It is a curious thing that not many people know that IV Sasi actually directed the movie ‘Kattu Vitachavan’ which was released under the name of Vijayanirmala as the first director in Malayalam.
Alice Gay Blatche was the first film director in the history of the world. Fatima Begum holds that honor in India. But Vijayanirmala, who made her mark as an actress, won that title in Malayalam. Vijayanirmala was the heroine of the evergreen classic movie ‘Bhargaveenilayam’ written by Vaikum Muhammad Basheer and directed by A. Vincent. Nirmala, who acted in films for a long time, harbored the desire to become a director. Till then, no other woman in Malayalam had done films, so she was fascinated by the fact that she would have such a record. But they had little knowledge of the technical and aesthetic aspects of filmmaking.
Nirmala was not ready to retreat thinking that. They waited for a favorable opportunity. Meanwhile, a Christian priest named Father Suvi buys Nirmala’s date to act in the movie ‘Kattu Withachavan’. He also has no understanding of the system. The screenplay for the movie is written by Alleppey Sheriff, who later produced many hits including ‘Avla Raavs’. Fr Suvi shared her vulnerability with Sharif. He suggested an art director named IV Shashi to do the job. Sharif, his friend, knows that Shashi is well-versed in filmmaking and is waiting for an opportunity to film independently.
Sharif doubted that Sasi would withdraw after knowing the information. Many of his friends rejected Sasi. People close to me advised me that I should direct a film for someone.
But Sashi, who has practical intelligence, did not pretend to hear anything and agreed to the sheriff. Two things attracted Sasi. Although he has worked as an art director, he has not yet directed a film. The advantage here is twofold. One, a chance to prove myself. You can see for yourself how things in your mind will look on the screen. Two, people will know his skills as a director. That way he will have the opportunity to film independently.
So Sasi took the director’s megaphone for Father Suvi. Suvi, the evangelist, often did not even come to the location. Everything was done beautifully by Sasi. Thikurissi, Bahadur, KP Umar, Rani Chandra and Shobha were all lined up along with Vijayanirmala in that film. Vijayanirmala was closely observing Sasi’s intelligence and ability. One day during the shoot, they called him and asked him if he could do a similar film for him.
A reward of two films was offered. And also promised to put Sashi’s name in place of the producer. As soon as he heard, Sashi agreed. Friends tried to push back and discourage, but Sasi stood her ground. Rather than the financial gain, Sashi was motivated by the hope of doing the producer’s next film.
The film released and was a fairly good success. Vijayanirmala has entered history as the first female director in Malayalam. Knowing about Sasi’s desire to direct, the producer promised to give him a film, but for some reason backed out when he was close to the matter. Even though all hopes were dashed, Sasi was not disappointed. The entire film world is singing that Sasi actually directed ‘Kavitha’ and ‘Kattu Withachava’. Later, his friend and countryman Ramachandran provided an opportunity for Sasi to become an independent director in the film ‘Utsavam’.
Shashi later became one of the greatest directors in Malayalam commercial cinema. Made history by producing more than 150 films. He directed the first political film in Malayalam, ‘Ee Naad’ and the first foreign film, ‘Ezham Kadalinakare’. He became famous as the director who gave inspiration to most of MT’s screenplays and as the only Malayali who made Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan the heroes.
Even then, his first film remained unrecognized by his name. Years later, just before his death, Sasi made this truth public in a channel interview. With that, an amendment appeared on Vijaya Nirmala’s Wikipedia page. Kavita is a film directed by Vijayanirmala. IV in brackets. Sasi directed for her was also added.
Thus, with the support of a man, Vijayanirmala won the title of the first Malayali director. But later came actress Sheela by doing the film ‘Shikharaman’, Anjali Menon by making one of the biggest hits Malayalam cinema has seen, Geethumhondas by making films that garnered accolades in film festivals, followed by Revathi and Vidhu Vincent. The line of directors reaches up to Rathina, the director of Mammootty’s Pushu.
Through their films, these women directors have proved that they can make excellent films in terms of theme, expression and technology, in a way that any man can stand up to.