A cold morning of 1984 winter.
I was sweating standing outside the FTII interview room.
I was not worried about the questions; I was seriously worried about how I am going to communicate. Kids standing around me continued talking in English and Hindi effortlessly.
Hindi was out of the question, English I could write very well, but when it comes to conversing, it was a tough game.
This was my second attempt. I stood at the same place last year also. Getting through the written exam was easier for me. This time I must get through, before my family forces me to take up a bank job as it was the norm those days.
I presented my certificates to a 7-8-member interview board, while they passed it around. I nervously sat on the edge of the chair.
Educational certificates, short story writing, poetry and drama competition certificates and few photographs that I managed to take at the last moment with a borrowed camera.
The first few questions were technical.
I started answering in my broken English.
“What are you doing now?”
“I am doing my 1st year Masters in Malayalam literature.”
“You graduated in Physics right?”
“It looks like you are jumping around. Physics, Literature now Cinema. You don’t seem to have a focus, What’s your real interest?”
That’s a tough question, but I must answer.
“Sir, I came last year, but no admission, so I joined Literature… my second interest, now I am here again… for my first interest.”
It looked like he was convinced.
A tall bearded man who just finished going through my certificates looked up.
“You are doing Malayalam literature?”
“What is M.T.Vasudevan Nair’s contribution to Malayalam literature?”
That’s a googli. I could write a three-page essay on that subject, but there’s no way I could explain that in English here.
My throat started to dry
I kept staring at him.
“You don’t know?”
“I know Sir.”
“I don’t know how to say”
He looked at others
I realized the interview is coming to an end. There are lot of students waiting outside. They wouldn’t want to waste time on me now.
I sat there frozen.
Someone pushed the bunch of certificates towards me.
I could feel tears welling up in my eyes.
One more year of waiting.
Frames of bank teller counters flashed through my mind.
(Can you answer in Malayalam?)
Ehh….. Yes, YES Sir.
(Stream of Consciousness)
ഒരു കവിത ചൊല്ലാമോ
(Can you recite a poem in Malayalam?)
I recited an old poem
പുതിയ കവികളിൽ ആരേയാണിഷ്ടം
(From the new generation poets whom do you like?)
അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ ഒരു കവിത ചൊല്ലൂ
(Recite a poem from his collection)
I recited another poem.
The interview continued in Malayalam for another ten minutes with questions from literature, cinema and art.
I couldn’t believe the interview went off well.
I had answered every question and all of them were correct, I knew.
When I came out of the interview room first thing I wanted to find out was who is this person who spoke to me in Malayalam. Senior students told me later that it was John Sankaramanagalam, Dean. FTII.
Two weeks later I received my admission letter.
If John Sir hadn’t shifted my interview to Malayalam, it would have ended much earlier. I don’t know whether I would have gotten admission that year.
For years to come I watched John Sir walking through the campus.
The slow paced walk. If you have to talk to him you have to walk with him, he wouldn’t stop.
I never gathered the courage to walk with him and thank him.
He must be having his slow paced walk somewhere now.
One day I will catch up with him to say ‘Thank you Sir’.
John Sankaramangalam. (1934 - 18)
In his long career, John won two National and four Kerala State Film Awards. He also served as chairman and jury of many national and international film festivals.
His directorial titles include Saramsham, Samandaram, Aval Alpam Vaikippoyi and Janma Bhoomi.
Later, he went on to become the director of FTII. Post retirement, he was seen as an authority on the history of Indian films.