By Pradeep Sebastian
am deeply saddened and shocked by Sujatha’s
death. So sudden, and so unexpected. And such
a tragic loss for both, fans of Tamil genre
fiction and film buffs. In his passing away,
so many of Tamil cinema’s best talents
have lost an invaluable and long standing collaborator:
Kamal Hassan, Mani Ratnam, Shankar, Rajeev Menon
and several other filmmakers and script/dialogue
writers who must have consulted him on their
Kamal has spoken of his indebtedness to Shankar for shaping
his reading and literary tastes. Going by the various responses
that are pouring in from people who knew him, what comes across
is a picture of a writer who was modest and unworldly –
rare indeed in the film industry. When Shankar would ask him
how much he wanted as payment, Sujatha would invariably respond,
“Oh, just give me something.”
must be a particularly deep and personal loss for
Mani Ratnam and Suhasini, and I can’t help wondering
how they would respond to this tragedy. If they were
to speak of it, what would they say? I just get the
feeling that they were closest to him. And that between
Mani and Sujatha it had been an intensely creative,
vibrant collaboration that one of them will profoundly
miss. If you remember, Madhavan played a wry, intense
author who does not suffer fools gladly in Ratnam’s
Kannathil Muthamittal that was based in part on a
Sujatha-like author character. In the movie Madhavan’s
character even writes under his wife’s name.
In an interview the star once said he had observed
how Sujatha was on the sets with people, especially
his fans, and used that to model his character on.
In a flashback, Simran is seen reading from a Kumudham
or Ananda Vikatan story with its signature pencil
sketch. The story that Keerthana inspires Madhavan
to write is narrated first on screen and then dissolves
into Simran reading it in a magazine. From celluloid
to paper, from movies to literature. What could sum
up Sujatha better than that moment, that image, inspired
from his own life and work? Mani Ratnam understood
this and worked that artful, lovely little detail
in as tribute.
is a spectacular loss for Robot – perhaps even
a crisis. The absence of a script and dialogues by Sujatha
would diminish any film, but in Robot’s case it
is doubly true: for the movie itself, as we all know,
is based on Sujatha’s cult novel. Who better than
him to have seen the screenplay and dialogue through
till the movie’s completion? But if some reports
that are just coming in are to be believed, Sujatha
had apparently completed Robot’s script and had
handed it to the director saying, "Shankar, I completed
my work satisfactorily. Hereafter, there is no tension
to me, even the film will become as my last one!"
Well…we don’t really know at this point,
but if there is some truth to this, it is indeed reassuring
for Rajini’s fans and the entire team of Robot.
About ten years ago Tamil moviegoers began noticing
the name Sujatha on the opening titles of movies. First
as dialogue writer, and then, as script and dialogue
writer. Wait a minute, we wondered then. Is this the
author Sujatha? The same Sujatha whose stories and novels
we had been reading? The one who had made science fiction
stories popular in Tamil and had imagined
Chennai would look like in post 2020? The answer, of course,
was a resounding yes. It is then that I began to notice that
a movie that had Sujatha as dialogue and co-scriptwriter was
unfailingly interesting. Even if the movie didn’t always
work, there was a freshness and inventiveness to the dialogues
and the story. Also, a distinctly literary quality that could
only come from a scriptwriter who was also the author of several
popular novels and short stories.
To celebrate two of his best-known novels, Kanavu Thozhirsalai
and Pirivom Sandhippom (Part I and II), Ananda Vikadan put
up a giant cut out of Sujatha on Mount Road – the first
time a writer had been honoured this way. He was not only
prolific(100 novels, 200 short stories, 400 or more articles/columns
and a dozen plays) but also broke new ground for the way he
introduced genre fiction into popular Tamil literature.
Among the many early films he worked on were two Rajini movies,
Gayathri and Priya-both based on his novels. And Kamal’s
Vikram. Karayellam Shenbagapoo, Ninaithale Inikkum, Poi Mugangal
and Vanakkathukkuriya Kathaliye are of some of the other films
based on his novels and stories. Not many people know that
his work has been adapted into several Kannada films (possibly
because he used to work in Bangalore for a long time) such
as Aryabatta, 24 Roopai Theevu, and Anitha Ilam Manaivi. His
story about an athlete (Pathu Second Mutham) was made into
a hit Telugu film starring Ashwini Nachappa, the famous athlete.
is with Rajeev Menon’s Kandukondain, Kandukondain
and practically every film of Mani Ratnam from Roja on (with
the exception of Guru) and every film by Shankar, from Indian
to the now bereft Robot, that Sujatha became a star dialogue
and script- writer. It is well known that it was Sujatha
and his wife who recommended Siddharth for Shankar’s
Boys. They had seen him on the sets of Mani’s Kannathil
Muthamittal as assistant director and thought he was perfect
to play the lead in Boys.
Ratnam was the first to notice his particular talent for
dialogue writing, and for shaping a movie’s story
in literary terms. Mani began collaborating with him closely,
and the brilliant results were there for everyone to see
on screen. Shankar picked up on this, and fused Sujatha’s
ear for dialogue with Shankar’s own gift for grand
storytelling. I also get the feeling that some scenes in
Kandukondain, Kandukondain tap into Sujatha’s literary
sensibility. What do I mean by this? I’m referring
to the scene where Ash and Abbas have an argument over which
the author of a certain passage is - Bharathi or Bharathidasan?
You could feel the presence (and the contribution) of a
Tamil writer in this wonderful scene.
has been not only Shankar’s dream project but Sujatha’s
too. He was very fond of both sci-fi novels that dealt with
this theme. They had been widely serialized and read. It
had also been adapted for television. It is the dream of
any novelist to have her or his novel made into a movie.
And every author’s fantasy that he would actually
collaborate on the script, and even contribute to the process
of making the movie. And for this versatile writer this
fantasy had come true with the making of Robot.
now what will Robot be like without its original creator?
Who is to pen the dialogues? Or is it possible that Sujatha
had already completed (or nearly completed) the script as
some reports claim? Questions not just for us, but also
for Robot’s entire team who must be anxious and grieving
for such a heavy and sudden loss.
thing I’m certain of: when the film is done and released,
Shankar will surely dedicate Robot to the memory of Sujatha,
the versatile, unworldly artist who brought Tamil literature
and film together.