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04. Agony and ecstasy
     The Week, Feb 4th 1996, by Vinu Abraham

His creative works are marked by a searing intensity that can be seen only in a Tarkovsky classic. Accolades for his genius came from all quarters but the one which really mattered. And hence, Shyamaprasad, production assistant at Doordarshan Kendra, Thiruvananthapuram, maker of telefilms and winner of government and private awards, resigned his job recently and has set sail on his own.

The son of O Rajagopal, national vice-president of the BJP, Shyamaprasad's qualifications as a TV producer need no scrutiny. A graduate in theatre direction from Calicut University's School of Drama, he had a six-month stint at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. He joined DD as production assistant in Bombay and later came back to his home state with a transfer to Thiruvananthapuram.

"The first three years at Thiruvananthapuram DD was a period of fun and enthusiasm," says he. "I knew that I had an atmosphere which was conducive for making telefilms, the kind of work I liked."

His first telefilm Venalinte Ozhivu, based on a short story by Kamala Das, heralded the arrival of a major talent on the Indian small screen. Soon after, Shyamaprasad went on a scholarship to the Hull University in teh UK to study media and theatre production. Here he got the chance to work for Yorkshire TV, Channel Four and some centres of BBC.

His return home marked the beginning of his woes with the authorities. The two-and-a-half years spent abroad were cut short from his service period. But he persevered and went on to make telefilms such as Peruvazhiyile Kariyilakal, Vivaahalochana, Viswavikhyatamaya Mookku, and his masterpiece Uyirthezhunnelpu.

Uyirthezhunnelpu had been produced by DD in 1993 after its script languished for six years following one rejection after another. When it won the State awards, the Thiruvananthapuram Kendra took the stand that as a central government institution; DD could not accept any award instituted by a government. Shyamaprasad defied the orders of the Kendra director forbidding him to accept the award and promptly received a disciplinary memo. Shortly afterwards, his telefilm Nilavariyunnu swept the Onida Pinnacle awards, an acknowledgement of his mastery of the medium at the national level. But in his office he remained just a production assistant. "Things had come to such a stage that there was no meaning in continuing with the job," Shyamaprasad says. "My official duty had been reduced to producing the weekly curtain raiser and not even that in recent times." It was not long before he resigned.

Despite the treatment meted out to him by it, Shyamaprasad candidly admits that without DD he would not have been able to produce his dreams in celluloid such as Uyirthezhunnelpu. "I do not think any private financier would be willing to undertake the production of a project like that which has no guarantee at all of box office returns if made as a film," he says. "DD has the power to be a showcase of good art."

The vagaries of private producers is not new to Shyamaprasad. His feature film project, Prajapathi, which was to have featured superstar Mammooty had to be shelved at the last minute because of distributors developing cold feet over what they felt was too arty a project. "In future, I have to smart enough to convince potential producers and distributors regarding the commercial viability of my cinema," he says.

That is not all that he has to remember as he gets ready to switch over from television to the big screen. The script writer and director in him could face fresh challenges. Not that he worries over it. "One has to be well versed in the grammar of both media before making the transition from one to another," he says. "I think I am confident enough to make such a transition," he says. Even as he gears up for plunging into the field of feature films, he nurses a soft corner for his first love, telefilms. "In the coming years, telefilms will grow in importance especially for directors who find it impossible to realize their dream feature film projects, given the role money plays in them," he says. He himself hopes to see none other than DD telecast the telefilms which he might make in future.

Right now, Shyamaprasad is enjoying a serene lull from work with his wife and children at his house in Thiruvananthapuram. A lull which people who have known the exquisiteness of his creations hope, is very brief.
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