When I was contacted to write a piece on ‘East Coast’ Vijayan, I remembered the name from some of the Gulf stage show videos which had been one of our favourite sources of evening entertainment during my trips to Kerala. But that was about all that I knew of the name or the person. The news was around that NOVEL, which is the 1st movie of Vijayan as a director and producer has been selected to be included in KOLKKATTA FILM FESTIVAL to be held in KOLKATTA between 10th November, 08 and 17th November, 08 in continuation of being awarded as the best lyricist for 2008 by Film Critics Association. His well wishers obviously considered this as a right opportunity to launch a website in his name.
I was stunned by the kind of information I gathered. Not only is he the ‘unappreciated’ pioneer in non-film music albums, he was also the first to introduce music videos and bring professionalism and efficiency in the way stage shows were organized and produced in the Gulf.
I say ‘unappreciated’ because of 2 reasons. The usual trend I find when somebody or something is successful is wide media splashes and coverage. Unfortunately in Vijayan’s case this is not true. I had to really look hard to find material, his music albums and movie details were there, but hardly anything about the person. Interestingly I came across an article in a Malayalam Film Magazine which set the line of questioning for me.
Secondly, during the course of our conversation, I discovered that most of what had been written may have been attributed as his quotes on the unprofessional behaviour that certain people in the field exhibit, but the matter seemed certainly true if logic were applied.
Web Q: Let’s start with your name. How did you get the name, ‘East Coast’ Vijayan?
ECV: The first business I launched was a car rental company in the eastern coast of the UAE. When asked to name the company I chose the name, ‘East Coast’ because in those days that was a popular name tag for the region. I chose blue and red as the company logo colours to symbolise the sea and the coast. When I entered into the stage show business, these were promoted under the East Coast banner and its success and popularity extended to my own name and I became ‘East Coast’ Vijayan. Incidentally, Vijayan is my nickname but very few people know that my actual name is K. V. S. Pillai which is used only for official matters.
Web Q: When did you launch this business?
ECV: In 1984 in Khorfakkan. This was the first car rental company in the east coast. This was possible through a cousin’s friend who was the manager of Nissan. Later on we expanded to Fujairah and later to Dubai, which is now our head office.
Web Q: You mentioned the stage shows. How did your involvement with stage shows begin?
ECV: Though a Mathematics graduate, poetry and music were my passions right from my College days. Understanding the need for keeping our culture alive in the gulf, I raised the idea of forming a cultural association for the Fujairah Malayalees when I found that there were no Indian or Keralite associations anywhere in the East Coast. This was immediately after my opening a branch in Fujairah which was nearly a year after I opened my car rental business in Khorfakkan.
Surprisingly, my ideas and activities were met with stiff opposition from the people who were there from years. They could not tolerate my initiatives as I was considered a newcomer among them and hence almost an outsider! Unfortunately for my detractors then and now, opposition and failure only instils a sense of challenge in me. So wherever and whenever I have met with failure or opposition, I have never backed off. On the contrary it only helps to toughen my resolve to succeed. So when I realised that I would not be receiving any kind of support to form a cultural society, I decided to do it alone. That lesson has ensured that till-date I am not a member of any kind of social or cultural society.
I heard that somebody was bringing Kalabhavan to Sharjah and so I immediately contacted them and organized a show in Fujirah without any partners, as an independent venture under the East Coast banner. This was in 1986. But it was really in 1988 with my bringing in Sambasivan, who was not only a good Kathaprasangamam artist, but also a communist activist, that my focus on stage shows began. The media gave us good coverage, and commented on the success of the program as well as my organizing capabilities which increased my popularity.
Next, I was contacted in 1989 to organize 4 shows in the UAE for a small group of artists who were coming to Bahrain. This was again a successful venture and it also began my friendship with Nedumudi Venu and Innocent, who have continued being part of my shows ever since. The next one was with M.G.Sreekumar & Radhika Thilak together with Actress Parvathy which was in 1990 and I then planned to do a big show the next year with Nedumudi, Mukesh, Jolly Abraham, Maathu, Jagadish, Sreenivasan, Geeta and KPAC Lalitha for the entire gulf except Saudi and Kuwait. But this had to be postponed to early 1992, because of the Iraq-Kuwait war.
In 1992 November, I did a ‘Mega Star Mohan Lal’ Show bringing Mohan Lal along with Nedumudi Venu, Innocent, vineeth, Monisha, , Revathy, Sukumari, Alleppey Ashraf and M G Sreekumar. The show was conducted in various places in UAE and Sulthanate of Oman, Doha and Bahrain. This was Monisha’s last public performance as, after her return to India, she died a week later in a car accident. But the show was a historic success and the performers, organizers at various places and the audience everywhere were tremendously satisfied. This was the first time there were two shows on the same day at the same venue and became a literal cultural festivity. I won all around appreciation on the wonderful success of the show, especially after people from Indian and other audiences saw the video cassette of the tour and performance, which was a new experience for them.
Web Q: The artists would naturally have been happy at its success?
ECV: The stars were not only happy by the success but more satisfied at the organized and professional way in which my company took care of them and conducted the show. It was the first time that they were being treated like professionals and accorded the courtesy, given payments ahead of time, etc. I still remember the words of Mohanlal after the shows were over, “Why can’t we have one more round of shows?’ It spoke volumes of his happiness after the month long performance. This success was possible mainly because of the harmony that existed among the artistes. At that time they loved their work and valued arts and culture more than money unlike the present situation.
Web Q: But I notice in the list of events that despite it’s success, you did not organize any shows for almost 2 years after the Mohan Lal’92 show? What happened?
ECV: Like I told you, it was a historic show and a very satisfying programme on all fronts. With this show I also started yet another new trend among stage shows. Beginning with the entry of the stars at the UAE airport, we recorded all the activities which they attended; the trips they took, the places they saw and this was released along with the recording of the stage show. These videos are popular even today. But more importantly, they showed the public the actual professional treatment meted out to the stars during their visit. This was a turning point in the business of stage shows in the Gulf. Unlike earlier, people started rejecting shows which lacked professionalism in performance and organising.
Web Q: But this success left me with a dilemma. How would I be able to surpass or repeat this success?
ECV: In 1994 I decided to work with the Siddique-Lal duo who were professionals and very talented. The show, Siddique Lal Cine Galaxy ’94 was also very successful. The next big show they directed for me was ‘The Mammootty Stage Festival’ in 1996. This was Mammootty’s first stage show performance with me in the Gulf and this was also the first time that I introduced a professional dance troupe in the show. Earlier, it was only the stars performing.
Web Q: Was this when there was an alleged sabotage act due to the popularity of your shows?
ECV: I don’t know whether it was an attempt to sabotage the show, but what happened was that while the troupe was coming from Bahrain, though all the paperwork had been readied in advance, 4 of the artists were not given visa to enter the UAE. This created a problem for the coordinators and organizers of the show in 2 places where it was not conducted earlier on the first round before going to Bahrain.
Web Q: So was the show cancelled?
ECV: On the contrary, we only postponed the dates in those 2 cities where they could not perform and re-organized the entire show for the audiences within a month. I did incur some heavy expenses due to this postponement and re-organization but like I told you earlier any obstruction only makes me more focused to achieving something. I am more concerned with delivering on my promise rather than the money loss incurred, as what matters most to me is my professional credibility. This act proved this fact to not only my audiences but also to the cynics. I must mention that besides the flight & accommodation expenses being repeated, I had to pay an extra 30% to all the stars as an incentive to return within a month. Mammootty was the only artist who did not take that extra payment.
Web Q: When and why did you start directing your shows?
ECV: Though I was involved with ‘behind the scene’ directing during Bharatham’95 and Rhythm ’92 earlier, Kilukkam ’97 was the first show that was promoted with my name as the Director. Observing all the directors and having become familiar with the techniques and more importantly having understood what the audience really appreciated, I was able to make this progression very smoothly. I started directing all the smaller shows which were successful and kept the audiences happy.
The next big show I organized was Welcome 2000 which was directed by Fazil. This was a mega show as it had both the superstars Mohan Lal & Mammootty in it. But this show helped me to learn a very valuable lesson. The show was not so successful as it should have been and neither the audience nor we as organizers gained anything from the show. It had all the right ingredients but the dish was not appealing! By then I had organized and directed nearly 20 shows and with this experience I was able to understand audience expectations much better and predict what would work and what would not. Unfortunately, Like many others in the field, Fazil had a problem accepting my judgement and did not appreciate my suggestions or what they refer to as interferences! But right after the first show he realised this and adopted a more friendly approach and took suggestions and held discussions for improving the show. By then it was too late and the damage and bad publicity had spread. From then on I decided to direct my own shows.
Web Q: That’s true. Audience expectations also hinge on names. And they change their level of expectations in relation to the director.
ECV: But I also realised that unlike earlier times, when stars were committed to the success of the show, the attitude had changed and in a way I was responsible because I had started the trend of making advance payments! While expenses were rising, their demands were increasing, and yet their sense of responsibility kept decreasing. The failure of this show affected my belief in the professionalism of our film folks and the criticism from people who ignored the tremendous amount of efforts that were spent just because I had the capability of bearing the financial loss! This made me lose my interest in stage shows for a while.
Web Q: yes, I notice that your next stage show was held 3 years later. So was it because of this that you turned to music and music videos?
ECV: One thing you will notice continuously in my life is that some how I always manage to create positive energy from negativity. This is, I think ,God’s blessing that every time people think I have failed, a new door opens leading me to even bigger successes. When the community at Fujairah refused to allow me to set up a cultural organization or run it, they challenged my capabilities. This proved to be the motivating factor behind my moving to a world where I am now. Instead of backing down, I used the feelings of dejection to power my growth almost entirely alone, without the necessary support of community or organisations. Once again, this is exactly what happened after Welcome 2000.
As I told you earlier, writing had always been my passion. During the stage shows I started penning the lyrics for the welcome songs, the finale and so on. I even wrote the lyrics of a song as a tribute to Monisha which has been included in the DVD of the Mohan Lal Show ’92. My first music album ‘Ninakkai’ was released as early as 1998 but at that time I was still concentrating on shows. It became a hit only a year and a half later. Once again Ninakkai was the first ‘Non-Film’ music album ever to be released in Kerala under ‘Romantic’ category while private albums were released under the title ‘Light Music’ only till that time. Over the next 4 years, I released 120 songs including my second private album in Ninakkai series under the title ‘Adyamai’. But I decided to go even one step further. I made music videos of these songs which became even bigger hits. Once again, this was the first time it happened in Kerala.
Web Q: Sorry, but I have to interrupt, each business venture whether it was shows or non-film audios or music videos – all these were firsts in the industry in Kerala. How come there has been little or no publicity or recognition for all these?
ECV: It is not really strange because I never went after publicity. Yes I have had a few Press Conferences but I did not have the time to cultivate the media which is very important in show business. I have always been busy in my creative world together with organising of stage shows, producing of audio albums and music videos in addition to managing the entire east coast activities , which did not leave me enough time to be after publicity and self marketing.
To answer your question on recognition, I have won so many awards as a director, lyricist and a producer from various committees wherever and whenever entered. I also did a tele-film based on Anton Chekov’s ‘Bear’. The script was written by Ashok Sashi. Sarika P Menon got the best actress award for tele-films that year. So all my productions: music albums and film won awards. What I did not get was the publicity, which is why people like you are not aware of my Awards!
(At this point he asked his office staff to bring out the Awards, which seemed close to 20 in number!)
Web Q: That is quite a collection! Which was your first music video? And what gave you this idea?
ECV: Ormakkai, the first song of my 3rd audio album was the first music video in Malayalam. That was the first time actors/models were acting for a song under a director whereas earlier we had visuals of singers or dancers on stage , mainly based on Onappattukal and Oppanappattukal etc.
Web Q: The qualities of your VCDs have been rated very high. How did you ensure that?
ECV: Yes, I brought in a new professional touch for music videos. S Kumar was my cameraman and he had a very good team of technicians. The camera used was digibeta which was uncommon at that time. I felt this new concept would appeal to the audiences and I was right.
Web Q: Did you direct Ormakkai?
ECV: Ormakkai was directed by Shyama Prasad though the lyrics were mine.
Web Q: To return to lyrics, most of the time there is a lyricist, a music director and a producer. All 3 are usually 3 different people. But in your case you were the producer and lyricist. How did you ensure that you got the right music director for songs that you wrote?
ECV: As a producer, it was also my responsibility to ensure that the total quality of the output, which includes, lyrics, music, singers and production were all flawless. But because of this freedom, I could also try different options till I was satisfied. This is in fact the reason behind the true success of the Ninakkai series.
Web Q: Much has been said, may be not publicly but at least in private, about your writing capabilities and doubting the authenticity of your potential as a lyricist. What do you have to say about this?
ECV: In one way, I am proud of it to understand that I am doing something unbelievable! In fact, my movie NOVEL is a reply to them and to be frank I produced and directed the movie mainly for that purpose as I came to know that it became a common topic in many gatherings. Once I was sitting for a dinner in an Ernakulam based Hotel together with Mr. K. Madhavan, M.D. of Asianet and MR. K. P. Mohanan, Chief Editor of Asianet. Someone who was sitting nearby our table came and asked me “ I believe you are East Coast Vijayan, can you tell me who wrote the lyrics of your album ORMAKKAI?” I could not doubt in his intention and as such, with a sincere mind I asked him whether he has not seen the lyricist name on the inlay. Then he was telling me sarcastically, “ I am asking you the actual person who wrote it”. I was stunned to hear that and could not speak for a while. But, Mr. K. P. Mohanan who could identify the devil in him from his first question itself intervened and gave him the proper reply by which he became silent. It was not an isolated case and I could understand that he was one among hundreds of thousands who were keeping such feelings in their mind.
Ghazal Singer Umbayee, among many, used to tell me about his experience on various occasions when people from different walks of life including media were passing similar comments. So I wanted to give a reply for them and I believe I have fully succeeded in that as People those who have not seen the movie from theatres will definitely see it thorough Videos or Channels. People can doubt or debate but if they apply logic and common sense, they would be able to realise that one can buy success once or twice, but it is not possible to do it continuously even in the case of historic and award winning creations which are like treasures and the popularity of which has been increasing day by day.
As I said earlier, all the lyrics for the welcome songs and finales were also written by me. Going by my image, because I’m considered rich and having a different life style, people cannot associate creativity with me. Media people ignore the fact that my creativity was mainly responsible for the success of my romantic series ‘Ninakkai’ (I am the only person common in all these 5 albums as a lyricist apart from producer) and the music videos released in VCDs and DVDs which are chart toppers even today, even after years of its release, both commercially and artistically .
Web Q: So what or who were the inspirations behind all those romantic lines? They seem to be extremely sensitive and personal feelings.
ECV: The success of my lyrics is because it explores your emotions through all the different stages in a relationship.People are able to relate to these words simply because these are emotions they would have felt at some point in their own lives or would perhaps like to feel. I have been able to say for them what they may have said or were not able to say to someone. In fact my lyrics are all words that I have either said or wanted to say to someone myself! Let me explain the Ninakkai series to you.
NINAKKAI – when friendship develops into love
AADYAMAI – feelings of being deeply in love and the consummation of love
ORMAKKAI – feelings of being separated or possible, expectations of separation
SWANTHAM – agony of being separated and the beginning of a new relationship
INIYENNUM – a positive and happy situation, the continuation of good feelings
Web Q: These are perhaps the first audio albums to sell on the strength of the lyrics. The lyrics are the common element in the series. These 5 albums are very big hits and transcend age and gender gaps. Even today they sell with the same vigour as when released years ago. What is the secret behind it?
ECV: It is not a secret and it is only an open truth. The answer is there in your question itself.
Web Q: Did you also write the lyrics for your other albums, mainly devotional songs?
ECV: I’m not a very religious or devotional man. The reason I was able to do such a good job in the Ninakkai series was because, the concept and romantic ideas were all my own feelings and I was only being true and sincere to those feelings. These are my experiences over the years through my life, past and present. Initially, I did not write to sell. “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquillity” and this definition of poetry is true in my case.
This is why I cannot claim to be spiritual or write devotional lyrics very well. I express my feelings through poetry and I enjoy it and that’s the reason for my success. Most of the lines I have written are meant for someone I know or knew earlier.
Web Q: Though not spiritual, you did some very successful devotional albums.
ECV: Yes. I am not a very religious person but I give equal importance to all religions. Just because I made successful music videos in all religions, people have even accused me of exploiting religion for commercial purposes. These people have never understood the real me. I have always been a straight forward person and this has upset many people. It gives me great creative satisfaction to produce things which can bring happiness and peace of mind to others. I did Muslim, Christian and Hindu Devotional songs with the same feelings and commitment. As far as I am concerned religions are just like flowers of their own likings, arranged for the purpose of worshiping God.
Web Q: After Ormakkai, you did not work again with Shyama Prasad; in fact you went on to direct your own music videos after that. Was it because you felt confident by then or was it a repeat of your earlier experiences?
ECV: Yes. I felt very frustrated that I was not being able to contribute in any way as my suggestions were looked on as interferences like I explained before. I am getting disappointed very fast if my suggestions are ignored and neglected where I am confident. After that episode, I decided then on to direct my own music videos.
‘INIYARKKUMARODUM ITHRAMEL THONNATHATHENTHO’ was my first music video as director. Next I directed Paalnila punjari from the album Midad which was a very big hit. Let me mention the contributions of Promod-Pappan towards directing this song. For the next 3-4 years I continued releasing VCDs of those music videos directed by me, and each of these became hits. I also introduced hundreds of people – artists, singers, technicians into the industry. I introduced Ramya, Sarika, Rajeev, Radhika and others who are popular Film and TV stars today.
Web Q: Why did you return to stage shows when your music albums and videos were doing such good business?
ECV: It was my on-going association with the models and singers of the music videos that brought me back into the show business. I realised that they were all very talented artistes whose potential could be utilised for stage performances also. Moreover, I feel stage shows are something for which I have strong passions for and I just cannot stay away from it for long. It was in this context I organised Midad Sandhya with the artists mainly from my music videos. This show became very successful and became the 2nd turning point for my show business. This proved that I had once again successfully met audience expectations of a good show. This proved that big names did not ensure success, people’s acceptance determines whether the show is successful or not.
Vaasandhya Sandhya in 2005 was my last stage show in the UAE. After that I organized 3 shows in India with some singers, Comedians and Dancers.
Web Q: This has been a very interesting conversation. But the most important part is still left. I just saw your first film, Novel.
ECV: Yes, Novel was written by me, and I have also produced and directed the movie.
Web Q: But I understand the story behind the making of Novel is even more interesting!
ECV: Well, you can ask me for clarifications and then judge for yourself which of the 2 stories is more interesting.It was already past my allotted time and I hadn’t even reached the main topic as yet. I left with the promise to return because I was interested in knowing the truth. Too much had been said and written by everybody else except the man himself. He deserved to tell his version and as a fan I deserved to know.