manage to pull off the miracle?

 First off, the movie would have remained merely a dream had it not been for Mr. Simon Tharakan. This cinema-loving American was one of the best producers I’ve ever had. Sometime after I met Mr. Tharakan, he told me he had plans to make a movie. He wanted it to be innovative. At that time, I wasn’t even thinking of something like O’Faby but his acquaintance reminded and revived those old ideas. He took them well and was in fact excited about making it. So we got down together in 1992 and started off production. The shooting was in Kochi while the animation was done in Mumbai. And boy, was it the most challenging and exhilarating movie I’d done so far. There was only one rotoscopy machine in the whole studio. But we made 50 more ourselves using small cameras that were prominent at the time. Since we were making an animated character that ran alongside live ones, it took a long time to complete- almost two years. Mr. Tharakan made sure we got all the equipments- most of them were from the US. The lead role was played by Mr. Tharakan’s son, Roqey.

Manoj K. Jayan, Thilakan, Srividya and Nagesh, among others were the main actors. For all of us, it was a new experience. So when the movie was released in late 1993, we had our fingers crossed.

Wikipedia notes that the movie was a financial failure.  What must have happened?

Contrary to our expectations, O’Faby received a lukewarm response. Although we covered costs, it did not unleash a financial gain. What I think right now is that the movie must have been too modern for the audience then. After all, it’s not conventional to have an animated creature jump out at you from a book. It might have looked too complicated to the public. But I’m sure had the movie come out a few years later, it would have fared better.

O’Faby ends saying it would come back again. Can we look forward to a sequel?

 Definitely. Making a sequel- a better and more attractive one- was mine and Mr.Tharakan’s dream. However, sad as it is, Mr. Tharakan passed away a couple of years later. Although I was in touch with his family sometime after that, I heard that they’d moved away- perhaps back to America, perhaps not- and hasn’t been in touch since. What I would like to request is, if someone in his family chances to read this interview, kindly be in touch. I’ve been trying to seek them out for years.

You took a long break after a couple of movies after O’Faby, which did not turn out to be so successful either. What must have gone wrong for you to stay out?

 I was 31 when I made O’Faby, an age which I now consider a little young and I did not have any substantial financial gain from the movies that I did, successful as they may be. Truth is I never did any movies for the sheer gains from it. I did not see it as a business. Today, the film industry is such a big business anybody with a knack for it can make easy money.

I was a perfectionist. While I strived to perfect the movie, I forgot about the finances. Apart from that, for you to be successful in films, you need to have good contacts and more importantly, how to use them. You need to talk smart and act smart. What you see today in the industry is that if needed, you need to eliminate obstacles in your way to move up the ladder.

Do you have any more projects you wish to proceed with?  How confident are you with them?

 Yes. Currently, I have plans to do a feature film based on King Marthandavarma titled The Kingdom of God and of course, the second part of O’Faby. This time, I have no worry about them being successful. I have been through 3 generations of Malayalam movie industry. Everywhere, in all industries, the skill, the experience and the confidence is what matters. Today I am not the young man who assisted films come what may, but today I look at myself in a new light, confident that I will not repeat the same mistakes, because my break has made me realize and learn from it. I have no regrets about the past. I am satisfied with it.

I was lucky to have learned and work under masters of Malayalam film industry like M.S.Mani who is the editor pioneer of south Indian Cinema and established cameramen like Melli Irani, U.Rajagopal, and Vincent Master.

What I wish for is to have as dedicated a crew like the one I had in O’Faby. Mr. Tharakan was an incomparable producer; we had that chemistry where we could make the impossible happen. And the actors were all gems. There is nothing more that any director would want.

What is your opinion about the current “new generation”  films?

 New generation films are contemporaries of the old- which was new in my time. When Mohanlal and Mammootty started off with their movies, they were all considered “new generation”, and attracted similar criticism and praise then as current movies get now. Being part of the Censor board, I get to see most of the new films that go out. Some are good, while some are bad- like always.

However, what I disapprove is of the stardom that is cast upon many. Being a fan of a film star should be because one wants to, not because fans associations inflict it upon the viewers. Every star dies out one day, every star becomes a supernova regardless it wants to or not. One motive of successful actors should be to deliver well to the expectations of their audience, who keep them fed and who keep them successful.

What is your advice to the youth who aspire to be in the  industry?

Choose well. Be sure this is what you should be doing, what you like doing. Make sure you have guide to help you out because when you are young, and are directionless it is easy to fall into the pits of failure and disillusionment. It would be too late to go back and change everything.

What was your proud moment as a father? Is your son  also taking towards the film industry?

 When my son was chosen for the San Francisco Children’s Film Festival for his short film which he did with minimal help from me, I couldn’t be prouder. I hope Adithyan will come into films, on his own will, perhaps sometime later.

Mr. Sreekumar lives in Trivandrum, Kerala and can be reached at ksreekumar17@gmail.com or +91 9387204168

10 Responses to Of Faby and his father Interview with Director K. Sreekkuttan

  1. Raveendran Narayanan says:

    I am forwarding this and other publications of you to FOMAA 2014 Convention award committee for ” YOUNG LEDER SHIP AWARD”. Soon you will get a result. ALL THE BEST FOR YOUR FUTURE

  2. A.C.George - USA says:

    Hi, Dear Aiswria,

    Thanks for the face book entry and information. You are every where this young age. You are a wonderful person. How did you achieve all these?
    All the best to you. Do you likje to participate in the teleconference tomorrow. Let me know? My email: ageorge5@aol.com

    Thank you,
    A.C.George, USA

  3. Bernard John. says:

    Great introduction Aiswarya. If it not for you I would not have known who Sreekuttan is. Nice interview too. I wish Sreekuttan, and his son Adithyan all the very best in their endeavors. Thank you Aiswarya.

  4. Dear Aiswarya,
    I read the “Interview with Sreekuttan”. It is not only the interview, but the presentation, that impressed me. Only a good Journalist could do that type of presentation. I am so glad that you were able to present it to the social media in a systematic way. Good luck to you.
    May God Bless you .
    Sincerely yours,
    Thomas Koovalloor

  5. mohanank says:

    dear Aishu kutty,
    it is a rich and informative interview,,,,,!!!

  6. Ajitsinh Jagirdar says:

    For a person who is from Gujarat and don’t know anything about south Indian films and personalities, you represented a nice opportunity. Nice questions to put forward to draw whole of Srekuttan out, the person, his longing, his thinking, and his abilities. Thanks for sharing with me through Facebook.

  7. m, m,george says:

    very nice. congra
    may almighty bless u to reach higher heights

  8. Muhammad Nabeel says:

    im wishing u a day which is
    as bright as ur eyes and every one around
    you 2B AS generous as your heart.
    God Bless U



  10. madhu nalladath says:

    Really informative,thank you.I think he is brother of Jayakumar sir.

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