Dr. Biju’s Akasathinte Niram releases Friday. Perhaps its past time to acknowledge this home-grown filmmaker whose films are hits on the festival circuit.
Cineastes in Kerala may not know this five-feature-film-old filmmaker. He is neither helming the apparent renaissance in Malayalam cinema nor making waves at the box office. He is not always a critics’ favourite either. But D. Bijukumar is rubbing shoulders with the masters of World Cinema as his films go places.
All of Dr. Biju’s works till date, be it Saira, Raman, and Veetilekkula Vazhi, or his latest film, Akasathinte Niram too, have been featured in A list film international festivals (A list is given by the Fédération Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films, the Paris based association that supervises Film Festivals) such as the Festival De Cannes, and those in Cairo, Telluride, Madrid and London – a distinctive honour, which he shares only with Shaji N. Karun. Akasathinte Niram releases in theatres today, and it is perhaps time to take him seriously. Winning the special jury of award of the Kerala State Film Awards is certainly an honour, says Biju. However, he adds, that what makes him happier is the award for his cinematographer M.J. Radhakrishnan, who has bagged the award for the second time for a film directed by him. Akasathinte Niram, India’s only entry in the competition section of the recently concluded Shanghai International Film Festival, is Dr. Biju’s take on life and nature. Exploring man’s mysterious connect with his habitat and its elements, the film narrates a young burglar’s unexpected journey to a pristine, isolated island.
“It is essentially a good vs. evil story. The central character, held up in the island, goes through a transformation as he experiences nature from close quarters and confronts rare situations that changes his perception about life forever,” says Dr. Biju about the film, which he describes as quiet, contemplative and spiritual.
“The film has more of silence than dialogues as the attempt is to chronicle the nuances of the inner journey that each character makes. The 120-minute-long film has only 30 spoken lines,” he adds.
Indrajith stars in the lead, with Nedumudi Venu and Prithviraj playing catalytic roles that precipitate incidents and emotions in the plot. Amala Paul’s speech-impaired character adds feminine grace to Akasathinte Niram. Anoop Chandran and Master Govardhan round up the supporting cast.
“This film is a marked deviation from my previous works primarily because it is made on a bigger canvas and budget. It also has a strong star cast as compared to my earlier films. We have also tried to technically enhance the work by using some exclusive equipment such as the ‘Panther’ crane because the film was conceived with shots that are complex and exceptionally long. The cinematographer and I tried to add some dynamism to the indoor shots with the Panther. Not many films have used it in India before, except Shankar’s Enthiran. With the Panther, we could easily and effectively execute those lengthy shots of four to five minutes duration, which otherwise would have been impossible. The entire cast and crew went through intense rehearsals to perfect the movements,” explains the director.
M.J. Radhakrishnan, who had cranked camera for Dr. Biju’s earlier films, continues his association as does Manoj Kannoth, the editor. Location sync sound and sound design is by Jayadevan Chakkadath while Pramod Thomas handles the sound mixing.
Shot on the Neil islands of Andaman and Nicobar, the film’s production design was by Santosh Raman. He made a house that jut into the sea.
“We had to rebuild it every time a current passed through,” says the director, as he reminisces about the hectic single schedule shoot in the sea.
“The crew went a long way for the shoot, even risking their lives. We had to travel deep into the sea on a small boat for a crucial scene. It was in the middle of the night and we did not have any coast guards accompanying us. Initially we found it very exciting, but as we moved further, we encountered huge waves. And the boat had to keep cresting the waves. Those face-to-face moments with the turbulent sea were scary,” remembers Dr. Biju, hoping the essence and euphoria of such experiences are translated to the celluloid as well. Shut out from the world with no access to telephone and internet facilities, the crew, Dr. Biju says, had a rocking time. “We have never been cut off from communication for such a long time. It was frustrating at times, but it made us connect to each other better. We all used to sit by the beach during evenings and Nedumudi Venu and Indrajith would entertain us with songs. It was a great time of both solitude and camaraderie. It is one journey, I’m sure, the crew will never forget. It gave us so much to take back.”
With Akasathinte Niram all set to take off on its own journey, the director has already moved on to his next. Tentatively titled Thanal Tharaatha Marangal, it will have Dileep in the lead, and is slated for an year-end release.