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Sachy’s life is the story of neither an auteur nor a lawyer, but of a man who used his experience in one field to infuse the other and capture the imagination of millions.
While the study of law and its expertise is meant to be tools for a lawyer to excel in the courtroom, KR Sachidanandan (Sachy to us) used his own expertise in criminal law to conquer the film world as well.
Although Sachy’s study of law was a mere happenstance, it appears in hindsight that it was the almighty’s desire to equip him in law and the analysis of the human mind, which he could channel into meaningful cinema. Sachy’s life is the story of neither an auteur nor a lawyer, but of a man who used his experience in one field to infuse the other and capture the imagination of millions.
Many would be surprised to know that Sachy was a brilliant criminal lawyer who had made a reputation for being bold and independent. There are numerous reported cases bearing his name, and in his movies, he liberally used these experiences. His cross-examination was brilliant, for it had both dramatics and reflected in-depth knowledge of law and the human condition.
As a lawyer, he was very generous as well. I remember in one Sessions trial in which I was assisting him, in order to make sure that the client appeared before the court every day, I was asked to pay him Rs 50 on each appearance and in order to get that amount from me, the client never missed a day in court!
Sachy had done that trial pro-bono and I had to pay for the coaching which he was giving me, that too to the client, as he was poor. At the end of the trial, not only was our client acquitted, all the other co-accused, who were being defended by the stalwarts of the Bar, were also acquitted because of the strategy that was formulated by Sachy. I never consider that payment a loss. Not simply because I had learnt something, but because all the other accused later became our clients (and continue to be so) only due to the dramatic performance by Sachy before the Sessions Court.
Ironically, his films seldom showed the courtroom itself. He made sure the audience knew of the influence of law on human lives through his dialogues and storyline, thereby displaying his intrinsic knowledge of the working of the courts. All of this was portrayed in the most realistic manner possible without being dramatic, lest it be dubbed ludicrous. The courts were never projected in a dim light, but told the stories of how life was affected by law, both legislated and judicial.
Although he was named Sachidanandan, everyone called him Sachy. He wanted to be known by the name Sachy and went on to be popular by that name, just as he wished. KR Sachidanandan, Advocate, as the name plate portrayed, never loomed large in the minds of many except a few of his lawyer friends, among whom I was fortunate to be one. Sachy always wanted to be a filmmaker and was deeply passionate about it. He was never attracted to the movie world because of the luxury it brought, but because he was an artist and rebel at heart.
When I met Sachy, he was using public transport to commute. When I realized that he was making the rounds of the film fraternity, it was my selfishness that persuaded him to accept a bike, a ‘Bajaj CT 100’ for himself to travel, so that I would be free to handle his cases in court. For him, all the luxuries were never a concern and he always lived his life either for his passion or for his friends. He also had the knack of involving his friends in the pursuit of his passion in the most fulfilling way. When I told him I desired to practice in Delhi, he persuaded his client and got me the brief and my first appearance in Delhi. It was a case which Sachy had contested and won against which the appeal was pending before the National Commission.
As the tag line to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist proclaims, “If you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.” While practising as an advocate and directing the occasional play, Sachy learnt that his landlord Sethu had some prior acquaintance with the film world as he had written a story for a movie by the name Panchapaandavar (1999). Providence appeared to be knocking. Sethu’s social skills were much better suited for the film world than Sachy, who was content with putting pen to paper and giving his creativity free rein. Soon, the Sachy-Sethu pair would churn out one hit after another. Between 2007 and 2011, the writer duo’s credits included Chocolate (2007), Robin Hood (2009), Seniors (2011) and Doubles (2011), in which the stars of Mollywood – Mammooty, Prithviraj and Biju Menon - brought the characters alive on screen.
There was barely a film penned by Sachy which did not borrow from his previous avatar. In the film Chocolate (2007), the story revolves around the admission of a boy to a girls-only college and was developed from a notification issued by one of the universities in Kerala at that point of time. In a scene with regard to students’ attire in college, the language employed is obviously legal parlance, which projects the authenticity of the moment.
In Run Baby Run (2012), a lawyer acts more as a fixer than an advocate, thus keeping the court away from the theatrics. As for the character of the lawyer Ramanunni in Ramaleela (2017), all the legal issues he was entangled in were resolved without even a single court scene, even though the characters referred to them many times throughout the film. Apart from quoting a judgment of the Bombay High Court, the issue of privileged communication covered under Section 122 of the Evidence Act was also employed by the character to full effect.
In Driving Licence (2019), one can see the intricacies of the Motor Vehicles Act being explored throughout the film and in the superhit Ayyappanum Koshiyum (2020), he uses his brilliance as a criminal lawyer, where the procedures of criminal law and the applicability of the Kerala Abkari Act are beautifully and authentically applied. In both films, Sachy uses the law as an effective tool for the public servant (the motor vehicle inspector and the sub-inspector) against the might of an influential adversary. With this, the viewer gets the subtle message of how empowering the law can be.
Sachy was a proud man, and his stories on the nature of the human ego went on to become great box office successes with a lasting impact on society. He first emerged as a filmmaker in the film Anarkali (2015), where he once again explored the proceedings of a naval tribunal in the background of forbidden love. His second directorial outing was this year’s Ayyappanum Koshiyum, where he distributed elements of his personality in both Ayyappan and Koshy. For those who knew him, Sachy was not one to suffer someone else’s supremacy, but at the same time, he was a man who possessed a kind and generous heart. A simple man, he never valued money and never measured friendship in terms of material benefits, but yet deeply craved material success.
His pride and courage were two things he could never ever compromise on. His best advice to me, which stands out amongst everything else, was that no lawyer should ever be a beggar in the courts. One remembers the character Koshy in Ayyappanum Koshiyum saying to his driver at the police station “Kumara, Kenjalle, angottumaari nikku”, (Kumara, Don’t Beg, Stand Aside) - that was Sachy’s typical dialogue even in real life.
Sachy’s most amazing quality was his completeness in research and the ability to not leave any stone unturned in this quest. Before he began working on any script, it was his practice to complete the research and then confirm the same from a colleague in the field. He would also become visibly upset in case the research and the opinions were not delivered on time. But even when vexed, any differences in opinion were always welcomed by him. It was not just me, he developed a long list of friends with the ultimate aim of making his scripts logical and meaningful. After he completely went into movies, he could not update himself with the current laws and so, it was his practice to call me up out of the blue. As his junior for life, it was a happy and proud obligation to discharge, and I would look forward to his call, knowing that it meant a novel legal issue was at hand for a proposed script. Although he had no dearth of people to do the research, by tasking me with it, he would nurture my imagination as well, thereby honing the quality that he believed was foremost for any criminal lawyer.
That was Sachy for anyone, for you and for me. He lived a complete life which was abruptly cut short, just like his name. And although he has bid us goodbye, he leaves behind enough ‘Anandam’ to last a lifetime.
The author is an Advocate practicing at the Supreme Court of India and the High Court of Kerala.