A year ago Shamdat Sainudheen went to the sets of the Mammootty-starrer The Great Father. In his mind was a story waiting to be told and in his heart — hope. The story and Shamdat’s hope all centered around the nod of one man — Mammootty. For it was the story for acclaimed cinematographer Shamdat’s maiden attempt at direction in which he wanted Mammooty to play the lead. The superstar listened to the screenplay and when the narration got over asked Shamdat how soon he could start the project. Then came the icing on the cake — the superstar decided to produce the movie titled Streetlights.
Shamdat still narrates all this with a sense of wonder in his voice. For a talented cinematographer who has worked with the likes of Kamal Haasan and other big names, to get the superstar to act in his first directorial vehicle is a dream come true. The film’s first look poster has elicited a good response with a very stylish Mammootty aiming a gun at the baddies. The film was first planned to be made in Malayalam and later on in Tamil, but Mammootty decided to produce the Tamil version too and the shoot of the film in both languages got over in a very short time of 35 days, with both the versions set to release simultaneously next month.
Shamdat reveals that he has written the Tamil dialogues for the Tamil version, though the Malayalam dialogues have been written by Favas. The obvious question would be the challenges involved in stepping into the director’s shoes from the role of a cinematographer.
Shamdat answers, “Direction never posed any big challenge to me! I have been in this field for the past 20 years and know the travails of a director, but it is only when I experienced it firsthand that I realised the gravity of a director’s job. As a cinematographer, I need to handle just the shoot. But as a director I had to handle the screenplay, the casting, the costumes, the hairstyle, etc. I understand the magnitude of a director’s work fully now.” Streetlights is a commercial film and Shamdat has a reason for choosing a commercial project as his first, “Each director has his own style of narrating a story to entertain the audience. Most directors try to take the path that the majority of the audience likes, which is the commercial one with a star as its lead. I also want the producer to get back his money since I know the importance of money gained after a lot of hard work and a commercial film is a good bet.”
The first-time director demurs from letting out anything about the storyline since it is a crime thriller. A lot of secrecy has been maintained about the film. All he says is, “I can assure you that one would see a stylish Mammukka and it has humour, crime and action in it.” The superstar also gave Shamdat absolute creative freedom and supported him throughout the making of the bi-lingual. Shamdat’s brother Sadat is handling the cinematography for Streetlights and Shamdat has personally handpicked each member of the technical side for their talent in the field and their all-abiding passion for films. He adds, “Each technician has put in his best.”
For a veteran in the field with a huge cache of Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam films under his belt, with Malayalam Role Models being his most recent work, as a cinematographer, Shamdat has no clue about the number of films he has worked in. The numbers were never a matter of concern for Shamdat because in the beginning of his career, he was taking on films to eke out a living. He candidly reveals, “I come from a middle-class family and have no huge educational qualifications. I entered films because cinematography was what I knew. I joined tinsel town with tonnes of passion for the art of storytelling and the way it was translated on screen. I could not afford to take a stance that I would do only XYZ kind of films because I had a family waiting for me and money was important. So I took on each project I got as a gift from above and infused each frame with as much of creativity as I could. And I am happy that directors have repeated me in their projects because they find my work good.”
Shamdat also got a lot more from his professional expertise, “I got to see stories magically unfold on screen from many different perspectives and also got a big circle of friends who became like family.” After being busy day in and out and achieving what he set out to do, Shamdat can now afford to relax, “I am forty plus and I now have a house and whatever I dreamt of. From now on each film I take up is important. I have to carefully sort and sieve the films because I can now afford to select my projects.” Now the question has to be asked — Would he be forsaking cinematography for direction? “Never” and he explains the reason. “A cinematographer’s job is to travel through the perspective of many different directors but when I direct, it would be only through my perspective. The biggest luck and learning ground for me professionally has been the varied styles of different directors I have worked with and I do not want to miss that out.” His upcoming films include one with Nagarjuna and another with Dulquer. Before signing off, he says, “Ultimately, it is about working in good films and everything I do is a travel to that destination.”