Director Siddique, who had helmed movies such as Godfather, Ramji Rao Speaking, Vietnam Colony, Friends and Bodyguard, leaves behind a legacy that will forever be remembered
Last Updated: 04.02 AM, Aug 09, 2023
In February 2020, director Siddique travelled to New York to discuss the expenditure of what turned out to be his final film, Big Brother, with its producer. Just when he was set to return, the COVID-19 pandemic had reared its head and airports had to be closed. But you could count on Siddique to see the brighter side of this. The filmmaker, even when he had no inkling of when or if he can get a flight back home and was hopping from New York to Chicago as the cases started rising uncontrollably and each city went under lockdown, decided to learn more about the American way of life and politics.
“In Kerala, we keep saying we should never forget what happened in Chicago on May 1,” he said, “I was there that day and I thought it was funny that nobody there remembers, even when the rest of the world celebrates Labour Day year after year.” It reflected how Siddique approached life – see adventure and humour in uncertainty but while keenly observing what happens in the world around you.
In fact, it’s this sense of perception that had helped Siddique, along with his long-time friend and collaborator Lal, come up with movies such as Godfather, Vietnam Colony, Ramji Rao Speaking and In Harihar Nagar that spread laughter while also striking a chord with the common man effortlessly. It’s also the reason Siddique’s death due to a heart attack on August 8 leaves a void in the industry, which was inspired by his work.
Also read: RIP Siddique: Mammootty, Mohanlal, Dulquer Salmaan, Tovino, and others mourn loss of hit filmmaker
From a mimicry troupe to directing Salman Khan
Much before focus groups became a trend, during the post-production of their films, Lal and Siddique would watch their movies in theatres almost 10 times, along with 15 other people. The duo would observe the reactions of the viewers and then tweak the content each time based on this – sometimes adding a few scenes or deleting them. They credited their mentor Fazil for this. But it’s also a trait that carried over from the duo’s stint at Cochin Kalabhavan, where they were scriptwriter-performers and had to improvise based on the audience reactions each time they were on stage.
Siddique was elemental in elevating mimicry in Kerala through the troupe in the early 80s. Mammootty was a huge fan of their shows, got Fazil to watch one of the programmes and introduced Siddique and Lal to the filmmaker. This paved way for Siddique’s film career, which started out as an assistant director in Nokkatha Doorathu Kannum Nattu in 1984. After writing stories for movies such as Nadodikattu and Pappan Priyapetta Pappan, Siddique and Lal forayed into direction with Ramji Rao Speaking in 1989 – a movie that has spawned several remakes including Akshay Kumar’s Hera Pheri.
Backed by immense talent, it didn’t take Siddique-Lal too much time to become a brand – helming films such as In Harihar Nagar, Godfather and Vietnam Colony – all of which are deeply embedded in Kerala pop culture. That’s also why their split after Mannar Mathai Speaking in 1995 left a “pall of gloom”, as Lal once described it. Though the duo had never truly revealed the reason for the split, both believed that it was for the ultimate good. In fact, it’s also when Siddique spread his wings and reached greater heights.
The very next year, Siddique directed Mammootty ’s Hitler and in 1999, followed it up with another superhit with Friends. In the latter’s Tamil remake, the filmmaker brought together two of the industry’s biggest stars today – Suriya and Vijay. It was also a phase where Siddique, who had left it to Lal to cover up his weakness, had to now learn to overcome that.
Tact is something people rarely associated with Siddique, but in humour, he found that to be effective. The story of how he convinced Nayanthara, who had been notorious to turn up late for shoot during Bodyguard, is still discussed. On a day he wanted her to reach early, the filmmaker, without wanting to offend her ego, asked her, “Can Nayanthara be Seventhara tomorrow?” The actress reached the sets at 7am the next day, while shooting his film Bodyguard.
The movie also provided further uptick in his career – as it saw him collaborate with Vijay again in its Tamil remake Kaavalan and with Salman Khan in Bollywood. Producer Ouseppachan Valakuzhy, who had produced several of Siddique’s movies including Siddique-Lal’s final collaboration King Liar, recalls the filmmaker’s reaction after Bodyguard’s premiere in Mumbai. “After the movie was over, everyone including Salman Khan stood and applauded, and Siddique was still his humble old self,” he says. “It was his dream with every film to improve as a filmmaker and also give back whatever he had learnt – to the Malayalam industry as well as the talents here. He accomplished that.”
A humble servant of cinema
Mohanlal, who had worked with Siddique in his first film Nokkatha Doorathu Kannum Nattu as well as his final movie Big Brother, put it best when he wrote in his tribute post on social media that the filmmaker had “made us laugh out loud, shed tears, thought us never to lose hope and it’s possible reach greater heights”.
It’s never easy to branch off as a solo filmmaker, especially when you are part of the Siddique-Lal brand. But Siddique, throughout his career, has overcome adversities by playing to his strengths and remaining grounded, much like most of his adored characters. It’s a strong reason that his name was enough to attract the biggest of names in Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi to his projects.