The cinematic adaptation of ‘Melvilasam,' a play that has been staged at more than 400 stages around the world, makes it to theatres this week.

It is not every day that a debutant director makes a film without a heroine! But that is what Madhav Ramdas, an associate of award-winning film director R. Sarat, has done in his very first film, ‘Melvilasam.'

When Ramdas approached cultural activist and theatre person Soorya Krishnamoorthy with a request to adapt ‘Melvilsam,' one of his celebrated plays, into a film, the latter did not send him back empty-handed. Instead, Krishnamoorthy said he would cooperate with the director to adapt his play for the big screen if Ramdas accepted a few conditions. Krishnamoorthy was sure that the wannabe director would be discouraged by what the conditions entailed. But Krishnamoorthy was mistaken.

It was not the first time that Ramdas was watching Krishnamoorthy's celebrated play ‘Melvilasam,' which has been staged at more than 400 stages around the world in just two years.

Challenging conditions

“I watched it many times before I became confident enough to approach Krishnamoorthy with my desire to adapt it for the silver screen. The play has a universal theme that appeals to everyone, irrespective of their age or class.”

So what were Krishnamoorthy's conditions?

He wanted Ramdas to retain the spirit of the drama by avoiding any woman characters save the character of a girl called Ammu. The entire play evolves in a courtroom and the theatre director insisted that the film stick to that by ensuring that the camera is always focussed on the courtroom and series of events that unfold during the course of a courtmartial. That ruled out popular and familiar techniques such as flashbacks and ‘fast forwards.' And lastly, he was particular that there should not be any song or dance in the movie!

Ramdas agreed to all his conditions. Most filmmakers would baulk at doing a film without these essentials, but Ramdas took it as a challenge. “I loved the play for the very same reasons that the conditions demanded, so his stipulations came as a guiding light for me. Nevertheless, it was a huge challenge.” Another noteworthy feature about the film ‘Melvilasam' is that the film evolves in real-time. Sticking close to the Aristotelian unities, the screen time of two hours dovetails perfectly with real time. Without songs and dance sequences, there are no detours once the camera starts rolling.

“If the subject is engaging, the audience wouldn't look out for frills such as music and dance scenes,” believes Ramadas.

The movie traces the progress of a court martial of a soldier, Sawar Ramachandran (played by Tamil star Parthiban), who is being tried for shooting his superior officers and killing one of them. From the outset, Captain Vikas Ray (Suresh Gopi), who defends the accused, is pessimistic about his chances of saving his client. But, still, he is bent on finding the truth behind the incident. And the truth is an eye opener for the army as well as society.

Ramadas says that he has “tried to be as real as possible and has painstakingly captured the Army etiquette, way of life and details of a court martial, albeit with some poetic license here and there.”

‘Melvilasam' takes a hard look at discrimination and bullying in the armed forces and issues related to casteism. “Certain contemporary events in Kerala and India prove that even today casteism continues to cast its shadow on all spheres of life, thus making my film topical,” says Ramadas.

Not surprising since the play was based on real-life incidents narrated by Krishnamoorthy's mentor Gopi Poojapura, a former soldier in the Indian army.

Army stories

“He had told me about many terrible things that he had witnessed or heard about while he was serving in the army. ‘Melvilasam' became a huge hit on the stage four years ago with its revolutionary real-time action and a theme that is a scathing attack on our society, which refuses to acknowledge or bring to light the dark side of several hallowed establishments,” he says.

Krishnamoorthy is happy with the reel adaptation. “Using just three cameras moving around in a room, the director has done a brilliant job in capturing the essence of my play. He shot the movie in nine days days. Parthiban told me that he had never acted in such a wonderful movie. He was also keen on dubbing for his character.”

The cast includes Ashokan, Talaivasal Vijay, Nizhalkal Ravi and Krishnakumar,. The movie has been produced under the banner of Mark Movies.