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A major in the film industry

Pma Rasheed (Contributor)
Filed on September 2, 2007

From being a soldier in the Indian Army to directing award winning movies in Malayalam, Major Ravi has come a long way. Here, the filmmaker, who was in Dubai to raise funds for amnesty seekers speaks to City Times about his colourful life

MAJOR RAVI is probably the only filmmaker in the Malayalam film industry from an army background. It's no wonder then that his films have an in-depth and realistic military backdrop connected directly to his own eventful life in the Indian army. And today he has proved himself to be a brilliant military officer as well as a successful filmmaker, having won a number of accolades both for outstanding martial performances and excellent movie-making efforts.

Major Ravi, the soldier-turned director was in Dubai recently for a special screening of his movie Keerthichakra. The screening, organised by an Indian language radio channel in Dubai, was aimed at raising funds to help deserving amnesty-seekers obtain air tickets to fly back to India.

Excerpts from an interview:

Your visit to Dubai was with a special mission?

I am really happy to be associated with the organisers of my movie screening, which was planned to facilitate the air travel of Indians who couldn't afford to pay for their tickets back home.

It might be a first-of-its-kind experience even in Malayalam film industry, to screen a Malayalam movie in Dubai in order to raise a big donation, for amnesty-seeking people to fly back home. The fact that my very first film has won this honour enriches my career as a film maker.

Your maiden film 'Keerthichakra' featured megastar Mohanlal as the protagonist. And for the second one 'Mission 90 Days', you have teamed up with another superstar- Mammootty. Did you cast the superstars in the lead roles with commercial purpose?

Both the films were based on my own experience as an army officer. And as such these films with a military backdrop needed experienced actors who could take on the challenging roles.

For Keerthichakra, I decided on Mohanlal as the hero only after the completion of the script. It was a multilingual film, with dialogues in Hindi, Malayalam and Tamil. In the film, Mohanlal speaks in Hindi to his fellow soldiers from North India, and in Tamil to Jeeva and in Malayalam to other Malayali Jawans. Keerthichakra turned out the way it did because of Mohanlal's wonderful performance as Major Mahadevan.

What about 'Mission 90 Days'?

Mission 90 Days is a movie aimed at serious movie-goers. It's like an art film. I have weaved the story in a realistic manner, and an actor of Mammootty's calibre was required to suit the role of Major Sivaraman. In the movie, Mammootty enacts my own role as captain in a special mission to capture militants behind former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. To translate the historic event onto celluloid, I had only Mammootty in mind.

There are so many things that I wanted to disclose through the film Mission 90 Days, and it has generated some controversy. As the chief of National Security Guard, Mammootty's character is assigned to assist the special team of Central Bureau of Investigation and Tamil Nadu Police to hunt the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam terrorists. Mammootty, of course, has performed perfectly for this role.

You have brought out two authentic stories from the military camp. Would you cast superstars again in your next films?

My third movie is already in pipeline. It's the second part of my debut venture Keerthichakra, which tells yet another military tale. And of course, Mohanlal will be playing the hero's role. It's a different love story from the warfront, set during the Kargil War between India and Pakistan in 1999.

I have already started writing the script for the movie. As it was a crucial war, the hero in the film has a powerful responsibility to bear - one can be done only by the megastar Mohanlal. The film will narrate the reasons behind the war, how the Indian army was cheated, the deaths on warfront and how India regained the invaded land.

It will be a family-oriented thriller that will describe how war affects an individual's life. Sunil Shetty will be one of the protagonists, making the second part too a multi-lingual one. Before I decided to make Keerthichakra in Malayalam, Sunil Shetty had wanted to make it in Hindi with himself and Atul Kulkarni in the lead roles. But it didn't happen due to some financial reasons. Now, Sunil Shetty's production house Popcorn is planning to produce Keerthichakra in Hindi.

Ravi, the soldier

Major Ravi was a commando with National Security Guard of India and has won the President's Gallantry Awards in 1991 and 1992 for his contribution to fighting terrorism in Punjab and Kashmir. He has also won other medals and citations in his line of duty as a commando, for having taken part in many other sensitive operations. He joined the army as a Jawan in 1975 after completing his high school education. Later he graduated from Army Cadet College, while he was at service and was promoted as a commando in 1988. He was involved in the operations to flush out militants in Punjab and Kashmir. For about 20 years, Ravi worked with the Indian Army and quit the service in 1996 to take the role of a military consultant in the Indian film industry.

The Bangalore Motivation

Major Ravi was the captain of the special force deployed in Bangalore to capture the LTTE terrorist Sivarasan, who masterminded the assassination of the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. The special team's Bangalore mission to nab Rajiv Gandhi's murderers had been covered widely in the media. Ravi himself was the first officer to burst into the house, where Sivarasan and his accomplices were hiding - a feat that grabbed newspaper headlines. Actor Mohanlal, who was shooting for Kalapani at the time, happened to read them and expressed a desire to meet Ravi.

The Sivarasan episode, triggered the idea of making his latest movie 'Mission 90 Days', in which superstar Mammootty plays the lead role. The film is based solely on facts and reveals how bureaucratic hassles ruined the entire operation.

Mission Kashmir

Major Ravi's operations in Kashmir were the most difficult duties in his career as an army officer. He was there when militancy first began in the beautiful land. He had killed seven militants in a special operation on India-Pak border. When the operation was over, an old local lady, who was compelled to hide a few militants in her house, narrated to him a heart-melting story which she wanted him to tell the world.

His experience as a Commando in the Kashmir operation motivated him to make his debut feature film Keerthichakra. The film weaves a story about the friendship between an army officer and his Jawan and shows how innocent local people become mere tools or victims in the hands of militants. When Keerthichakra was released, Ravi won the state award for best scenarist, as well as accolades for good direction.

Ravi's 'Filmilitary' Movement

When he left the army in 1998, Major Ravi joined his friend and popular director Priyadarshan's school, from where he picked up the basics of film-making. In 2000, cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan recommended him to Rajkumar Santoshi for advice on army matters when he was making the film Pukar, followed by Mani Ratnam's Kannathil Muthamittal, Kamal Haasan's Alavanthaan, Sunil Shetty's Main Hoon Na and a number of other films.

Later, Ravi began assisting Priyadarshan in making ad films. Gradually he came out with a children's movie named Punarjani, in which Mohanlal's son Pranav played the main role, and went on to win the state award for acting. Foreseeing a flair for directing films, the internationally acclaimed filmmaker Shaji N Karun inspired him to explore his cinematic skills and write a script for a film with Kashmir as the backdrop.

However, Major Ravi admits that the real military operations are not like what we see in films.

 
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