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So bad that it’s… bad

Santhosh Pandit’s Malayali films are awful, but they bring him the fame and money he’s desperate for.

The hero swings from left to right, performing balle balle moves, holding balloons in either hand. His steps are in sync with a Malayalam song, which, when translated, reads, “Chubby kid cries out mummy mummy/Big-eyed frog cries out mekro mekro/ The cat in Chinnu’s house cries meow meow/ The hen in Kunju’s house cries koko koko.” This dance — in the trailer of Minimolude Achan (2014) — continues till the credits resurface, highlighting the name of the scrawny actor, Santhosh Pandit — also the film’s director, scriptwriter, editor, music composer, lyricist and singer.

When Pandit’s first film, Krishnanum Radhayum, released in 2011, the crowds gathered to pick on him. Stars boast of fans that hail their films; but for Pandit, there are detractors aplenty, and he considers them his strength.

I don’t think I’m a bad journalist for not watching all of Pandit’s films before interviewing him. It merely makes me human, and raises questions about my level of tolerance. But, others have evidently been unlike me, for a closer look at the man’s YouTube videos reveal a six-figure viewership. The trailer of his latest film, Tintumon Enna Kodeeswaran (TEK), has got 3.2 lakh (and counting) views. The combination of excruciatingly bad talent, social media hype and tabloid coverage has ensured that his films — made on shoestring budgets of Rs 5 lakh — have all made profits. Pandit won’t share any details, though. Prod him further and he’ll even accuse you of being an income tax officer.

Just back from Kozhikode, where he recorded a classical song for TEK, Pandit tells me how it all came about. “I got a random call from a girl who told me that although I claim to have made songs of all kinds, I haven’t made a classical song yet.” He immediately readied himself for the challenge, saying “For a man who has written songs in English, how hard can classical music be?”

Anything bad I can say about him has probably been said. So, instead, I try to figure out why he makes these films. Thirty-two-year-old Pandit worked as an overseer with Kerala’s irrigation board before his film career. “Does anyone build a statue for a research scientist who worked for the Mangalyaan? Is there a fans’ association for any 30-year-old mathematician? I wanted fame, and the answer was either sports or cinema. I chose cinema because it gives me freedom and lets me do everything at once,” he says.

The flute is the only instrument Pandit can play, but he speaks proudly of composing his tunes, and of running his one-man show without help. Packed with punchy dialogues, slapstick stunts and appallingly melodramatic songs, Pandit’s films, incidentally, are a parody of yesteryear Malayali hits by directors such as Joshi and Shaji Kailas.

“I have no passion for films. I am in it for the fame and money. I am just a man who walks into a shop and orders biryani, because it’s the only thing available, while there are others who crave it, go to a hotel and order it. Their satisfaction and mine differ,” he candidly admits. Biryani, here, may refer to the arduous process of film-making. This is one among the many odd metaphors that Pandit speaks in, straying miles away from his point. Ask if he can do away with vague comparisons in every answer, and pat comes the reply: “It is said in the Vedas that whatever you say, you must first state it, then follow it up with an example, and then reach the conclusion.” Clearly, the man treats every sentence as an argument that must be won.

For someone who is constantly mocked, Pandit’s stubborn buoyancy is praiseworthy. He even shares his mobile number at the start and end of his films and trailers, so that people can call him with criticism. Indifference, it seems, is the only thing that might make him quit, apart from losses. “The day I stop making money from my films, I will stop making them,” he says.

Santhosh Pandit is credited as the actor, director, scriptwriter, editor, music composer, lyricist and singer of four films:
Krishnanum Radhayum (2011)
Superstar Santhosh Pandit (2012)
Minimolude Achan (2014)
Kalidasan Kavithayezhuthukayanu (2014)