A LITTLE STAR IS BORN

Some stars are born despite black holes.     

Last week, I watched the Malayalam blockbuster film RDX on Netflix. It lives up to the hype of a kickass out-and-out action movie. Even the film’s villains are receiving public adulation, a rare occurrence among a lead-obsessed audience, and this film has three of them. The film works because of its excellent stunts that are thoroughly grounded in the local culture, the deft weaving of emotions into the tight script, and outstanding performances. 

But, the real star is the film’s rookie director, Nahas Hidayath, not just for his directorial prowess but for being a role model of a struggling artist who eventually triumphs. Hidayath’s struggles are well documented, thanks to his willingness to discuss them. Even his mentors seem more than keen to recall his struggles by posting moving Instagram stories. Hidayath’s eloquence and energy make watching his interviews enjoyable. He, too, acknowledges that his storytelling skills have often opened doors for him, even if they led nowhere until now. Hidayath’s story, with every hurdle imaginable, is inspiring, and why I chose to write this piece on him.    

Hidayath was born in a typical lower middle-class Muslim family on the outskirts of Kerala’s big city, Kochi. His family had no connections to the film industry and considered films distractions. Hidayath’s early memories include his father dragging him out of a theater where he had sneaked in to watch a movie and thrashing him all the way home. This incident also sowed the seeds of rebellion, and he began watching films with a vengeance.   

In college, he was rudderless, with no goals, unique talents, or plans. Then he made a music video, which was screened for everyone. After watching the video, one of his teachers quipped that although he had no academic talents, his video was well-made and promising. It was the first time anyone told Hidayath he was good at something, giving him the courage to leave home to study a filmmaking course in Kochi. 

Then the hustle began. Hidayath roomed with ten other movie-crazy men, each doing side jobs until they got work in films. Hidayath worked in a juice shop and remembers how when one of them would get some money, they would stock up on provisions and have a lifeline for a few days. He says there were very few instances when they were all together in the house since each one was busy trying for gigs. He has also worked as an extra in over a hundred movies. 

He is self-taught, mostly by closely observing audiences during repeat viewings of films to see why they laugh at certain moments, why they do not, when they reach for their phones, etc. Fortune favors the brave. He decided to approach the famous director Basil Joseph to be his assistant director, but Joesph wanted to see his previous work first, and he had none.  Hidayath rushed back and made a short film in a week with his savings from his juice shop job and with his friends’ help. Basil Joseph says he hired him right away after watching his film, not because the film was great but because he had delivered what he promised. Life as an assistant director was tough, with sleep a distant dream. Hidayath assisted in many films, but out of compulsion, he says assisting in one film is enough to learn the ropes. 

After a decade of struggling, Hidayath had some connections and a story for a feature film, and it was a dream come true when a producer finally came on board. Shooting began, and then COVID struck. The unexpected delays led to the producer shelving the film. Hidayath now had the scarlet letter of a first-time director with a shelved film. One can only imagine his disappointment. But he did not give up; as he says he only has a plan A, to be in films and no Plan B. During the pandemic, Hidayath made a couple of short films that became popular, especially Color Padam (Color Fim). Despite being a short film, it has a good story arc and excellent production values like a full-length feature film.      

This short film and his storytelling abilities got well-known producer Sophie Paul, always looking for exciting ideas, to come on board for this new project RDX. She did not seem bothered with his previous shelved project and says his passion bowled her over since Hidayath acted out some scenes when narrating his story. It was clear he was completely immersed in the film. Paul as producer is important for any new director, and getting actors interested in the project became easy. Soon, they had an impressive cast. Some controversies arose, including one of the actors complaining publicly about not getting the top billing as promised, the issues were resolved amicably, and the film was ready to roll.  

On the previous night of the first day of shooting, an excited Hidayath was going through the action plan and inspecting the expensive set when he received a call from the film’s lead, Pepe. He had been in an accident, hurt his shoulder, and would be out of action for three months. His doctor had warned him that any strain on the shoulder would prolong this recovery period. 

Shattered, Hidayath returned home and told his mother that the shoot was postponed due to rain. He was sure this was the end of RDX. The producer had already lost a considerable sum of money on the set and could not afford to wait around. Hidayath was headed to becoming a twice-failed director. 

Three dark days later, he received a call from his producer, Sophie Paul. He was waiting to hear the obvious, but she assured him they were going ahead with the project and did not plan to take on any new project before completing RDX. She had waited three days to call him because she wanted the doctor’s updates on the lead Pepe’s injury, and things looked better than they had thought earlier. Paul asked Hidayath to work on this script while they waited for Pepe to recover. Shooting resumed soon after, and the rest is history.

Hidayath says the best thing about RDX is not its success but that he can now introduce himself as a legitimate director. He has since moved out of his ten-roommate digs and has his own place, and his mother lives with him. She knows he is successful from all the congratulatory messages she gets but warns him not to let fame get into his head. Hidayath knows this is his moment and is already in talks for his next film. 

Will Nahas Hidayath make it to the big league? Or will he be a one-hit wonder? He is the real deal: talent, passion, and truth. Genuine love, or greed for cinema as he calls it, drives him. There will be many difficulties, but he’s no stranger to them. Whatever the future holds, he will be doing what he loves best.  That is already a success story.  

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