Raja Unnithan's debut film, ‘Hello Zindagi,' reaches theatres today.
Five years ago, Raja Unnithan, a young and happening art director, had announced that he was going to direct his maiden feature film in Hindi. That was immediately after winning the Kerala State Film Award for the Best Art Director (2004) for that poem of a film ‘Akale.'
Today, that film, ‘Hello Zindagi,' which narrates the story of a girl-woman on a quest to find herself, reaches theatres. Produced by childhood friend Amit Garg, ‘Hello Zindagi' was scripted and directed by Raja who says this story was brewing in his mind for the last many years. Screenplay was written by Vivek.
Talking to Friday Review on the telephone from Mumbai, Raja, a graduate of applied arts (1999) from the College of Fine Arts in Thiruvananthapuram, says it is a dream come true for him as he feels he was able to get the apt actors and technical crew for his film.
“It is the story of a 22-year-old confused girl-woman called Kavita who is at a loose end. Caught between her mother's ambitions for her and her materialistic friends, she becomes a rebel without a cause. Eventually she befriends an apparently happily married doctor, Dr. Sadhana, who empathises with her. They end up in Goa and it is Kavita's acquaintance with an environmentalist that brings about a sea change in her life,” narrates Unni. For both the women, the trip gives them a chance to evaluate their lives and give it a different perspective.
The personal journey of the two women is neatly dovetailed into an environmental issue – the fight to save the Olive Ridley turtle that nests on certain beaches in Goa. “Shot on the Morjim beach in Goa, among other places, the film is as much a woman's story as a plea to save the turtles,” says Raja.
Raja explains that the long gestation period for the film was because of his determination to find the right person to enact each character in his script. Instead of settling for anybody, he kept his cast on hold till he happened to see Mrunmayee Lagoo's photo. “That was it. The moment I saw it, I knew she was my Kavita. I had not even read the script for her. But she was equally keen when she heard the story,” says the director.
Daughter of Reema Lagoo, Mrunmayee, according to Raja, has captured the spirit of this terribly messed-up youngster woman who has no clue what she wants from life. On one hand is her dominating mother, played by Neena Gupta, who wants her to get married and “settle down” and on the other is Dr. Sadhana, played by Kitu Gidwani. Kanwaljit Singh, Milind Gunaji and Amit Behl also star in the film.
“Kanwaljit and Neena were a hit in the serial ‘Saas' and so it was wonderful to have them working together on my film while Milind is a green enthusiast in real life too and so he was all enthusiasm when he read the script,” gushes Raja.
Crediting film director Shyamprasad for grooming the director in him, Raja says that it was his long association with “Shyamji, my guru,” which has given him the confidence to do the film.
“I used to hang around his sets while he was working on tele-films and programmes for Doordarshan.” Bollywood beckoned and Raja worked as a producer for TV18. When Shyamaprasad began working in ‘Bokshu The Myth,' Raja got the chance to work with him and that led to the art direction of ‘Akale.'
But Raja, a native of Karunagapally who grew up in Karnal, Haryana, kept his Bombay dreams alive. “What I learnt from my guru was never to trivialise a story or a character or to opt for a ‘formula' because it worked out for someone else. I have no hassles about adding songs, dances in my script or making a entertainer if it can be justified in the story,” says Raja, explaining his mantra of filmmaking.