Akhil Sathyan’s ‘Gandharvan — Two legends and a painting’, a short film on Mohanlal and artist Namboodiri, is a unique work of art
Akhil Sathyan’s short film Gandharvan — Two legends and a painting, on a brief meeting between Mohanlal and the legendary Artist Namboodiri, is a picturesque and gracious ode to two artists who have a special place in the hearts of Keralites.
The film, released on YouTube on March 21, has gone viral and Akhil is on cloud nine with appreciation flowing in from all quarters. The seven-and-a-half-minute short captures some delightful moments between Mohanlal and the artist with whom he has had a long association.
As Namboodiri says in the video, the two met for the first time at Namboodiri’s house in Cholamandalam Artists’ Village in Chennai. Over the years Mohanlal has collected and commissioned many works of Namboodiri’s.
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Mohanlal, a “custodian of art works”, as he likes to call himself, had requested Namboodiri for a painting of Kama Deva (the God of Love in Hindu mythology). The 96-year-old artist came up with a six-feet painting of a Gandharvan (celestial being).
“A senior scribe who is close to Mohanlal and my father (Sathyan Anthikkad) got in touch with me as Lal sir wanted a video of his meeting with Namboodiri sir at the artist’s home in Edappal, Malappuram, when he received the painting from the artist. He wanted it to be a quiet affair with just one person recording it for posterity,” says Akhil, who is busy shooting his directorial début Pachuvum Athbhuthavilakkum with Fahadh Faasil.
As Fahadh suffered a mishap during a shoot, Akhil was in the midst of a break. But he wondered if he would be able to do justice to the project as his mind was occupied with his film. However, Sathyan advised him to take up the opportunity to shoot “two legends” together.
“My father reminded me how Malayalam littérateurs MT Vasudevan Nair and VKN wanted Namboodiri sir to illustrate their works and how my father used to buy magazines in which the artist’s works appeared. I got Lal sir’s permission to get on board cinematographer Sharan Velayudhan. I reached my house in Anthikkad in the wee hours of March 10. The shoot was to be done later in the day,” recalls Akhil.
Early in the day, they started for Edappal from Thrissur. On a hunch, Akhil requested Mohanlal if he could accompany the star in his vehicle. He agreed and that proved fortuitous for the director. He was able to capture a few shots of the actor talking about his interactions with Namboodiri and about a work he had commissioned on a particular verse on Adi Shankaracharya’s ‘Soundaryalahiri’.
Mohanlal explains in the video that though he has several art works in his house in Chennai, most visitors are drawn to this particular work by Namboodiri and, invariably, they want to know more about the artist and the painting. He feels it is because of the beauty of the artist’s distinctive lines, subtle use of colours and rich background.
To ensure that the shooting did not in any way prove troublesome for the artist, both Akhil and Sharan took COVID tests and shot the film without inconveniencing the artist in any way. “That was something Lal sir insisted upon. Although I was stressed and worried about how the film would turn out, as soon as Mohanlal sir stepped into Namboodiri’s house, his quiet but reassuring presence put us at ease and we went about our work quickly,” says Akhil.
For the next ten days Akhil worked on the edit of the film. When he sent the first draft to Mohanlal, the actor, busy with the pre-shooting work of his first stint behind the camera, Barroz, felt the film would be enriched with a picture of the painting of the ‘Soundaryalahiri’ and sent it to Akhil. Namboodiri’s son, Devan, sent two short videos of his father working on the painting of the Gandharvan.
Akhil’s skill as a filmmaker comes to the fore in the short film crafted with minimal frames and no fancy equipment. Beginning with the first shot in which the veteran artist explains with a chuckle how Karuvattu Mana Vasudevan Namboodiri came to be known as Artist Namboodiri, to the last frame that says that the look of the Gandharvan in auteur Padmarajan’s cult film Njan Gandharvan was designed by Namboodiri, the short film showcases Akhil’s craftsmanship in shaping a narrative.
And complementing him was none other than the National award winner, director Priyadarsan. “Possibly the most important happy accident in my life!….This film is deeply personal and too close to my heart!” notes Akhil on his Facebook page.
He also thanks Priyadarshan… “for lifting my confidence with a long appreciation call, being very sensible and logical, detailing why he loved this short work of mine! Your words are deeply carved in heart Priyan uncle!”