I 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 projects.
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.”
It 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.
It 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 what 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.
It 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.
Mani 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.
Robot 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.
And 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.
One 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.