There has to be something special if Ranjith, one of the most successful scriptwriters in Malayalam cinema, chooses a novel to make a film. That too a film that tries to unravel the mystery behind a murder that took place more than half a century ago.
Ranjith, scriptwriter, director and actor, agrees he found a lot of things special to turn T.P. Rajeevan’s novel ‘Paleri Manikyam Oru Pathira Kolapathakathinte Katha’ into a film. As a voracious reader, Ranjith is an admirer of Rajeevan’s felicity with both prose and verse. “Moreover, ‘Paleri…’ has a strong element of visual language that I thought was ideal for a film. Said to be the first crime against woman that was registered after the formation of the first EMS Ministry in Kerala, the story of ‘Paleri Manikyam’ whetted my interest. This place is quite near my mother’s place in Perambra. So, although it is true that murder mysteries and investigative stories are aplenty, I decided to adapt the novel for a film. I have always tried to link cinema and literature and was on the lookout for literary works that could be adapted for the screen,” explains Ranjith.
As soon as Rajeejan gave him the green signal, Ranjith began working on the film in earnest. “What made work easier was that Rajeevan gave me a free hand while working on the script,” adds the director. The film made news right from the time Ranjith announced he was writing the screenplay of the movie. While Mammootty was cast in the lead roles of both the “protagonist (Haridas) and the antagonist (Murukkumkunnathu Ahmed Haji),” a talent hunt was launched to select actors to play the supporting roles.
“I was keen on getting natives of Kozhikode to play the supporting roles as the story is set in a village peopled by rustic characters living in the rural areas of Kozhikode. They speak a kind of dialect that I wanted to bring into the film,” says Ranjith.
Out of hundreds of applications, 32 were selected for a camp in Kozhikode under the leadership of theatre actor Murali Menon. Leading actors and directors of Malayalam cinema interacted with them and took them through the paces of acting, or in Ranjith’s words “the process of not acting” for cinema. Directors such as Siby Malayil, Siddique, T.V. Chandran, Kamal and Jayaraj, and actors like Mammootty, Revathy, Siddique, Kalpana and so on gave them tips to shine on the silver screen. “We made watch films of Bharath Gopy. In my opinion, he was the greatest actor Malayalam cinema has seen. We screened ‘Yavanika’ and ‘Kallan Pavithram’ and showed them how Gopy effortlessly essayed the two diverse characters. Just watching his films is an education in the art of acting. I observed them closely during the workshop and 1 have been cast in the film. I am confident that each of them will make their own contributions to filmdom,” believes Ranjith.
While the workshop was on in full swing, Ranjith also went on a location hunt to find the place to shoot the period in which the murder took place. After visiting North Canara, Kundapuram and picturesque places in Mangalore, finally the film was shot in Mukkam, on the outskirts of Kozhikode and Malappuram district.
Produced by Varnachitra and AVA Productions, ‘Paleri…’ has newcomer Mythili donning the role of Manikyam who was raped and murdered on the 11thday after her marriage. Srinivasan, Suresh Krishna and Swetha Menon essay important roles. Ranjith avers that this would be a landmark role for Swetha who plays Manickyam’s mother-in-law, Cheeru. In keeping with Ranjith’s fetish to get the right dialect, actor Zeenat has dubbed for Swetha.
Thespian Mammootty dons three roles. Ranjith goes into raptures while talking about the actor. “‘Paleri…’ also has a subtext of a man-woman relationship and how most men have a streak of cruelty in them that becomes manifest in their dealings with women. Haridas, the investigator who delves into the case after five decades finds himself in a similar position as Haji, when Haridas gets involved in an extramarital affair.
“Just goes to show that time may have wrought many changes in our lifestyle and environment but not in man’s basic nature,” says Ranjith.
Manoj Pillai cranks the camera for the film that has two songs – one tuned and sung by Bijibal and another tuned by Sharreth and sung by Hariharan. Lyricist Rafeeq Ahmed has loosely translated an Urdu ghazal of Farid bin Al Althar’s.
Ranjith hopes that the unsolved mystery that rocked Kozhikode will catch the interest of viewers in Kerala, who usually enjoy a well made thriller.