Since the mid-1980s, the Malayalam film industry has gone through a resurgence. New directors, new writers, new actors, a realistic approach to filmmaking and storytelling, and acting that didn’t seem like hamming. Plenty of new technicians, writers, and directors were given platforms, and they went on to become the most celebrated and influential artists in the industry for the next two to three decades.
Sreenivasan is one of those multifaceted, multi-talented artists who not only contributed to the Malayalam film industry in the form of acting, but Sreenivasan has also written the story/screenplay for many of the cult films of the 1980s and 1990s that are now considered influential cinema for many artists of the current generation.
Sreenivasan began as an actor in the late 1970s and later transitioned to become an actor/writer. He indulged in writing comedy films, mostly directed by the prolific filmmakers Priyadarshan and Sathyan Anthikad. Sreenivasan as an actor, doesn’t look like a traditional actor. But his acting talents are insurmountable, and so are his writing and directing skills.
One of his earlier films that were popular for his acting chops is Priyadarshan, directed by Poochakkoru Mookkuthi (1984), which was remade in Hindi as Hungama (2003) by the same director. Although it was one of his earlier films, the role was tiny, and the actor did leave a mark. After this stint, Sreenivasan became a regular feature in every Priyadarshan film, not just as an actor but as a writer as well. One of his earlier films as a writer is Mutharamkunnu P.O. (1985), directed by Sibi Malayil, which was a sleeper hit of that year and had a cameo of celebrated wrestler/actor Dara Singh. Boeing Boeing (1985), directed by Priyadarshan, which was remade in Hindi as Garam Masala (2005), is one of the best comedies of that decade to have been written by Sreenivasan, and in the same year, he wrote and acted in Aram + Aram = Kinnaram (1985). During the entire 1980s, Sreenivasan helmed the roles of an actor and writer in many of the same films.
Sathyan Anthikad delivered many realistic/satirical films in the 1980s, and the decade after that had, most of the films written by Sreenivasan. One of the earlier films by Sathyan Anthikad T.P. Balagopalan M.A (1986), story of a wallpaper seller who goes out of his way to help a girl he loves, only to be shunned by her family after he goes out of his way to help her family win a crucial property case. Sreenivasan had a knack for writing characters that were not rich or flamboyant but struggling youth who are trying their level best to meet their ends and are somehow happy doing what they do. In the same year, the same director-writer duo delivered one of the cult comedies ever produced by the Malayalam film industry, Gandhinagar 2nd Street (1986), in which the lead actor is educated but succumbs to acting like a Gurkha to get a job as a security guard for a posh colony. In Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam (1988), Sathyan Anthikad and Sreenivasan deliver a sensitive tale of a family dealing with constant harassment from their homeowner. This film was remade in Hindi as well by Priyadarshan, Yeh Teraa Ghar, Yeh Meraa Ghar (2001).
One of the cult comedies of the late 1980s, Nadodikaatu (1987), directed again by Sathyan Anthikad and written by Sreenivasan, in which the writer/actor has a parallel role to Mohanlal, is a tale of two well-educated youth struggling to land a job as per their qualifications and ending up doing a lot of odd jobs to finally land a job in the police force. As mentioned above, a cult comedy film that has been referenced in pop culture even now is a story for every generation to watch and understand. This film became so popular that the writer-director managed to churn out two films that were an extension of this cinematic universe.
Sreenivasan never shied from talking about the politics of the country then and including it as a central plot point. Most of the films written by him were satirical. Many of those have stood the test of time and are considered relevant in the current political climate. For example, Varavelpu (1989) had the writer tell the story of an NRI returning to his homeland for good and starting a small transport business, only to be harassed constantly by the local socialistic political party.
Sandesham (1991) is a story of two brothers from the same family representing two opposite political ideologies, not working, and hardly contributing financially to the family is a masterful satire on how political parties offer no financial backing and end up brainwashing even the educated of the lot. This film, directed by Sathyan Anthikad and written by Sreenivasan, has quite a cult status and needs to be watched by every generation to understand how inconsequential political parties are.
Honorary mentions films written and acted in by Sreenivasan are: Vellanakalude Nadu (1988), Mukunthetta Sumitra Vilikkunnu (1988), Pavam Pavam Rajakumaran (1990), Thalayana Manthram (1990), and Mithunam (1993). The political climate of the late 1980s and 1990s saw unemployment, communism, and politicos giving hope but fulfilling nothing; all of these and many more were the underlying themes as well as the plot of his films. This decade also saw Sreenivasan venturing into writing and directing with Vadakkunokkiyantram (1989), a story of a printing press owner who is a classic case of inferior complex. He keeps wondering if he is good enough for his new bride and goes to the severe extent of proving his wife is having an affair.
The mid to late 1980s to early 1990s had Sreenivasan written all over the Malayalam film industry in Kerala, for every story written by him had a tinge of comedy, drama, and realism. Most of the films mentioned have Sreenivasan written roles for himself, and he is a prolific actor who performed them with utmost ease. In the late 1990s, Sreenivasan was less into writing and more into improving his acting prowess. One of his most prominent roles was in the film Megham (1999), in which he played the role of Shanmugam, a local theatre owner who is in love with a vibrant, rich village girl. One of the most prominent films of 1990 is written, directed, and acted by Sreenivasan, Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala (1998), which is a story of a man running away from responsibilities even though he is married and has two kids. A fantastic story, directed very well and performed with such finesse.
The 2000s saw Sreenivasan go back to writing screenplays and acting in those films. One of the prominent roles performed by this prolific actor is Udayananu Tharam (2005), a story of a budding actor who steals the screenplay for his friend, only to become one of the most sought-after actor soon. The rivalry between his friend, who is a director, and himself brews and reaches a pinnacle. One of the best screenplays written for a Malayalam film, hats off to Sreenivasan, who infused self-deprecating humor and did not sugarcoat any story regarding the happenings of the Malayalam film industry. Katha Parayumpol (2007), which was remade in Hindi as Billu (2009), is a story of a lowly barber who suddenly becomes the talk of the town when his townspeople come to know of his association with a famous actor shooting for a film in the same town. A well-acted and written film that got remade in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu. Other honorary mentions of films released in or after the mid-1990s are Azhakiya Ravanan (1996), Ayal Kadha Ezhuthukayanu (1998), Narendran Makan Jayakanthan Vaka (2001), and Njan Prakashan (2018).
Sreenivasan has now retired from writing owing to health reasons, but he is widely regarded as one of the most prolific writers of Malayalam cinema. His films still have a huge fan following, and the pop culture associated with him and his films is never-ending. An actor par excellence, a man of many talents, his son, Vineeth Sreenivasan, has now taken up the flag and is taking his legacy forward by writing and directing many brilliant movies in the last decade. Films written by Sreenivasan will be revered for generations to come, something that will be considered a masterclass in writing layered screenplays. All of them are must-watch movies.