The man who arranged Malayalam cinema’s maiden tryst with neo-realism is no more. P. Ramadas, maker of Newspaper Boy, considered the first neorealist experiment in Malayalam,Newspaper Boy was released a few months before the world saw a new kind of Indian cinema, a luminous masterpiece, through Satyajit Ray’sPather Panchali.
The films had a few things in common. Both tried location shooting, used non-professional actors and showed a child’s perspective on the world. Both the directors were new to their craft and had not set a camera whirring till then.
At the age of 18, Ramadas read in a magazine that Raj Kapoor was the youngest film director in the country. He told his friends he would break the record.
V. Shantaram and Italian neo-realism left an indelible impression on him.
Like Roberto Rossellini, the young film enthusiast believed that neo-realism was a moral position to look at the world, its realities and hardship. In the post-World War II era, audiences were looking for a change from studio-bound melodramas. The world was talking about the pity of war and the economic hardship of war-ravaged cities.
So, when Rossellini’s Rome Open City, on life and resistance in Rome under Nazi occupation, picked up the Grand Prize at Cannes in 1946, it signalled a new vision of the world and mission of art, and won the attention of the young across the world.
Ramadas directed his film in 1955 at the age of 22, while he was still a student. On May 5, 1954, the shooting was launched in Thiruvananthapuram. G. V. Raja, scholar and sports promoter, was present at the function.
Ramadas had commissioned well-known writer Nagavally R.S. Kurup to pen the dialogue. Preferring the Thrissur dialect, the director changed the Travancore slang used by Kurup.
Being a native of Thrissur, this was easy for Ramadas. Kurup helped the director find a boy, Moni, to play the lead role.
The indoor scenes were shot in Merryland Studio, Thiruvananthapuram. The outdoor scenes were shot in Thrissur and Chennai. Shots of a train, inspired by a Kurosawa film, were captured at the Ernakulam Junction railway station.
The film told the story of a printing press employee and his family hit by extreme poverty. It heralded a new sensitivity in Malayalam cinema by echoing the social realities in Kerala.
It was released on May 13, 1955, in eight cinemas across the State.
Despite its aesthetic claims, it did not pass the box-office test.
“Newspaper Boy was ahead of its time,” Ramadas once claimed. “The Malayali audience was not ready for it at the time of its release.” Newspaper Boy was a costly experiment for him. It cost Rs.1.75 lakh. Ramdas lost all the money, but was happy that he made Malayalam cinema richer.
Special Correspondent writes from Kottayam: Ramadas died at a hospital in Kottayam of age-related ailments on Thursday. He was 83.
The body, now kept in a hospital mortuary, will be brought to the residence at Manganam by 7 a.m. on Friday, then taken to Thrissur and placed at the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Hall by 12 noon for the public to pay homage
His funeral is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Friday at Parammekkavu Devaswom cemetery at Poonkunnam.